Road building key tactic for U.S. in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan isn't just being fought with guns and bombs. Shovels and backhoes are being used to transform a countryside that hasn't changed in centuries-- all in the name of security. CBS News correspondent Seth Doane traveled to Kandahar province where American soldiers are hard at work on a major project.

It seems like a lot of work for dusty, rural road -- until you realize where it is. The front lines in the war in Afghanistan.

"We're standing in it - right now. We're cutting a line right through it right now," says Lt. Colonel Kenneth Mintz, gesturing. "We're splitting that Taliban -- from that Taliban."

The road is in the heart of Kandahar. The soldiers clearing and fortifying it with a series of checkpoints are members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division "Task Force Chosin." Mintz is their commander.

Why try to control a road?

"We're actually securing the people here," Mintz says. "Where they live on the road. When you talk to the local people they always say, 'Can you bring a checkpoint here?'"

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Of course, building a road in Kandahar requires more than just heavy equipment. Mortars send a not-so subtle message -- and create a smoke-screen for soldiers building the checkpoints.

"The Taliban, you know they're angry that we're here, they might spray a couple of shots at us -- but they can't stop us," says First Lieutenant Mark Bedrin. He says that though they were shot at twice, that's not their real worry.

"The hardest thing I think about this whole war is the IED threat. It's scary and it's demoralizing to the guys to walk around and be afraid of those -- because they're so lethal and you never know what type of IED might be around," he said.

Nearby stands the remains of a Taliban operations center, and across the road you can see a checkpoint built by coalition forces. The idea across the area is for the coalition to come in and control more roads and thoroughfares - building checkpoints - and get rid of the Taliban.

It took just a day to push to the river, plowing right through cropland and unearthing one of the ever-present conflicts that makes this war harder to win -- the tension between military and civilian goals: In this case the welfare of the civilian farmers who stood in the way.

Though they'll be compensated, winning the "hearts and minds" of these farmers will take much more than the trinkets that captivate the younger generation: toys and radios from the soldiers.

Still, "Having control of roads is one way that gives us access. and right now we've got access to a lot of people - they're coming to us right now," Mintz says -- potentially providing intelligence in short term and, ideally, security down the road.

  • Seth Doane

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