Afghanistan Dispatch

Under Fire, The Fight Heats Up In Afghanistan

NPR photographer David Gilkey has embedded with the 101st Airborne Division outside of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan. The mission for American soldiers in this region is to cooperate with the Afghan national army to secure the area — pushing out the Taliban and empowering locals to protect themselves. But that's easier said than done. Gilkey phoned in to discuss the situation on Morning Edition.

A patrol on a road in southern Afghanistan i i

hide captionSoldiers with Bravo Company, 101st Airborne Division, Patrol one of the few paved roads in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR
A patrol on a road in southern Afghanistan

Soldiers with Bravo Company, 101st Airborne Division, Patrol one of the few paved roads in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR

The effort in Kandahar requires routine joint patrols throughout a 16-mile stretch of Taliban stronghold. The main, paved roads are laden with homemade explosive devices and thus too dangerous for travel. The soldiers must navigate a jungle-like terrain of fields and farmland in 100-degree heat to continue their outreach efforts, talking to farmers and field hands along the way.

  • Staff Stg. Jamie Newman, with Bravo Company of the 101st Airborne Division, walks through grape vineyards in Kandahar province. Bombs and homemade explosive devices make road travel too dangerous. The Taliban live in the area, planning their attacks and hiding weapons here.
    Hide caption
    Staff Stg. Jamie Newman, with Bravo Company of the 101st Airborne Division, walks through grape vineyards in Kandahar province. Bombs and homemade explosive devices make road travel too dangerous. The Taliban live in the area, planning their attacks and hiding weapons here.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Sgt. Christopher Cook (center) navigates a field of grapevines, avoiding a heavily traveled path. The 101st Airborne Division's task is to secure a 16-mile long swath of lush orchards and fields, north and west of the city of Kandahar.
    Hide caption
    Sgt. Christopher Cook (center) navigates a field of grapevines, avoiding a heavily traveled path. The 101st Airborne Division's task is to secure a 16-mile long swath of lush orchards and fields, north and west of the city of Kandahar.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Soldiers with Bravo Company talk to a boy contracted to work in the vineyards. The soldiers are constantly patrolling in an effort to communicate with locals about security in the area.
    Hide caption
    Soldiers with Bravo Company talk to a boy contracted to work in the vineyards. The soldiers are constantly patrolling in an effort to communicate with locals about security in the area.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Soldiers stop to talk to a field worker. Many of the workers are not from this area, but brought in for the harvest of grapes — making it even more difficult to sort out who is there to work and who has come to fight.
    Hide caption
    Soldiers stop to talk to a field worker. Many of the workers are not from this area, but brought in for the harvest of grapes — making it even more difficult to sort out who is there to work and who has come to fight.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. James Turner scales an 8-foot-high mud wall. The terrain in the Pashmul area of Kandahar province makes patrolling difficult. Rows of grapevines stand 10 feet tall, and there is knee-deep mud between the rows. Taliban fighters move under the cover of the dense foliage, making the landscape seem more like a jungle than a desert.
    Hide caption
    Pfc. James Turner scales an 8-foot-high mud wall. The terrain in the Pashmul area of Kandahar province makes patrolling difficult. Rows of grapevines stand 10 feet tall, and there is knee-deep mud between the rows. Taliban fighters move under the cover of the dense foliage, making the landscape seem more like a jungle than a desert.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • An Afghan National Army soldier walks past a grape-drying barn while looking for sniper hideouts. Buildings in the area are routinely trapped with explosives to be triggered by soldiers. The top Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, was born in the Zhari area, and many of his first recruits came from this region.
    Hide caption
    An Afghan National Army soldier walks past a grape-drying barn while looking for sniper hideouts. Buildings in the area are routinely trapped with explosives to be triggered by soldiers. The top Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, was born in the Zhari area, and many of his first recruits came from this region.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • An Afghan soldier on patrol with Bravo Company crouches behind a rock after gunshots are fired.
    Hide caption
    An Afghan soldier on patrol with Bravo Company crouches behind a rock after gunshots are fired.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Sgt. Robert Scabilloni runs to take a position while under fire near an irrigation ditch.
    Hide caption
    Sgt. Robert Scabilloni runs to take a position while under fire near an irrigation ditch.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Spc. Jotiyar Saaty yells for more ammunition while combating heavy enemy fire near the village of Payendi. Soldiers from Bravo Company fought a 4-hour running gun battle with insurgents, trading fire with the enemy as the Americans made their way back to their combat outpost.
    Hide caption
    Spc. Jotiyar Saaty yells for more ammunition while combating heavy enemy fire near the village of Payendi. Soldiers from Bravo Company fought a 4-hour running gun battle with insurgents, trading fire with the enemy as the Americans made their way back to their combat outpost.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Saaty walks back to the combat outpost, exhausted from the gun battle in 115-degree heat.
    Hide caption
    Saaty walks back to the combat outpost, exhausted from the gun battle in 115-degree heat.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Michael Stubbs (center) rests during a debriefing after the intense gun battle with the Taliban.
    Hide caption
    Pfc. Michael Stubbs (center) rests during a debriefing after the intense gun battle with the Taliban.
    David Gilkey/NPR

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On a recent patrol, the 101st came under heavy fire and engaged in a 4-hour battle with Taliban insurgents. There were no casualties, but exhaustion has settled in. Army officials have said that the key to winning the war is winning the trust of locals. But until American forces can rid the region of the Taliban — which would allow the military to move freely and alleviate fear among Afghan civilians — face time with those locals will remain limited.

Pfc. Christopher Tolentino yells for more ammunition while under fire in Afghanistan i i

hide captionSpc. Jotiyar Saaty, with Bravo Company of the 101st Airborne Division, yells for more ammunition while trying to suppress heavy enemy fire near a village in the Pashmul area of Kandahar province.

David Gilkey/NPR
Pfc. Christopher Tolentino yells for more ammunition while under fire in Afghanistan

Spc. Jotiyar Saaty, with Bravo Company of the 101st Airborne Division, yells for more ammunition while trying to suppress heavy enemy fire near a village in the Pashmul area of Kandahar province.

David Gilkey/NPR

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