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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. bill tran

    Geez, you guys keep repeating the same story, you got nothing new to report ??? CNN should report on the projects that build the infrastructure in Kandahar province by the Canadian , USAID, UN, etc.
    and the 5/2 SBCT since arriving in July and others troops that are busy clearing out the taliban and hold to make it safe for the local Afghanis in Kandahar province.
    That is fair and balance news. we want to hear and see that.

    September 9, 2009 at 9:55 am |
  2. diane r

    Thanks Anderson for the great reporting, now be very careful in Afghanistan.

    September 9, 2009 at 9:42 am |
  3. Dolores, Austin Texas

    Be safe Anderson.

    September 9, 2009 at 9:28 am |
  4. Michael

    Anderson et al,

    Hi, I was there last week working in our office near where you were doing the interview with the C.O and just wanted to pass on some comments to your viewers and yourself.

    1. The U.S military gets a bad rap sometimes, (I'm an Australian by the way) but every Marine I met (I was embedded with them) had a great attitude. Moral is good, the boys want to take the fight to the enemy.
    2. The troops interaction with the locals was always courteous and patient.
    3. The C.O is a true warrior and has the respect of his men. He leads by example and puts his men before himself, every time.
    4. The Afghan locals appreciate the Marines being there bringing security. They don't like the Taliban one ounce but are caught between a rock and a hard place.

    I'll be out there again next week and I'll be sure to take a copy of your story and the comments made here with me

    Cheers.

    Michael

    September 9, 2009 at 8:31 am |
  5. Angelique Sims

    Hello Anderson, be safe over there, and don't get hurt. We would'nt want to see such a great news anchor get hurt. I just wish the soldiers were'nt over there, I mean why exactly are we protecting the Afghanistan people? What are we protecting them from? I am so curious to know. Anderson... if you know, please tell me. Well, I hope all of them stay safe and well... you too Anderson. I salute the soldiers everyday for all they do for this country, they should not be over there anyways really. But they are, and they will be for some years to come, so I guess all we can do for them is pray.

    September 9, 2009 at 8:12 am |
  6. Regina Serra

    Anderson, Keep up the good work. You are with my sons unit(1stBn/5MAR) where you are reporting from in Afghanistan. His name is LCPL David Serra and we couldn't be more proud of him. Of course we are watching your coverage on TV every night to get a glimpse of David. Hopefully you can meet David as he is amazing just like you are.Do you think your camera man can somehow get a view of all the marines there at Jaker as we (families) are watching with great hopes of seeing our sons. If you do have the privilege of meeting David, tell him we send our love and a carepackage with mini ravioli is coming at his request!! May God bless you and your crew with safety on this assignment. As always, I pray for our military men and women serving our country. Regina Serra

    September 9, 2009 at 8:04 am |
  7. Martina Ilstad Germany

    Hey Anderson
    Sorry i missed your shows last nights,but as you know it is 4 o clock here in Germany,and sometimes,there is no sleepless in Germany.
    I realize that of course in Kabul it is very early (6 o clock)for jou,too
    So that makes me watch your videos and photos.
    Anderson,why you take your ball helmet off?
    The soldiers use this ball helmet,when they walk on the streets,why not you??
    Please, use this, of course not really goodlocking helmet,but its for safing your life.
    Take care
    Have a nice day from far away in Germany

    September 9, 2009 at 8:02 am |
  8. christinelgerman

    anderson i want to thank you so much for doin this report on the marines my son matt is in that unit it is hard seeing how he lives but this is what he chose. i love him for that .and i suport everything they are doin . if u see matt tell him we all love him and miss him so i pray for your saftey over there . i pray for all who is there. we are hoping we might get a chance to see him walk by. the marines rock!!!! stay safe with this show everone will know how the live its a hard job . people dont realize thanks so much it helps me feel a little closer to my son .God Bless .

    September 9, 2009 at 8:02 am |
  9. anne

    Anderson:

    welcome back to the blog, we miss your posts!

    Your coverage with the CNN 360 team has been outstanding, and I look forward to seeing more reports from you all.
    Please take care of yourselves over there, and have a safe trip home.

    September 9, 2009 at 7:07 am |
  10. Lee Wesley

    Thank-you, Thank-you, Thank-you. It is nice to read about my brother Marines, and I feel a bit better knowing this unit is doing well. Semper Fi.

    September 9, 2009 at 6:47 am |
  11. susan warren

    Your commitment to bringing us the 'factual' and 'real' news is so beneficial to us at home. For the families of those serving in our military in Afghanistan, and for those like myself who support them with care packages and feel as if they are our family, I am deeply grateful to you for your coverage and for your willingness to be there on the front lines. That goes for all those who are with you from CNN and all correspondents. We at home are extremely fortunate to have people such as yourself over there bringing history to life, giving us a bird's eye view of how things really are. Thank you.

    September 9, 2009 at 6:32 am |
  12. Red Hawk

    I send 2/3 & 1/5 Marines in Helmand lots of Kona coffee
    Sent over 300 lbs so far . They love it and share it freely among each other . I hope they give you a cup!
    The trouble is they have difficulty brewing it . They use their socks ....
    So if folks want to send them something they REALLY need , send them fresh socks . I also include new crew socks in all the boxes of coffee .
    But not near enough . Support our Marines !

    September 9, 2009 at 5:29 am |
  13. Paul

    Ha, I think that's my brother giving Cooper his briefing in the photo.

    September 9, 2009 at 3:28 am |
  14. jewel

    hey anderson cooper! my little brother is over there at camp leatherneck with you. i think it's so great that your showing the world what he's going through!
    Hey Ant! we love you and miss you. stay safe and try and get on camera!

    September 9, 2009 at 2:22 am |
  15. Gilby-HI

    Howdy Mr Anderson, Sir
    Greeting from the safety of America do to you and your fellows outstanding work protecting our freedom.
    There are not many that would put themselves in your boots.
    Dont worry there are plenty more Czars to be taken to the wood shed when you get home. Remember that list of questions that the president had for persons who wanted to work at the Whitehouse?
    Guess how many questions where not answered by Mr. Jones?

    September 9, 2009 at 12:29 am |
  16. lpfoong

    It's good to hear that the little boy is making positive progress. It's really heart wrenching to see children suffering and the pain they have to endure even through the process of recovery.
    I feel that the marines' strategy 'clear, hold, build' is a great one. The people have to unite and understand that working together will bring about the future that they desire and hope for. Segregation and separation are ways of tyrants to continue their domination.
    The segment on the IEDs and of the ambush scenarios, is interesting but scary and of course it didn't help when you and your crew were also walking along with the marines as they scan the area...
    Nevertheless, great job...all of you. Stay safe.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:19 am |
  17. Chris Chrysostom

    Thanks, Anderson, for your coverage. As a parent of a marine in the 1/5 Bravo Company; I carefully watch your stories hoping to catch a glimpse of my son. Your footage and coverage is very helpful to get connected with the conditions and challenges our Marines face everyday.

    One did strike me when last talking to my son via satellite phone, the sense of time seems really different than ours. As an example, my son was near Bill Cahir when he was shot, returning fire as medics treated him. For us, this was a couple of weeks ago. For my son, "...oh, that. Yea, that was a real long time ago, Dad."

    During your reporting, would you mind find out how our Marines are coping with the stresses like this?

    September 8, 2009 at 11:50 pm |
  18. Jan Feuerborn

    I know they don't live in luxury. My son is with 1/5 Marines in the Helmand Province and is at Patrol Base Jaker. I worry constantly, but am so very proud of him and his Marine brothers. Thanks, Anderson, for this show. I love being able to see where he is, and what they are doing. I also saw some Marines whose parents are friends of mine! Our first view of our sons in 2 1/2 months. THANK YOU!

    September 8, 2009 at 11:47 pm |
  19. Tiffany Marsh

    Anderson,
    Thank you for going to Helmand Providence. I have many loved ones in the 1/5 Batallion and it is comforting to see them. So many people speak so poorly about the war, but the fact that you and the rest of your team are in Afghanistan might just show how imperitive this war truly is. I am a college student and should be spending this time studying, but I will be watching every episode while you are at the same base as my friends.

    If you talk to any Charlie Company guys, tell them that we love them and miss them.

    Stay Safe out there.

    God Bless America and our Troops.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  20. Theresa, Des Moines

    Great reporting. I appreciate the comprehensive team coverage.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    My boyfriend is in Afghanistan serving. BE SAFE. it is rough out there. god bless all the reporters and soldiers

    September 8, 2009 at 11:17 pm |
  22. Lisa L

    Hello Anderson,

    I hope there is a peaceful resolution, please come back safely soon.

    Brightest blessings

    Sincerely,

    Lisa L
    Sydney, Australia

    September 8, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  23. Joyce in Ky.

    I pray for your protection and well being..all of you. You are doing great and needed reporting. We took our eye off Afganistan for too long..now we pay the price. Let the troops know we love and support them.
    Stay safe..we wnt you back
    Joyce
    Kentucky

    September 8, 2009 at 10:59 pm |
  24. Cindy from MN

    Kudos, CNN, Anderson, Mike and Sanjay. My only son is a Marine Corporal in the 1st Division, 5th Regiment so the fact that you are covering them is extremely special. The US has so much going on with the economy and the health care reform vote looming, it often feels as though the struggle in Afghanistan is being largely ignored or given minimal attention by the media. Thank you for providing this opportunity for us to see what our forces are encountering during their deployment. You guys are the best in the business! Stay Safe!!

    September 8, 2009 at 10:53 pm |
  25. Vig

    GET OUT NOW or else here we go again – more US deaths. more PTSD, more head injuries, amptuees, suicides, broken hearts and broken families. Obama's problem is that he can't stand up to the military whereas Bush was gung ho. This is craziness and look at history has anyone won a war in that country? This is going to turn out to be another Vietnam and Obama's undoing.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  26. Sandra Robertson, GA

    Thanks for the reports Anderson. See you tomorrow. Good night all.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  27. Patrish

    My best friend is a Marine and was in the Viet Nam war. He says that training foreign troops might be best reviewed in a different way. Whether we are talking Iraq or Afghanistan...6 weeks training in Paris Island and they will be able to take on Al Quaeda and the Taliban with no problem. We can assist them with drones and some military presence, but after Paris Island, they would be in shape to handle anything. I quite agree....

    September 8, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  28. tgee

    I'm a bit confused. First the media spends a lof of time & money convising the very easily maipulated American viewer / listener that their government & especially their president are incompetent & not to be trusted.

    Then they go about presenting a no win senario in Afghanistan using the likes of Michael Ware who is hardpressed to call Mr Obama "Presiden Obama". His disdain for our president comes through every sentense he utters so vehemently.

    If anyone is confused about where the enemy is, it may very well be in Afghanistan or Pakistan (where al'kaida is supposed to be) but it may very well also be right infront of us on TV.

    I'll challenge anyone to try & do anything let alone govern a nation the size of the US with the media barking at your heels all day & all night .
    God help this man who sighned up for a job in the midst od an abyss.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  29. Marot Ncha

    I'm not sure if this is the right page,but I'll to comment about Micheal Ware;I think he is one hell of a reporter.I just watched him tonight on AC 360,running around,trying to stay alive,and at thesame time trying to relay to us what is really going on.I'm an Iraqi vet myself(a navy corpsman a.k.a Doc),and I know what he's going through concerning staying alive.Four words for you Mike,"KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN." I wish I had an address for you so that I could send you some care package. Either way, " En la buca de lopo, et de bon courage!"

    September 8, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  30. Deb

    Got a son with the 1/5, a corpsman, who is a stone wall. Thanks for the time and the reports. More pictures and reports of conditions, please. Keep your head down. Tell them we're praying for them all the time!

    September 8, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  31. Paula

    Hug my nephew Jeff Williams for me. He's a marine in the 1/5 group that you're embedded with. We love him and hope for the best. Proud of the marines.

    Thanks for the reports and pictures from Afghanistan.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:29 pm |
  32. dorothy

    Anderson

    Thank you for reporting on this and doing such a good and informative job. Appreciate it. I think I'm learning more than I'd like to know, but am definitely following along.

    Stay safe.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:29 pm |
  33. Sherry Love

    Hi Anderson,

    My step-son is serving in the 1/5th. He has a little brother at home in the states that looks up to him in all that he does. He actually set free a spider-man balloon to help his brother out. He doesn't understand what his brother is doing, but one day he will and he will admire him even more. Keep up the great coverage and if you see a Ga boy tell him his little brother Joey loves and misses him and Spider-man is on the way.

    Sherry

    September 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  34. Brianne

    Anderson, this coverage is so wonderful. People here at home really need to see what our men and women in the service are doing over there. My husband is a Lt. in 1/5 and currently based in Helmand. I can't express how proud I am of him! We have 2 other military men in our family as well. As hard as it is to know and see what they go through and the dangers that they face, it only makes me more appreciative of my freedoms that they fight to preserve. Thank you for covering all their hard work and their commitment to serving this wonderful country we live in!

    September 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  35. Richard Wilson

    I just watched Anderson Cooper's report on Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. I find it curious that the Canadians that have fought and died in the province over the last few years were never mentioned.
    Richard Wilson, Toronto

    September 8, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  36. brian g

    AC - during the one of the busiest domestic news weeks of the year, why is AC in afghanistan?? Out of touch.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  37. Sharon

    Hi Anderson, it's good to see u doing what u do best. keep up the good work. Stay safe anderson and your team.

    Sharon

    September 8, 2009 at 10:21 pm |
  38. Jane Rosenbaum

    Re: Troop Withdrawal – As a Brig.Gen. (ret'd) spouse with a mind of my own, how about understanding the need to remain – but only if our allies will send (as close as realisticially possible) the same percentage?

    September 8, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  39. Marti Meyer

    I want to thank A.C for reporting from the 1/5 unit in Afghanistan. My son his name is Joshua Meyer is serving with 1/5 in the Helmond providence, I am very concerned about his welfare, yet I'm glad his unit is having a positive effect on the Afghan community. Thank you Anderson! for serving. Marti Meyer

    September 8, 2009 at 10:16 pm |
  40. Lance T. Adams

    Hello CNN! Thankyou for sending Anderson over there to Helmand Province. My little brother is with the 1/5 3rd Platoon Alpha- HM3 Adams. Stay safe out there troops, crush the enemy, and come home soon!!

    September 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  41. Debra_ofMidwest

    @srobinson BRAVO!!! It is nauseating how some people will tiptoe around the Taliban ideology. It should anger you when you hear that we have to buy off or co-opt people in these regions to remove the Taliban. The Taliban advocate a strict and extreme version of Sunni Islam. Policies about education, restrictions on, and persecution of, women, and other oppressions furthered by the Taliban can only be changed when the people in the regions finally decimate the Taliban.

    People need to see and be reminded frequently just what the Taliban do when they are in an area. And our current leaders have no stomach to really let our troops do what they are trained to do – secure the country and remove the enemy. If reporters showed the real stories of what is happening there, then maybe those who want us to get out now would think differently. The sanitized wimpy version of what is happening is all the news wants to report. The Taliban are not sanitized or wimpy; and their actions should be honestly shown on our screens.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  42. Buddy Love

    My son is a part of the unit that Anderson Cooper is at. Please everyone keep him and his whole unit in your prayers.

    Buddy

    September 8, 2009 at 10:13 pm |
  43. Stephen O'Neal

    As a 'Nam combat vet with a son-in-law finishing up his tour in Iraq I cannot help but agree with George Will.

    Why should american blood be spilt once more supporting a corrupt government?

    September 8, 2009 at 10:11 pm |
  44. Jacqueline, NY

    Evening all! I'm just joining and surprised to see so many blogs already. Did the show start early?

    September 8, 2009 at 10:04 pm |
  45. Kathy Chicago

    Yikes, AC, please be careful! It sounds like you are camping in a dust bowl with helmet and vest. I've had goat and I don't envy you. I love the idea of Americans helping Afghanistan to rebuild and redevelop, but I hate the fighting and loss of life. Other countries have not had much luck in this country. I hope that Americans don't share their fate. I love when you are in the field to show us how things really are. AC, Michael, Peter and Dr G please be safe!

    September 8, 2009 at 10:04 pm |
  46. Meagan

    my husband is in southern afghanistan. I think its great that people who have no clue of what its like are finally able to "get it". They arent at all spoiled over their. They are fighting a constant war!, every minute of every day! Maybe now people can understand the reality of it all and stop thinking its a cake walk. Maybe they will stop thinking they know everything!!! I know I am so proud of all the guys!!!

    September 8, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  47. Megan Dresslar - Shoreline, WA

    Hellooo Anderson!!!
    Thanks for updates tweeting me, I am glad you are safe trip and arrived in Afghanistan ! I can’t wait forward see you live coverage in Afghanistan this week! That will be danger story coverage! I pray so hard for you long time, I agree my friend bloggers…. Please stay safe on the road! And be careful, Out of way of harm to yourself and 360 crews! I hope you give us update what’s happening in Afghanistan. Good luck, Anderson!

    September 8, 2009 at 9:53 pm |
  48. Kathy

    Dear Mr. Anderson,

    I can't thank you enough for reporting on the 1/5. I have not heard from my son LCPL William Young, Alpha Co. in a month. By your excellent reporting over there you make me feel so close to him. If you do run into him tell him mom says Happy Birthday and I love and miss him so much. He and all the men and women over there are my heros now and forever. Thanks for bringing the war back to the front burner where it belongs and keep your heads down over there!

    September 8, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  49. Iron Duke

    Anderson: You are doing a great job there. But why don't you report more on what British troops and other allied soldiers are doing? The Brits have been in Helmand for four years or more fighting hard on America's side and not being reported in the American media. Its like only US troops are there and you know thats not true.

    September 8, 2009 at 9:35 pm |
  50. Tim Gibson

    This war will never be won on the Afghan battlefield and it is time to bring all our troops home. The trumphet is sounding for a roundup of the wagons for our survival as a nation and not for our blood spilled on the fields and rocks of Afghan soil.

    September 8, 2009 at 9:01 pm |
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