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US troops celebrate Thanksgiving in Kabul

KABUL — It was Army Sergeant Keith Wells’s first Thanksgiving Day away from his family and despite a cornucopia of food provided for the troops, his taste buds were craving his wife’s macaroni and cheese back home.

‘‘My wife’s a foodie — you know the Food Network, cooking shows. Everything she makes is golden,’’ Wells, of Charlotte, N.C., said Thursday at an large international military base in ­Kabul.

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The dining hall served up mac and cheese along with traditional Thanksgiving fixings.

Wells was thankful for the good food, but he still missed his wife’s cooking.

An estimated 2,500 diners lined up in the dining hall. Red-white-and-blue decorations filled the room. Brochures ­titled ‘‘Learn about combat stress’’ served as table centerpieces.

There was roast turkey, ham, and rib-eye steaks. The troops were served steaming side dishes of dressing, corn, collard greens, yams, and mashed potatoes and gravy that some lapped up with spoons.

For dessert, there was a massive cake with a turkey etched in ­icing, pumpkin spice cookies, and scores of pies.

A short walk from the dining hall, service members were playing a modified version of football. On this base, concrete barriers surrounded the field. The referees wore camouflaged shirts and the spectators carried rifles.

The players used a regulation football, but the game was a mix of football, soccer, and rugby to fit the short field.

Some soldiers commented about the 11-year-old war that has claimed the lives of 2,029 American service members.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Chuck Minton of Monroe, Ga., was optimistic. ‘‘It’s been progressing here, getting better. The Afghans have taken over more missions,’’ Minton said.

President Obama pulled 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan in 2011 and 23,000 more this year, leaving about 66,000 American service members still deployed in the country.

Nearly all international combat troops are to withdraw by the end of 2014 when ­Afghan forces will be fully in charge of securing the nation.

Army Major Rodney Gehrett of Colorado Springs, Colo., said he was surprised that the war was barely mentioned during the recent US presidential election — evidence that some Americans had tuned out the news from the front line a half a world away.

‘‘The war in Afghanistan wasn’t even brought up as a topic of conversation’’ during the election, Gehrett said. ‘‘It was a little surprising to me. Hopefully, that will change and people will realize that we still have troops here and they are fighting every day.’’

Army Sergeant Adam Draughn of Denver said some people back home have the impression that the Afghan people don’t want US troops in their country.

‘‘Honestly, I think the biggest misconception in my opinion is that, you know, we actually are loved here,’’ Draughn said. ‘‘The nationals do care about us. They do want us here to help them. We’re not here uninvited.’’

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