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Reflections from Afghanistan: What ending the war looks like

Correspondent Ben Brody has photographed the American military at war both as a soldier and a civilian. He reflects on his recent return to Afghanistan, and what has changed since the war has ended.
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A French soldier shoulders his rucksack for his flight home from Kabul. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — When I arrived in Afghanistan in July of 2010, as the troop surge was ramping up, the first flightline I saw was packed with newly arrived soldiers. The mood was alternately hopeful and grim, depending on where you looked.

I spoke with a group of privates fresh out of basic training and eager to prove themselves, as well as some seasoned leaders on their fifth and sixth combat tours. In ten years of service, one sergeant first class said he had seen six years of combat duty. He said he thought that ratio would continue until he retired.

On Saturday I walked up to the military flightline at Kabul International Airport and saw a similar scene. Hundreds of soldiers sprawled about with huge rucksacks and duffle bags, playing cards and smoking. The mood was jovial; one soldier played a ukulele as others cheered for each soldier as their names were called to get boarding passes.

These were French soldiers leaving Kabul after their final tour — the battalion provided medical and logistical support and training to the Afghan military at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. A French medical sergeant said that they would not be replaced by an incoming unit; their mission was complete and the Afghan medics had learned what they could from them.

At the "media barracks" at Kandahar Airfield, the scene could not be more different than in 2010. Back then the eight-room dormitory was packed with reporters from major news outlets. Now, as was the case during my last visit in 2011, I am the barracks' sole occupant.

The soldiers who work here accommodating embedded media aren't sure yet whether they will be the last to do so at KAF. But responsibility for handling embedded reporters soon will be shifted to Afghans, just like everything else.

Ben Brody will be reporting for GlobalPost in Afghanistan in the coming months, covering the transition as US troops return home and hand off responsibilities to the Afghan military.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/groundtruth/reflections-kandahar-ending-war-afghanistan