KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec 9 (AFP) - On a windswept military camp in
Afghanistan, a wooden church stands as a tiny haven of Orthodox Christianity
for Romanian soldiers serving with the military coalition pursuing Taliban and
The church -- built in 15 days by soldiers stationed near Kandahar,
Afghanistan's principal southern city and the former Taliban stronghold -- is
half-obscured by the wreckage of old Soviet trucks.
But despite its humble appearance, it last week attracted a senior cleric from
the Orthodox church of Oltenie, a region in southern Romania, plus an official
delegation, to mark Romania's national day.
The US-dominated military base at Kandahar is home to some 404 Romanian
soldiers, two of whom are women, from the Red Scorpions, or 26th battalion of
Craiova, the capital of Oltenie.
Arriving last July, the Romanians have made themselves at home in a forest of
beige and khaki tents that stretches across the desert, against a backdrop of
continual noise of heavy transport planes landing at the nearby airstrip.
The soldiers have quickly made friends with the 1,600-2,000 US troops
stationed at Kandahar, who were among the first to congratulate them on their
country's recent joining of NATO.
But the two nationalities are easily distinguished by their rifles. The US
troops perpetually carry their M-16s, whether in the showers or dining hall.
The Romanians are happy to leave their national-issue AKMs behind when
to eat or shop.
Despite the early December sun, the cold wind makes the dust swirl and
penetrate everywhere. But the Romanian military seem oblivious as they
for their patrols around outlying Afghan villages.
For Lieutenant Florin Mitrica, 27, these patrols, conducted by around 40 men,
with two trucks escorted by a trio of armoured vehicles, are a way of
"controlling the contact zones with the local population" and humanitarian
As the trucks draw close to the village of Momand, some 20 kilometres (12
miles) from Kandahar, dozens of barefoot children, their clothes in tatters,
run out to greet the convoy.
Water and food are scarce in Momand, village elders tell the Romanians and
accompanying US civil affairs liaison officer, Captain Kit Parker.
As they press home their demands, the villagers are quick to insist they had
no links with the "foreign" al-Qaeda terror network, which fought alongside
the Taliban before the regime's surrender of Kandahar one year ago.
"No foreigner came," assures the head of the village, while the schoolteacher,
sporting a huge black beard, wilfully beats unruly children with his long
stick during a handout of pens and biscuits.
"The next time, return with food," the village chief says.
Parker replies with "it's a promise," before the patrol departs in a cloud of
Back on their trucks, the soldiers look back on the village and joke about
"Talibans turned democrats".