It is fairly common practice for male journalists working in Afghanistan to grow a beard (when they can), to try and blend in.
But a recent post at Foreign Policy, titled "One reason you shouldn't go to Afghanistan with a beard" suggested that the practice might not be the best way to go.
For many Afghans, the article says, beards on Westerners "now carry a negative connotation" since beards are often worn by special operations forces.
"In Kandahar province's Zhari district," Foreign Policy notes, "elders refer to the 'bearded Americans,' who they say behave very badly, and the 'shaven Americans,' who aren't so bad. Likewise, in Uruzgan province, locals have complained about 'bearded Americans' using foul language and manhandling respected community elders and government officials."
"Of course, not all members of special operations forces -- U.S. or allied -- wear beards, and not all regular troops are clean-shaven," says FP. "Moreover, special operations soldiers tend not to be Rambo-types; they are often unassuming, if quietly confident, men, chosen as much for their mental as their physical aptitude."
"But (often bearded) special operations forces are responsible for the most dangerous and controversial missions," says FP. "Special operations forces, not regular troops, for instance, capture and kill key al Qaeda and Taliban figures. Apart from the civilian casualties these operations sometimes cause, they also bring these soldiers into close contact with Afghan society at places and times where it is most vulnerable and sensitive. Special operations forces, for example, perform late-night raids of Afghan homes, a deeply humiliating and dishonorable event in the local culture -- in particular, the searching of women's quarters."