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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Inside the Battle Zone

Aired September 11, 2009 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from Afghanistan. This is a special edition of 360 INSIDE THE BATTLE ZONE, on this the eighth anniversary of 9/11.

Right now the war here in Afghanistan is at a critical juncture there are more American troops here than ever. And more American troops are getting killed here than ever before. July and August, the deadliest months for U.S. forces since the war began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Eight years ago, just after the September 11th attacks, that's when this war began. The goal then was to find Osama bin Laden and drive out his protectors, the Taliban. Bin Laden of course, is still at large. The Taliban have regained a foothold, a strong foothold in this country.

Now the battle more than ever includes winning hearts and minds of the civilian population here in Afghanistan to get them off the fence and turn against the Taliban.

Tonight, you'll see how dangerous this mission has become as Michael Ware discovered firsthand with his brush with an IED.

We'll show you what the battle looks like and feels like through the eyes of Marines as they prepare Afghan forces to take control of their country's security and future.

Plus, the civilian toll: you'll meet a little boy who was near death when 360 MD's Sanjay Gupta met him. Tonight what does Malik's future hold? We'll show you the doctors, the American doctors who saved his life.

All ahead on this "360 SPECIAL: INSIDE THE BATTLE ZONE."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We begin with the new strategy here in Helmand province, clear, hold and build. That's what the Marines are calling it. They move into an area, they clear it of Taliban, then they keep the Marines there. They hold it and they try to build infrastructure and build confidence, local people's confidence in the Afghan government.

It is a strategy designed to protect the local population and show them the benefits of life without the Taliban. At Patrol Base Jaker Forward Operating post in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, the Marines are fighting hard and working hard to try to win over the local population.

But every day when they go out on patrol they face the number one danger here in Afghanistan, IEDs. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): It is the most dangerous position on patrol, out in front, on point. Lance Corporal Phil Howard quickly waves a metal detector in front of him searching for signs of an IED.

LANCE CPL. PHIL HOWARD, U.S. MARINE: It's kind of scary being up on point and knowing that if somebody is going to pull something on you or you step on something, it's going to be the front guy.

COOPER: Every second, Howard has to remain alert. One mistake could kill him or a fellow Marine behind him.

(on camera): That can be tough, too, because you never really know who is a friend and who is an enemy.

HOWARD: Exactly. Like, you can look around right now and you know, that guy over there -- that's all right -- could be a good guy or a bad guy. You never know.

COOPER (voice-over): IEDs have become the number one threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In Helmand province, they're responsible for some 80 percent of all casualties.

(on camera): They've got to be buried in the road or detonated by a member of Taliban who's hiding in underbrush like this.

That's why it's important for the Marines to keep about 10 or 15 meters in between each Marine on patrol so that in the event that an IED is detonated, the damage is limited.

(voice-over): Since they arrived in Helmand province a little more than two months ago, the First battalion, Fifth Regiment has lost one Marine to IEDs, 48 others have been wounded. In July, Lance Corporal James Buttery's vehicle was hit. He escaped with just a concussion.

(on camera): And where did you -- you landed literally right over there?

LANCE CORPORAL JAMES BUTTERY, U.S. MARINE: Yes, the front of the truck was pretty much where that tree was. It knocked the tree out and I was laying right there.

COOPER: Wow.

BUTTERY: The front end was just (INAUDIBLE) and able to crawl out. The other Marines were able to jump in and grab the Marine that was in the canal. And we were all conscious and no serious injuries.

COOPER: You're lucky.

BUTTERY: Yes. COOPER (voice-over): The Marines collect parts of the IEDs they discover. Pressure plate devices like this one are common.

LANCE CPL REESE BARNETT, U.S. MARINE: When you step on that, this charge goes off and that's how you get your explosion. They make a lot of stuff out here that -- for these pressure plates, you see how they do it.

Little metal strips right there.

COOPER (on camera): Yes.

BARNETT: It can make it real hasty like. Put the sticks on there. It goes down. And then that's how it connects and then they also make...

COOPER: So that's -- I mean, that's amazing something as primitive as that; just basically two pieces of wood with some metal.

BARNETT: Yes, sir. I mean, I'm not going to lie. They're pretty smart about doing this but we're finding them.

HOWARD: Have seen anything out of the ordinary around here? Around the village?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes.

HOWARD: Ok.

COOPER: Today's patrol is not just about finding IEDs, however, it's about meeting local residence, building their confidence in U.S. forces and in the local Afghan government.

It's not exactly what first Lieutenant Chris Conanan expected to be doing in Afghanistan.

1ST LT. CHRIS CONANAN, U.S. MARINE: Initially I thought I was going to have pretty much just a fire fight every day, just a run and gun fight. What I've seen is that we haven't taken contact in maybe a month or so in terms of small arms which is a good thing.

And right now we're simply just having tea with village elders.

COOPER: Tea?

CONANAN: Exactly. I've had -- I can't even remember how many cups of tea. And a couple dinners which is always an interesting experience.

COOPER (voice-over): Building trust, however, takes more than tea. It takes time. And with the Taliban growing in strength in many parts of Afghanistan, U.S. officials acknowledge time is not on America's side.

(on camera): Do you think the people here believe you're here to stay or do you think they're still kind of on the fence? CONANAN: I think the majority of them are on the fence. We have some supporters and we have some people that think that we're going to leave tomorrow. But for the majority of the people, I think they're on the fence.

COOPER (voice-over): To get them off the fence and on the side of the Afghan government, the Marines are trying to fund local development projects and show residents they're not going to let the Taliban return.

In the town of Kaji Baba (ph), the Marines meet with two village elders. Both are courteous but aren't willing to say if they support the U.S. or the Taliban.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill McCullough tells them Marines will be here at least until next summer. But beyond that, he can't promise.

(on camera): So a lot of people are not willing to choose sides?

LT. COL. BILL MCCULLOUGH: They're waiting for a little more bona fides from us that we're here to stay. That's what we're trying to develop here. They trust us. They trust their own government. And once these folks pick sides and say, "No, we're with the government," I believe that is it. It's not a win but it's a sign that we're winning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The two journalists who know this area and their story better than most are national security analyst Peter Bergen and Michael Ware. They were covering Afghanistan long before U.S. troops arrived.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Michael, we're just watching the danger from IEDs. You never used to really see IEDs, you never used to see suicide attacks here Afghanistan. The war is evolving.

From your take, from your travels, what's the status of the war? How is it going?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's obviously in a perilous state. The war simply is not going well. And no one here at IFAD headquarters in Kabul would disagree with that. The Taliban is as strong as ever. And their war machine shows no signs of abating.

There is not enough coalition troops here now nor Afghan troops to partner them. And even if President Obama does send reinforcements, there still won't be enough. The most that anyone can hope to achieve is to put enough pressure militarily on the Taliban to pay dividends elsewhere such as at the negotiating table.

And that's one of the reasons why the Afghan government and the U.S. military are now looking to draw on their lessons from Iraq. And turn to U.S.-backed militias to start fighting where the Americans cannot -- Anderson.

COOPER: Peter, what's your assessment? Do you agree with Michael?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the Taliban certainly aren't losing, which in an insurgency means that you're winning. I mean, the Taliban strategy is to wait out the international forces. They know there is a political time line in the United States, so maybe a year or so. If they can wait the United States out, they've won.

So that -- I mean -- and according to a map that CNN obtained of Taliban presence in the country in the spring, 40 percent of the country was either controlled by the Taliban or at high risk for Taliban attacks.

COOPER: 40 percent?

BERGEN: 40 percent.

COOPER: Michael, one encouraging thing is a lot of the Marines here have had experience in Iraq, in the Anbar awakening. So they're trying to bring some of the lessons from that over here as you mentioned.

How -- how likely is it that you can negotiate or co-opt or pay off segments of the Taliban?

WARE: Well, that's not such a far stretch at all Anderson and they don't even start with the Taliban. You have entire tribes who are sitting there around where you are in Helmand, in southern -- across southern Afghanistan who by and large have been ignored and neglected by the U.S. mission.

You also have the veterans of the Soviet war. Many of whom are now joining the Taliban. But their heart is not in that fight. So we're seeing a pilot program already beginning where they are drawing militia members from the local tribes in Kandahar and starting to bring back some of the Soviet veterans.

The Afghan government has told us exclusively that this program has begun.

COOPER: It seems, Peter, that there's no doubt that U.S. is going to ask for -- or the military leaders in the U.S. are going to ask for more troops. It's a political decision on whether or not they actually get it.

But there's no way U.S. forces can be or even NATO forces can be in all the areas where the Taliban is operating. I mean you could -- you know, you can build a road and you can set up checkpoints. But they just move somewhere else.

BERGEN: Yes, so it's a matter of triage -- only 12 percent of this country is -- could sustain a population where you've got the water and the agriculture. So we're sitting here in the middle of the desert. You don't have to secure this enormous desert. It's a matter of choosing your targets, protecting the population centers where people really live.

In Helmand, for instance, they're on Helmand River, that's where everybody lives. The rest of the province is empty. There's no need to secure that. So you don't need to secure everything.

COOPER: Michael Ware in Kabul. Peter Bergen here thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I want to try and give you a sense of just how dangerous this mission really is. Just ahead, Michael Ware takes us on a night patrol in Kandahar, a city under siege. And he has a close call with an IED.

Plus, a little boy suffers a critical head injury and fights to survive in the middle of a war zone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He landed on his head causing a fracture. And he started to get a hematoma which was causing the problems he was seriously having.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. JG. SARAH TVERDOSI, U.S. NAVY: Hi. My name Lieutenant JG. Sarah Tverdosi, I'm from (INAUDIBLE) New Jersey. I just want to say hi to my husband Nick on the West Coast and the rest of my family on the East Coast. I miss you guys. And I'll be home soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You're going to be hearing from more servicemen and women here in Afghanistan throughout the hour.

We also want to show what you their lives are like, what their living conditions are like. If you have some idea that U.S. forces are living in big fancy bases with restaurants and all the comforts of home in Afghanistan, you're going to be shocked to see how difficult and Spartan their conditions are.

We're reporting from Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province. The Marines here, the soldiers here and across the region involved both in combat operations and something more, it's called "clear, hold and build."

They clear the Taliban, they protect the civilians by sticking around by holding and the build is they're trying to build infrastructure and build confidence in the local Afghan government. But it is an uphill battle, a lot of people still on the fence. There are a very sophisticated ambush by Taliban forces and roadside bombs are still everywhere.

Michael Ware found out firsthand a very close call on Kandahar on night patrol. Here is what it looked like at night in harm's way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WARE (voice-over): This is one night, one police patrol in Kandahar. A hidden Taliban roadside bomb, an IED, is about to hit this Afghan police gun truck. A CNN camera man and I were riding in it.

By some miracle, it detonates a heartbeat too soon. Otherwise, we'd all be dead. Instead, gravel rains are over us.

(on camera): You are all right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

WARE (voice-over): Then comes the shooting, a so-called death blossom police firing aimlessly to ward off further attack.

But this is the true front line against the Taliban. It's where President Obama's war will ultimately be won or lost.

MULLAH GUL AKUND, AFGHAN POLICE COMMANDER: Oh, my God.

WARE: On that front line is my old friend, Afghan police commander Mullah Gul Akund. I've been away for six years reporting in Iraq. So it's a relief just to see he's still alive.

It takes a certain kind of man to survive for long on the Kandahar front; a hardened warrior with little mercy, a man like Mullah Gul. As a police commander, he's been killing Taliban since December 2001. For the Taliban, that means he's been a target for eight years. I have no idea how he survived.

"I protect myself," he says. "God has a date for everyone's death. And when that day comes, I will die but my day is not yet come."

COOPER: The men and boys he commands got the back door to Kandahar. After Mullah Gul's outpost comes territory fully controlled by the Taliban. Through that mountain pass, just beyond his checkpoint, it's all Taliban.

As for our night patrol, we've just broken the Muslim fast of Ramadan with Mullah Gul and his forces in a neighbourhood called Loya Wala (ph).

(on camera): It's very hard to see me where we are right now because the men we are with are using as little light as possible.

These are Afghan police patrolling Kandahar, this is the Taliban heartland. This is the birthplace of the Taliban. Let's get moving. I want to get back in the trucks. (voice-over): These men do this every night. And where we are right now is a Taliban-held neighborhood. The commander says if they were not patrolling, there would be attacks almost every night.

In Mullah Gul's vehicle, he warns me we could be heading into trouble.

AKUND: The street that we are getting inside (INAUDIBLE). This is it's the most dangerous place.

WARE: Oh, really?

AKUND: Yes.

WARE: So we've entered into the most dangerous area in Loya Wala. This is where they have a lot contact with the insurgencies, fire fights and IEDs. There is a curfew in place for 10:00 p.m. So anyone on the streets after 10:00 p.m. is deemed suspicious.

Here we are in the middle of the night moving through this neighborhood watching the police at work. We arrive at an intersection controlled by Taliban fighters.

(on camera): Only about ten days ago this intersection here, this small bridge, was a Taliban running point.

The commander says, every night they were spotting as many as 20 or 30 Taliban gathering here to share information and from where they will launch attacks. But by establishing just one permanent patrol base, a checkpoint not far from here, he's managed to force Taliban to move to another area.

We didn't know the strike against our vehicle was only moments away. The police gun truck and CNN camera man Samad Kasumi (ph) and I are riding in to this back street. The Taliban bomb is hidden ahead of us.

It seems victory is still a long way off.

You all right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

WARE: Michael Ware, CNN, Kandahar.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Still ahead we'll take you on patrol with U.S. Marines as they share their skills with Afghan forces; anything can happen on a patrol at any time as you'll see just ahead.

And later, Dr. Sanjay Gupta aboard the world's fastest ambulance with the army's dust-off crew as they race the clock to save lives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Driving anywhere in Helmand province these days is a painstakingly and slow process. The Taliban may not be openly fighting the Marines right now but they're still here and they're still planting deadly IEDs.

We're returning to base after a long patrol along the same road that we came down. So any Taliban who've been watching us would know that we're going to be using this road. So we have to be very careful. We're in the lead vehicle of a multi-vehicle convoy. We're driving it very slowly down this road, scanning the road ahead for anything that looks unusual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was at the end of our patrol. Everything can look calm and everything can seem peaceful. But as we saw on that day or after we have driven down that road, an IED went off a short time later. In a town we had passed by, the Taliban visited that town later in the day as well.

You never know what's going to happen here in Afghanistan. Things can quickly turn. It's a lesson we learned again, out on patrol outside Forward Operating Base Geronimo here in Helmand Province.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): It is at first at first an odd sight, U.S. Marines on patrol with the ANA, the Afghan National Army and their U.S. Army advisors.

(on camera): What's the purpose of a combined patrol like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mentorship is the key piece, one. Two is showing the people that it's not just us. It's the ANA it's their own government as well. Now, we weren't here -- we didn't come here as an invading force.

COOPER (voice-over): Assisting the Afghan National Army, however, is a slow and often frustrating experience for U.S. forces. It's not just the language barrier which leaves both forces dependent on a limited number of interpreters, Afghan soldiers often lack training and discipline.

Today first Lieutenant Zachary Bennett is bringing a new Afghan army lieutenant to a village to meet with elders. An IED went off here just the other day and killing one Afghan soldier.

(on camera): So the Taliban are still around here?

1ST LT. ZACHARY BENNETT, U.S. MARINE CORP: Yes, they are and no doubt about it. And it's just a matter of, you know, they come at night. They come in during the day when the Marines are not around. You ask the villagers, for the most part they're going to tell you, "I've never seen any Taliban or the Taliban have been gone since you guys got here."

COOPER: They all say that?

BENNETT: Yes, that's the usual song and dance.

COOPER: They're kind of on the fence about whether or not to fully support the U.S. or support the Afghan government...

BENNETT: Yes.

COOPER: ...because they don't know if you guys are going to stick around.

BENNETT: Yes. They've been living here for as long as they've been alive. They know how to survive, which side of the table to play.

COOPER: And often they play both sides.

BENNETT: Go with the strongest tribe.

COOPER (voice-over): Prayers are called as the patrol enters the village. Few people are on the streets other than kids. One man, however, approaches Lieutenant Bennett with information. We agreed to obscure his face for his own protection.

He tells Lieutenant Bennett that Taliban were here just yesterday; two men on a motorcycle looking for places to plant IEDs.

BENNETT: So what I'm saying is you need to come tell us when the Taliban are in the village so that we can stop them before they try to get out of the village. We can arrest them.

COOPER: Do you trust the Marines?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes.

COOPER: "Yes," he says. "But if the Taliban spies knew I was talking you to, they would kill me."

So there are spies around here?

"When the Taliban comes to the village," he says, "they talk first to the children about who gave information to the Marines."

BENNETT: You've got eyes on him?

COOPER (voice-over): The meeting is suddenly cut short when Lieutenant Bennett gets a call on his radio.

(on camera): What happened?

BENNETT: Someone threw a flare, they're saying. We're going to start pushing this way.

Come here.

What's up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They threw a flare at us.

BENNETT: Ok, roger.

COOPER: This may be a joint patrol. But the Marines instantly take charge of the situation.

Somebody threw some sort of a homemade flare there at U.S. forces. Now they're going to investigate.

BENNETT: Hold a cordon and don't let anyone out of the village for the time being.

Just knock on the door.

COOPER: And for the Marines, it's a sensitive situation. They don't want to do anything to alienate the local population. At the same time, they want to investigate that guy's house. So they do a quick search. They didn't find anything. And now they're moving on.

It's also got to be a difficult situation. Because I mean, what you're trying to do here is build confidence with the locals and really win them over, get them off the fence.

BENNETT: Yes.

COOPER: So you can't go charging in someone's house, you know, knocking down doors.

BENNETT: Yes.

COOPER: That you would otherwise.

BENNETT: Absolutely.

COOPER: Lieutenant Bennett reports the incident may just be someone trying to distract the patrol.

BENNETT: Make sure you've got to being smart up front, too. So I don't know if these guys placed something on the road down there.

COOPER: On the way back to base, the Marines are especially cautious. One Afghan soldier, however, tries to steal corn from the village and gets caught. But another Afghan soldier seems to have had more luck.

It's an incident which concerns Lieutenant Bennett. That's a minor incident. But it's important in a counter insurgency because you don't want to alienate the civilians.

BENNETT: Yes, definitely. The key is the civilians; that's what it all comes down to.

COOPER: Getting them on your side or keeping them on your side.

BENNETT: Yes. And letting them know that we're going to stay on their side. And not that we're going to stay here permanently, but we're going to stay as long as it takes to let the ANA and the Afghan National Security Forces stand on their own two feet.

COOPER: It's going to be a while though?

BENNETT: I can't speculate on that. But it's not going to be next week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Just ahead, INSIDE THE BATTLE ZONE, 360 MD Sanjay Gupta's life saving tour of duty with the army's dust-off crew; a lead medics who make every minute count for wounded U.S. forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We have 20 minutes to fly. 20 minutes to get the patient on the chopper, 20 minutes to get the patient to a hospital. It's one golden hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Plus, at home on the front lines, the dust, the heat, the danger. We'll take you inside a small U.S. Patrol Base to show what you it means to be a Marine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Erica Hill. INSIDE THE BATTLE ZONE continues in a moment, but first this "360 Bulletin."

The Pentagon is considering sending more troops to Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates may send as many as 3,000 additional troops to clean up the country's deadly roadside bombs. Currently, there are 62,000 in the country another 6,000 is set be added by the end of the year.

Heckling the president can pay off. Despite his apology, Republican Representative Joe Wilson's campaign has now raised more than $700,000 with his outburst during Wednesday Congressional address. Now meantime, Rob Miller, Wilson's Democratic opponent in next year's race has raked in more than a million.

A shooting spree near Flint, Michigan, leaves two dead. A local anti- abortion activist was killed in a drive by shooting this morning while protesting in front of Owosso High School. The gunman then drove to a local business where he shot and killed the owner. Police arrested a 33-year-old suspect who they say planned to kill a third man.

Five actresses and a camera man from CW's "The Vampire Diaries" now facing disorderly conduct charges in Georgia after the women dangled from a bridge and flash drivers on Interstate 75. Now, the actresses told authorities they were just filming for an episode that aired last night. They were released after their arrest last month.

And a $1 million reward being offered following a major California art heist. The collection includes pieces by renowned artist Andy Warhol. They were stolen from a home of a Los Angeles businessman, Richard Wiseman. The art work includes 10 Warhol originals produced between 1977 and 1979; all of them depicting famous athletes.

Those are your headlines at this hour. I'm Erica Hill.

The 360 SPECIAL: INSIDE THE BATTLE ZONE continues after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. JG. AARON OJARD, U.S. NAVY: Hi, I'm Lieutenant Junior Grade Aaron Ojard from Maryland. I want to say hello to my wife Melissa, my son Logan, my daughter Riley and my parents and the rest of my family in northern Minnesota.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You know, a lot of the Marines and soldiers you meet serving have small kids back at home.

You're about to meet another father. He's based in a region where casualties are mounting for Americans and for Afghan civilians.

It's one thing to report the numbers but tonight we want to show what you actually happens minute by minute when that call comes in that someone's been hurt.

Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent time with an elite medical crew at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province. And every time a call comes in, it's their job to beat the clock. Just 60 minutes -- that's all they get every single time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One hour, that's it. Minutes began ticking down when word came that two men, both civilians, about 40 miles from here were critically wounded. Without help, they could bleed out and die.

SGT. NATE DABNEY, COMBAT FLIGHT MEDIC, U.S. ARMY: If they're an urgent patient, we have timelines where we need to be moving extremely fast, I mean within minutes.

We don't mess around. When that bell rings, we run. And we get out here, we get all geared up, and we take off.

(on camera): Right now, we're in a medevac Black Hawk helicopter. (INAUDIBLE) traveled in one of these, 1,200 feet off the ground. We know there are two patients who have been (INAUDIBLE). That's all we know. We don't know how bad off they are. We don't know (INAUDIBLE)

(voice-over): It's what these guys do. I'm with an elite medical dust-off crew. The name goes back to Vietnam. It was a radio emergency call signal to chopper in the combat flight medics.

They are a go-team. Twenty-four/seven, they steal moments of time to save lives.

DABNEY: Our job is to get people up and out of here in just seconds, because seconds count.

GUPTA: For Nate Dabney and his team, most missions are about rescuing American military.

DABNEY: They're leaving this gate every day on foot and vehicles knowing what's out there. And, if they can do that, then I will do anything to make sure that they get out all right.

GUPTA: But, today, the call came to save Afghan locals. It's a critical part of the U.S. strategy to win the hearts and minds of Afghan civilians.

We are now into the golden hour. Most trauma patients who die of blood loss die within an hour, unless we can stabilize them. So, we have 20 minutes to fly...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go.

GUPTA: ... 20 minutes to get the patient on the chopper, 20 minutes to get the patient to a hospital. It's one golden hour.

DABNEY: So, when I got on the aircraft, my mind-set is airway, oxygen, stabilization of the chest. Fine-tuning this down to the very last second is the most important thing.

GUPTA: But with the dust-off teams, the challenge is not just getting to the patients, but about getting out of there safely.

DABNEY: This is probably the most dangerous place in Afghanistan. I couldn't see any security out yet. You know, here we are coming into this area. You can see it when we were going, those six-foot-high cornfields and water and mud everywhere; not very many ways for us to get out of there real quick, if we had to. So, I was worried.

GUPTA (voice-over): For so many reasons, that fear is always looming. Dabney surprised me when he pulled out this picture. These are his three boys.

DABNEY: I've discussed it with my wife, even written a letter for her to read to them. When it comes to that kind of thing, you hope that they're proud of you. One of the things you try not to think about.

GUPTA (on camera): It must have been a tough letter to write, though.

DABNEY: It was. Being a dad is probably the most privileged and most important job you could ever have, no matter what you do. You know this.

And -- but at the same time, showing them what being a man is really about, you know, fighting for your country, sacrificing for your country; things that are more important than, you know, staying at home and avoiding this kind of thing. GUPTA (voice-over): As for today's mission, Dabney and his dust-off crew cheated the clock, again. It's now clear the two men they flew in to save will survive their terrible wounds.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Camp Dwyer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Later, we'll take you into the heart of Taliban country. Michael Ware returns to Kandahar to see how the Taliban is on the move. Now the city he used to live in is now under siege.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This city now lives in the shadow of the Taliban. The Taliban control neighborhoods here. In fact this is a Taliban neighborhood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Also ahead, where is Osama bin Laden? Where is al Qaeda? And why exactly is the U.S. still in Afghanistan? Some tough questions -- we'll get answers from Peter Bergen and Michael Ware.

And the journey home: Sanjay's update on an Afghan child seriously wounded and treated by U.S. Medics. Some are calling it a miracle recovery when this special "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: These pictures are by Tim Hetherington a photographer who's been traveling with us this past week. That was the sound that woke us up in the middle of the night this week. Illumination rounds being fired.

And observation post nearby thought they saw some suspicious people walking around in the dead of night. It's the kind of thing you hear and see an awful lot around here these days.

The fight for Afghanistan is being waged all across the country. The Taliban used to just be here in the south. Now they're up in the north and in the west.

And it's not just remote areas. They're in cities, too. Michael Ware traveled back to the city north of us, roughly the size of San Francisco, to see how the enemy has returned. Here is his report from Kandahar, a city under siege.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WARE: How does that make people feel here in Kandahar?

I wanted to see what happened to this place since I left. Kandahar, it's the birthplace of the Taliban and the capital of the south, the fiercest combat zone.

I once lived here, before Iraq and after the fall of the Taliban.

So much has changed here in Kandahar: there are new buildings; there's new roads; there's new tree lines. But there's also a new Taliban. There's a Taliban here that wasn't here just a few years ago. And this city now lives in the shadow of the Taliban. The Taliban control neighborhoods here. In fact this is a Taliban neighborhood.

These police are from a police station right in the midst of the Taliban strong hold. They're very much on the front line guarding the gates to Kandahar.

In fact, here in this marketplace, the mood among shop keepers is anxious.

"Everyone in Kandahar is saying the city is surrounded," this businessman says. "There is something like 200 men standing here. Go ask them. Is there Taliban or not?"

Here the sense of a city under siege goes much deeper than just hurting business.

"Even here in the city, you cannot speak out against the Taliban. Those who do speak out face a terrible conclusion this shopkeeper says." I found for many, these fears are growing even though a major U.S. and Canadian base is located at Kandahar's airfield just outside the city limits, their vehicles in the city streets.

So for more answers, I turn to some old friends. One is Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother to the Afghan president and now patriarch and leader of the family's tribe.

AHMED WALI KARZAI, BROTHER OF HAMID KARZAI: Pakistan Taliban, that's what it is. And it's not a major force to I should be have a fear sitting here that they might be -- come over to come attack us tonight. This is merely now surrounding Kandahar city.

WARE: But it also seems those small pockets of Taliban are turning to old and highly successful tactics. They're using the same valleys, mountain passes and many of the same old commanders who defeated the Soviet army.

This man, another old friend, was a guerrilla hero in the war against the Soviets here. He's now head of a massive tribe tied closely to the Taliban.

"The Taliban are walking in the steps of the Mujahideen, who fought the Russians," he says. If the Taliban hear that the government is coming to an area, they simply escape to a safe place to spend the night.

And it's not just in the villages.

Just one week ago, what's said to have been a massive truck bomb detonated just here, right in the heart of Kandahar city itself. On this side of the road was the offices of an aid agency and houses. You can see the blast absolutely leveled the buildings. On that day, over 40 Afghan civilians lost their lives.

And you can see the size of the blast. A week later, they're still cleaning up.

On this side of the street were shops and businesses, and a reception hall for weddings. Convoys carrying American trucks are passing by on this very street. And as I'm standing here, speaking to you right now in this devastation, just a few suburbs away, over there, less than a mile, is a Taliban-controlled district.

And local police commanders say there's no hint of improvement. The major U.S. military offensive in nearby Helmand province, they say, is killing Taliban fighters, but the Taliban keeps evolving and finding new ways to wage war, all of which leaves the view from Kandahar one of a Taliban war machine that shows no signs of slowing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Finding Osama bin Laden and destroying al Qaeda was, of course, a key reason for launching this war. President Obama said that objective remains. Afghanistan is where Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and the hijackers plotted and prepared for 9/11.

But eight years after entering this battle, the war here has changed. Al Qaeda is present in Pakistan. That's believed to be where Osama bin Laden is as well.

So what is the U.S. doing here? Earlier I spoke with Peter Bergen and Michael Ware.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Michael, in Washington, you hear this war being presented as a war against al Qaeda, as a hunt for al Qaeda. But here on the ground, you don't really hear much about al Qaeda.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's because this is not a hunt against al Qaeda, Anderson. You don't hear the Afghans in the combat zones, in southern Afghanistan or eastern Afghanistan, talking about al Qaeda.

That's why America originally invaded Afghanistan way back in 2001, because al Qaeda was given sanctuary here by the Taliban. America recognized that as a national security threat.

Well, that national security threat is no longer here. It's based in Pakistan. There's no al Qaeda training camps, and there's very little al Qaeda activity.

The bulk of the day-to-day fighting, the bulk of the bombings, the bulk of the shootings, almost all of them are being committed by Afghan Taliban. So this war now is not so much about Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network -- Anderson.

COOPER: And the Taliban, Peter, is totally different than al Qaeda. I mean, there are linkages, especially in Pakistan. But what's the -- what's the linkage?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's increasingly the Taliban has been influenced by al Qaeda both ideologically and tactically. The Taliban were a very provincial group of people when they ran this country.

But they're talking about a global jihad. They're operating very much like al Qaeda in Iraq. It's an IED war. It's a suicide attack war. So they've molded together ideologically and tactically with al Qaeda, which is part of the problem.

COOPER: But when -- when -- I mean, is it accurate then for Washington to say that this is a battle against al Qaeda?

BERGEN: Certainly not here in Helmand, Anderson. As we've heard repeatedly, al Qaeda doesn't have much of a presence here.

They are more of a problem in eastern Afghanistan. And the calculation is even if international forces left, the Taliban would be back not, because you know, they're so strong but the Afghan government is so weak. And if the Taliban came back, they would again offer safe haven to al Qaeda.

COOPER: Michael, I guess, that is the argument for the politicians. They say, "Well, look, if Afghanistan, you know, gets weaker, the Taliban takes over. Then this would be a home for al Qaeda."

WARE: Well, that is a possibility. But it assumes an awful lot. It assumes, firstly, that this government will fall apart to such a degree that the Taliban would come back.

Very few people actually can see that happening in the short- to medium-term future. And if you read the latest traffic between al Qaeda and the Taliban, you'll see that there are differences in their messages. And, indeed, one of the most recent Taliban messages stressed Pashtun representation and self-determination as its primary objective.

So the Afghan Taliban are fighting for one thing. Al Qaeda is fighting for another. Al Qaeda is fighting a transnational agenda. The Taliban are not.

And if the Taliban did get a toehold here in Afghanistan again, they probably won't be running the country. And it would be such a risk for them to bring al Qaeda with them. I'm not sure the Taliban goes that far down the ideological road with al Qaeda, especially when you talk directly to these Afghan Taliban -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Peter, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, do we know how active it is? Do we have any sense of the status of it?

BERGEN: It's very active. But since the battle of Tora Bora, in December of 2001, there's been no actionable intelligence about where bin Laden is. There are informed hypotheses that he's in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan in the tribal areas, somewhere up north. But these are important -- these are basically guesses. They're not intelligence.

COOPER: But the U.S. has had more success lately in hitting some of these -- these al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan with drones.

BERGEN: Indeed. I mean, the Bush administration amped up the drone program. There were 34 attacks under Bush in the last year of his administration. There have already been 36 under Obama.

So Obama's actually ratcheted up this program, and they've taken out about half the leadership. They've been quite effective.

COOPER: All right. Peter Bergen, Michael Ware, thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Some victories in this war zone are easier to measure than others. Just ahead, a small boy trying to cheat death in a battle zone: we're going to show you how two-year-old Malik is doing now and what his future holds.

And later, a day in the life of Patrol Base Jaker for U.S. Marines: the heat, the dust and the danger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. MIKE MCCARTY, U.S. NAVY: Hi. I'm Lt. Mike McCarty. I'm from Decorah, Iowa. I'd like to say hi to my wife Sherry, my son Brody and my daughter Hanna. Happy birthday everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Another American serviceman far away from his family tonight.

Just ahead we're going to show you up close some gritty detail of what life is like for troops living here. I think you'll be surprised at conditions they're living under.

All this week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta's also been here in Afghanistan reporting from trauma centers, air mobile medical units, talking to doctors and medics, showing you how they are saving lives.

Sanjay's also been closely following the recovery of a two-year-old Afghan boy who suffered a serious brain injury. The child's name is Malik. And many of you have been profoundly touched by his strength and determination.

So how is Malik doing? Sanjay Gupta traveled to Dai Kundi Province to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was going to end well. But when we met Malik, he looked like this: bandaged, and broken and desperate. A toddler from a remote high mountain village, Malik had fallen down a cliff like this when a U.S. Special Forces unit found him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He ended up falling off the roof and landed on his head, causing a fracture. And he started to get a hematoma, which was causing the problems he was seriously having.

GUPTA: Army Special Forces, this is them at work. These guys are the elite, the invisible warriors. And this exclusive video shows how they got Malik out of the mountains.

By cover of night, they would chopper him to a military surgical hospital. It was the boy's only hope.

These guys are Special Forces, hard core. They've never been filmed before. They wouldn't even tell me their real names. But they made saving Malik part of their mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't appear to see anything. He wouldn't track with his eyes; we couldn't get much of a response from his pupils. So it was a pretty simple case when we first came on him. It was obviously needed to be done.

GUPTA (on camera): Army Special Forces brought Malik here several days ago. He was brain injured. He was paralyzed on the left side of his body. He was in dire straits.

We have seen improvement over the last couple of days. But now the mission is to get him home. And the Special Forces have invited us along on this trip.

(voice-over): Here at this Kandahar military surgical hospital, a neurosurgeon and his team operated to relieve pressure on the boy's injured brain. In time, they knew, the swelling would go down and his senses could return.

I visited every day as he slowly recovered. He was paralyzed on his left side. But he was gradually coming back.

And finally, with a little aid from his father, he was on his feet again. Now after a week of treatment, he is well enough for the journey back to his village.

(on camera): Malik is now in the back of a helicopter. This is the way patients are transported in the middle of a war zone. In his father's arms, wrapped in this blanket; he's heading home.

(voice-over): I had expected a real homecoming. But Afghanistan is too dangerous and his village too high and isolated to fly him all the way. Instead, we brought him here, to a primitive clinic. We were greeted by Afghan police, who kept a close eye on us the entire time.

As for the toddler, Malik slept most of the way.

My first impression: we're a long way from that gleaming Army hospital. Here, water pumps instead of faucets, dirty floors, no bed sheets. But Malik is on his way home. (on camera): One final exam on Malik.

He has his candy, still no smile.

Can you push? Push. That's pretty good. Got some resistance from you.

Kick your leg. Here we go. Can you kick it? Kick.

(voice-over): He still needs months to fully recover. His prognosis is bright.

Here's the thing: Malik's village is high up there. No place to land a helicopter. So his father and their new friends, the Special Forces, will walk through these mountains to carry the boy home.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Dai Kundi Province.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: All week we've been traveling with photographer tim Hetherington. I want to show you some of his pictures documenting our experiences here, kind of a behind-the-scenes look at a reporter's notebook.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER (voice-over): Coming to Helmand Province, they warn you about the heat, the dust. Nobody tells you though it can feel like the other side of the moon.

There is a barrenness here, a loneliness; guard towers and sandbags, long patrols. It's easy to feel cut off.

In Washington they talk about al Qaeda but that's not what this mission is about. The Marines are trying to get the Afghans off the fence, convince them their government works for them. For years though, there has been little evidence it does.

The Afghan governor of the district greeted us when we landed. The Marines take him out; get him to interact with his own people. But few here are sure which side to support. There is so much corruption, it's hard to see what the Afghan government does.

The Marines move forward, however. Given little, they make do with what they have. Every day they're out there on foot, not hiding in Humvees. They interact, they talk. It is not yet obvious to what end.

Their service, their sacrifice is stunning to witness. With time, with more troops, with more money, more aid, progress is possible, but the window is short. After eight years here, no one says we're winning. No one ever says it will soon end.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: That's our special report from INSIDE THE BATTLE ZONE. I want to thank First Lieutenant Kurt Stahl, who has been traveling with us all week, as well as Lt. Col. Bill McCullough and all the men and women of the First Battalion, 5th Marines. Thank them for their service and also all their hospitality.

Thanks for watching.