Rebuilding Afghanistan, One Day at a Time

Dempsey Afghanistan The Road Ahead
This used to be Taliban country.

Under their rule, schools and stores were shuttered and few dared to drive on the roads of Nawa, a small district of around 100,000 people in southern Afghanistan.

Farmers who used who used to grow corn and wheat were pushed into the opium trade.

Agha Gul, a farmer in Pashto, said he was forced the grow poppies.

But today Nawa tells a different story - the streets are coming back to life, reports CBS News correspondent Terry McCarthy.

CBS News Special Report: The Road Ahead

Everything changed on July 2, when U.S. Marines launched one of the biggest military offensives to date in Afghanistan. Four thousand soldiers fanned out across Helmand province as part of Operation Strike of the Sword. Nearly 1,000 troops flew into Nawa that night, routing hundreds of Taliban in less than 24 hours.

"We did the clear as quickly as we could. We didn't injure a lot of innocent people and we didn't destroy a lot of infrastructure to do it," said Lt. Col. Bill McCollough.

The Marines have pushed the Taliban out, but if the local government doesn't step in and significantly improve living standards, it's only a matter of time before they come back. The Taliban has regrouped seven miles to the northwest and the Marines still have regular firefights with them.

But already, USAID has brought in a new weapon … 26-year-old civilian Scott Dempsey. His job is to win over the locals by helping to fix what's broken - making roads passable, repairing irrigation canals and, most of all, turning on cell phone service despite Taliban threats to blow up the towers.

Dempsey said the Taliban have attacked cell phone service as part of a "power play."

But other things are working. The road to the closest city - Lashgar Gah - is open again. The village even has its first freezer and shop-owners say business is better now that the Americans have come.

This new approach to counterinsurgency has a high price - in money, time and personnel. On this day, Dempsey is hoping to involve Afghans in repairing a road but they're haggling over the cost of labor.

The Marines have 1,000 men to rebuild and protect Nawa, but at current troop levels, the U.S. simply cannot replicate the Nawa model in all of Afghanistan's trouble spots.

And the district governor is afraid of what would happen if the U.S. left here too soon. He compares the Taliban to an infection that could easily grow back again.

"Because Afghans have been through 30 years of warfare, they've seen it all. And so they want assurance by us that we are going to stay and that will only happen through time," Dempsey said.

Ultimately, though, Dempsey can't give that assurance. For now, he and the villagers are just living one day - and one ditch - at a time.

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