30 Days in Afghanistan: Part Five 'Diplomacy'

Kabul (Afghanistan)Unrest, Conflicts and WarAfghanistanRebellionsCivil UnrestPakistanHaqqani Network

The Pakistan border is one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan. It was there that I got the rare opportunity to go out on patrol with the soldiers.

Afghan soldiers led the patrol — commanders know that as the U.S. mission winds down, they will eventually be on their own.

"In case we encounter locals, it's better they see their own security forces first," Command Sgt. MajorJohn Wayne Troxell said. "They’re more apt to talk to us, plus, they're [Afghan soldiers] on point for their nation here and people see this. The citizens see that the Afghans are up front and that the Americans are out here with them."

On patrol, we moved slowly. Everyone was on high alert for an enemy who could be anywhere and there could be an attack at any time.

"See, the key thing about this, or almost all of Afghanistan, is that it's easy for the enemy to dominate the high ground all around here. Hence, why we spread out," said Troxell.

Their mission was to make contact with village leaders around the area to find out if they needed supplies like medicine and whether they had any information about the enemy. The soldiers know that this area is filled with battle-hardened insurgents.

"Probably the most dangerous, most volatile, is the Haqqani Network which originates in Pakistan and works primarily in the eastern part of Afghanistan, in the Khost and Paktia regions, and is responsible for a lot of attacks in Kabul." Troxell said.

Recently, a top Haqqani network leader was killed in Pakistan by a U.S. drone strike.

The soldiers of the First Infantry Division continued through one field after another, not knowing if the locals they encountered would be friends or foes.

We pushed in to one village and gathered intelligence.

"This is what's going to win the war for us," Troxell said about one of the soldiers. "He is doing a key leader engagement with the elders of this village."

The patrols aim to engage village leaders to see if they have seen any insurgents or have had any other problems.

"You just don't want to step on anybody's toes or ask the wrong questions," said Sgt. First Class Christian Barajas. "You know, just try to ask the right questions."

It's dangerous work in a country where a simple conversation with a U.S. soldier can get a local killed.

"This platoon came by about a month ago and talked about setting up council meeting to work security issues and how to work together so that we can keep the insurgents out," Troxell said. "Well, the minute this platoon left, the next day, the insurgents came in and said, 'If you work with the coalition forces or the Afghan forces we will kill you and all your families.' "

The day ended after six hours on patrol. Making connections with the people who will be responsible for civil order after these troops leave is treacherous work, but it's a vital job in a nation as unpredictable as Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Kabul (Afghanistan)Unrest, Conflicts and WarAfghanistanRebellionsCivil UnrestPakistanHaqqani Network