Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 11:26 UK

Afghan diary I: The gates of Kabul

A US soldier of the 10th Mountain Division tries to cross an irrigation channel in Wardak province on April 28, 2009
The terrain in Wardak is as wild as it is dangerous

In the first entry of his diary from Afghanistan's Wardak province, the BBC's Ian Pannell joins US troops as they pass through the gates of Kabul into Taleban land.

It takes just over half an hour to drive from the gates of Kabul into open "Taleban country".

At least, that is how it would have seemed to some and how it was reported by many last summer - the Taleban were "at the Gates of Kabul".

Wardak province had gone from being a sleepy, poor area, barely touched by the insurgency, to a new frontline in the battle against a resurgent and spreading Taleban.

Convoys were regularly attacked along the main supply route as the district came under Taleban influence and pictures emerged of large groups of armed insurgents operating at will.

'Security nightmare'

Numerically speaking, the Taleban never posed an existential threat to Kabul or the Karzai government.

But their presence, just a few miles from the capital, was a security nightmare and a public relations disaster.

Even before US President Barack Obama was sworn into office, orders were given to send the first wave of new troops to Wardak and neighbouring Logar province to start the fight back.


The equation is pretty simple - the "surge" is designed to bring much needed security to Afghanistan and means making the areas around Kabul safe first of all.

The onus has fallen to "The Spartans" of the 10th Mountain Division. They have been encamped in the hills outside the provincial capital, Maydan Shah, since February.

The setting is as wild as it is dangerous. A rolling green plateau rises and falls for miles, giving way to brown chiselled peaks.

Maydan Shah sits at more than 7,000ft (2,130m) above sea level, where the air is crisp and thin.

It is now home to around 1,500 US troops who have already established a series of COPs (Combat Outposts) along the north-south road, known as Highway One.

COP Carwile, named after a US soldier killed in Wardak, is a base for just over 100 young men from the Second Battalion, 87 Infantry Regiment.

It is pretty basic. Made up of plywood sheds, camouflage tents and makeshift dirt walls, it has five toilets and no running water.

It is also where President Obama's Afghanistan policy meets reality.

There has been much discussion about a "civilian surge" and regional diplomacy but in reality it is up to the military to first weaken the grip of the insurgency before any political process can begin - and that job in Wardak falls to The Spartans.

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