U.S. school symbolizes fight for Afghans' future

This week CBS News has been reporting from Afghanistan leading up to Friday, the 10th anniversary of the war. A lot of folks wonder why U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan so long. Evening News anchor Scott Pelley found part of the answer behind a mud wall on a hillside in Kandahar province.

Everything America is trying to accomplish in Afghanistan is represented in four tents. They comprise a school set up by American soldiers under the command of Capt. Zack Johnson, from Woodbridge, Va.

"Kids [are] being educated," he said. "That's what's going to be the future of this country."

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Johnson is with the 287th Infantry of the 3rd Brigade combat team out of Fort Drum, N.Y. The brigade is fighting through the birthplace of the Taliban, and that has been costly.

Since the brigade took over here in April, 28 of its soldiers have been killed and 300 wounded -- all of that for the opportunity to move into the villages to build roads, markets and Johnson's school.

"How do you measure success?" Pelley asked Johnson.

"People don't want to stand up for themselves because there's a lot of shooting going on. And that's where we come in. We help to make sure the security is good."

But fear of the Taliban is strong. When CBS News visited the school a few days earlier, we found children teaching children. The adult teachers had run off after because of threats from the Taliban. Another school nearby was burned in the night. Johnson's men increased security and rounded up those who made the threats.

"What's been the effect?" asked Pelley.

"Teachers are still coming back," said Johnson. "I'm sure there's even kids around here today that are here at school that have been physically intimidated by the Taliban themselves and they're still coming."

"What does that tell you?" asked Pelley.

"It tells me the Taliban don't have the power they think they do. And they're getting desperate with their poking on little kids. And the kids are seeing that they're not a threat anymore and they're still coming, because they want to be taught."

It might take a company of soldiers to assure a village that the school is safe -- but only the whisper of a threat to shut it down. That's one reason Afghanistan takes so long. Ten years ago U.S. forces answered the worst attack ever on the American homeland. American GIs are fighting there not to seize territory or wealth, but to build a better country for the people who harbored our enemies -- uniquely American.

  • Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"