The other day I visited a website I check regularly for all things military, Noah Shachtman’s Danger Room blog at Wired magazine. One of its correspondents, Spencer Ackerman, was just then at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the sort of place that — with its multiple bus routes, more than 30,000 inhabitants, PXes, Internet cafés, fast-food restaurants, barracks, and all the sinews of war — we like to call military bases, but that are unique in the history of this planet.
Here’s how Ackerman began his report: “Anyone who thinks the United States is really going to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011 needs to come to this giant air base an hour away from Kabul. There’s construction everywhere. It’s exactly what you wouldn’t expect from a transient presence.” The old Russian base, long a hub for U.S. military (and imprisonment) activities in that country is now, as he describes it, a giant construction site and its main drag, Disney Drive, a massive traffic pile-up. (“If the Navy could figure out a way to bring a littoral-combat ship to a landlocked country, it would idle on Disney.”) Its flight line is packed with planes — “C-17s, Predators, F-16s, F-15s, MC-12 passenger planes” — and Bagram, he concludes, “is starting to feel like a dynamic exurb before the housing bubble burst.”
I won’t lie. As I read that post, my heart sank and I found myself imagining Spencer Ackerman writing this passage: “Anyone who thinks the United States is really going to stay in Afghanistan after July 2011 needs to come to this giant air base an hour away from Kabul where buildings are being dismantled, military equipment packed up, and everywhere you look you see evidence of a transient presence.” To pen that, unfortunately, he would have to be a novelist or a fabulist.
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