The e-mail from the military's press office caught up with me in Frankfurt, Germany, halfway home between Afghanistan and Atlanta, Georgia: "Three U.S. Soldiers were injured today when a Coalition combat patrol was struck by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device just north of Salerno in the Khost Province."
We'd been with coalition soldiers at a forward operating base in Salerno, Afghanistan, 10 days earlier and spent time in Khost as well. We'd also been on a convoy with the U.S. military, though we haven't gotten word whether any of those injured were the same soldiers who were with us.
This was supposed to be the war that was over, the one that we had won, helping the Nothern Alliance kick out the Taliban after 9/11 and sending Osama bin Laden into hiding. Hamid Karzai had been elected president.
So it was surprising to me to hear the U.S. military using the i-word to describe what was going on in this country. "We're fighting an insurgency" was the message we kept hearing from the military. And they told us that parts of Afghanistan are as dangerous for the U.S. military as Iraq.
It didn't seem that way when we were in Khost. The roses were blooming, the market was busy. Flying over the valley, we could see the wheat harvest had been good this year.
It was hard to believe that just eight years ago, a few miles from here, Osama bin Laden had held a press conference to declare his holy war on America.
Just a few miles away, at a forward operating base closer to the Pakistani border, Lieutenant Billy Mariani of the 10th Mountain Division was describing a recent ambush. A rocket propelled grenade hit the hood of his car while out on patrol. His men returned fire. It was quick and intense. Before they could call in artillery, the bad guys escaped across the border into Pakistan, less than a half-mile away.
But the real danger is in southern Afghanistan, where we learned from Afghan and American officials that the Taliban is stronger this year than last and that in some places it had never left at all.
In Kandahar, newly sworn-in Afghan police officers who will be on the frontlines of the fight told us just how extensive the Taliban presence is. To underscore the point, a day after we left, there was a suicide bombing in downtown Kandahar aimed at a convoy of Canadian soldiers. Four people were killed.
Most Afghans we spoke to don't want a return to the bad old days of the Taliban. They are tired of war. They want peace and security, and they want jobs. They don't want to be scared to send their children to school. Life, they say, is already hard enough.
Afghanistan isn't Iraq. But the insurgents, be they Taliban, al Qaeda or various warlords, are learning from Iraq. That's why we're seeing more suicide bombings, more roadside bombings, more raids on villages.
One unfortunate result is that I'm expecting more e-mails like the one about Khost.