Strykers Patrol Border in Taliban Heartland

Photo: Strykers Patrol Border in Taliban Heartland: Struggling to Patrol a Lawless Area the Size of Rhode Island and Connecticut

The back ramps drop open and two dozen American soldiers emerge from their Strykers for an impromptu stop in the desert.

While on patrol in the northern part of Kandahar province near the Pakistan border, they spot an unusual scene of four adult men and two young boys picnicking in the middle of nowhere.

"You guys said you're from Lowy Kariz?" one of the soldiers asks through an interpreter. "The reason why I'm asking is because we come up here daily and we've never seen any movement over here when we saw you guys we were a little suspicious of what was going on. So we came over to check it out."

On Patrol

The nearby village of Lowy Kariz has a strong Taliban influence and is a staging area for insurgents en route to the western part of Kandahar province where American forces have recently suffered high losses.

To an uninformed observer, the outing looks legitimate: A white blanket is spread across the sand and holds a gleaming silver tea pot and a small pile of candy wrappers.

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But there's something else. Just a few feet away are several yellow plastic containers known for carrying two things in this region: cooking oil and suicide bombs, depending upon the menu.

The young boys, sitting on the blanket next to the men, appear scared as the soldiers continue with questions. Nearby is a white Toyota.

Click here for a map of where the Strykers are on patrol

"Does your vehicle die all of the time?" one of them asks, noting a clump of red wires inside. "Tell him I have a Dodge Neon back in the States that dies all of the time. I always have to charge it, okay. But that wire can be used as crimpers on any type of battery source or power sources like bombs," the soldier said.

"Does he mind if I look in the back seat?"

The interpreter exchanges a few words with the picnicker.

"No, no, go ahead," the interpreter says.

The soldiers continue searching, but find nothing more. They return to their vehicles and head back on patrol.

The soldiers are called the Strykers – named for their armored Stryker vehicles. Officially they are the 8th Squadron 1st Cavalry Regiment from Ft. Lewis, Wash., and they arrived here five months ago. They are the first American troops patrolling this border.

Strykers' Patrol Extends to Freedoms Gate

Their focus is to stop foreign fighters and weapons from crossing between the two countries and to prevent the trafficking of illicit materials - like the explosive ingredient ammonium nitrate – from entering the country. They also try to stop contraband, like drugs, which fund the insurgency.

It's a massive undertaking.

"We've got essentially 100 to 150 soldiers that on any given day may be out there trying to patrol that area, so it's pretty significant," said Major Dave Johnson, operations officer for the unite at Forward Operating Base Spin Boldak.

"Then you're dealing with the terrain with desert in the south, mountainous in the north, numerous valleys and dried-up river beds which the enemy can try to get in, as well as smugglers. So the challenges are pretty significant."

As the Strykers patrol a region the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined, one of their roles is to monitor both Highway 4, which goes from Quetta, Pakistan to Kandahar City – and the legal border crossing, called the Freedom Gate, is between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Spin Boldak.

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