KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Children at an Afghan military base and government compound in the heart of Kandahar city must surely have one of the world's strangest playgrounds.

They clamber up rusting tanks, using a still-swivelling turret as a merry-go-round.

An overturned chassis from another now indeterminate weapon of war becomes a slide. A precariously balanced metal part from some other armament becomes a teeter-totter.

They hang upside down -- a cannon barrel turned monkey bar.

The hulks on which these children frolic are ghosts of a war past -- a haunting testament to the folly of empire building gone horribly wrong.

"King of the Castle" becomes "King of the Tank" as the grinning boys and girls jostle for height, cavorting on unforgiving metal with an abandon that would make the hearts of most North American parents skip a beat or two.

The bright red or yellow clothing of the girls provides a starkly colourful contrast to the drab military browns or greens of their giant playthings.

Dozens of Soviet tanks, armoured troop carriers, military trucks and various heavy guns -- some passingly pristine, others jagged and broken -- lie strewn about within this base, a military junkyard.

These wrecks, which have become the neighbourhood playground for the kids of this part of the base known as 2 Corps, were once cloistered behind an iron curtain -- the property of one of the world's mightiest armies.

Here was the main southern Afghan front for the government of the Soviet Union, whose blood-stained, economically devastating nine-year backing of the Communist government in Kabul only served to contribute to its own demise.

Despite the vast array of firepower, the mujahedeen insurgency prevailed, and the retreating Soviet soldiers simply closed the gates on this base and walked away from their equipment, including personal items such as helmets.

In an adjacent part of the compound, behind a gate with arches whose fading murals depict scenes of placid opulence, trucks stand neatly parked in garages, as if the owner had driven in, gotten out and walked away forever.

A heavy machine-gun perched on a rooftop stands silhouetted against the blue sky, its bullets rusting in place in the ammunition belt.

Now, Afghan National Army soldiers keep an eye on the slowly decaying equipment to prevent the new insurgency from finding nefarious ways to repurpose any of it.

Asked why the tonnes of metal and steel aren't simply melted down or put to some other benign use, one soldier shrugs: "It's not my responsibility," he says.

It's not clear what the children make of these instruments of war on which they now play so seemingly carefree, while a lone cow rubs its face against the muzzle of one tank, and goats munch on the few weeds they find.

What is certain: This neighbourhood playground -- steeped in bloody history -- is surely one of the strangest anywhere.