September 8th, 2009
11:17 PM ET

A race against time in Helmand province

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/08/ac.afghan.map.jpg]

Anderson Cooper | BIO
AC360° Anchor

We're at a remote outpost in Helmand province. Remote is a mild term to describe it. If you think U.S. Marines are living on huge bases with all the comforts of home here in Helmand province, you'd be surprised to see the conditions they are facing in these small outposts.

A thick layer of dust covers everything. After a while you stop trying to fight it and you just let it be. There's nothing you can do about it anyway. There are no dining halls out here, just meals-ready-to eat, and bottles of hot water.

This is a critical time for the U.S. fight in Afghanistan. I know it sounds like a cliché. How many times have we been told that over the last eight years? It's true though. There continue to be serious questions about vote fraud in the wake of this past election – an election which was supposed to help stabilize things here.

The Taliban has been growing in strength, improving their capabilities. IED's (Improved Explosive Devices) – which were once rare here, are now the biggest threat to U.S. forces. The Taliban have been able to move beyond their traditional stronghold in the south and are causing trouble in the north and west as well.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff admits the conflict is "deteriorating" and "time is not on our side." He estimates the U.S. has a 12 to 18 month window to turn the security situation around.

Here in Helmand, thousands of Marines have arrived in the last several months, part of the contingent of 21,000 new troops President Obama sent here. The marines will tell you the war here hasn't been going on for eight years, it's been going on for some 65 days.

This is the first time the U.S. has sent a significant number of troops to Helmand. Now the strategy can be summed up in three words: "clear, hold, build." They only move into Taliban areas where they can remain and help build an infrastructure for Afghan governance.

Increasingly, the U.S. forces are integrating into communities - living and working out of small patrol bases, like the one we are at right now. This way they interact with the local population, and local officials, and help in small development projects.

Last night I joined Lt. Col Bill McCullough and his men as they ate rice and goat with the local police chief. So far, many agree the strategy appears to be gaining traction in this part of Helmand, but it requires a commitment of troops and the U.S. still doesn't have enough forces to hold all the Taliban areas. The U.S. has killed many Taliban but many have simply moved elsewhere or are lying low to see if the U.S. is really going to stick around this time.

Many Marines will tell you only about 20 percent of the Taliban are hardcore ideologues, the rest may be amenable to being bought off or co-opted in some way. It worked with some Sunni insurgents in Iraq; the hope is it can work here as well. Besides more troops, the U.S. strategy requires time. Time to build the Afghan army and police, and time to convince people that the Taliban is gone for good. With a growing number of Americans now opposing this war, time may not be on the Marines’ side.

Filed under: Afghanistan • Anderson Cooper
soundoff (159 Responses)
  1. McInQc

    No to belittle the effort of the US in the proper battle zone, (Afghanistan) I think this is becoming another AMERICA (ME) war. Don't forget that Canada has been posting most of the grunt work for a very long time including as Doctors in that very hospital. Will CNN comment? Of course not!


    September 8, 2009 at 1:21 pm |
  2. andy

    Thank you, mr. Cooper, for showing the world what my brothers and sisters ddo in afghanistan. Keep up the excellent work.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  3. Angela

    I want to thank you so much for this coverage. My boyfriend is currently in Helmand part of the 1/5, and i miss him so much. reading articles like this about where he is makes me feel closer to him. I do ask one favor, he told me your camera crew took pictures of him and i would love to see any pictures from over there. Thank you for everything.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  4. Gloria, Brooklyn, NY

    I never really undstood this war right from the beginning, but I do believe there is some else that we as a nation does not know. For instance, why are the Taliban fighting our troops? They are sent there to help their country, Afghaistan. Their government should find out what is the problem with Taliban. What are the Taliban concerns in Afghaistan. Be safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  5. Leanne

    I'm not really sure the Canadian troops would appreciate the US Marines stating the war in Afghanistan has only been going on for 65 days since Canadian and other allied troops have been there – fighting and dying – since 2002.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:10 pm |
  6. Lori

    Anderson you are so brave.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  7. Kelly - Harrisburg, PA

    Thank you for the reporting, you're making the situation seem more real, not just numbers. I hope that the US work there to build strong communities and empower people will continue after we are gone – like teaching someone to ride a bike.

    Please stay safe. Thanks to the U.S. troops that are keeping the AC360 crew out of harm's way over there.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Lori

    Great coverage Anderson. Take care.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  9. Lisa

    Thanks for the excellent work you do.

    Stay safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  10. Michelle D . Fonthill. Ont

    Hi Anderson

    Please stay safe over there it's very dangerous .I thank you for giving us the indepth coverage of what 's happening .I pray for the saftey of the troops and for your team at 360 safety too .

    Thanks for bolgging
    Michelle D.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  11. Michelle Johnson, Lomita, CA

    Hi Anderson, good to see a blog from you. I enjoyed last night's coverage, which was as positive as possible, showing the Afghan people and how U.S. troops are helping them, and how the Marines are negotiating with the Taliban, killing only as a last resort. Wonderful if this could be a human interest week, showing the good things happening. If you travel anywhere where the families live with their children, can the crew get some footage of them? I'm so relieved the military took you to a safe spot far from the hot zone. Please stay close to the troops in the safest areas. And please send more tweets.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  12. Esben

    Anderson, you said it so right..where do the fighter go after winning the war?? There is no chance for this war to end before you win the peace! Win the peace, not the war.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm |

    We love the way you are looking out for the troops., Thank for the run down on the troops, and what the major issue in Afghan God bless you..

    September 8, 2009 at 12:13 pm |
  14. Isabel Siaba, Brazil

    Hello Anderson!

    It's great to read an article written by you on blog. You should write more for the blog.

    It's interesting that you report the sub-human conditions to which the soldiers are. Often these conditions go unnoticed by our eyes or seem commonplace.

    The actions of the Taliban horrified the people around the world. Combating international terrorism was necessary.

    The people have no infrastructure. The country needs roads, network transmitting power, running water. Without such elements, the nation will not be a nation and butchers conflicts persist.

    Stay well and thanks for these reports!

    September 8, 2009 at 12:10 pm |
  15. michele

    i know this is far fitch, but if you happen to run into my son: LCP David Andrews, would you please tell him and we love and miss him??????? God bless them all and you too for being there.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  16. swaran singh

    Remember folks: There was peace in Afghanistan only during the Taliban rule. No peace before that nor after they were removed. Face it for god's sake

    September 8, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  17. Katleen Crossley

    Dear Anderson,

    Thank You so much for the in depth coverage.

    I am not a war monger by any means, But if it wasn't for war, we would not be the country that we are today.

    My son was in Iraq for 15 months. I know what it is like to have a loved one over there...

    God Bless our troops.

    Be safe.


    September 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  18. Pamina

    Hi Anderson,
    I'm amazed after all this time, the Taliban is gaining strength in Afghanistan. Our troops need all the support they can get. Thank you for bringing this to light.
    Stay safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  19. Katleen Crossley

    Dear Anderson,

    Thank you so much for the in depth coverage.. I am not a war monger by any means, but if it wasn't for war, we would not be the country we are today.

    My son was in Iraq for 15 months. I know what it 's like to have someone close to you over there..

    God Bless our troops.

    Be safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  20. Ed Chase


    Can you answer a question for me, we have been hearing about the Hospital raid and the bombing of the Stolen tankers and the uproar over the deaths. Is it me or am I the only one in America and the world that thinks that we are at war and that if the bad guys are there we should kill them and that if we want to go into a hospital or anyone else because bad guys are there and get them that we should?

    Its a complete joke, if your not Taliban then stay away from them so that you dont get killed. Pretty simple.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  21. cynoh

    Take care.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  22. Alan - Fort Worth, Texas

    Would love to see where Anderson is in Afghanistan. Could you at least post the Lat and Long of the village near where he is so we can see on Google Earth?

    Don't want to know where military bases are just nearest village.

    Thanks for your reporting. It is good stuff.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:48 am |
  23. Michelle

    I feel like this war has just continued forever. Since I can remember Iraq or Iran or one of those countries have been at war. I am currently working in the UAE in an attempt to try and understand what the eastern cultures are like. I find it difficult to understand how a group of people can selfishly pursue their own ambitions, with no regard for even the people of their own faith and culture. I admire the troops who go there to try and recreate some sort of normality for the many women, children and men who are innocent victims of this war. What is a religion or government, if it doesn't care about the worth of a human soul or the welfare of its people...surely not a beacon of hope, which I think alot of the troops are to these people. May God bless your efforts and thanks for making the world aware of what really goes on...it's so easy to turn a blind eye when it doesn't affect you.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  24. gymgalca

    Stay safe Anderson....if you get the chance, tell our troops how grateful we are for their efforts! God Bless them.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:42 am |
  25. Kathy Moyer

    Awesome coverage...now more than ever I do not want to sacrifice my son to this quagmire...
    Stay safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:41 am |
  26. TK

    "With a growing number of Americans now opposing this war, time may not be on the Marines’ side." Oh Anderson, this breaks my heart. Maybe we need a little bit of reminder of what happened on that September morning... remember how we as a nation stood so united, so proud of being Americans? I don't like wars either but we can't let our troops standing there with the short end of the straw. Anderson, please be careful especially on the front line. The troops need you to tell their stories and you mean a lot to the world, to us all. Take care!

    September 8, 2009 at 11:38 am |
  27. Heather R. Scott

    My brother serves in the U.S Air Force and I support all troops no matter what branch they are in. People don't realize that being a SOLDIER is a job. When your "boss" tell you to do something you do it! Right? Americans need to recognize the duties performed by "our" soldiers and sympathize with the fact that we all have "jobs" to do while at work, thankfully most of us sit back comfortably 9-5 whileour troops fight for not only their lives but ours too. I respect you and others who not only acknowledge what's really going on, but trying to help others to understand it also. Thank you and God Bless you and your crew.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:36 am |
  28. Catherine

    Great article Anderson. I support helping Afghanistan in any way possible. Thanks for supporting our Marines and telling their stoires.

    I think IED stands for (from Wiki) An improvised explosive device (IED) is a homemade bomb constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action. The tragic thing is they are improving them to be more accurate and more deadly. Please be careful over there.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:35 am |
  29. lpfoong

    There hasn' t been much reporting on the progress or lack of in Afghanistan. So what you and your crew, Michael Ware, Peter Bergen and Dr. Gupta are doing, risking it just to bring us to date the current situation from different perspectives, stories that need to be told; the effort is truly commendable.
    The story of the little boy wasn't easy for me to watch. ( Maybe because there has been one too many visits to the hospital lately) Anyway, can we really see an end to this? This 'war' seems never ending.
    Please do take care and be safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:35 am |
  30. Jessica H

    Hey Anderson kudos as always for your very informative reporting. My thoughts on the war are these, I'm not an American and I'm speaking solely from the information I hear on the news but maybe the US need to regroup and try a different approach. I agree that the Taliban need to be dealt with but at the risk of all these soldiers? Is it making a real difference at all? As always I look forward to reading your blogs. Keep Safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:32 am |
  31. Tiffany

    Anderson, let our troops know we are praying for them daily & thinking of them always. My brother will be back in Afghanistan soon. My cousin SFC Jason Fabrizi died there on July 14th 2009. Our family is afraid, but supportive of my baby brothers choice to be a soldier.

    Let them all know we love them & support them & THANK THEM ALWAYS.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:24 am |
  32. Rebekah

    A friend of mine was over in Iraq for a while – he was fine when he left. Then he went to Afghanistan and was injured when an IED exploded. He had to have screws inserted in his knee so he could walk. He's fine now but, thank goodness, he's not being sent back over there.
    Until a couple months ago I didn't even know that very many IEDs were being used in Afghanistan.

    I still don't like this war, but I guess that since we've been there for so long we at least have to stabilize things before we get out... Thanks for the great, thorough coverage straight from the war-zone, Anderson. Keep up the amazing reporting. So glad someone's keeping this war in plain sight so people know that there's still a war on.

    Stay safe Anderson, hope to read more blogs from you about Afghanistan – you've got a knack for covering these types of things.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  33. Michelle

    Anderson, you,Michael Ware,Peter Bergen and
    Dr. Gupta are doing a great job with reports from
    Afghanistan.I just watched 360 on the dvr. You
    guys stay safe,It is a dangerous assignment.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:20 am |
  34. bridget

    good to read your blog posts again – have missed them – it's a tough situation over there & i'm not convinced the American, Canadian, British or any other Military forces, will change whats been happening for many years in that region – the world wants Peace but is it achieved through war – i'm not sure...
    Be safe

    September 8, 2009 at 11:17 am |
  35. julie-Boston

    No matter what our personal beliefs are about the war, we must above all else support our troops. Thanks for your coverage AC/CNN.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:12 am |
  36. Gloriabluedell

    Hi AC,

    Be careful.... do take care of yourself

    September 8, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  37. Mike Schau

    Good reporting, thank you.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  38. Cherisa

    What a complex situation. Some say send in more troops; others say that's the worst thing we can do. It's interesting to follow coverage, from Nicholas Kristof's piece in Sunday's New York Times to AC360 in the field. A lot of information to take in and process.

    Stay safe

    September 8, 2009 at 10:36 am |
  39. Mark

    Great! Looking forward to more coverage.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  40. Jennifer

    Anderson..Thankyou so much for reporting from Afghanistan. There has been so little news of what is going on over there, I have been searching everywhere! My son is in 1/5 2nd MEB..Lcpl Kono. Please be safe and pass on to all the troops thankyou very much for their service and let them know when I look at pics they all look the same so I have deemed them all my sons and pray for them all. Thankyou again. Jennifer

    September 8, 2009 at 10:30 am |
  41. Lilibeth

    Hi Anderson, thanks for blogging today. If the war in that region is 65 days old as the Marines say, and their strategy is working, then I think they should keep doing what they're doing. The Taliban are hard to fight, but what choice do we have? I liked your piece last night and your article today. You described the situation so well; I felt as if I was there. Take care.

    Edmonds, Washington

    September 8, 2009 at 10:16 am |
  42. Jean Ashby

    I watched CNN this morning about the surgical activity in Aghanistan; only 25% of the patients are US soldiers; my math not "failing me" means 75% are Afghan citizens. So how many of our brave men and women have been wounded vs killed since that war started and what are the stats on Afghan citizens (and Iraq for that matter)?

    BRAVOs go out to our medical teams and their care, compassion and professionalism in those war zones!

    September 8, 2009 at 10:11 am |
  43. Rachel

    My husband is a Marine, serving in Afghanistan right now. Stay safe, it sounds like it's really rough over there.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:09 am |
  44. srobinson

    I am most interested in your show as my son is a marine in 1,5 and we rarely get a chance to hear from him. So, as you can imagine this war is very personal for me. As a father I am proud of him and his choices, but apprehensive. I personally think taking the battle to the terrorists was a necessary move for the U. S., and if past history is correct, the strategy of forward operating bases providing security and eventually improvement of infrastructure is the best for improving relationships with the "locals'" . The issue is will the Obama Administration commit enough "resources" in a timely manner to achieve success. I am discouraged and upset that the Administration has spent too much on bailouts and is now embroiled in pushing a hastily and poorly conceived overhaul (takeover) of our health care system. These "distractions" are putting our warriors (our sons and daughters) and our Afghan strategy at risk. My belief is that our government's primary function is to provide security to its citizens – for without security, not much else matters. Between the half hearted commitment to Afghanistan and the near treasonous attack on the CIA, this Administration seems determined to fail in the War on Terror. I hope and pray that my son and his Marine buddies (and our other brave warriors) come home safely and do not pay the ultimate sacrifice because of "distractions" that have taken priority over Afghanistan.

    September 8, 2009 at 9:45 am |
  45. Sarah, Canterbury UK

    Its interesting to hear on a local level the efforts that are being made by the US (and UK) forces in order to win over the Taliban, I guess its a one step at a time approach.

    On a national level, what are the Afghan politicians doing to support local leaders, police etc – are resources coming through to help with building infrastructure such as schooling, housing – where communities can come together?

    Is the timeframe window being created by US and UK politicians?

    As you have described the living conditions for the troops, its hard to imagine the impact this has on the local children and families. How do they "cope"?

    Creat coverage on what is major issue that has no easy solution.

    Keep safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 9:32 am |
  46. Cindy

    Glad to see you back in Afghanistan! Thanks for the run down last night and for this blog. It's been a while since you've done one!! I'm not shocked at all at how you describe the living atmosphere of the troops you are with. I rather expected it to be that way.

    I am kinda grossed out though that you ate goat..YUCK!! I would NEVER do that! Hope you brought along some Tums, Peptobismol or something to help that upset stomach after eating that stuff. UGH!! LOL

    Please stay safe over there Cooper!


    September 8, 2009 at 9:21 am |
  47. Tammy, Houma

    I think this is more info than I've read on this conflict since it began. I started ignoring news when my family and friends started going over there and to Iraq. It was far easier to bury my head under the covers than watch and wonder. IED's killed my friend Mike and his buddies in Iraq. I hate hearing that these are being used now in Afghanistan. I really abhor war. I abhor the fact that lives are lost and changed forever in battle. However, if it is the only way to bring peace, we need to get it done. We have an obligation as human beings to help free others from oppression and terror when we can. As much as the losses that result may hurt when they occur. Our troops need our support and prayers. Thanks for covering it in-depth. Be safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  48. journalisticadventure

    Anderson, thanks for your vivid account of the living conditions of the U.S. marines in Helmand Province.
    I agree with you that his is a critical time for the U.S. fight in Afghanistan. Greatly enjoyed your post.

    September 8, 2009 at 8:31 am |
  49. jehanne poulard

    I'm behind the troops & the president 100%. The afghans deserve to live in peace & the taliban need to be completely weaken to ensure a peaceful future for that country!

    September 8, 2009 at 8:11 am |
  50. Martina Ilstad

    Hey Anderson
    Honest all my respect to you as a very good journalist,and all my respect to all that soldiers fighting there in this very dangerous area,but when will you ever realize,there is no way to win this war with weapen? I,as a German are very sorry for the people,who lost their life,because any "mistake or maybe missunderstand" between German and American militarry.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:15 am |
1 2 3 4