Embedded in Afghanistan

On rotation with the 82nd Airborne. A photo essay.
Embedded in Afghanistan

For the 21 men of 82nd Airborne Division's Alpha Battery, 2nd Platoon, Afghanistan doesn't often feel like a war. Each day, as the sun beats down and the dirt kicks up around their convoy, some murmur in the hope that now might just be the time the Taliban finally decide to show themselves.

But rarely do the soldiers' prayers come true. Here in Suri, southern Afghanistan, there isn't much of anything except dust, rumors in the wind, and attacks from afar. It's a backwater in a forgotten part of the country: Perfect territory for a guerrilla movement.

The 30-kilometer bubble of desert, orchards, valleys and mountains that the 2nd Platoon must cover includes only one school and a single medical clinic. The roads are unpaved, the heat fierce in early spring. Individual villages react differently when the troops arrive for what they call 'community engagements.' Some appear happy and list the kind of painful but mundane concerns the government would deal with if it existed here: Dead livestock, stillborn children, poor irrigation systems.

In others, young men come out and stare or vanish entirely from the scene, and the elders say only what they know is of little use.

There are deemed to be, in military jargon, 9 nonpermissive villages in the area, 11 permissive ones, and 10 that could go either way. Even by this subjective account, Suri's future—like that of the entire country—hangs precariously in the balance.