U.S. forces fight their way into new territory

FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan - This week marks the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.

There are currently 90,000 American troops fighting in Afghanistan. In a CBS News poll, Americans were asked if the war has made the U.S. safer from terrorism. Forty-seven percent said yes, 40 percent said it has had no impact.

On assignment, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley visited the Afghanistan base of the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, part of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Ft. Drum, N.Y. Troops of the 3rd Brigade are occupying ground that no American soldier has occupied before. They're carrying America's counterinsurgency strategy through the Taliban heartland village by village - often striking at night to take the enemy by surprise.

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Night vision fooage shows an American helicopter loaded with troops of the 4/4 Cavalry. They're headed to a town they've tried to take before. Last time they tried to reach Haji Pordil on land, they lost a man.

Maj. Johnny Casiano lead his team into town at daybreak. The mission was to clear the enemy and make first contact with village elders. First, Casiano's men set up a defensive position in a home and courtyard. It turned out to be the best decision of the day.

The enemy started lobbing grenades into the courtyard. Two soliders were wounded. The moment those rounds exploded Casiano responded quickly. "First and foremost, where it is coming from," Casiano said, "and immediately following that - is everybody OK?"

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Casiano then organized the return fire. "You can't do anything without security," Casiano said. "So you have to initiate overwhelming fire superiority and maintain security. That's the only way you're going to be able to to treat the casualties is to get the causalities out there and allow that Medivac helicopter to come in."

(Left, WATCH: America's counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan)

One Afghan solider was hit, and so was Spc. Craig Pruden. Pruden had already been recommended for a Silver Star for valor in a previous fight.

The soldiers were Medivaced out. The Afghan soldier had a severe injury. Pruden is expected to return to his unit in just a matter of days.

For Casiano, the fight was just the beginning of the day. A very short time later the major was sitting down with the village elder. "It's a switch that you have to be able to flip," Casiano said. "I think it's a fine balance between showing the appropriate amount of compassion for those who deserve it as well as the appropriate amount of aggression for those who also deserve it."

Casiano tried to convince the villagers to come to a meeting of Afghans and Americans a few days from now. The strategy is to clear the village, hold it and build it. It's what the Army calls "COIN" short for counterinsurgency.

"They had some land differences, some concerns about who owned what pieces of land they were not getting the water they needed both for their livestock as well as their crops," Casiano said.

"You had to shoot your way in to find out what their needs were?" Pelley asked.

"We did," Casiano replied, "But that's COIN."

After nearly 48 hours in the village, Casiano led his men out the way they came in: Under cover of darkness, using a beacon that can only be seen with night vision equipment to show the helilcopters where to land.

  • Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"