The first Western observation of a fighting season here referred only to the poppy harvest, Kilcullen said. It originated in the 1960s with Louis Dupree, an archaeologist and anthropologist from Greenville, N.C., who taught at Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, among other places, and was perhaps the best-known Western scholar of Afghanistan.
“One of the things he wrote about was how a rural society like Afghanistan can’t farm and fight at the same time, so when it’s harvest season or there are other major agricultural activities going on, you’ve go to stop fighting to do that,” Kilcullen said. “So he sort of invented this idea that there’s a fighting season and a farming season, and people tend to do one or the other, but it’s very hard to do both.”
For the record, the insurgents may fight more at some parts of the year and less at others, but the NATO-led coalition doesn’t, said its spokesman, German Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz.
"ISAF doesn’t have a fighting season," he said. "We pressure them 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.”
The predictable rhythms do have an upside, especially for new soldiers in rural Afghanistan who arrive in the quiet time. It gives them an opportunity to understand the environment they’re fighting in before they’re likely to have to engage in daily combat.
Spc. Ross and Sgt. Monteoncruz, who are serving as combat engineers with the 3rd Infantry Division in Zabul province, are among those.
"We arrived Jan. 25, for a nine-month tour, so we’re seeing the lull, and the rise and the peak and then the fall," Ross said, as he listened to routine radio traffic from the other towers. "It’s actually a pretty good thing, because this way the learning curve won’t be bad at all, like it might be if we got dropped in right in the middle of the fighting season and things were just crazy.”
He calls the lull “the Taliban’s biggest mistake.”
“It gives us time to learn what the routes are supposed to look like when everything is normal, and by extension what they shouldn’t look like,” he said.
Then he spun and peered intently into the darkness with his night-vision scope. Finally, some excitement: The tower door opened and the next guard shift stepped in, accompanied by one of the last frigid blasts of the quiet season.