“My family doesn’t know what I’m doing out here,” says Bashordost, a sergeant in Afghanistan’s 205th Corps. He asks to be identified by a single name only, because he fears that if his family knew that he’s in the Afghan army, someone might tell a neighbor, and the Taliban might kill him. As a cover for their real jobs, he and several fellow troops from the southern city of Kandahar have pooled their money to buy a taxi. “We don’t know our enemy. They are everywhere,” he says. Nonetheless, three times each week, Bashordost and his colleagues head to an army base near Kandahar Airfield, where they train with their American counterparts. As with nearly every aspect of the war these days, the hope is that such partnering exercises will enable the Afghan forces to eventually take full responsibility for their mission.
In Bashordost’s case, that mission is to play the trumpet. After tea and snacks, the Americans and Afghans in this stripped-down barracks break into groups—trumpets, trombones, euphoniums, drums—and the space fills with a sound that drifts between coherent music and an off-key racket. “Just like sixth-grade band class,” says Staff Sergeant David Proctor, a trombone player with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division band. Today, the Afghan band is practicing a few Russian-inspired military marches. An interpreter helps with instructions, but the Americans have also developed a few communication shortcuts. Specialist James Leggett, a trumpet player, learned a few Pashto phrases for the training sessions: Everyone play together. Louder. Stronger. Breathe. He’ll also play a tune the right way and give a thumbs-up, then play it wrong and give a thumbs-down.