Image: Marines return fire in Sangin, Afghanistan
Dusan Vranic  /  AP
Lance Cpl. Andreas Padilla, left, of Los Angeles, and Sgt. Freddia Cavasos, of Visalia, Calif., with India company, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, First Marine Division, return fire during a patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan on Sunday.
By
updated 11/9/2010 4:42:36 PM ET 2010-11-09T21:42:36

U.S. Marines who recently inherited this lush river valley in southern Helmand province from British forces have tossed aside their predecessor's playbook in favor of a more aggressive strategy to tame one of the most violent places in Afghanistan.

U.S. commanders say success is critical in Sangin district — where British forces suffered nearly one-third of their deaths in the war — because it is the last remaining sanctuary in Helmand where the Taliban can freely process the opium and heroin that largely fund the insurgency.

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The district also serves as a key crossroads to funnel drugs, weapons and fighters throughout Helmand and into neighboring Kandahar province, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban and the most important battleground for coalition forces.

The U.S.-led coalition hopes its offensive in the south will kill or capture key Taliban commanders, rout militants from their strongholds and break the insurgency's back. That will allow the coalition and the Afghans to improve government services, bring new development and a sense of security.

"Sangin has been an area where drug lords, Taliban and people who don't want the government to come in and legitimize things have holed up," said Lt. Col. Jason Morris, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The unit took over responsibility for Sangin in mid-October nearly a month after the British withdrew.

That withdrawal — after more than 100 deaths over four years of combat — has raised concerns among some in Britain about the perception of U.S. Marines finishing a job the British couldn't handle. Many claimed that happened in the Iraqi city of Basra in 2007.

U.S. commanders denied that's the case in Sangin and said the withdrawal was just the final step in consolidating British forces in central Helmand and leaving the north and south to the Americans. Sangin is located in the north of the province.

Change in strategy
But one of the first things the Marines did when they took over Sangin was close roughly half the 22 patrol bases the British set up throughout the district — a clear rejection of the main pillar of Britain's strategy, which was based on neighborhood policing tactics used in Northern Ireland.

The bases were meant to improve security in Sangin, but the British ended up allocating a large percentage of their soldiers to protect them from being overrun by the Taliban. That gave the insurgents almost total freedom of movement in the district.

"The fact that a lot of those patrol bases were closed down frees up maneuver forces so that you can go out and take the fight to the enemy," Morris said during an interview at the battalion's main base in the district center, Forward Operating Base Jackson.

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As Morris spoke, the sound of heavy machine gun fire and mortar explosions echoed in the background for nearly 30 minutes as Marines tried to kill insurgents who were firing at the base from a set of abandoned compounds about 500 feet away.

The Marines later called in an AC-130 gunship to launch a Hellfire missile, a 500-pound bomb and a precision-guided artillery round at the compounds, rocking the base with deafening explosions that shook dirt loose from the ceilings of the tents. Tribal elders later said the munitions killed seven Taliban fighters.

The battalion has been in more than 100 firefights since it arrived, and the proximity of many of them to FOB Jackson illustrates just how much freedom of movement the Taliban still have in Sangin.

The Marines have worked to improve security by significantly increasing the number of patrols compared to the British and by pushing into areas north and south of the district center where British forces rarely went. That process started when the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment deployed to Sangin in July and fought beside the British until the current battalion took over.

Call for more troops
Even though the battalion has slightly fewer forces than the 1,200-strong British Royal Marines unit that was here previously, commanders say they have been able to step up the number of patrols because they have far fewer Marines stuck guarding bases.

But some analysts have speculated that the coalition would need at least one more battalion in Sangin if it wanted to clear and hold the whole district. Some Marines said privately that more forces would be necessary, especially in the Upper Sangin Valley where coalition troops had not gone in years until recently.

The battalion's current area of operations is roughly 25 square miles and contains a mix of lush fields around the Helmand River, dense clusters of tall mud compounds and patches of barren desert. It contains some 25,000 people, but many of Sangin's residents live outside the area in which the Marines operate. The entire district is roughly 200 square miles, and district governor Mohammad Sharif said it houses about 100,000 people.

The battalion has gotten help from a pair of Marine reconnaissance companies operating in the Upper Sangin Valley and a company of Georgian soldiers based on the West side of the Helmand River. There are also several hundred Afghan army and police in Sangin, but they are fairly dependent on the Marines for supplies and logistics.

In addition to conducting more patrols, the Marine battalion has adopted a more aggressive posture than the British, according to Afghan army Lt. Mohammad Anwar, who has been in Sangin for two years.

'Marines fight back'
"When the Taliban attacked, the British would retreat into their base, but the Marines fight back," said Anwar.

Insurgents fired at members of 1st Platoon, India Company, during a recent patrol near the battalion's main base, and the Marines responded with a deafening roar of machine gun fire, grenades, and mortars. They also tried to launch a rocket that turned out to be a dud.

"The Taliban like to engage us, and I like to make it an unfair fight," said India Company's commander, Capt. Chris Esrey of Havelock, North Carolina. "If you shoot at us with 7.62 (millimeter bullets), I'm going to respond with rockets."

But Taliban attacks have taken their toll. Thirteen Marines have been killed and 49 wounded since the battalion arrived. Most of those casualties have come from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, that the insurgents hide in compounds, along trails and in dense fields where they are hard to detect.

Story: NATO says 900 trainers needed for Afghan forces

The Marines believe their operations are beginning to improve security, and they say tips have started to trickle in from locals on the location of IEDs.

But some villagers have complained about the increased number of patrols since the Taliban often plant IEDs along the routes the Marines travel.

"You should open more bases and patrol less because when you patrol on foot, the Taliban bury IEDs that threaten children and other civilians," local landowner Tuma Khan told a Marine during a patrol.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Interactive: Nine years of war

Photos: 2013

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  1. Afghan youths light candles in front of the destroyed palace of Darul Aman to mark the killing of civilians by the communist regime during the Russian occupation, in Kabul on Sept. 29, 2013. Afghanistan held two days of mourning to mark the deaths of 5,000 people killed under the communist regime in 1970s. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. NATO soldiers take cover behind an armored vehicle as they defuse explosive materials recovered during an operation in Ghazni, on Sept. 20. (Naweed Haqjoo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Miners carry the body of one of their colleagues following a mine collapse in Ruyi Du Ab district on Sept. 16. The coal mine in a remote area of Samangan province caved in after a gas explosion on Sept. 14, and at least 28 miners were confirmed dead, officials said. (Farshad Usyan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A boy runs on Sept. 15 near a massive compound that ex-jihadist warlord Haji Mohammad Almas Zahid is building in the fields of Parwan province. The complex is known to villagers as "The Palace." (Wakil Kohsar / for NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Afghan security officials take positions during a gunbattle with suspected militants outside the US consulate in Herat on Sept. 13. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack. (Jalil Rezayee / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Soccer fans celebrate after Afghanistan's national team won the South Asian Football Federation championship, in Kabul on Sept. 12. President Hamid Karzai embraced Afghanistan's victorious team after they united the nation in a rare moment of shared joy, but officials also told jubilant Afghans to stop firing guns into the air in celebration. The team beat India 2-0 to win the championship in Kathmandu, Afghanistan's first international soccer title, sending tens of thousands of joyous Afghans into the streets. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Afghan security forces arrive at the site of a suicide attack in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, on Sept. 8. At least four Afghan intelligence agents were killed and more than one hundred people were wounded, the provincial government said. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A farmer works on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif on Sept. 5. Only about 15 percent of Afghanistan's land, mostly in scattered valleys, is suitable for farming with about 6 percent of the land actually cultivated. (Farshad Usyan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Children climb on a fence as they sell tea in Kabul on Sept. 4. A tea vendor earns an average of $1 a day. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Men stand near a destroyed car after floods in the Shakar Dara district of Kabul on Aug. 11. At least 22 people were killed and farmland was damaged when flash floods hit a plain near the capital, officials said. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A man washes his horse in Kabul on Aug. 4. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Afghan security officials at the scene of a bomb blast in Jalalabad on Aug. 4. A remote-controlled bomb targeting the vehicle carrying state prosecutor Abdul Qayoom went off, injuring Qayoom along with 16 others. (Abdul Mueed / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Men swim in a public pool in Herat on July 20. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Men eat and drink tea in an old restaurant ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in Kabul on July 7. Throughout the month, devout Muslims must abstain from food and drink from dawn until sunset when they break the fast with the Iftar meal. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Afghanistan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk with an arrested Taliban fighter, center, at an army station on the outskirts of Jalalabad on July 7. Three Taliban fighters were killed and one arrested after they attacked a police checkpoint on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, officials said. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Afghan men shout slogans in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in Kabul on July 5. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Afghan security forces arrive following a suicide bombing in Kabul on July 2. Militants blew up a suicide car bomb at the gate to a NATO compound in Kabul and attacked guards with small-arms fire, killing four guards and two civilians, police said. All four suicide attackers were also killed. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A would-be suicide attacker lies on the ground after his vest was defused in Jalalabad province on June 30. Afghan security forces captured the man before he blew himself up. (Parwiz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A policeman keeps watch as two schoolgirls walk near the entrance of the presidential palace in Kabul on June 25. Taliban militants targeted the presidential palace, detonating two vehicles at an entrance to the complex. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Afghans chant anti-government slogans after burning a truck believed to be owned by foreigners during a demonstration in Kabul on June 24. The protest centered around government plans to develop a subdivision in the capital on land that has long been occupied by squatters. Demonstrators blocked two main roads out of the city, and said they would continue their protests until the government gave them somewhere else to live. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A Taliban flag is visible through a gap in a wall of the new office of the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar, on June 20. The flag and other fanfare surrounding the militants' opening of an office in the Gulf state threatened to derail planned discussions with U.S. officials. (Osama Faisal / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    A wounded man is helped during a car bomb attack in Kabul on June 11. A suicide attack on buses carrying workers from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court killed at least 14 civilians and injured 38 others, police said. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Afghan security forces stand guard at the site of a suicide attack near Kabul military airport on June 10. All seven militants who launched the attack died in the assault, Afghan police said. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A girl stands in the doorway of her house in the old sector of Herat on June 5. Over a third of Afghans are living in abject poverty, as those in power are more concerned with addressing their vested interests rather than the basic needs of the population, a UN report said. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. An Afghan security official is surrounded by the shadows of colleagues as he keeps watch at the scene of an attack in Jalalabad late on May 29. Militants launched a two-hour suicide and gun attack on a Red Cross office, killing one guard, officials said. It was the first time that Red Cross offices had been targeted since the organization began work in Afghanistan in 1987. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    A man looks at the dead body of a suicide attacker after he was killed by security personnel in Panjshir province on May 29. Six Taliban insurgents, some wearing suicide vests, attacked the governor's compound in the fiercely anti-Taliban Panjshir valley, killing one policeman, officials say. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Police take cover during a gunbattle following a suicide attack in Kabul on May 24. A suicide bomber struck in the heart of the Afghan capital, sending a plume of smoke billowing over Kabul and setting up a gunbattle in the second major attack in the city in little over a week, police said. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Children run away after an explosion in Kabul on May 24. Several large explosions rocked a busy area in the center of the Afghan capital. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Police carry away a wounded person after a suicide bomber struck outside a provincial council headquarters in Pul-i-Khumri, Baghlan province, northern Afghanistan, on May 20. The council chief and 14 others were killed, police said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, saying the killing of civilians shows the “true nature” of the Taliban. (Jawed Basharat / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Children peer through a fence that surrounds a swimming pool on a hill overlooking Kabul on May 17. The swimming pool built by the Soviets more then 30 years ago has rarely been used. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. U.S. soldiers from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and a Polish soldier, center, carry a dog on a stretcher from a UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopter during a training drill at Forward Operating Base Ghazni on May 17. (Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A U.S. soldier arrives at the scene where a suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul on May 16. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A woman harvests wheat on the outskirts of Kabul on May 15. Afghans mainly use wheat to feed their animals. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Police arrive at the site where a police vehicle was hit by a remote-control bomb in the Kama district of Jalalabad province, east of Kabul, on May 11. The bomb killed and wounded several policemen, a local government spokesman said. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A displaced man fixes his roof as the weather takes a turn for the worse, bringing rain and high winds at a refugee camp in Kabul on May 10. Thousands of Afghans displaced by the war live in slum-like conditions in camps on the edge of the capital. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad of May 10. Opium poppy cultivation has been increasing for a third year in a row and is heading for a record high, the U.N. said in a report. Poppy cultivation is also dramatically increasing in areas of the southern Taliban heartland, the report showed, especially in regions where thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops have been withdrawn or are in the process of departing. The report indicates that whatever international efforts have been made to wean local farmers off the crop have failed. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Afghan Army soldiers gather at a military training facility on the outskirts of Kabul on May 8. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A foreign girl pops an ollie on her skateboard as Afghan youths gather for the Sound Central Festival at the French Cultural Center in Kabul on May 2. The Sound Central Festival, now on its second year, is the only event of its kind that takes places in Afghanistan, where music was banned by the Taliban until the end of 2001. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Young men cheer as Afghan and foreign musicians perform during the Sound Central Festival at the French Cultural Center in Kabul on May 1. The concert is part of a cross-cultural program to increase awareness of music and the arts in Afghanistan. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A man visits a wounded relative in the hospital in Kandahar on April 26, after a bus collided with the wreckage of a truck that was attacked by Taliban insurgents in Maiwand district. Scores of people aboard the bus were killed in the fiery crash, officials said. (Allauddin Khan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. A street vendor sells balloons as he walks through the Karte Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on April 26. The cemetery, located at the foot of Kabul's TV Mountain, is located near the Karte Sakhi Shrine, the second most sacred place of Shia worship in the country. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A woman stands in her home after it was damaged by a powerful earthquake in Charbagh village in Nangarhar province on April 24. Seven people were killed, dozens injured and many homes destroyed when a powerful earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan, officials said. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Police officers from the anti-corruption Shafafiyat unit work on documents at their office in Kabul, April 23. Afghanistan's security forces are routinely accused of murder, rape and corruption on a grand scale, but the anti-corruption police unit's sole conviction last year was a junior policeman who forged some documents, the head of the unit told Reuters. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. U.S. soldiers along with members of Afghan National Army (ANA) march from the Forward Base Honaker Miracle at Watahpur District in Kunar province into the fields on the foot of Operating Post Rocky during a joint patrol led by the ANA to conduct artillery fire training on April 18. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Relatives gather beside the body of Afghan men who were allegedly killed by Iranian soldiers while they were crossing the Afghan-Iran border, outside the Iranian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, April 18. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Iranian Embassy to demonstrate against the alleged killing of the men. (Jalil Rezayee / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. An Afghan woman waits in a changing room to try out a new Burqa, in a shop in the old city of Kabul, April 11. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the Burqa was infrequently worn in cities. While they were in power, the Taliban required the wearing of a Burqa in public. Officially, it is not required under the present Afghan regime, but local warlords still enforce it in southern Afghanistan. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter arrives at the scene of a NATO helicopter that crashed, killing two American service members in a field near Gerakhel, eastern Afghanistan, April 9. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after a NATO airstrike killed several Afghan civilians, including ten children during a fierce gun battle with Taliban militants in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan, April 7. The U.S.-led coalition confirms that airstrikes were called in by international forces during the Afghan-led operation in a remote area of Kunar province near the Pakistan border. (Naimatullah Karyab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. An Afghan army soldier stands guard in the destroyed courthouse in Farah, western Afghanistan, April 4. Suicide bombers disguised as Afghan soldiers stormed a courthouse in a failed bid to free more than a dozen Taliban prisoners. Dozens of people, including the nine attackers were reported killed in the fighting. The assault in Farah province was the latest example of the Taliban's ability to strike official institutions despite tight security measures. (Hoshang Hashimi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. An Afghan policeman offers evening prayers on a hill overlooking Kabul, March 31. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Afghan elders attend a meeting hours after their villages were raided by a combined force of roughly 1,250 Afghans and 175 Americans on March 26. U.S. Brigade commander Col. Joseph "J.P." McGee listens with his U.S. translator, standing, and the Afghan police and army commanders in Khogyani district, Nangarhar province. (Kim Dozier / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, shakes hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham looks on at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on March 25. Kerry landed in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit, with relations badly frayed by Kabul's recent hostility to U.S.-led military efforts in the country. (Jason Reed / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. An Afghan prisoner leaves with his belongings from the Parwan Detention Facility after the U.S. military gave control of the last detention facility to Afghan authorities in Bagram, outside Kabul, March 25. The handover of Parwan Detention Facility ends a bitter chapter in American relations with President Hamid Karzai, who demanded control of the prison as a matter of national sovereignty. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Afghan men peer through the former window of their destroyed school in the village of Budyali, Nangarhar province, March 19. Taliban militants attacked the nearby district headquarters in July 2011, then took refuge in the school. The Afghan National Army requested help from coalition forces, who responded with drones, fighter jets and rockets, leaving the school destroyed, according to village elders. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Afghan boys study at a makeshift school in the village of Budyali, Nengarhar Province, March 19. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. Men in Kabul chant "U.S. special operations forces out!" as several hundred demonstrators march to the Afghan parliament building to protest the continued presence of U.S. commandos in Wardak province, March 16. The demonstrators are demanding the release of nine local citizens they believe were detained by the U.S. forces. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. An Afghan military officer falls asleep as he attends a graduation ceremony at the National Military Academy in Kabul on March 13. NATO is aiming to train 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police by the end of 2014 to ensure stability in Afghanistan, but challenges remain. Analysts have warned the country could plunge into another large-scale civil war after the NATO-led force departs by 2015. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel steps aboard a C-17 military aircraft in Kabul as he prepares to return to Washington on March 11. Hagel ended his three day visit to Afghanistan, his first as Secretary of Defense. (Jason Reed / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Sher Khan Farnoud, former Chairman of Kabul Bank, attends a hearing at a court in Kabul, March 5. Khalilullah Ferozi the former CEO and Sher Khan Farnoud the former Chairman of Kabul bank were sentenced to five years in jail by a special court in Kabul for their involvement in embezzlement of millions of dollars during their tenure as CEO and Chairman. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Afghan Hazara and visiting foreign skiers set off at the start of the Afghan Ski Challenge in the Shahidan Valley of Bamiyan province, March 1. Seventeen Afghans and twelve foreigners participated in the third annual Afghan Ski Challenge in Bamiyan during which the Afghan Hazara men won the first three positions. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. An Afghan soldier walks by a damaged bus following a suicide attack in Kabul, Feb. 27. A man wearing a black overcoat and carrying an umbrella as a shelter against the heavy snow crossed a street in the Afghan capital early Wednesday morning toward an idling bus filled with Afghan soldiers, where he laid down and wiggled underneath. Then he exploded, engulfing the undercarriage of the bus in flames. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. More than five hundred men marched through the capital of Afghanistan's restive Wardak province on Feb. 26 in an outburst of anger against U.S. special forces accused of overseeing torture and killings in the area. A U.S. defense official in Washington said a review in recent months, in cooperation with Afghanistan's Defence Ministry and National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, found no involvement of Western forces in any abuse. (Mirwais Harooni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Jawanmard Paiz, left and Fawad Mohammadi, stars of the Oscar-Nominated movie 'Buzkashi Boys,' arrive on the red carpet for the 85th Annual Academy Awards, Feb. 24 in Hollywood, Calif. (Joe Klamar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Students study at a dormitory of Nangarhar University on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Feb. 23. Fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan consumes most of the country's resources and rebuilding the educational system is not a political priority. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Former Taliban militants attend a ceremony with the Afghan government after handing over their weapons in Herat, Feb. 17. About 35 former Taliban militants from Herat province handed over their weapons as part of a peace-reconciliation program. (Hoshang Hoshimi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Afghan National Army officers shake hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, during a conference at the National Miltary Academy in Kabul on Feb. 16. Afghanistan has committed to taking full responsibility for its own security after U.S. forces leave, and the White House said Afghan security forces now number 352,000 troops, thanks to a broad NATO training effort. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. A female member of Afghan special forces aims her pistol during a training exercise on the outskirts of Kabul, Jan. 14. Afghanistan's army is training female special forces to take part in night raids against insurgents despite cultural taboos, as foreign combat troops recede ahead of their eventual departure. In a country where women traditionally are expected to stay home, their participation in the special forces is breaking new ground in ultraconservative Afghanistan. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. A wounded Afghan boy receives treatment at a hospital in Kunar province on Feb. 13. A NATO air strike killed 10 civilians, mostly women and children, in a raid on a Taliban hideout in a remote region of eastern Afghanistan, local officials said. "Five children, four women and a man were killed in the raid," Kunar provincial governor, Sayed Fazulullah Wahidi, told AFP. (Namatullah Karyab / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. A model presents a traditional Afghan dress at a fashion show, launched by Young Women for Change (YWC), in Kabul, Feb. 8. The YWC organization is made up of volunteers across Afghanistan, who organize events to help empower Afghan women and improve their lives through social and economic participation. The creations at the fashion show are designed by Afghan women. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Afghan men chant for justice and punishment for kidnapping gangs involved in the killing of a boy during a demonstration in Herat on Feb. 2. Thousands of Afghan men and women gathered to protest the killing. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. A member of the Afghan National Army provides security with a soldier from the U.S. Army's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment during a patrol near Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Jan. 31. (Andrew Burton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  72. Afghan school children study at an open classroom in the outskirts of Jalalabad, Jan. 30. Afghanistan has had only rare moments of peace over the past 30 years, its education system was undermined by the Soviet invasion of 1979, a civil war in the 1990s and five years of Taliban rule. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  73. Afghan security forces run on the roof of the Kabul traffic police headquarters as it is attacked by insurgents in Kabul, Jan. 21. A coordinated attack involving at least three suicide bombers and a powerful car bomb took aim at the headquarters, followed by a clash between at least one insurgent and security forces. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  74. A soldier from 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry surfs the internet during down time at Strong Point DeMaiwand, Maywand District, Kandahar Province, Jan. 20. (Andrew Burton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  75. An Afghan midwife attends her graduation ceremony at the governor's house, in Jalalabad, Jan. 16. Over 52 midwives graduated after receiving 2 years of training. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  76. A man who was injured in a suicide bomb attack targeting the office of the Afghan Intelligence agency, leaves the scene, in Kabul, Jan. 16. Six Taliban suicide bombers attacked Afghanistan's National Security Directorate office in downtown Kabul, injuring more than 30 people, most of whom were civilians, police said. One of the bombers exploded himself at the gate and rest were killed by the Afghan security forces before they would enter. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  77. President of Pentagon Memorial Fund James Laychak touches the banch of his brother David Laychak as he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, accompany Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a visit to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, Jan. 10, in Arlington, Virginia. Karzai made a visit to Washington, where he met with President Barack Obama at the White House, to discuss the continued transition in Afghanistan and the partnership between the two nations. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  78. Governor of the Afghan province of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzai, right, shakes hands with former Afghan prisoners during a ceremony in Jalalabad on Jan. 3, after their release from Bagram Prison. Some twenty prisoners, who had been accused of working with the Taliban, were released. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  79. An Afghan man poses for a portrait at a refugee camp in Herat on Jan. 2, 2013. Hundreds of families living in makeshift shelters around the Afghan capital Kabul collected blankets, charcoal and other supplies on Jan. 2 as authorities struggle to avoid last year's deadly winter toll. With temperatures dropping to -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) at night in the city, the 35,000 refugees who live in the snow-covered camps face a battle to survive dire conditions protected only by plastic sheeting. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  80. NATO troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) participate in celebrations on New Year's Eve in Kabul on Dec. 31, 2012. Thousands of NATO troops across Afghanistan celebrated the new year away from their homes. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-SOCIETY
    Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (80) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2013
  2. Image: AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN-BORDER
    Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (139) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2012
  3. Image:
    Rahmat Gul / AP
    Slideshow (234) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2011
  4. Image:
    Altaf Qadri / AP
    Slideshow (158) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2010
  5. Image: U.S. army soldiers from Task Force Denali 1-40 Cav reposition a 105mm Howitzer during snowfall at FOB Wilderness in Paktya province
    Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
    Slideshow (88) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2009: Troops
  6. Image: Afghan protesters shout slogans during a protest in Kabul
    Ahmad Masood / Reuters
    Slideshow (31) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2009: Civilians

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