There have never been as many Westerners in Afghanistan as there have been in the last decade. The Soviets barely had half as many, including the civilians and contractors. People came to Afghanistan in the last decade for a myriad of reasons: for money, curiosity, honor, because they were ordered to, because of some sort of altruistic sentiment, or to escape wherever they came from; whatever the reason, at the end of their tours most went home and stayed there, having learned little about the country they just spent X number of months or years in. And sadly, despite their numbers, only a shrinking few ever make it outside the bases or outside the security bubbles, and most can say honestly that they never went to Afghanistan; instead, they spent a year in Fobistan.
Some chose to stay in Afghanistan, of course. The best stayed because they saw the country and the people and liked them, they liked their jobs, and they knew (and could show!) they were making a difference. One of those was Tim Lynch, whose blog, Free Range International, always carried some of the best pictures, especially of Nangarhar, and who wrote with passion and detail about areas he cared about and the people he met. Freakishly right-wing domestic American politics aside, he’s a good guy, who knows the ground truth, and freely shares information and stories.
Unfortunately, there are serious risks to outside-the-wire work in Afghanistan, and it isn’t always apparent someone’s been affected. After seven years in Afghanistan, the last four of which he excellently blogged, Tim’s leaving. His Last Post, for anyone who’s been there, or know someone who has, is moving and well worth the read. Good luck, Tim. You will be missed.