Fighting intensifies during Afghan troop surge

BETHESDA NAVAL HOSPITAL, Md., - The war in Afghanistan now in its tenth year. And the fighting is more intense than ever. The latest Pentagon survey of combat troops found more are getting into firefights and facing IED attacks.

The number of wounded Americans grew steadily each year since 2001. Then last year, they more than doubled after President Obama's surge - which added 30,000 U.S. troops.

The battlefield wounded arrive at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. Marines, all of them from Afghanistan, are taken to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center. If you visit them you can find out exactly what the fighting is like in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan.

How often would you go out on patrol and end up in a firefight? "You could almost set your watch to it. Every day," Sgt. Jason Ross tells CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

Ross was done in not by an enemy bullet, but by 10 pounds of homemade explosives which tore off almost half his body when he took the last step he probably will ever take.

Chart - Fighting in Afghanistan
CBS

Ross's unit would find as many as 15 so-called improvised explosive devices a week, which explains why more than 60 percent of combat troops in Afghanistan have had a close call from an IED.

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Lance corporal Ryan Bochberger remembers the first IED he stepped on. "It was a 40 pound pressure plate but it didn't go off because it was made for a truck."

Bochberger lost three buddies to IEDs. One of them, Sergeant Sean Callahan was buried at Arlington Cemetary on the day the rest of the country cheered the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Seventy-three percent of combat troops in Afghanistan have lost a member of their unit.

"You never know," Bochberger says. "It's one of those things where you're fighting ghosts, playing Russian roulette every time you step outside the wire.

It's dangerous enough inside the fortifications of a forward operating base. Going outside the wire only makes it more dangerous. Bochberger was shot through the pelvis.

Wounded warriors confront painful past

"All of a sudden somebody just opened up on us from like 80 yards away and felt it go through and fell to the ground," he says.

Seventy-eight percent of combat troops in Afghanistan have been in a fire-fight with the enemy.

Corporal Russell Thompson got into a firefight on his first patrol. "It was pretty crazy."

On his third patrol, Thompson took shrapnel from an IED in his back and suffered internal injuries.

"I guess some people would say I'm lucky or unlucky but I'm just - I guess - it is what it is," Thompson says.

Three times a week another ambulance comes in, carrying wounded Marines from Afghanistan.

Before the surge in Afghanistan, there would have between 20 and 30 patients at any one time. Now, there are between 30 and 50.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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