Conflict & Justice

Afghanistan: A tale of two districts

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In Sangsar, two little girls fidget in a wheelbarrow as soldiers question their uncle.

Credit:

Ben Brody

In a small corner of southern Afghanistan lies two small districts that couldn't be more different. Maiwand is a bastion of relative calm, while its neighbor, Zhari, is too intractably violent to even begin the counter-insurgency campaign espoused by the coalition's outgoing commander, Gen. David Petraeus.

So what's the difference between them?

For one, the terrain.

Warrens of muddy ditches and dark orchards, which begin close to the highway, make it easy for Taliban fighters in Zhari to move weapons undetected and launch deadly ambushes from the shadows.

Maiwand, by contrast, is largely flat and spare.

"It sucks to be an insurgent in Maiwand," said Capt. Brad Davis, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor's adjutant. "There's nowhere to hide."

Although Maiwand and Zhari are both primarily populated by Pashtun farmers who grow a mixture of opium poppies, cannabis and grapes, the differences in terrain — among other things — has led them down very different paths over the last decade of war.

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    Under a tangle of razor wire and hung from a blast wall, the 10th Mountain Division's Spartan Brigade asks itself an existential question.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    In Sangsar, two little girls fidget in a wheelbarrow as soldiers question their uncle.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    Surrounded by Afghan and American troops, Maiwand District Governor Obaidullah Buwari strides through a bazaar near his office.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    Some of the merchants shoot dirty looks at Governor Buwari and the passing column of soldiers. Others offer ice cream.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    Afghan and U.S. troops make their way slowly through grape rows in Zhari District. The terrain is some of the most difficult and dangerous in Afghanistan. Land mines and IEDs are a constant threat.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    At Combat Outpost Sangsar, soldiers from 1-32 Infantry's Battle Company fire mortar rounds at nearby Taliban positions.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    Hulking armored vehicles rumble through Zhari District's farmland late at night.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    The major development project in 1-32 Infantry's sector of Zhari is building a huge concrete wall along a dusty road in an attempt to limit Taliban movements.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    Each blast wall must be guided into place by soldiers, while a contractor from Pakistan operates the crane.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    As the sun rises over the construction project, shots ring out. Soldiers exchange bursts of gunfire with distant Taliban fighters, but no one hits anything.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    Near Combat Outpost Sangsar, soldiers rig a wall with explosives in order to eliminate a frequently used Taliban fighting position.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    The farmer's wall disentegrates in a thunderclap of dust and smoke.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody

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    With the remains of the wall hanging in the sky, the soldiers head back to base for breakfast.

    Credit:

    Ben Brody