The US military presence in Afghanistan rivals the Soviet occupation in length – troops have been stationed there for 9 years and counting. Since 2001, US troops, along with NATO troops, have spent 9 consecutive Christmases in the land of sand.
The Soviets had entered Afghanistan in 1979 and stayed until 1989, and the US stepped into a vacuum of power in the war-torn country in 2001, in direct response to Al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The war on terrorism, as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq came to be known by, was carried out under the name Operation Enduring Freedom. The US now stands to outlast the Soviets in Afghanistan with nearly a decade of military presence in the country.
During the first Christmas in Afghanistan for US troops, American soldiers celebrated solemnly. They held a service that included songs such as Silent Night, prayers, and candle lights, and they decorated a Christmas tree. The Afghanistan winter was cold, and many of the soldiers were just a month or two into their deployment. But they enjoyed the camaraderie of their fellow soldiers and a special Christmas meal.
Some Christmases have been a multicultural affair, with NATO troops joining together and celebrating the holiday in their country’s style. The UK, Italy, Germany, and smaller NATO countries serve typical feast food. They go to sleep in outdoor tents, listening to Christmas music. Life in Afghanistan is difficult for the soldiers, especially during the holidays, but the pervading spirit tends to be one of determination to help the Afghan people build a stable government.
In the past couple of years, the families of the military have benefited from technology like emails, instant messaging, and Skype sessions that allow them to keep in better contact. Some children of military parents have even created homemade dolls with the picture of their parent.