Canadian troops tread fine line on village patrols

Fri Jun 11, 2010 5:09am EDT
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By Michael Georgy

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Canadian soldiers with night vision goggles slowly navigate through grape fields, wary of triggering booby traps planted by Taliban insurgents.

The Taliban, who have fought NATO forces for nine years, are masters of the terrain, so they could have the advantage. Militants may be hiding a few feet away in irrigation ditches as deep as eight feet.

After hours of heavy hiking, the Canadians reach a hamlet of mud-brick huts they have never previously visited, seeking intelligence that is becoming more critical by the day as NATO troops push to stabilize Afghanistan before a gradual U.S. pullout in 2011.

A cell phone battery is discovered on a young man, immediately raising suspicions. Batteries are often used to trigger improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have killed more NATO soldiers than any other weapon in the conflict with insurgents.

Questioned through a translator about why he is carrying a battery and no cell phone, the Afghan responds: “The Taliban don't allow us to have them. They would arrest me and hold me for 15 days.

The Taliban frequently ban cell phones in areas where they operate to prevent being informed on.

It is that sort of question Canadians and other U.S.-led troops constantly ask as they attempt to break Taliban networks.

Finding answers has become increasingly urgent since Western forces launched a two-pronged strategy to pacify the Taliban.   Continued...

<p>Soldiers with BRAVO Company, 1st battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment are silhouetted against a sunrise during a patrol outside the village of Nakhonay in Panjwai district, southern Afghanistan, June 10, 2010. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov</p>