It is not the rows of howitzers, assembled warplanes and other instruments of carnage that catch your eye when you arrive at one of the coalition's mega-bases in Afghanistan. It is the Tennessee grilled ribs. Ravaged by war and riddled with corruption, Afghanistan is one of the last places you might expect to see a Burger King, Subway or Pizza Hut counter. Most Afghans never will. But for the inhabitants of Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan, these are just some of the culinary possibilities on the base's boardwalk, a four-sided medley of fast food, real coffee and tourist tat.
Now TGI Friday has opened its doors, drawing thousands of servicemen and women missing the comforts of home. Decked out in kitsch Americana and with the kind of music playing in the background that usually accompanies dirty movies, it might be anywhere other than the birthplace of the Taliban.
Its manager, Ratan Kumar Sharma, 30, from Delhi in India, explained his decision to cap six years in the hospitality business by moving to Kandahar as "a good opportunity to work with TGI Friday". The idea of working in a war zone – four Bulgarian troops were hurt in a recent rocket attack – didn't phase him. "In professional life you don't go for emotion," he said. "It is how your career graph grows."
Mr Sharma says the diner can take $10,000 a night adding: "We are the only casual dining restaurant on the boardwalk. We are the best in Kandahar airfield."
The intent, it seems, is to create a surreal slice of Western material comfort where inhabitants can momentarily forget that they are living in one of the world's most benighted countries. "After eating ration packs for four months it's nice," said Guardsman Liam Ringer, 21, from Colchester, who had just arrived from a patrol base in Helmand. "It's a different world."
Power surge for Starbucks
The march of capitalism does not stop at Kandahar airfield. In Kabul, a café has opened offering that most symbolic of drinks, a Starbucks coffee. "Our delicious coffee hits the spot," a folksy sign promises. Alongside cappuccinos and lattes, the menu offers Italian coffee and Dosh, a traditional Afghan yoghurt drink.
An indication of the excitement caused by the new arrival was one security company's declaration that an explosion nearby was the Taliban diverting resources to attack Starbucks. On closer inspection, it was an electricity transformer blowing up.
NGOs speak the AfPak lingo
George Orwell noted that armies march on a plague of initials. The coalition forces and aid agencies here are no exception. Acronyms are everywhere, and there are now acronyms for describing acronyms: NCUA means non-commonly used acronym (and is itself an NCUA). Some NGOs publish glossaries of acronyms, in theory to enlighten you but in fact leaving you wondering WTF.