Remote Afghan Base Faces Nonstop Battle

Photo: Remote Afghan Base Faces Nonstop Battle: In Kunar Province Along Pakistan Border, Soldiers at Camp Joyce See Constant Enemy Fire
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About 700 U.S. soldiers live at Camp Joyce, nestled along the Pakistan border.

As one of 140 U.S. combat outposts and forward operating bases in eastern Afghanistan, it comes under constant fire by unseen enemies.

Army Major General John Campbell has 30,000 U.S. soldiers in the region trying to find them.

"We're killing a lot of bad guys, but they are still regenerating here," said Campbell, who leads the 101st Airborne Division.

He estimates his soldiers have killed or captured an astonishing 3,500 insurgents in the last four months, but says there are probably 7,000 or more still operating there.

CLICK HERE for ABC News' full coverage of "Afghanistan: Can We Win".

The remote mountains that divide Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal area is some of the deadliest terrain in the world.

According to a counterinsurgency strategy where "clear, hold and build" formulates the recipe for success, areas out here are still very much in the first stage.

"I have some provinces, some districts that are very kinetic. We continue to drop bombs, we continue to fight every single day, we are doing zero governance and zero development in some of those districts," Campbell said. "However, in other provinces where security is okay, he said, 'we do governance, we do development...' We are really focusing on the district reinforcement level so 160 districts inside of [Regional Command] East, every one of them is different."

"We have pockets, unlike other parts of Afghanistan where you can go clear, hold and build, pretty symmetrically. Here it's different. We have pockets of goodness. What we're trying to do is get all of those pockets of goodness together," he said.

Countrywide, the number of airstrikes is up a phenomenal 172 percent from the same period last year, with more than 4,600 bombs and Hellfire missiles launched.

Special operations raids have increased as well -- more than 1,500 night raids in a 90-day period, with daytime raids numbering 17 a day.

But the Taliban is fighting back hard, and the soldiers at Camp Joyce see it every day.

"Lots of ambushes, things along those lines, a lot indirect fire, they stage themselves throughout the mountains here," Sgt. Christian Gatison told us.

Megan Devoy, a 21-year-old private first class with the Army Military Police has come under withering fire.

"We started taking fire from all angles, they had us in a 360, and all you can do at this point is locate the enemy and do what you can and eliminate them," said Devoy, who is just over five feet tall and barely a hundred pounds.

Complicating the fight is the difficulty of identifying the enemy.

"You have to worry about the people who are two-faced," she said of local Afghan villagers in the region. "They are Taliban and they are trying to act as if they like us, and they'll turn their back on you, and as soon as your snap your fingers, they'll turn around, grab a weapon and shoot right back at you."

Soldiers at Camp Joyce in Afghanistan at the Frontlines of Afghan War

"It's one of the most exhilarating things that you can go through here but you have to keep aware of the fact that it is your life, it is your brothers' and sisters' life and you must protect them," DeVoy said.

As a woman on the frontlines, Devoy said, "I love being able to say I can go out there and fight for my country with every man in the army."

But the cost has been high.

Gatison is on his third deployment. He's been twice to Iraq, but this is his first deployment in Afghanistan. Already, he's lost "a couple of sergeants, some soldiers" he said. "One of them was a good friend."

"I tend to think a lot more when I'm by myself," he told us. "I don't think I'm ever going to get over it. Some people can actually turn it on and off but myself, it kind of keeps me in perspective. Keeps me strong."

But Gatison can't mention his friend's name -- it brings back too much pain.

"It hurts bad. The last thing that was actually said between him and I before coming here was 'See you when we get back to the rear.'"

Barbara Vieyra, a 22-year-old mother to a baby girl, is one of 11 soldiers from this battalion who have been killed in the last few months. Devoy said Vieyra was a great soldier who is dearly missed.

There will no doubt be many more who lose their lives in this fight, with the United States already committing to having troops in Afghanistan for at least four more years, until 2014.

Campbell carries with him cards with the names every soldier he's lost in Afghanistan -- so far 141. Six last week were killed when an Afghan police officer turned his weapon on the U.S. soldiers training him.

"We can't let this event have the enemy use that to their advantage and turn us and cause mistrust between us and the ANSF," Campbell said. "It's been a big toll, but I would tell you they have not died in vain."

Yet there was not one soldier at Camp Joyce who did not think the war was winnable.

"I do think it's winnable," Gatison told us. "I have noticed changes since I've been here, in the short time, it's definitely looking good."

"In the six months that I've been here, I've seen great progress every single day," Campbell said.

"What has changed is we continue to grow the [Afghan National Security Forces]. We've had six months now to continue to develop them. We brought in an extra brigade ... . That's increased the density of our soldiers working with the coalition, both the [Afghan National Army] and the police," he said.

According to a new ABC News/BBC/ARD/Washington Post poll released Dec. 6 by Langer Research Associates, an overwhelming majority of Afghans polled -- about 84 percent -- saw progress by Western forces in training Afghan forces to take over security.

"Remember, if you compare it to Iraq -- where there were periods of times when we said, man, this thing is not winnable, and months later it completely turned -- I think there's potential for that here," Campbell told us. "The definition of winning might be different from what people back in the States' are. What people really want is a place to go work, they want their kids to go to school, they want to live in freedom, they don't want to be terrorized, many areas we have that already."

While there are signs of progress, as Campbell mentioned, it is just tying all the pieces of progress together that is the challenge.

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