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Nightly News   |  October 27, 2009

Fighting with food instead of firepower

Oct. 27: In an attempt to earn the trust of the Afghanistan people, Afghan forces--backed by the American military--are making more efforts to peacefully interact with the local population. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> in kabul tonight. richard, thanks.

>>> arriving back in this region from the united states you're reminded all over again of the size of this military operation . for that matter, the size of this country. and today we went back to a place we had visited before to see if an experiment going on at the local level is applicable to the wider conflict. it is one town out of 35,000 towns in afghanistan, and right here today the military chose to fight back against the taliban using food as a weapon. the idea was started by u.s. special forces , but it was carried out by afghan forces. it's called an ha mission, for humanitarian assistance . in a small town that could use some humanity, in a place with a lot of guns out in the open and people under wraps. it's a short drive from the special forces outpost, a bleak little town where everything could be a danger. you see beautiful children with dirty faces and thousand yard stares, adults who have survived wars and cheated death and lived longer than the average life expectancy of 44 years. in what passes for the center of town, afghan commandos handed out food today. civilians lined up and bunched up. each one was marked with an "x" with a magic marker and then received a bag of food at each station. all of it under the watchful eye of a lot of firepower just in case it all went south. but it didn't. it stayed calm and that's a change over last year. we came here on this trip because this was a town we visited on our last trip over a year ago, and the situation has gotten better here. the americans say because of this kind of thing in this town. a small urban area no more than one or two streets wide, this is being supervised by the americans , but it's being run by afghan commandos. everyone in this line gets a pamphlet or a poster saying, in effect, these are your neighbors, these are the people who live in this area handing out humanitarian assistance . it all goes back to that vietnam era slogan winning hearts and minds , or at least in this case trying to.

>> you have to lift weights.

>> reporter: that could mean a staff sergeant from south carolina telling the locals what life is like back in the states.

>> you go to the gym.

>> yeah.

>> reporter: or the head of this outfit shopping at a local store. he says his job is more about listening than shooting.

>> the key is just to interact with the population, find out what it is that they need, what basic services that they're lacking, and then have the afghan government provide that for them.

>> this is the local government kind of?

>> exactly. you really want the people to understand that this is the afghans. they can put trust in their afghan soldiers. the afghan government is providing services, providing security, providing food, and those are the things that are important. again, the afghan out front.

>> reporter: so the americans have backed further and further away? it's kind of a metaphor for getting them to do more of the fight as well?

>> we want to work ourselves out of a job.

>> reporter: you heard the sergeant major there say, "we want to work ourselves out of a job." no one would blame you for wondering how to square that message with general mccrystal's stated goal of increasing the troop strength by tens of thousands here in afghanistan. the sergeant major quickly added that first what's needed is security to lock down some of these cities and towns, and make way for the afghans to control more of their destiny. we'll have more of our coverage from this region when we see you here tomorrow night. for now, ann, back to you