Reporting from the Afghan Battlefront

(CBS)
This Reporter's Notebook was filed by CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark.

We arrived in Barg-e-Matal at 4 a.m. by Chinook, running off the chopper and diving into a field under the veil of darkness. My first thought: "I hope there are no landmines."

There weren't, but there was sporadic gunfire high on the hills as Taliban took potshots at the Army helicopters. As the sun rose we walked to the village, where the soldiers set up camp in an empty mud brick house.

By dusk, the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division had spoken to village elders and found a weapons cache. The Taliban had fled when U.S. and Afghan forces arrived, or so it seemed.

The village is picturesque, surrounded by mountains. I sat on a bench in the make-shift camp, against the house's earth-baked wall, enjoying the view and talking to a military reporter, Sgt. Matthew Moeller with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Most other soldiers were outside as well, sitting, talking, watching the sun go down, it was tranquil.

Then an explosion of sound. Gunfire was coming from everywhere, all at once.

I lay my back against an alcove of rocks. A soldier was right in front of me firing at the surrounding hills. I pointed my camera but had to turn my head away because my skin was being pelted by his spent bullet casings.

Click below to see Mandy Clark's Evening News report:

There were commands and curses flying all around, along with the bullets and rockets. I remember trying to just focus on what I was filming. I knew this was an important story and I wanted to tell it right, to get the pictures just right. If my shots were too sloppy, they wouldn't bring the viewer to the battle.

There was an explosion and a cloud of dust just several yards away — a rocket propelled grenade had hit a wall. It was the first time I overheard a soldier had been badly injured. Soldiers started firing mortar rounds, planes flew in for air strikes on the hills and as the sun had almost set, the battle was quieting down.

This is when I started to see the injured; an Afghan solider whose hand was shot, wrapped up in cloth, an American soldier hopping, shrapnel embedded into his bleeding leg, and then a soldier on a stretcher, four others had to carry him down the hill to the emergency medical chopper. He didn't make it.

Complete darkness filled the valley. I don't remember much sound, I just sat against the rocks for a long time.

The Army confirmed the death, but hasn't yet identified the fallen soldier, who was with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment. At least 107 American troops have already been killed in Afghanistan this year. The death toll for all of 2008 was 151 American service members.