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.
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.
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.