STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And I'm Deborah Amos.
In Afghanistan, the battle for the southern city of Kandahar has not officially begun, but it's already quietly under way. For every American military unit there, the mission is different. American military police patrol in Kandahar city. In rural areas outside the city, soldiers prepare to strike at the Taliban. Other troops are working to win over villagers.
INSKEEP: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in Kandahar and in the next few weeks, he will be reporting on what the military hopes to achieve. For this report, Tom met up with American Green Berets working to bring security to a remote village.
TOM BOWMAN: Picture one of those Hollywood Westerns, where a lone cowboy rides into a town of cattle rustlers - except out here, the bad guys are the Taliban.
Captain DAN (U.S. Army Green Beret): We really are on the outskirts of bad-guy land.
BOWMAN: This is the village of Ezabad, just northwest of Kandahar city, a jumble of walled compounds set in a vast desert plain, high adobe walls cracked by the sun.
Cap. DAN: I think we're going to make it a little nicer, though. Give us a week.
BOWMAN: That's Dan, a Green Beret captain. For security reasons, we can only use his first name. Dan gestures from his walled compound to a farming village 100 yards away. Kids ride past on bikes, kicking up plumes of dust. Other kids struggle under the weight of wheelbarrows. In the distance, men are working the fields.
Cap. DAN: It's a lot easier to help people when you live next door than it is when you live on a big base.
BOWMAN: What the Americans hope to create by living next door to Ezabad is one more link in what's called the village stability operation. The plan has several goals, and it's pretty simple. First, provide needed projects, like schools and clinics. Second, provide security, because without security, villagers won't use those schools or clinics.
So the Green Berets are helping form a village community watch. Think armed neighbors willing to protect the village against the Taliban.
Cap. DAN: I think this grassroots, bottom-up approach is definitely a step in the right direction.
BOWMAN: That approach means the Americans work with Afghan troops. Inside the compound, men sleep on cots.
Cap. DAN: Right over here, you've got where the ANASF guys sleep. These guys are welcomed into our team day one, and treated as such.
BOWMAN: ANASF - that's Afghan National Army Special Forces. They're highly trained soldiers in a country where many security forces, especially the police, are corrupt. Their commander, Captain Dost, says through his interpreter, the police were part of the problem.
Captain DOST (Commander, Afghan National Army Special Forces): (Through translator) They weren't coming to the village to ask about people's problems. They didn't want to build up relationships with the people. So that's why people were complaining about them.
BOWMAN: Dost wears a scarf tied around his head. His face is toughened by the sun. He's 25, but looks twice as old. Dost will be the one who approaches the villagers - an Afghan talking to Afghans.
Cap. DAN: He does the lead talking for all the conversations. Initially, I did. A lot of the conversations definitely fell on deaf ears.
BOWMAN: So on this day, Captain Dost leads the way as the Afghans and Americans head toward the village. They cross fields covered by small, green plants with sharp, narrow leaves.
Cap. DAN: This would be marijuana - quite a bit of it.
BOWMAN: The Afghan commander waves to several farmers. They slowly trudge toward him. Remember how Dan, the Green Beret captain, said he doesn't take the lead anymore? Well, he doesn't. The Afghans - Captain Dost and the farmers -sit down in the field, and Dan stands off to one side.
One farmer says he's worried the Taliban will come, and they'll be caught in a crossfire.
Cap. DOST: (Through translator) We are afraid that they're going to come from somewhere else and shoot at you guys. And you know, we might get hurt (unintelligible).
Unidentified Man (Translator): And he assured them, you know, nothing like that is going to happen.
BOWMAN: Maybe the farmer believed him, maybe not. This is the critical link if the war in Afghanistan is to be won: winning over the villagers. And it's not easy.
Captain Dost leads the American and Afghan troops to another house.
Cap. DAN: He's going to talk to the children or whoever's in the compound, see if Khan wants to have a chat.
BOWMAN: Khan - that's the nephew of a village elder who fled after Taliban threats. Dan and the others hope Khan will help the soldiers gain a foothold among villagers.
But there's only disappointment.
Unidentified Man: He said he left like, six days ago.
Cap. DAN: Where'd he go?
KHAN: (foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man: He doesn't know, but towards the city somewhere.
Cap. DAN: Towards the city?
Unidentified Man: Yeah.
Cap. DAN: Six days ago, huh?
BOWMAN: Khan left without explanation. They all turn to leave.
Cap. DAN: Good, Dost?
Cap. DOST: Uh-huh.
Cap. DAN: OK. Let's go.
Cap. DOST: Let's go.
BOWMAN: The American and Afghan patrol heads out of the village, as the sun begins to dip into the desert.
Back at the compound, Dan pulls a makeshift, razor-wire fence to shield the opening. His village contact Khan failed to show up.
Cap. DAN: I'm disappointed that Khan wasn't there. He usually is very open with us and seems to support our cause. So tomorrow, anything could happen. It's another day.
BOWMAN: He turns to his Afghan partner, Captain Dost, as they head to their bunks.
Cap. DAN: All right. Get some rest, bro.
Capt. DOST: (Foreign language spoken)
DAN: Good job today.
Capt. DOST: (Foreign language spoken)
BOWMAN: It's clear that reaching out to the village of Ezabad will take time.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar, Afghanistan.
INSKEEP: And Tom has another report tonight on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.