By U.S. military standards, they didn’t exactly come from Central Casting.


One, a senior Afghan police officer in a death-gray dress uniform just a tad tight in the midriff; the other, a lean, bearded Afghan National Army general clad in green jungle fatigues of all things.


Between them sat an immaculate Marine general in desert camouflage attire.


The three looked like some kind of progression, though a transition from what to what to what remained imponderable.


The two Afghan generals had lead a security delegation to Camp Pendleton last week to confer with Marines deploying to their country this spring and a press conference was duly called.


In little more than a two years men like Maj. Gen. Nabi Jan Mullah Khil, a deputy police chief of the Afghan National Police, and Maj. Gen. Sayed Malouk, an Afghan National Army Corps commander, will take on the Taliban largely lone if U.S. forces leave them as planned in 2014.


These men are the best last hope that nearly 1,900 American service members killed there and another 15,000 wounded had not bled for nothing.


The photo op proceeded predictably. No one said anything remotely demanding to be heard. The Marines were glad the Afghans had come. The Afghans were glad they came.


There were vague references concerning the benefits of watching border operations between the United States and Mexico that might have some application back home.


The visitors referenced a mock Afghan village that Marines use for training. Thought I detected a trace of offense when asked how it measured up to the real thing, but they diplomatically avoided answering the question directly.


A more venturesome reporter might have asked whether any of them had considered, say, ditching the fighting and staying in North County and learning to surf.


It was dull. Heartfelt, but dull.


Then something changed. I don’t recall the question, but the answer remains clear.


Malouk said Taliban forces, unable to fight his units straight up, had turned to blowing his men up with roadside bombs instead.


He had lost more than 50 men recently; all but a very few ripped apart by hidden bombs.


His eyes turned to red slits of anger and sorrow, though his voice never faltered.


Until that moment losses by Afghanistan troops and police during a decade of war had never registered; my thoughts myopically focused on U.S. troops fighting there and their families back here.


Since 2007, according to a November 2011 report by Congressional Research Service, at least 5,325 Afghan troops and police have been killed and another 8,679 wounded.


Only the brave volunteer for the U.S. military and they deserve all kudos bestowed.


But these Afghans police and national army officers defied belief. For them there is no promise of safe haven. Not in six months or a year or 10 years. Not ever.


For these men, brave beyond all measure, their boats had long since burned.