Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 12:51 UK

Afghan diary II: Call of Duty

Children with soldier of 10th Mountain Division in Tangi Valley, Wardak province - 26/4/2009
The people of Wardak province have few resources or services to draw on

In the second entry of his diary from Afghanistan's Wardak province, the BBC's Ian Pannell joins US troops as they try to clear Taleban fighters from a remote district, in operation Call of Duty.

Jaghato does appear on the map but only just. It is a district on the southern edge of Wardak province; a hotch-potch of sunbaked mud compounds dotted around arid scrubland high in the mountains.

The people here are poor even by Afghan standards. There are few real jobs, only one school, no electricity, running water or proper roads.

But the reason we are here is because Jaghato has no law and order either.

What it does have is the Taleban. No one knows how many but they have effectively laid siege to the local governor and the district police station for the last two years.

Operation Call of Duty is about bringing law and order to Jaghato. "Bringing" rather than "restoring" because this rather wild district has never really seen any kind of rule by central government.

The deputy governor has been pleading with the new US troops deployed to Wardak province to come to the rescue. The last time the 2nd battalion, 87th infantry came here, in March, they were attacked.

The response is operation Call of Duty, rather aptly named after the video game.

Chasing the enemy

It is an integral part of America's new strategy. The troops of the 10th Mountain Division are the first to have been deployed as part of the US-led "surge". Their mission is to push the Taleban away from Kabul, which neighbours Wardak.

Capt Ryan Sunderman says Jaghato is "nothing but potential". It is a polite way of saying it has nothing.


There have been attempts by the international community to develop the district. There is a new school, police station and district council offices. But the lack of security has left local people wary of international efforts.

Hundreds of sacks of much-needed wheat donated by America have been left untouched. The governor says people have been warned by the Taleban not to accept the food. And the new school stands empty because it is simply too dangerous for children to attend.

The essence of American's counter-insurgency strategy is "clear, hold, build". Operation Call of Duty is a recognition that to try to build without first clearing and making areas safe is probably a waste of large amounts of money.

Step one is to secure the district centre. For the last two days American soldiers and airmen have been chasing their elusive enemy. So far they have captured some weapons and been shot at.

It is an expensive, resource-intensive operation. But the choice in Jaghato is stark; either cede ground to the Taleban or sacrifice the time, money and men needed to make Call of Duty a success.

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