In the early 50s, a group of Americans built a town for themselves in Afghanistan that felt like a bit of America dropped into the Afghan desert. Flush with money from the export of furs, the royal government in Kabul had hired American engineers to construct two dams and a vast network of canals in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, with the hope of transforming barren desert into verdant farmland. The homes there had front lawns, not fortified walls. The community pool and high school were co-ed. The clubhouse bar served gin and tonics. The Americans called the town by its proper name -- Lashkar Gah. But the Afghans soon came up with their own name: Little America. By the early 1950s, the American engineers had built a model town from scratch. Although the town began as an oasis for the American engineers and their U.S.-educated Afghan partners, it also was supposed to serve as an example of a modern community, one that village dwellers would seek to replicate.
In my new book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, I describe the little-known story of U.S. development efforts in southern Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s. Here is a guided tour of that strange time and place, courtesy of Bettina Nordby and Rebecca Ansary Pettys, both of whom lived there as children.