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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. Vilmore Shirley

    Hi Anderson:

    Thank you for the coverage on Helmand Province. It's nderstandable that our soldiers and marines are facing difficulties in that hell-hole; nevertheless, I am praying for their safety and thank God for their courage.

    Please be safe, you are a valuable journalist and we wouldn't want to loose you. Keep your guard up buddy, and encourage our boys to do the same.

    Please let them know that all of us back in the USA, wish them well and are praying for their safe return. Best regards.

    Vilmore in Cutler Bay Florida

    September 8, 2009 at 8:41 pm |
  2. Cyndi

    Anderson, I applaude you and the other journalist that put their lives on the line in order to bring us news from the front lines. My hubby is currently serving in one of the provinces in Afghanistan. Stay Safe and May God Bless!

    September 8, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  3. 1/5 Bravo Marine Mom

    Anderson: I am glad to see the stories that you and your fellow reporters are doing from Afghanistan. Our Marines and other troops are risking their very lives to bring security to that land and we are glad you are there to tell that story. Stay safe yourself.

    We hope to see some personal stories of a few of the Marines. They mean so much to us back at home. My son is there - although not at Jaker at this time. May they all return safely and soon.

    September 8, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
  4. Jo Ann, North Royalton, Ohio

    Anderson,

    Thank you for posting this informative and thoughtful blog today. It is about time that the MSM began focusing on the "forgotten war" again. I am sure that the lack of coverage has been discouraging for the troops fighting there and for the families who wait for their return.

    I don't think many of us stop to think about the dangers and lack of creature comforts the military must endure while fighting these wars, thanks for reminding us. Words cannot adequately express the respect and admiration that we have for them.

    Your reports last night were interesting, but a bit discouraging. As you said, it is a "fragile peace" and the risk of it collapsing is constantly hanging in the balance. 99% of the Afghan population is Muslim which severly controls their conduct and it is a key component of the national identity of countries like Afghanistan. I do not believe that we will be able to permanently change the attitudes of enough of the Afghan people to be able claim any real level of success. I think a large part of the problem is our failure to understand and truly appreciate the extreme differences in our cultures and it has cost us dearly.

    I don't have much confidence in the fact that some of the Taliban and other insurgents may be "bought off or co-opted in some way," there will always be a chance that they will again fall prey to the pressures they are constantly living under.

    More troops may be brought in to address the rise in insurgent attacks, but sooner or later they will leave and the people there will again be exposed to the same negative influences that exist today. I have my doubts that the Afghan people will have the ability or endurance to maintain any semblance of peace for any length of time.

    As MIchael Ware showed in his report on Highway No.1, the Taliban have even been able to use this symbol of progress by the West to their advantage.

    I agree with your statement that we are essentially "nation building" in Afghanistan, but the large diversity of social groups there may prove to be a great hinderance to this goal.

    It would be a major victory if we could only get the majority of the Afghan people to stop hating us. I hope that I am wrong, but I think the best we can hope for in this conflict is a stalemate.

    September 8, 2009 at 8:04 pm |
  5. Lori, IL

    Thanks Anderson (and team) for bringing us these stories out of Afghanistan. I found it interesting last night when the Marines said they considered the war to be 65 days long, not eight years. These are things I think we need to hear. I really appreciate you bringing the troops stories to our attention.

    Good reporting on all fronts. Looking forward to the rest of this week - hope everyone stays safe....Godspeed.

    September 8, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  6. kim clark

    If at all possible, we want to see more pictures of the troops. Know you have special items to report on, but as a parent it would be a huge morale booster on this end to see our loved ones.

    Thank you for keeping the war in Afghanistan in the forefront. We need that reminder that freedom isn't free. These men and women volunteered to protect our freedom and the freedom of a foreign country.

    proud mom of a 1/5 marine.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:34 pm |
  7. Mo from Cali.

    Anderson, It's nice to see you out in the field again. But, please stay safe. please to listen to what the military personnal say to you when your over there. I for one of millions want you to come home without a scratch.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:32 pm |
  8. Josée

    As usual, great reporting Anderson, Sanjay, and Mike. As a Canadian I always wondered why the U.S. left Afghanistan to go to Iraq? I heard all of the "reasons" but never truly understood them. Saddam Hussein was never a threat to the United States where Al Queda was a direct threat. It never made sense to me why Bin Laden was just forgotten and Iraq became the new target. Now the focus is back on Afghanistan when Bin Laden's not even there anymore. Isn't he in Pakistan now? I'm really trying to understand this whole war and am finding it very hard. It doesn't surprise me that the Taliban spent the last few years re-grouping and becoming stronger and stronger.
    That being said I think you Anderson, along with Sanjay and Mike are great reporters (Mike is awesome!). God Bless you and all of the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hopefully peace will prevail someday.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:21 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    Anderson

    Sounds pretty rough out there – small outposts, MREs, bottles of HOT water, and dust everywhere. The rice and goat may have been a pleasant change although they don't sound all that great to me.

    It does sound like we need more time than we are going to have over there. While the soldiers say the war there is just 65 days old, I'm not sure that all the people here in the states will agree with that statement and that this will become another issue to criticize Obama on. I do hope we have enough time to do what we need to do; it would be good to see a free Aghanistan at peace and without the Taliban before we leave. Your reports on this have been good – looking forward to hearing some more. Stay safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:06 pm |
  10. Michele, Douglaston NY

    I don't see how can we deal to watch both wars going on almost forever. I absolutely abhor war, but I can understand the Afghanistan picks the best choice. Yes,,,It has to be good reason for not letting Taliban control the Afghanistan. If I recalled correctly, after Taliban took over, they also destroyed the antique artifacts in the museum including the towering statues of Buddha.

    Keep up your great work with the special coverage.

    Stay safe, Anderson and your CNN team

    Michele

    September 8, 2009 at 7:05 pm |
  11. Pattie

    Anderson,
    Thank you for bringing Afghanistan and our Marines mission over there into our living rooms. My son is with the 1/5 and in the same camp you are visiting. If you see him tell him his mother said hello and to be safe.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of the week's shows. Hope to see some of the brave Marines.

    THANK YOU again Anderson.
    Be safe
    Marine Mom Pattie

    September 8, 2009 at 6:55 pm |
  12. Christine Snelgrove

    Anderson. Thank you for reporting to us from such a dangerous place. I am interested in why so many casualties are caused by road-side bombs. What, if anything, does the military do to ID bombs before driving by them? Can they not use hi-tech scanners or something to pinpoint locations of bombs?

    September 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm |
  13. Althea Pruitt

    Hello Mr. Cooper,
    Thank you for going there and showing what are brave Marines are going thru. My son is in the 1/5 and we miss him and are praying for him and all the rest of the men and women there. The coverage was well done last night and am looking forward to seeing it this evening. I have one request and that is would it be possible to spend some time with the soldiers themselves so that there familys can see they are doing ok. I know it would bring me so much peace to see my boys face. This has been very hard on me and the rest of the family. I am so proud of him, this is what he has wanted to do and I back him 100%.
    Thank you
    May God protect our Troops

    September 8, 2009 at 6:34 pm |
  14. Minou, New York City

    Hi Anderson,
    I appreciate you and your teammates' efforts to inform us about what's really going on on the ground in Afghanistan. The danger you all expose yourselves to just to get the truth out deserves respect and admiration.

    I'm not clear about how far along the ANA has come. Are they anywhere near independently conducting missions? I also hope you will have the opportunity to talk to more Afghanis ( women?) about what they think about the state of their future. Also, the ISAF soldiers are risking their lives and are dying, too! Their efforts are completely underreported. I have a million questions, but I trust that I will get an answer to many of them thanks to you.

    Stay safe!

    September 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm |
  15. Keith Colovos

    Hello Anderson,
    I have had the privilege of fighting for our county over in Afghanistan on two different occasions. I first went there in 2001 right after Sep 11th. I was also there again in 2003.
    The problem i think we are having over there is the fact that we are fighting a fight with one arm tied behind our backs. The American government needs to figure out what they want over there. If they want A world police force over there, they need to hire people more suited for the job. If they want a military force over there, they need to let the soldiers do what they are best trained at doing, seeking enemy and destroying them.
    we are in a defensive posture all the time, we very rarely get to take the fight to the enemy. For instance, this offensive is one of the first major offensives since 2001.
    I would have to say, if the President wants a no crap assessment of the situation's, he should not ask the general who have political agendas of their own. He should ask the NCO'S that are on the ground almost powerless and under maned.

    September 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm |
  16. Christina, windber, pa

    Hey Anderson

    Thanks for blogging and letting us know you're okay. Please convey our gratitude to the troops for all they do. They are in all our prayers.

    Be careful over there and come home safe and soon.

    September 8, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  17. Jen

    Anderson all I can say is what a man: Famous, Rich, doing what he loves and down to earth.. Thanks for letting us see the side without masks. The Marines would have to take an up esculator to get to hell from Afghanistan.
    Jen from Baltimore,MD

    September 8, 2009 at 6:16 pm |
  18. Leslie Berenger

    Hello Anderson,

    Your coverage of our U.S. Soldiers, the people of Afghanistan and the war as it stands today is outstanding. Keep up the great work.

    Anderson, Sanjay and Mike, please stay safe and take care.

    September 8, 2009 at 5:42 pm |
  19. Dani Nicole

    Thank you for being over there! My husband is in 1/5 2nd MEB, so you're with his BAT. I don't like that some people say he's there for no reason, and I am so glad that there's still reporters who think this a worthy story to report. It's wonderful to be able to record your shows this week and I'm sure he will be excited to see them when he comes home. No matter what opinion someone may have about the war, there are still Americans in the Middle East doing their job throughout hourly danger, and that is worthy and respectable to me.

    Thank you for your reports.

    Stay safe Troops!

    September 8, 2009 at 5:25 pm |
  20. Marisa

    Thank you for remembering Afghanistan during a time when so much media attention is focused elsewhere. There are too many good men and women out there serving who need us to think of them and support their efforts and sacrifices.

    September 8, 2009 at 5:17 pm |
  21. Lakitra Keys

    Dear Anderson and the rest of your team of very professional, and compassionate men. I am far from someone who wants to know the devastation that our troops are facing and yet they have to do their jobs as someone else blogged earlier. I also send my prayers and thoughts out to all of you and thank you for your coverage and bringing it closer than ever to home. The troops are loved and missed very much, send them our love.

    Stay safe

    September 8, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  22. DawnL,CA

    What does success mean in Afghanistan?We went there to capture Bin Laden-how's that going? He's probably in Pakistan. We need to define OUR goals, not have our troops taking to the roads for the Taliban. Burn the opium fields, put the afghans in charge. If they haven't learned how to fight by now, they never will. Afghanistan has always been a tribal country & it appears it always will be. Our troops deserve better-we can't stay there forever.

    September 8, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  23. Gala Kalashnikov

    Is brave that a journalist can be in the field to report directly. And what makes a journalist also great in his profession, is to report unbiased and to denounce fearless when is necessary, because, we, the viewers deserve the truth. Thanks for be genuine Anderson.

    September 8, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  24. Craig Hoffmann

    Anderson – Your reporting is top notch, always.
    In your report today on CNN.Com regarding the Marines allies, you are walking the streets with armed Marines who are well protected with body armor from head to toe. Your vest is good, although you and your dedicated and brave crew should wear a helmet, we don't want you to become a statistic.

    Those guys are loaded for bear for a reason. Please stay safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm |
  25. Valerie Jayme-Burns

    Hi Anderson
    Thanks for what you do. You provide coverage like no other. And like the rest of us, I pray for your safety.
    Valerie Jayme-Burns
    South Lake Tahoe CA

    September 8, 2009 at 4:37 pm |
  26. Bruce

    Anderson: You talk about the "US Fight" and the "US Mission" as if the "US" is the only entity fighting the Taliban. A few miles from you the British are fighting too ... very hard ... and being ignored by the US media as if they didn't exist. How can you not even mantion an ally who has supported the US from day 1? Whose commitment of troops is on a par with the US when you compare country and armed forces size? Whose sacrifice is just as great (More so probably – comparing force sizes) US commanders somewhat sneered at the British inability to pacify Helmand province with 3,000 men .... now the US Marines are finding it just as tough to do a quarter of that area with the same amount of men. Along with the British are Canadians, Dutch, Danish and other NATO troops who have also fought and sacrificed.

    Come on Anderson ... start being a fair reporter not just a cheerleader!!

    September 8, 2009 at 4:31 pm |
  27. Jennifer Coffey

    Hi Anderson,

    My husband has been deployed to Afghanistan since April of this year. If I'm not mistaken, you & your team most likely landed on the air field where he is stationed. My husband serves with the US Navy, his name is EN2 Coffey....if you see him, tell him his family misses him & wishes a speedy and safe return. As for you Anderson, I just think you're fantastic! I wish you & your team a safe return as well.

    God Bless,
    Jennifer Coffey

    September 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  28. ArmyWife

    Anderson,
    Please be sure to report on all the POSITIVE things achieved in the last 8 years. Like schools being built, infrastructure, etc. Tired of the press only reporting on the negative....but very typical. Hopefully your reporting will show it all.
    Stay safe,
    Proud ArmyWife in TX

    September 8, 2009 at 4:16 pm |
  29. Kathy M

    My son is a Marine currently in Afghanistan. Thank you for providing this coverage. The troops and our President need our backing and support. We all need to understand what is going on. Please say a prayer for everyone's safe return.

    September 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm |
  30. kelsey

    i would just like to thank you so much anderson!..my fiance is a marine over in helmand province right now and its nice to see that you are over there getting information for us at your own risk.
    thank you and thank you to all the marines over there!
    -kelsey

    September 8, 2009 at 4:06 pm |
  31. Heidi

    Great post, Anderson! Look forward to all of you out there posting some great stuff. I think they picked the best for this report. I'm looking forward to reading the rest from you and the rest of the crew. Some real reporting coming up for a change. Maybe CNN won't have to recycle headlines so often with you out there in the field. You, Mr. Bergen and Mr. Ware are a news force to be reckoned with 🙂 Stay safe out there!

    September 8, 2009 at 3:57 pm |
  32. R Gordon

    Anderson – Thank you for reporting directly from Afghanistan. Maybe this will make many Americans finally take notice that our military men and women have been in that country for a long time. Lets support them, give them all they need to do their job, and them bring them home safely.

    Keep reporting!

    September 8, 2009 at 3:54 pm |
  33. Miriam Cooper, NY

    Hi Anderson,

    Please be safe !!!

    September 8, 2009 at 3:46 pm |
  34. VITA ZEMAITIS

    How was the goat meal? I thought they eat lamb. But seriously doesn't the U.S. government supply the soldiers with food from U.S.?Do they have a local water source? I thought they also grow grapes, so perhaps make some wine. How many soldiers are in the base,or is that classified information?

    September 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm |
  35. emily phillips

    as an expat living in europe since the 90's, even though i was more to 'the left' when in the states, i've come to see things i.e. war, conflict, health care, and so on, with perhaps different eyes than if i had stayed in the states. your blog describes the 'grayness' of the 'event' of war, if i can use that term – an ongoing 'event' to us not there but an 'ongoing....' to those who are, no matter what the side or sides. we all seem to want 'god on our side' which, of course, means a constellation where it/he/she won't be 'on the other side' – supernatural forces to convince everyone that what is happening can have divine intervention to prove 'rightness' – it is a 'grayness' no 'black or white' which is the true reality of 'the war' – 'the wars' which are being fought, waged, survived and lived through. thank you for the blog....

    September 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm |
  36. Megan

    Thanks for the coverage, AC – there isn't nearly enough in the news media currently. My boyfriend is over in the Helmand Province right now with 2nd LAR. Take care, it's rough out there.

    God bless our troops.

    September 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
  37. Sarah

    Anderson,

    You are doing a very brave thing and I admire you for it. The situation in Afghanistan has reached critical mass and I am so glad that you are shining a light on the situation. I am a proud Canadian, and as you know, the Canadian Armed Forces have been in Afghanistan for quite some time facing many dangers. I am glad that you are opening the eyes of the American people to the situation over there. Stay safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  38. Renee

    Anderson, what have you said 100's of times? War is hell. I often twist that in my head and say hell is war.

    I wish you and your team a safe return. I thank the troops for their service and sacrifice.

    September 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  39. Maria

    Anderson,

    I'm glad you went back because I think we need to see what is truly happening in Afghanistan.

    Please stay safe!

    Maria, PA

    September 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  40. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    That is the true definition of roughing it. I hope that things get better for the people there and maybe there is a way to put up shade cloth to provide shade and block some of the dust?

    Being so close to the fire...I feel as if I have dust/ash on me all the time and water is the only way to get that silty feeling to go away.

    I hope your goat and rice came with yogurt and pitas.

    I am sure that after all those packaged meals, the local food is really nice.

    September 8, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  41. Jimena

    Very interesting article Anderson I was just wondering while I read what do you think about the war in Afghanistan is it all worth it? Your personal opinion...It seem like there is no end...to it and lives are lost..and things get worse...there is still violence and their ideologies are there and the drug trade so..What do you think?being there and seeing it first hand...

    September 8, 2009 at 2:47 pm |
  42. Arlynn

    Anderson,

    Thank you so much for being brave enough to cover this issue, so little coverage has been done and I look forward to what I am sure will be the most in depth coverage to date on this war. Stay Safe!

    September 8, 2009 at 2:32 pm |
  43. Proud Marine Mom

    Hi Anderson, I just read your article, please keep up the good work, thank you for doing this. My son is 1st CEB, he is exactly where you are, if you see a Marine hooking up electricity, tell Gary his MOM loves him! Tell the troops we SUPPORT them! Stay Safe over there and keep up the GREAT reporting!

    September 8, 2009 at 2:06 pm |
  44. Jennifer - Michigan

    Hi there,
    Thanks for all your hard work and great news coverage. It's interesting to learn about the conditions there. Although, I have to say the rice and goat meal sounds rather good, I don't know. I'd try it, but then again, I'd try just about anything when it comes to food. The RTE's aren't so bad either.....you'll have to have some. Anyway, stay safe, thanks again for all you do, take care. Talk to you later.

    September 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  45. Victoria Alameda

    Hi Anderson,

    Relationship building in the Helmand Province is the only way for sustained peace and best defense against the Taliban. The condition may be ruff but that only proves the commitement our troops have to the people in Helmand Province. The people of the region have to have respect for or troops willingness to roll up their sleeves (so to speak) and partner them in rebuilding their community.

    The Taliban's power has been their ability to infultrated the community, controlled the populatiion, leaving the populous at their mercy.

    Or mission is to give the community back to the people. Empowering people is a far lasting legacy.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  46. LAMelody

    Cooper, I am interested to know more about the origins and strong holds of the Taliban. What long term plans are in place to rid the earth of them forever? From this California girl , it looks like the 21st Century meets the Stone Age when anything appears on CNN. So primitive over there. I love the United States for making a difference in their lives. Take care of yourself and tell everyone that we appreciate all they do.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  47. Deborah McClintock

    Dear Anderson,

    My son HM3 McRedmond is with 2D LAR, Charlie Co. He is the Corpsman for 1st platoon, if you see him, lol, give him a hug for me and tell him we are so proud of him.

    And thank you for giving a proud Navy Docs Mom some insight into what her son is seeing every day.

    Be Safe

    September 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  48. Paula, Colorado

    Anderson,
    It's great to see you on the blog early today. Your reporting last night from Afghanistan was excellent–as are your insights in writing.
    It seems everything I've seen of Afghanistan looks remote–visually pastoral and biblical. The violence there must be a sharp, traumatic contrast to the way it appears. I can understand the opposition to the war. Unlike Iraq, though, the focus on Afghanistan doesn't seem to have been so strong–or as lengthy. It wouldn't seem to serve anyone's best interests to walk away from the Taliban, and allow it to flourish.
    I'm looking forward to your reports later. I pray you all stay safe in every circumstance.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  49. ravindra patel

    Mr. Anderson you are a brave reporter. Looking at the Helmand situation I do agree with that US Force in critical time ahead. Overall
    your article was convinsing . Hats off to American forces for living in such a condition and try to get work done.
    Once again very good article

    September 8, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  50. angie

    Dear Anderson and members of your crew, as a military wife it means so much that you are covering the situation in Afghanistan. Your network appears to be the only network covering the war as extensively, and it means so much to the military families to know our soldiers are not forgotten. I only wish there was an end in sight to this war.
    Thank you again...and you all stay safe..

    September 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
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