Nato troops watch Games with drink in hand and rifle at foot

2012-08-02 07:19

Kabul – After 30 years of war, the London Olympics are a distant dream world for most Afghans – and even the 130 000 Nato-led troops from 50 countries watch the television broadcasts with weapons close at hand.

Afghanistan does have six athletes at the Games – four of them representing the fighting arts: boxing, taekwondo and judo.

One of the others, a sprinter, is a woman, but the government television station in this conservative Islamic country is not showing any women’s events, the head of its sports section Nooragha Parwani told AFP.

In any case, the Games do not dominate the news – the war against Taliban insurgents does.

At a Nato base in Kabul, Camp Warehouse, soldiers relax in front of the television in the bar “Le Montmartre”, drink in hand and rifle at foot.

The heavily fortified capital is mostly calm, but can turn into a city under siege in an instant.

On April 15, Camp Warehouse came under fire along with several other targets as three Taliban suicide squads launched a series of coordinated attacks. Seventeen hours of fighting left 51 dead, including 36 attackers.

“We are really used to having (our rifles) with us always. It is when you return to France you might think: ‘Haven’t I forgotten something?” said Sergeant Pierre (25) as he watched the Games this week.

The Olympics can provide “an escape”, says his comrade Sergeant Sebastien. For security reasons, the French army insists that the surnames of soldiers, excluding officers, are not used.

“There’s not much to do here, apart from the Internet and phoning the family,” he says.

A few tables away, five soldiers recently arrived from an outpost in Surobi district near Kabul distractedly watch an equestrian broadcast on a giant screen.

“It’s been 15 days since we saw TV or a phone,” one of them says.

Far to the south of the country, in Helmand province, US Marines at Camp Leatherneck also have an opportunity to watch the Games when not embroiled in the decade-long war in which more than 3?000 Nato troops have died.

“Marines aboard Camp Leatherneck are able to watch the Olympics on the American Forces Network and BBC at the chow halls and several morale centers,” spokesperson Lieutenant Scott Murdock told AFP.

“Because this is a coalition base, many Marines work with service members from other countries and enjoy a friendly rivalry surrounding the games.
“Of course everyone has their own favourite sports and athletes, but swimming and soccer seem to be crowd favourites.”

Leading contributors to the coalition are the United States, with around 90 000 troops, Britain with 9 500, Germany 4 900, Italy 3 800 and France 3 000.

Since the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban regime in 2001, Nato troops in Afghanistan have watched the Games in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, and the current Games in London.

But Nato will pull its combat troops out by the end of 2014 – so by the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Afghans will be watching the Games alone, apart from a small force expected to stay on for training and back-up in their long war.

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