HERAT PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Flying over Afghanistan's rugged and desolate landscape, it's easy to get a sense of the challenge facing military commanders on the ground.
It's also clear why many Afghans have never even seen a U.S. troop.
Vast areas of the country are still almost completely controlled by the Taliban. This power enables them to move weapons and continue fighting, while also smuggling the opium that keeps money coming their way.
One bright spot is the growing accuracy of U.S. intelligence gathering. These techniques allow special forces to penetrate remote areas and execute lightning fast raids in Taliban-held territory.
Fighting the Enemy
CBN News' Chuck Holton traveled to western Afghanistan's Herat province, where a special operations task force is fighting the enemy in places where American soldiers have never been before.
Classified intelligence uncovered a tiny village near the Iranian border that appeared to be a crossroads for drugs leaving the country and explosives coming in. These special operators began planning a midnight raid that would catch the bad guys in this Taliban-controlled town by surprise.
"Tonight we're going to be going on a mission in Western Afghanistan, and we're hoping to capture and arrest.This individual that has been determined to be engaged in the distribution of narcotics as well as the importation of weapons into Afghanistan for the insurgency," The special ops leader briefed the team. "Seize any narcotics or weapons that he may have and collect any evidence that we may use to prosecute him."
Accompanied by Afghan commandos, we boarded three helicopters in the dead of night at the special-ops base south of Herat. Then, a high-speed, low-level flight deep into enemy territory.
The blacked-out helicopters dropped the team just outside the village, and within minutes, the commandos had it surrounded. A new moon meant almost zero light, but the special operators employed their sophisticated night vision equipment.
The unit quickly entered the village and began the difficult and dangerous job of clearing each compound.
Military age males were rounded up for questioning while translators assured the women and children that they faced no harm.
Some persons of interest were found, though it wasn't immediately known if the team had caught the man they came for. When the mission commander was satisfied that everything had been searched, the unit began preparing to leave.
"We're going to go this way and take a left…everyone follow me," he said.
This is the most dangerous part of the mission -- getting out before daybreak. The element of surprise is long gone, and helicopters full of soldiers make tempting targets.
After a tense few moments as the Afghans loaded their prisoners, the helicopters lifted off and headed back to base.
The Special forces are executing these kinds of missions on a daily basis around the country - training the Afghan army to take the lead, and making the most of limited resources to ensure that, although the Taliban may run, they won't be able to hide forever.
*Originally published December 4, 2009