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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now, as we heard, the military's planning a major operation in Kandahar. And all this month, NPR is reporting from that southern province.

The city of Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban movement and remains its stronghold. That means the U.S. troops fighting there are fighting in what they call the heart of darkness - the part of Afghanistan where the Taliban hide their weapons and plan their attacks.

We reached NPR photographer David Gilkey. He's with members of the 101st Airborne Division.

Good morning, David.

(Soundbite of planes)

DAVID GILKEY: Hey, good morning, Mary Louise. How are you?

KELLY: We're great here. I hope you're holding up there. Tell us a little bit about - roughly where you are, what you can see right now.

GILKEY: I'm at a combat outpost about 17 miles - as the crow flies - from Kandahar City, and it's all pomegranates and sort of ancient grape groves.

KELLY: And we can hear a little bit of - is that helicopter noise behind you as you're talking?

GILKEY: Yeah. The outpost that I'm at was just attacked, so the helicopters are up looking for the people who just shot at us.

KELLY: So it sounds like the unit you're with is definitely encountering the Taliban, seeing some action.

GILKEY: Yeah. I'm with Bravo Company, which is part of 2nd Brigade of the 101st. Of the area, a lot of places are quiet, but where we're at is the edge of where the fighting is. And that's going on, on almost a daily basis.

KELLY: I understand you've actually witnessed a couple of gunfights. We've got some sound of one of those. Let's have a quick listen.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man: ...awareness of what's going on. We're pinned down from the west.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Unidentified Man: I need you to only take fire and take direction.

KELLY: David, tell us what we're hearing there. What was happening?

GILKEY: We went on sort of a routine patrol. We pushed out, and everything was sort of quiet for about an hour. But once they got into sort of the village area - where they know there's insurgents, they know there's a lot of IEDs - just -the gunfighting erupted. And I mean, the helicopters were shooting, and tank rounds were coming in from the mountains around us in order to sort of get things under control.

KELLY: And how far apart are we talking - are the two sides here? I mean, can the U.S. soldiers that you're with see the enemy that they're firing at?

GILKEY: I couldn't throw a baseball to where the line is from the base that I'm at, but you could certainly hit a golf ball to it. That's the whole point why Bravo Company is down here, is they are trying to expand that bubble - not only around their combat outpost, but to secure the little villages that are around here.

KELLY: Well, are you able to gauge the sympathies of the locals at all? Because as we've said, this is the very heart of the Taliban's terrain. Does the U.S. military think it can win in this part of Afghanistan?

GILKEY: Well, the military, in particular areas, yes, they can get in. They can talk to the people and certainly express their case. Where I am at, that's not possible right now, just because of the level of fighting.

KELLY: You're there as a photographer, of course, and it sounds like you're seeing some amazing and some horrific things. Is there a particular image that will stick with you?

GILKEY: Yeah, at sort of - at the peak of this battle, I was with a young guy from California who was on one of the machine guns. And he sort of looked over as he was literally burning through these strings of ammunition, and he was yelling for people to bring him more, and it was just sort of this iconic moment.

If you think about it, when you're taking pictures, you know, you always want to be shooting someone's face. And during a gun battle, there's certainly no way you can do that. So it's really sort of a rare moment when they turn and they scream, and they're yelling at their buddies to help out with the situation that's going on. And that picture, I just thought, sort of summarized the day's events yesterday.

KELLY: David, thank you, and stay safe.

GILKEY: Okay, thank you. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: That's NPR photographer David Gilkey. He's traveling with members of the 101st Airborne Division in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. And you can see that photograph, and others by David Gilkey, at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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