KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - At this sprawling US military base in the middle of the Afghan desert, sometimes it's difficult to tell if there's a war going on.
Along a wooden boardwalk at the Kandahar Airfield, you can order a raspberry smoothie, buy pirated DVDs, eat a pizza, shop for trinkets and watch people in shorts play volleyball on a sand court.
As NATO's US-led force prepares to depart by December, more and more troops are "behind the wire" on heavily guarded bases, with Afghan forces now taking charge of the fight against Taliban insurgents.
The deadly conflict of homemade bombs and militant ambushes seems far away at the larger bases in Afghanistan, where television screens blast US cable news and basketball games.
The contradiction bothers Staff Sergeant Sean Clayborn, 32, from the US Army's 101st Airborne Division.
His unit has a dangerous job clearing routes of explosives, and all the creature comforts can give a false sense of safety for the soldiers when they return to Bagram Airfield north of Kabul, he said.
"Bagram is very misleading. It gives you the impression you're not really where you are," said Clayborn, who deployed in February.
"You see civilians. You can shop. It's all a distraction."
At smaller, more remote outposts, he said, a unit becomes a "tighter knit" team.
He has little enthusiasm for activities meant to occupy the troops, including karaoke, salsa dancing and movie nights. "Again it's the illusion that you're not where you are," he said.
Other soldiers, including those who spend time outside the big bases, disagreed.
"I like it," said US Navy Petty Officer Alexis Palm, 22, as she sipped on a caramel frappe.
She works as a welder at a smaller base down the road, and she said a visit to the boardwalk is a morale booster. "I think it helps us decompress."
Espresso shots and speed limits
Rocket attacks used to be a daily occurrence at Kandahar Airfield, or "KAF", but now months have passed since the last assault.
Even if there is little physical danger, the schedule at KAF can be gruelling and monotonous. Most work seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Their spare time is spent at the gym, watching films or talking to family in online video chats.