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Afghan diary III: Incoming fire!

US soldier in Wardak
Troops in Wardak have to respond quickly to Taleban fire

In the third 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 remote and lawless Wardak province, in operation Call of Duty.

Incoming!

It it is the word that sends adrenalin coursing through the veins of every soldier, sailor and marine. The sickening warning cry that signifies an imminent attack.

It turns fear into action and has been used more than once in the last few days in Jaghato.

The 10th Mountain Division are here on an operation against the Taleban.

Shrapnel

This remote plateau in Wardak province is a lawless land.

Map

There are 20 policemen based in the district centre and that is where they stay. They have been confined to barracks, living under siege for more than two years.

Every two days the Taleban launch mortar strikes on them and the local governor. Their barracks, district council offices and a school are all pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes - the walls charred with blast marks.

Yet these buildings are just four years old, built by Turkey as part of the Nato mission here.

But the failure to stop the spread of the insurgency saw the Taleban move into previously peaceful areas like Jaghato.

That is why "The Spartans" of the 10th Mountain Division are here. To deter the Taleban from attacking. The Taleban have yet to be persuaded.

Early on Sunday evening we heard a loud popping sound in the distance. There was a small flash on the horizon.

I was interviewing Capt Ryan Sunderman at the time. We both looked round, simultaneously got to our feet and he hollered "incoming".

The camp burst into an adrenalin-induced spasm of activity. Most of it involved taking cover. Six or so mortar rounds landed close by. It was the second such attack in two days.

A team was despatched to the launch site. As they arrived, we heard another large bang and a cone of smoke rose into the sky.

Defiance

It was a booby-trap bomb buried into the dirt road. As the patrol passed by the Taleban detonated it. No-one was injured.

Capt Ryan Sunderman
Capt Sunderman insists that US troops are making progress

Now, was it an audacious attack by an increasingly sophisticated and fearless group designed to send a message of defiance?

Was this a sign of the Taleban's indifference to America's surge?

Or, was it, as the Nato mission here would argue, a small act of desperation by a cowardly group that lacks widespread support and is unable or unwilling to face its foe head on?

It is an important fault line in the reporting of Afghanistan. There are elements of truth to both positions. But a categorical answer is far from clear, at least not yet.

"They can shoot at us but they haven't hit anything and it takes a hell of a lot of rounds to even get close."

For Capt Sunderman and his team this was all in a day's work.

He is in no doubt that progress is being made or that he will eventually find the elusive mortar team. He also knows that there will be more days like this and more "incoming".



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