Small plots of land separated by walls as high as 10 feet can be perfect for baiting soldiers into the few openings that exist and then hitting them with remote controlled homemade bombs. Thick stands of pomegranates, eucalyptus trees and marijuana easily and quickly can conceal anyone or anything. Ditches and canals, shaded by trees and thick vegetation, form a nearly subterranean network of trenches from which insurgents can fight or which they can use to make an escape.
The grape fields are particularly troublesome. Each row of grapes is separated by mud walls, some as high as six feet. The walls are difficult to negotiate and make for excellent cover and concealment for small squads of Taliban on the move.
The U.S. can take away some of its enemies' advantages through technology. A wide array of cameras mounted on towers, balloons and a slew of drones and planes keeps a watchful eye on the Taliban day and night.
Lt. Col. Johnny K. Davis, commander of nearly 2,000 U.S. and Afghan soldiers, said the information gleaned from cameras isn't necessarily for targeting insurgents and killing them.
"You need to understand what they are doing and where they are living," Davis said. "We use our technology to do that."
Despite the technological advantage, it will take U.S. and Afghan boots on the ground in the contested area along the Arghendab River to finally turn the tide against the Taliban and allow locals, presumed to be "on the fence," to firmly throw their support behind the Afghan government.
When asked if there was any doubt the U.S. could do what the Soviets failed to achieve in the 1980s, Lt. Col. Davis confidently said, "Be there no doubt: We will take care of the Taliban and we will turn this area back over to the people."
But even if the U.S. roundly defeats the Taliban, it is not a given that the Afghan government can step in and fill the ensuing power vacuum.
Currently, Afghan government power throughout the province is miniscule. By one measure, only 200 of 600 government jobs are filled. Beyond the numbers, it is questionable whether the Afghan government has the ability to assert power in areas where it never has before.
For instance, Karim Jan, the district governor in Zhari province, has a staff of one.
Development of the police force in the area is uneven. In some areas, the police are noticeably disciplined and professional. In other areas, drug use is rampant and the force appears prone to corruption.
One police officer who didn't want to be named said his commander regularly kept about half of his and fellow police officers' monthly salaries. He complained he barely made enough to buy cigarettes and sodas each month.
The performance thus far of the Afghan army is mixed, as well. Afghan units have been assigned, or partnered, with similar-sized U.S. units in a sort of on-the-job mentoring program.
The problem is that many Afghan units don't want to be mentored. They prefer that the U.S. military support them by providing living accommodations, food, water and supplies, and by allowing them to fight the Taliban their own way.