On patrol with US troops in Afghanistan

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A U.S. Army captain in the Tangi Valley, Afghanistan in March 2009 (Image: Fred W. Baker III, US Army)

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On "The World," the BBC's Ian Pannell reports on the challenges facing a newly arrived US troops in Afghanistan. Pannell went on patrol with a unit of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, part of the first installment of additional American forces being deployed to Afghanistan to counter rising violence by the Taliban.

The troop is in en route to a combat outpost in Wardak. The local police station and governors compound have been under siege for more than two years. The buildings are peppered with holes from bullets, mortars and shrapnel. The governor asks the US captain to bomb the entire village where the Taleban are hiding. The soldier steers the conversation elsewhere, offering support and hoping his presence here will act as a deterrent. It doesn't work.

A series of explosions -- mortar fire coming in from an area where the Taleban are known to operate.

Colonel Kimo Gallahue is in charge here. He insists he'll find the mortar team. He's already forced the Taleban out from some districts, and he says this area will eventually go the same way.

He offers the Taleban and stark choice: "We are prepared for combat. This is the US Army -- we do this very well. If I didn't have to fire a shot and we still made that progress that we want, then that would be great. Well, the enemy has a little vote in that, and if he presents himself ... he's got a couple choices: Run away or fight and die."

If this battle were just about strength, then America would have already won. But the modern US counter-insurgency is a complex blend of force and persuasion. The next task is to convince to locals that they should turn their backs on the Taleban.

Read Ian Pannell's Afghan diary.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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