Video: Taliban strengthens in Afghanistan

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/12/2006 8:59:36 PM ET 2006-12-13T01:59:36

Above mountain ridges, U.S. helicopters search for a new wave of Taliban fighters entering eastern Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan.

On the ground, deep in Kunaar province, is Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment, sitting right on the infiltration route and determined to stop them.

“We definitely see the Pakistan influence,” says Capt. Rob Stanton. “We hear it in the language that the enemy uses. And we know that's where a lot of the weapons come from.”

The 1-32's intelligence intercepts also say that a “winter cell” — or fresh group of al-Qaida commanders — is now in place, preparing to direct the fight throughout the normally quiet winter months. Facing them here are about 60 U.S. soldiers in a small outpost. Surrounded by hostile high ground, the 1-32 uses other eyes, like unmanned aerial vehicles called “Ravens,” to scout behind the ridges.

“We get intel reports,” says Staff Sgt. Gui Lamb. “We can fly it to the areas to see if the intel is correct.”

And they use high-tech scanners in pitch dark.

“Most of the intel we receive is that they move at night,” says Lt. Michael Harrison.

Many of these “hunters” are Iraq war vets who thought Afghanistan would be easier. But — as video shot by the soldiers themselves shows — they were wrong. They have been in 42 firefights since May, including an unprecedented daytime attack. The enemy, they say, is getting bolder, and U.S. casualties are mounting. With 18 killed and dozens wounded, no other battalion has been hit harder.

It's not what they, or families back home, expected.

“They think it's not hostile out here,” says Spc. Thomas Zirkel about his family. “When you get phone calls it's like, ‘Yeah, I'm doing good.’ You don't want to tell them.”

Some villages here are starting to cooperate, giving tips to the 1-32 on Taliban movements. Others are not.

By day, Afghans in one village welcome U.S. forces, but at night, the same villagers harbor al-Qaida-linked fighters, according to U.S. military intelligence.

The 1-32 has superior firepower, artillery and airstrikes at its disposal. But during one recent night alone, their patrols were hit six times. This hot zone is getting hotter.

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