Report from Afghanistan: 9/11 Observed
09/11/10 9:35AM By Steve Zind  Download MP3
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(Host) The attacks of September 11th 2001 are being remembered today in a ceremony at a base where several hundred members of the Guard are serving a year-long deployment.
In his first Report from Afghanistan, VPR's Steve Zind says the controversy surrounding the burning of the Muslim holy book has been on the guards' minds and it's altered their routines.
(Zind) Here in the country where Al-Quada was based in 2001, Afghans were marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. But in this dust and traffic choked capital city they also took note of the news of a Florida church's plans to burn copies of the Qu'ran.
(Willard) "Right now we're on the outskirts of Kabul. We'll go in through the city..."
(Zind) There have been angry demonstrations here in Kabul. Sergeant Michael Willard is part of a Vermont Guard unit that goes out on daily patrols through the city. Willard says his orders are to avoid patrolling near the demonstrations.
(Willard) "We've actually been notified ahead of time and we'll find alternate routes around them. We don't want to incite the public at all and basically incite something to happen. If we can avoid it we try to."
(Zind) Willard says he's followed the Qu'ran burning controversy - and he has mixed feelings about the Florida pastor's idea to burn a book sacred to people in this country.
(Willard) "I do believe in the freedoms that the Constitution provides for us but by doing that his freedom of speech is potentially putting us in harm's way. In addition to all the other threats that we have going on and all the other situations, its just making the Muslim population here and elsewhere more aggravated at the U.S. and there's more potential for something to happen."
(Zind) Nearly nine years after it began many question the scope and duration of this war. Specialist Michael Kelley of Orange still sees a reason to be here.
(Kelley) "We're trying to help them sustain an economy over here. We're trying to help them get back on their feet, get things cleaned up, straightened up and hope that eventually we can get out of here and they can be on their own again."
(Zind) Kelley says from where he sits as he rides through the streets of Kabul in an armored Humvee everyday, he's not in a position to judge how the effort is going or what's happening in other parts of the country.
Still, there is a feeling among many of the Vermont soldiers here that a difference is being made. Gunner Glenn Durgin is from Barre.
(Durgin) "If you look at what Afghanistan was 10 years ago to what it is today; there's schools, there's kids running around playing. Women with their face showing, walking around. I think it's an improvement over what it was."
(Zind) The war in Afghanistan is now America's longest shooting war. In 2002, the U.S. deployed a total of 8,000 troops here, intent on keeping a light footprint. Today there are roughly 100,000 American troops and its likely U.S. forces will be here long after the Vermont Guard deployment comes to an end.
For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan.
(Host) "Report from Afghanistan" with Steve Zind is made possible by the VPR Journalism Fund.