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Afghan village in Texas

Anne ThomasMay 25, 2012

NATO has set its "irreversible" course out of Afghanistan. After years of training for war, the US army is now preparing for peace in a reconstructed Afghan village in the Texan desert.

A US Army soldier raises fist while disembarking after returning from a year-long deployment in Iraq at Fort Benning, Georgia USA on 17 September 2010. About 2,000 soldiers from 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division are returning to the base over the next week. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
Afghanistan veterans returning homeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

It's loud in the market square. Men are buying plastic bananas and fish. American troops patrol the place, holding machine guns close to their chests. The tension is palpable - as though they were all waiting for the music to stop.

Suddenly a bomb explodes. An angry mob of men forms around a young man who is lying in the street.

They shout at the soldiers: "Why didn't you protect us better?"

Learning how to behave

Afghans who are now living in the US have been employed by the army as actors to re-enact scenes of everyday Afghan life. US soldiers about to be deployed to Afghanistan are learning how to remain calm even if they are insulted or threatened.

Afghan special forces
Afghan forces are taking over combat missions by mid-2013Image: dapd

"You learn how to keep yourself contained when everything seems not to be going the way you want it," explains Sergeant Martinez. "Because the more you overreact the worse it's going to get. We learn to speak calmly and try to get them to be on our side."

Americans and Afghans are now partners in the fight against the Taliban. The soldiers in Texas are also learning how to transfer responsibility to the Afghan security forces. As trainers they have to learn to trust the Afghans. Sergeant Martinez says it is difficult for those who have already been deployed to Afghanistan to get used to this role.

German soldiers stationed in Texas have been enlisted to give basic training in intercultural competence and behavior.

"We conduct role plays about how to deal with [people from] other countries. How to get to know them, how to greet them, our behavior. How to find a common language because of course there are differences in approach," says Master Sergeant Thorsten.

Often it's a case of very small things that make a great difference. For example, the soldiers are taught to take off their sunglasses before talking to a village elder because eye contact establishes trust. They are also told to remove their gloves before shaking the hands of a police chief.

They also learn that dogs - even sniffer dogs looking for explosives - are prohibited in sacred places such as mosques or cemeteries.

Not only a game

After the angry mob on the market place in Texas has calmed down, the maneuver is analyzed and evaluated, with those who did their jobs well receiving applause and a medal.

One of the young amateur actors has been living and studying in the US since 2008. He says that some "80 percent [of the soldiers] are getting it right but 20 percent are not."

He says the new troops who are about to be deployed to Afghanistan take their role seriously but those who have been there already see it as more of a game.

All combat missions are supposed to be handed over to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013. Most of the international troops in Afghanistan are supposed to withdraw by the end of 2014. However, some US troops will remain to provide the training.

Author: Sabrina Fritz / act

Editor: Arun Chowdhury