It’s another hot day on the boardwalk. The long line of customers who are waiting for iced cappuccinos, many in shorts and sunglasses, runs out the caf door and around the corner, a stone’s throw from the outdoor hockey rink and volleyball courts. The merchants who hawk everything from iPods to silk-screened T-shirts are doing brisk business. So is T.G.I. Friday’s, the restaurant whose familiar red-and-white sign flanks the stage where rock concerts are occasionally held. “Feels like I’m back in Jersey,” says a young man, taking in the scene. “Right back home on the Jersey shore.”
Far from it more than 6,800 miles, in fact. Back in New Jersey, he would be arrested for strolling in public with a semiautomatic rifle slung over his shoulder. But this is the Kandahar air base, an alternate universe that is, some say, more and more out of touch with the violence at its walls. You see, the air base is also the gateway to southern Afghanistan’s fiercest combat zone, one that keeps getting bigger and deadlier.