Like Star Wars figures beamed back to the 17th century, Australias hi-tech, lethally-equipped soldiers cut a surreal presence as they cautiously patrol the baking dustbowl of southern Afghanistan, drawing just casual glances from turbaned tribesmen and nomadic herders.
To the locals, theyre Americans who wear an emblem of a red rat. But the Australians are trying to carve out a special identity among the 40 nations that have come to Afghanistan on a mission to suppress violence and get society functioning again.
The Australians face an unseen enemy who emerges at night to lay hidden roadside bombs then melts back into the villages. "The enemy around here dont wear a uniform like we do so it could be anyone, any kid, any person," observes a private.
They must vie with such elusive insurgents for the support of a civilian population that is brutalised, war-weary and cynical
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