September 8th, 2009
06:15 PM ET

South to Kandahar

Program Note: For more on Afghanistan follow AC360° and ac360.com all this week. Anderson Cooper will be reporting live from Afghanistan and will be joined by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Michael Ware and Peter Bergen.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/07/ac.bergen.jpg caption="The crew boards a C130 at ISAF Kabul airbase. "]

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst

Over the loudspeaker system, a female voice announces “ISAF flight number 44 from Kabul to Kandahar is leaving at gate 1.” Just like for any other flight we grab our hand luggage and boarding passes but what makes this boarding a little bit different is that all the passengers are wearing flak jackets and clutching helmets. We troop in double file to the whale-like C-130 transport plane operated by a crew of reservists out of Missouri and strap in for the ride.

On the plane is a motley crew of young Asian women likely destined to work at the massive US/NATO base at Kandahar Air Field; a smorgasbord of soldiers from various European countries, and American military contractors wearing their uniform of baseball caps, cargo pants and shades. Most snooze through the 75-minute flight.

As we fly south to Kandahar I start thinking about the perfectly good highway constructed for several hundred million dollars—much of it American taxpayer money– that connects Kabul and Kandahar and the fact that anyone on this flight would be likely committing suicide if they drove it without a significant security detail as it is now a gauntlet of possible Taliban ambushes.

In 1999 I had taken the Kabul-Kandahar road when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Then it was nightmarish slalom course though fields of massive craters and in most places was not much more than a track; a 17-hour drive if you did it without stopping. The Taliban ruled with an iron fist Afghanistan and the bandits who a few years earlier who would have demanded payment for passage on the highway were long gone when I made that trip.

After the new highway was built I took the road a couple of times again in 2005 and 2006. Then it was a smooth, hassle-free seven-hour journey down a black-top freeway.

The fact that the Kabul-Kandahar highway is today so dangerous says a lot about the state of Afghanistan right now. If the United States, other NATO countries and the Afghan army cannot secure the road that connects the two most important cities in the country–which is also the artery through which a good deal of the commerce of Afghanistan must pass–what does that say about the overall effort to bring real security to the Afghan people?

This year efforts are in progress to secure the highway in areas near Kabul and also near Kandahar with the aim eventually of eventually securing the entire road.

Later this month the Obama administration will submit dozens of benchmarks to Congress which will help lawmakers judge if progress is really being made in Afghanistan over the next year or so. At the top of my list would be making sure the most important road in the country is open for business to anyone who wants to drive it and who doesn’t have the luxury of hiring a posse of heavily armed guards to survive the trip without incident.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Peter Bergen
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. bill tran

    You guys need to report on many great projects in Kandahar province such as repair dam, building model villages, road, schools, hospitals.

    and last but not least, the 5/2 SBCT since arriving in July are busy making Kandahar safe

    September 9, 2009 at 9:22 am |
  2. bill tran

    You guys should report the great works that the 5th Stryker Brigade Conbat Team are doing in kandahar province

    September 9, 2009 at 9:16 am |
  3. Ronald

    I've traveled that road quite often in 07-08. Good to see some of the Afghanistan I remember instead of Kabul.

    September 9, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  4. Aaron Alphie

    Thank you for your reports from war zone in Afghanistan. I am one of afghan american living in the usa. As you know the situation in northen Afghanistan rapiditly deteriorating and we still don't know what is going on in the cities like Kunduz, Baghlan and Takhar. These days people are saying that british forces transport taliban from southern provices to the north to distablize the north.

    September 9, 2009 at 3:11 am |
  5. Lois

    I hope that you and AC stay safe over there.
    It is very brave of you guys to put your lives at risk to cover the war.
    Thank you very much. It is a story that needs to be told.
    Be safe.

    September 9, 2009 at 2:17 am |
  6. Brian


    Have liked & respected your work for years. You were WAY WRONG in your comments tonight on drinking in AFG. I have been deployed every year since 2003. Not condoning boozing before/during ops, and all should keep it in moderation. However, ask Michael Ware if he needed a shot or pint or two after the patrol & IED last night... Did you ever take a drink in Kabul, Kandahar, Khowst or Bari Kowt? What about I-bad or Peshawar? Okay for journalists to drink BUT NOT troops? What about US Govt civilians (State, PRTs?) If the Germans/NATO were out of comms w/ CG-ISAF, they were wrong. BUT, after a mission, on return to the FOB, you want to tell the 20-year old Lance Corporal that he can kill & die, but not enjoy a beer to relax? And go back out again tomorrow, for the next year? GEN ORDER #1 has been & continues to be the most stupid "new reality" for US MIL in CENTCOM. Would our grandfathers have stood for that in France? Our fathers in Khe Sahn & Hue City? Certainly not the "Special trust & confidence in the fidelity & abilities" that was on my promotion warrants. Trust us to nation build, follow ROEs & discriminate targets, protect civilians but NOT to have a drink when not on duty?? Sorry Peter, you're simply WRONG tonight. Stay safe, and have a cocktail for me when you get back to Kabul. Someone over there should...

    September 9, 2009 at 1:27 am |
  7. Annie Kate

    Hi Peter,

    How long is this road? Securing a long road is going to be quite a feat and I hope it can be done. Thinking about the conditions of it now makes me appreciate how safe our roads here at home are – its hard to imagine a road you have to have a security force escort you on. Looking forward to your reports this week.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:28 pm |
  8. Bill


    It's good to know what's going on and what it's really like in Afghanistan and what kind of progress is being made there. I look forward to seeing you on Anderson Cooper. More thoughts on our chances for actually making Afghanistan a safe and improved, taliban/terrorist free country are welcome.

    Thanks for the info. and your expertise.

    September 8, 2009 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Cindy

    Thanks for the run down! I'm glad that Cooper drug you along on this little outing. You are so knowledgeable about this area. Hope to hear more from you tonight and the coming days. And please stay safe!


    September 8, 2009 at 9:24 am |