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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April 2008, 06:20 GMT 07:20 UK
Afghan people 'wish for life in peace'
By Tulip Mazumdar
Newsbeat reporter, De Khakesh Kariz, Helmand Province

Sultan Mohammed and his children
Sultan Mohammed with his six children in their compound

All week Newsbeat has a series of special reports from Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Today we look at how British troops are trying to win the hearts and minds of people living there.

British troops don't tend to go into Afghan homes unless they absolutely have to.

It's seen as a major insult if a stranger, especially a foreigner, enters an Afghan national's home without an invitation.

So when we ask if we can come and see Sultan Mohammed's home, there are concerns he'll be angry if he's even asked.

He's not. He breaks into a toothless smile and ushers us towards a wall.

A grey blanket makes up the front door. Inside is a cluster of mud huts. They are around 13 by 10 feet.

Sultan, his wife and their eight children occupy two of them.

Other villagers are packed into the others. There's one communal kitchen made up of a couple of gas stoves on the floor.

Cot
The cot for Mohammed's youngest child in Afghanistan
Around us walks their dinner of chickens and goats.

When asked where his wife is, he says she's out back. In Afghan culture it is not right for outsiders to see his wife.

The two rooms are completely stark. No toys, no ornaments, just the bare essentials piled up against a wall.

From the ceiling of one of the rooms hangs a baby's cot. It's a round basket covered with a blanket. There are a couple of shelves up but that's it.

'We are a poor family'

Sultan works in the poppy fields. He's a traveller and is in Helmand for the poppy harvest.

He gets paid 5 a day working from dust until dawn in the searing heat.

"We wish better life for our children," he says. "I have spent my whole life in war and fighting, but I wish for them life in peace."

British soldier with Afghan children
Troops from 2 Para hand out sweets and radios to local kids
British troops from 9 Platoon 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment have come to visit people in the area.

They are keen to keep a high profile because Taleban fighters are still roaming.

The problem is that they melt into the population.

So as paratroopers patrol the area, the chances are they're walking right past Taleban members, or so called "Taleban sympathisers" who tip off fighters about what soldiers have been asking the locals, and what locals have been saying.

Lieutenant Nick Mys is platoon commander.

He said: "Most of the people here don't want to show an allegiance to either side, they just want to be left alone to get on with their lives, but we need to get in to see if there are any Taleban there or to see if they're being intimidated by the Taleban."

If someone helps the coalition forces the Taleban kill them
Kakaka Gir, village elder
For British troops, this is meant to be a hearts and minds mission. The idea is if you can get locals on side, the Taleban will be unable to hide among them.

People in these villages don't like the Taleban, but they are not convinced by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which British troops are a part of either.

Kakaka Gir is the village elder. He's told Newsbeat locals are frightened of speaking to British forces.

He said: "If someone helps the coalition forces the Taleban kill them."

'Negotiate with the Taleban'

As we leave the area, the paratroopers hand out radios.

They only tune into one station, an American-run information and music channel where AC/DC is a favourite.

It also lets locals know when medical clinics are being held by troops at the base around half a mile away.

Two of Sultan's children start fighting over the radio. Sultan grabs a poppy stork and gives them both a great big whack. The youngest bursts into tears.

As we leave the village leader tells us there's only one way for things to genuinely improve for Helmand villagers. That's to negotiate with the Taleban.



SEE ALSO
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Afghanistan diary: day one
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Afghanistan diary: day two
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Afghanistan diary: day three
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