JIM LEHRER: Four more U.S. military personnel were killed [in Afghanistan] over the weekend. The U.S. military effort is the subject of tonight's report from Margaret Warner. She will be reporting from Afghanistan throughout this week.
MARGARET WARNER: From a few thousand feet up, eastern Afghanistan is a knock-out. But these fertile valleys and jagged peaks shelter legions of anti-government fighters, and they're proving a thorny challenge to the United States as it tries to turn the tide of a war it thought it had won years ago.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SCHLOESSER, Commander, Regional Command East: So this is definitely a contested valley; there's no doubt about it. There are, you know, insurgent groups that are in here.
MARGARET WARNER: We are flying with Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, a 32-year Army veteran. He's commanding general of the U.S.-run security sector of Afghanistan, known as Regional Command East.
Schloesser is on a whirlwind tour of several troop outposts under his command. He says the fight against the Taliban in his region is particularly tough because of its historic hostility to outsiders and its proximity to the near-lawless western regions of Pakistan.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SCHLOESSER: They still retain a safe haven right across the border. And you saw, as we flew up here, it's not very far away.
And then, two, we are really increasing the amount of troops on the ground in R.C. East in eastern Afghanistan. And they're getting out amongst areas that -- where there were insurgents, and they are making them upset, and they're fighting back.
MARGARET WARNER: It is not just control of the east that's at stake here. It is the security of the whole country. Attacks are up in several areas. U.S., coalition and Afghan troop deaths soared nationwide last year.
The danger was evident at a Korengal Valley outpost that had taken fire just 90 minutes before we arrived. A unit of the Afghan National Army, or ANA, shares this outpost with Viper Company of the U.S. Army's 26th Infantry Regiment. And Afghan soldiers man the exposed observation posts around it.
Twenty-two-year-old ANA Sergeant Muhammad Ibrahim was on the ridge when his post was shot at, to no effect.
SGT. MUHAMMAD IBRAHIM, Afghan National Army (through translator): We do not know the exact place the fire came from. Every time they want to shoot, they are shooting from different places.
MARGARET WARNER: Viper Company's executive officer Lieutenant John Rodriguez senses suspicion even when his men pay a friendly call on local villages.
LT. JOHN RODRIGUEZ, U.S. Army: There's villages that I've been to that I've only seen a handful of males my age the whole time I've been here. And there's more males out there than what you see. I mean, you see lots of babies everywhere, but no young men, so...
MARGARET WARNER: What does that tell you?
LT. JOHN RODRIGUEZ: That they're hiding in the hills.
MARGARET WARNER: Schloesser says Afghanistan's cities won't be secure unless remote areas like Korengal are, and that fight is far from over. Even during our flight into Kunar province, Schloesser was getting reports of attacks on outposts right below us.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SCHLOESSER: And they reported that it was small-arms fire or 107?
RADIO CONTACT: 107, sir.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SCHLOESSER: That's a small rocket.
MARGARET WARNER: But you're saying that, right up in there, there are insurgents?
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SCHLOESSER: Oh, yes. Oh, I'll guarantee you. Yes, because -- I'll just say it that way, yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Schloesser is pursing a classic counterinsurgency strategy: drive the enemy from an area, stay around to protect the local people, and help them build a sustainable life, with everything from roads and bridges to farming assistance.
SOLDIER: Well, I say, if you get the big stuff out, it'll grow anything.
MARGARET WARNER: One unit executing the hearts-and-minds strategy is an agribusiness development team, or ADT, of the Nebraska National Guard. It's based at Bagram air field, the major coalition installation in Afghanistan, 90 minutes north of Kabul.
We went out with them one morning in Kapisa province on a mission to advise a local community on how to create an agricultural research facility.
SGT. WILLIAM JONES, Nebraska National Guard: Just as simple as just pushing it into the ground with your weight.
MARGARET WARNER: Sergeant William Jones, who was taking soil samples, says Afghanistan's farmers lost a generation's worth of know-how over 30 years of war.
SGT. WILLIAM JONES: They're still farming with the oxens and the plows, so their farming practices are what's behind. They have the ability. The intelligence level of the farmers is extremely high. But what we're trying to do as an agribusiness development team is give them that education that they need to strive and to get bigger.
MARGARET WARNER: But no sooner had our convoy returned to Bagram that a suicide attack hit outside the main gate. The next night, four rockets were lobbed at Bagram. One hit the detention facility inside.
The following morning, Lieutenant Jeremy Button of the 101st Airborne led his platoon to the nearby town of Jabal Saraj. He stopped first to pick up his patrol partner, a local unit of the Afghan National Police, or ANP.
LT. JEREMY BUTTON, U.S. Army: Are they aware about what's been going on around Bagram the last couple of days?
MARGARET WARNER: The joint patrol made its way on foot through town, stopping traffic as a precaution. Button's unit conducts up to three such patrols a day.
LT. JEREMY BUTTON: Things seem to be -- they seem to be heating up a little bit lately. You let your guard down just a little bit, and things start to happen, so that's why we're ramping it up a little bit around here.
MARGARET WARNER: While patrols seek out insurgents on the ground, U.S. air patrols also hunt insurgents from the skies. The raids have killed many Taliban, but also civilians among whom the militants live.
The U.N. says more than 2,000 Afghan civilians died last year, a nearly 40 percent jump. Coalition and Afghan forces accounted for nearly 40 percent of those.
The reports have stirred anger among Afghans. At a bus station in Kabul, where Afghans come to catch rides south, minibus driver Satoor Khan voiced his outrage.
SATOOR KHAN (through translator): One person gives wrong information that there is Taliban without finding out whether it is a true report, and they air strike and bombard and kill children, women and others. I hold the Americans responsible.
LAL GUL LAL, Director, Afghan Human Rights Organization: They don't respect to our law, they don't respect to our religion, they don't respect to our culture.
MARGARET WARNER: Lal Gul Lal, head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, says the bombing attacks and night raids on homes are turning Afghans against the Americans and their own government.
LAL GUL LAL: They killed a lot of and injure a lot of civilians. And that's a big problem for the people and a complaint against the coalition forces, especially U.S. forces.
MARGARET WARNER: General Schloesser insists every effort is made to minimize civilian deaths.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SCHLOESSER: We go to extraordinary measures to ensure that we don't have civilian casualties. And when they do occur -- and sometimes they do occur -- we investigate and we take responsibility. And in this area of the world, you pay a solatia payment, and we do all that, I think, better than anyone else.
LAL GUL LAL: Just $2,000. That's not human rights. That's not justice. That's not compensation.
MARGARET WARNER: The Taliban uses the controversy to great effect, issuing propaganda videos of the aftermath of alleged coalition attacks to recruit insurgent foot soldiers. That was the case for Yasir, a Pakistani arrested in January on charges of planning deadly suicide bombings in Kabul.
We were given access to him Saturday at the National Directorate of Security, or NDS, interrogation center.
Yasir denies planning suicide bombings, but he readily concedes he came to Kabul to wage jihad against foreign forces.
YASIR (through translator): In Pakistan, the mullahs are encouraging people to go to Afghanistan and do jihad. They are saying they bombed a wedding party and they killed 100 to 200 people. So you consider yourself a Muslim? What kind of a Muslim you are? You should go and fight against them and protect your brothers and sisters.
MARGARET WARNER: Many suicide bomb and IED attacks are committed by Pakistanis or Afghans living there, asserts NDS spokesman Saeed Ansari.
SAEED ANSARI, Spokesman, National Directorate of Security (through translator): There are many madrassas in Pakistan that not only teach Islamic studies, but have trained the terrorists, as well. They train them how to use weapons, how to use suicide vests and explosive material.
MARGARET WARNER: This boy, Abdullah, was apprehended near Jalalabad recently wearing a grenade-laden vest. He said he's 11 or 12 years old. His father sent him to a madrassa for schooling, he said, and before long his teachers were training him to join the Taliban.
Why did you want to join Mujahideen?
ABDULLAH (through translator): Our teacher was explaining, when you do a suicide bombing, you will go directly to paradise and you'll have a happy and good life there.
MARGARET WARNER: Who did they tell you, you were going to kill?
ABDULLAH (through translator): They said kill all non-Muslims. You are a Mujahid.
MARGARET WARNER: Were you ready to die yourself?
ABDULLAH (through translator): They didn't tell me I would be killed.
MARGARET WARNER: Abdullah doesn't know what will happen to him now, but he hasn't changed his mind.
Do you still want to kill non-Muslims?
ABDULLAH (through translator): Yes, definitely. When I grow up, I will join the Mujahideen, and I'll kill non-Muslims.
MARGARET WARNER: Former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Salam Zaeef predicts this kind of anti-Western sentiment will prove a tough fight for the new U.S. troops.
ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, Former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan: They do not care about themselves or care about the Americans. They said, "When we're killed, we are successful. If we kill American, we are successful." And it's no difference for them.
MARGARET WARNER: We asked Zaeef how much of Afghanistan the Taliban now controls.
ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF: If you go to Kandahar and go by this road, you will see which area is controlled by Taliban.
MARGARET WARNER: What will I see?
ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF: If they will not allow you to go there, that means that's out of control government.
MARGARET WARNER: So that means Taliban's in control?
ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: At the other end of that vital highway lies the coalition's Regional Command South. It will soon see a lot more action.
It is here at Kandahar air field where most of the new U.S. troops will come to be deployed throughout the south. This is where the Taliban started taking over Afghanistan 13 years ago. Subduing them here now is essential to stopping them this time.
BRIG. GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, Deputy Commander, Regional Command South: The primary method of operation is to secure the population. So we'll move in initially to these areas where the population is. We also want to ensure we have freedom of movement.
MARGARET WARNER: U.S. Army Brigadier General John Nicholson is the deputy commander of R.C. South, which is headed by a European.
BRIG. GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON: We've had insufficient forces to adequately secure the population in the southern region for some time. Despite the heroic efforts of our allies, they've simply not had enough forces to do it.
With the introduction of U.S. forces, we are going to be able to adequately secure the population and then move forward in terms of governance and development.
MARGARET WARNER: But this is a huge area. Can 17,000 more troops really enable you to secure the population throughout this area?
BRIG. GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON: Well, when you look at the American Army, the American Marines that are coming here, most of them have service in Iraq, so we all must learn the culture of Afghanistan, learn the people of Afghanistan, show respect for their culture and religion, and perform in a way that does no harm to the population.
MARGARET WARNER: Some Afghans, like parliament member Roshanak Wardak, argue there's a better way to protect the Afghan population than sending more U.S. fighting forces.
ROSHANAK WARDAK, Member of Parliament, Afghanistan: Please spend that money on our own police or our own military persons. If we increase number of our police, our military, even after five years we will not have any need for foreign troops.
MARGARET WARNER: That is a vision of the future New York National Guard Colonel Paul Somersall is working on. The West Point graduate is acting chief of a small Kandahar-airfield-based unit of soldiers and Marines who train and mentor Afghan army and police forces in the field. It's dangerous work.
COL. PAUL SOMERSALL, New York State National Guard: And these men who are represented here on this wall are paid the ultimate sacrifice.
MARGARET WARNER: Thirty-two men from Somersall's 600-member team have been killed in the 11 months he's been here, yet he calls this the most rewarding job of his career.
At the main coalition-ANA training center in Kabul, Afghan soldiers come for a 10-week course in everything from weapons-handling and tactics to logistics and literacy.
These troops will move back into the field, posted to places like the ANA's 205 Corps next to Kandahar air field, commanded by General Shir Muhammad Zezei. He told us he welcomes the prospect of more U.S. troops in the south.
GEN. SHIR MUHAMMAD ZEZEI, Afghan National Army (through translator): Yes, absolutely, they are needed. The Taliban bases its shelters and hideouts in this region, so we need the security forces to help us defeat the enemy. We also need more soldiers to help us blocking or sealing the borders.
MARGARET WARNER: Colonel Somersall hopes the new U.S. forces will include 1,000 to 1,500 additional U.S. mentors and trainers and that the international community will fund a larger Afghan army than it does now.
COL. PAUL SOMERSALL: It's not just the capability, but the size of the Army. So I think we still have a ways to go. The army's progressing well, and they're taking on the responsibility to develop themselves every single day.
MARGARET WARNER: Driving back to the base in a beat-up Ford Ranger pickup, Somersall says the Afghan soldiers at their core are a lot like the soldiers and Marines he leads.
COL. PAUL SOMERSALL: The soldiers here are very passionate about protecting their country and serving Afghanistan. We've become a brotherhood, especially with the guys that are alongside them fighting.
MARGARET WARNER: After years of setbacks and missed opportunities, their common cause is that one day the fight can be left to the Afghans alone.
JIM LEHRER: In her next report, Margaret interviews General David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.