Conflict & Justice

Afghan troops excel ... on the soccer field


Afghan army soldiers play soccer on an American military base in Kandahar.


Ben Brody

When you ask an American infantryman what he thinks of the Afghan soldiers he patrols with, he is likely to complain that they are disorganized and marginally skilled. This is not entirely unfair criticism for troops who have had little training on the battlefield. But on the soccer field it couldn't be further from the truth.

During downtime in Kandahar's combat outposts, American troops are usually found in the gym or watching movies on their laptops. Afghan troops are playing soccer, wherever they can and with whatever passes for a ball and goalposts.

At Combat Outpost Sangsar, two chickens scramble between the dueling troops, feathers flying, as a youth-sized soccer ball crashes through a precariously leaning stack of metal pans.

While I am not an expert on any competitive sport, and haven't kicked a ball of any kind since I was 14, a couple of the Afghan troops seem genuinely talented. If they lack unit cohesion and discipline on the battlefield, they certainly have it here.

When asked if he wanted to play soccer against the Americans at the outpost, an Afghan soldier said through an interpreter, "I think they want to watch TV instead."