Nightly News   |  November 24, 2013

How the Afghanistan war has evolved

The war in Afghanistan looks a lot different for U.S. troops serving in the mountainous region compared to when the conflict began a dozen years ago. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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

>>> now to afghanistan where hamid karzai stunned the u.s. and many officials by refusing to sign the security agreement reached with the u.s. that could keep thousands of american troops there for another decade or more. president karzai said he won't sign the agreement until after presidential elections in april. meantime, american troops still struggle to cope with the day to day realities in afghanistan . nbc news chief foreign correspondent richard engel spent the last several days with the tenth mountain division and reports from forward operating base gamberi.

>> reporter: it helps to be at a few thousand feet to appreciate how hard it has been to fight in gans. 12 years in these mountains. osama bin laden once had a house down there not far from tora bora . but times have changed. lieutenant colonel al boyer, tenth mountain division, is part of the new mission. he is an experientialed war man. seven deployments in iraq and here. today he is a diplomat of sorts visiting the afghan general. relations are more important than ever because afghans do most of the fighting now. but americans have been killed in meetings like this so u.s. troops need armed escorts. guardian angels like staff sergeant travis drudge from wa dbush, indiana.

>> if they're not trustworthy, that he stay on guard.

>> reporter: with a young son and a taught on the way, he is more cautious now than other deployments.

>> you think more about your family, the wife, the kids, than just yourself.

>> reporter: but most american troops don't leave their bases much anymore. they're trainers. the question is, how much longer will u.s. troops be doing this expensive mentoring mission? we asked afghan general waziri, a division commander in charge of 20,000 men. after welcoming with us the gift of a robe. he would not set a time limit because he still wants u.s. helicopters, satellites and money. lieutenant colonel boyer says more deployments may be needed to keep afghanistan stable. 12 years is a long time to be in afghanistan . we're looking at the prospect of more years to come. how do you explain that to the american people who aren't necessarily convinced we still need to be here?

>> right. the thing i explained to the american public, staying the course for the long haul is the way we get a return on our investment. the way we ensure that al qaeda can never come back to afghanistan .

>> reporter: american troops in limbo on a training mission that no one here knows how long will last. nbc news, eastern afghanistan .