If you were on the U.S-led coalition base in Bagram in Afghanistan soon after the 2001 invasion, you couldn't help noticing soldiers with long, Taliban-style beards and dressed in light brown shalwar kamaeez down to the sandals.
They kept to themselves. They weren't the friendly sort and before long you figured out these were the Special Forces who had fought along side the Northern Alliance in small teams to overthrow the Taliban and were then hunting its remnants and members of al Qaeda. The men grew beards to blend in during difficult and isolated missions in the Afghan countryside.
Close up, on the base some people thought looked like a little bit of America with its mountains of food, gym, and the easy banter of men and women soldiers, the Western men with the flowing beards stood out.
Eight years on, the Special Forces ops are still trying to master the disguise. But the men are still no closer to ordinary Afghans. In fact, the locals have grown to be especially wary of the Special Forces as this article on the Foreign Policy website says. The beards apparently only serve to allow ordinary people to distinguish them from regular U.S. and allied military units.
In Kandahar province's Zhari district, elders refer to the "bearded Americans," who they say behave very badly, and the "shaven Americans," who aren't so bad, the article says. Likewise, in Uruzgan province, locals have complained about "bearded Americans" using foul language and manhandling respected community elders and government officials.