American-Led Forces Pound Taliban Strongholds

American-led forces fire on Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan. From the CBS Evening News, Oct. 21, 2010.

It's been called the most important battle in the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan. For weeks, American-led forces have been pounding the Taliban in their stronghold, Kandahar province.

U.S. commanders say the enemy is fleeing in droves, thanks to the increased use of heavy artillery and air assaults. Those weapons also put civilians in great danger.

CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark reports that throughout the war, U.S. commanders have emphasized the need to protect civilians at all costs. In the long and bitter battle for Kandahar province any threat to U.S. forces is now being met with overwhelming and sometimes indiscriminate firepower. Special Report: Afghanistan

A platoon from the 101st Airborne division was on its way to a village known as a Taliban stronghold, two of its armored vehicles drove into a canal. The Taliban quickly opened fire. American helicopters flying low overheard tried to spot the insurgents.

They report a truck full of armed men is carrying the body of a fighter out of the bombed-out village. The platoon leader orders his men to "kill them."

They miss the target but the truck stops. There are no armed insurgents. The body in the back is the mother of a little girl. Her family says she was killed by the NATO bombardment of the village.

"Tell them I am deeply sorry. I'm sorry that she died," says Lt. Stephen Draheim, Bravo troop platoon leader, 1-75 Cav, 101st Airborne division. "In this conflict, in this fighting, people continue to die when we are just trying to make the Taliban go away."

Troops fighting in Kandahar are allowed to shoot suspected enemy spotters even if they don't have a weapon. The military is often using heavy artillery and ordering more air strikes. That makes civilian casualties inevitable.

There's little time for the troops to reflect on the rules. Early the next morning they head back out to the village to find and kill the Taliban fighters.

Again, they come under fire and, once again, the military sends in the heavy weapons.

An A-10 attack jet lays down fire dangerously close to the American and Afghan troops.

"Red one, this is red two. We're good here. I might need to change my pants, but everything is good," says Sgt. Vincent.

The Insurgents are still moving inside the village and artillery shells come crashing in.

There was some small arms fire. The American reaction was overwhelming. They hit them with everything they've got, 2000-lb. bombs, missiles, artillery.

The village is abandoned but the soldiers find a body, one of three insurgents killed in the heavy bombing. Someone threw a sheet over it.

"I hope they didn't rig this body," says Vincent.

This time there is no doubt they found the enemy.

"I didn't say a prayer but I just thought an enemy of mine is dead and as far as the carnage part of it, I'm not really bothered by it," says Draheim.

Nearby, the team finds a room full of bomb-making materials.

"I think this is ammonium…yup, ammonium nitrate," says Vincent.

They place a small explosive charge in the room and destroy it.

The Taliban fighters will probably sneak back into the village overnight but for first platoon it's mission accomplished, at least for now.