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Military Forces in Afghanistan Combat Resurgent Taliban

April 20, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT

ALEX THOMSON, ITV News Correspondent: We headed north, through and beyond Sangin Town, Sangin itself a ghost town. The Taliban pushed north of here; the population scattered by the fighting.

And where there were Afghans, there are now Americans. Alpha Company of the 82nd have commandeered a compound used as a supply depot by Taliban fighters.

Conditions are primitive: Water is scarce, the dust and the dirt everywhere. There are times to kill here, but the Taliban’s hit-and-run tactics keep them an unseen force.

These men tried to dominate the area. The commander of Alpha Company has come to appreciate that there are two types of Taliban fighter.

CAPT. JOHN PELIKAN, U.S. Army: Well, it’s been pockets. It’s been different pockets. We’ve had some pockets where we experience more resistance than others. Some pockets, they’ll be sending effective fire on us, and what I mean by “effective fire” is well-aimed fire. And when we experience those, we know we’re dealing with foreign fighters.

But the ones that are just pop shots and sporadic fire and not well-aimed fire, we know those are more of the tier 2 guys that the Taliban used to sort of throw at us in hordes. You know, they use the local farmers to sort of do their dirty work for them and then wait for the key shots from the foreign fighters to fight us.

Searching houses

ALEX THOMSON: Every day, Alpha Company patrols the poppy fields around its fort. The heat's intense, the tension of possible ambush palpable. If the deserted compounds are open, they knock and enter and search. If they're locked, it's "As-Salamu Alaykum, knocking your door down, sorry."

AMERICAN SOLDIER: As-Salamu Alaykum. Kicking your door in. Sorry. Not really, but...

ALEX THOMSON: More problematic locks are blown off. The approach here is orderly and business-like. It's got to be done grid by grid. The commanding officer of Alpha Company told me a few moments ago if they went just a few miles up the road, the chances of encountering a firefight would be all but 100 percent. These searches are done with a minimum of fuss and interference, but they have turned up in a number of large arms caches.

LT. CYRIL MALIKA, U.S. Army: We have AKs, RPGs, several caches like this. We've found people who would shoot at us and then go into a house and hide in like haystacks, you know, and dump their weapons. So, you know, it's around here. You just have to be lucky and find it.

ALEX THOMSON: In one of the few occupied compounds, we find the man standing between the 82nd Airborne Division and the women and children. Suddenly, Lieutenant Malika's patrol comes upon some more villagers who've returned.

INTERPRETER: He said, "Yes, we don't care about it from you. Just we scared from fighting."

LT. CYRIL MALIKA: All right, all right, tell them we'll be in the area. And if they see -- if they know any bad people, just find us and tell us.

ALEX THOMSON: They say, "OK then. Give us your mobile. We'll call you if we find any Taliban." But Lieutenant Malika doesn't have one.

LT. CYRIL MALIKA: OK, all right. Here. That's it. Tell him thank you. We'll be on our way.

Suspicious findings

ALEX THOMSON: More compounds, more suspicions to be allayed.

Do you have to check it out?

AMERICAN SOLDIER: It's kind of suspicious, don't you think?

ALEX THOMSON: Could be anything, I guess, yes.

But it's just what it says, a suitcase hanging on a wall, a document of value to intelligence officers or just an old film poster from somebody's bedroom.

In the days we were in the area, we noticed a few families were at least beginning to return home. Some were confident enough to make a direct approach to the Americans. Sheik Mohammed Kahn welcomes them here but complained about the constant searches.


ALEX THOMSON: So they gave him a sheep.

Four-year-old Amanullah, though, has more immediate problems. He's got a shrapnel wound in his leg. The medic says it's healing up well and he'll be fine. His 7-year-old sister killed in the same blast.

So it is that, on the ground, soldiers are intent to deal with the pain and debris of war, burning two cows killed by mortars. In the skies, attack helicopters quarter this river plain for remnants of the Taliban, but faced with such overwhelming odds, they simply melt away.

Working toward sustained security

ALEX THOMSON: And are you -- I don't know -- are you defeating the Taliban? Or are you simply pushing them out of an area? They're melting away. There's a difference, isn't there?

CAPT. JOHN PELIKAN: Yes, that is a good question. I mean, yes, you can sweep them out, but they're just going to come right back. So in order to create a longer-lasting security, you have to bring legitimate forces, security forces in behind you that are going to be there the whole time.

And that's the main effort, really, is when we bring in the Afghanistan army, and we bring in the Afghanistan police, that's their job, is to sustain that security, maintain that security for long lasting.

ALEX THOMSON: That is what these soldiers are here for. About the poppy harvest, currently gathering pace all around them, they couldn't care less.

Instead, this is the kind of thing that concerns the 82nd: their Humvee Napalm Death a few days, and now, after two rocket grenade strikes. Outside the fort, the body of Thor II is stove in by a landmine.

And all the while, the human cost is mounting, primarily on Afghanistan's civilians, but also on the Taliban and the foreign and Afghan soldiers. As the 82nd returned at sunset from patrolling north of Sangin, south of the town, at Camp Bastion, they repatriate the body of 19-year-old Private Christopher Gray, a British soldier.

FUNERAL SPEAKER: As the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

ALEX THOMSON: He was shot dead on April the 13th in a firefight with the Taliban.