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U.S. on Hunt for Taliban Weapons

CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark is embedded with U.S. soldiers trying to secure eastern Afghanistan ahead of next month's presidential elections.

(CBS/Mandy Clark)
Running off a Chinook with a camera rolling and carrying a heavy backpack is a skill I never thought I would have to master. But as an embedded reporter with Task Force Yukon's Dog Company in Eastern Afghanistan, it's one I learned quickly.

There has been a barrage of air assaults around the city of Khowst as part of a pre-election surge. The goal of these missions is to disrupt insurgent activity planned for the upcoming elections.

On the first mission I joined, the platoon searched a village for suspected Taliban insurgents and weaponry. They also took fingerprints and eye scans on willing male villagers in case they are involved in setting up roadside bombs. 1st Lt. Nick D'La Rotta with the 25th infantry division explained roadside bombs are the main threat in this region and experts "can get fingerprints off of that, so you can detain them."

On a much smaller mission, I tagged along with a two-man bomb squad, John and Rob. They were going to blow up a Taliban weapons cache found during an earlier operation. While filming the mortars cache in a dry ravine, I lost my footing and tumbled on top of 44 pounds of explosives. Thankfully nothing went off, except John and Rob, erupting in laughter.

We were supposed to be on the ground an hour, but exploding the weapons only took 20 minutes. Ten other U.S. soldiers and eight Afghan National Army troops were with us as the security team. But just after the cache went up in smoke, the rain came down, preventing the Chinook from landing.

(CBS/Mandy Clark)
(Left: U.S. soldiers give a local Aghani villager a biometric eye scan.)

Six hours later, the sun having long gone down, we were now in an open field, wet and cold. The soldiers were tracking Taliban movements on the surrounding hills. I was vaguely unnerved, trying to get comfortable in my flak jacket, lying on rocks. Mercifully, 20 minutes later, the rain lifted, the helicopter landed and I discovered running back onto a Chinook was even better than running off of it.