Second in a series
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Our day began at 2 a.m. Breakfast for the raiders went at 2:30 a.m. Well before dawn, the multinational force -- Drug Enforcement Administration agents, International Security Assistance Force special operators and more than 30 Afghan National Interdiction Unit police officers -- was mustered beside the helicopters. The mission: Take down an opium smuggler's compound before he could move his precious cargo across the nearby, increasingly tense Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Today's raid -- and the other units our Fox News' "War Stories" team has accompanied on this visit -- provided a unique "behind-the-scenes" perspective on how this war is changing. Those who are mired in the mainstream media's view of Afghanistan may be surprised at how rapidly the situation is evolving.
When we left here in the spring, U.S. and coalition forces were in the midst of what we described as a "tactical pause." Additional U.S. troop deployments to fulfill the "surge," announced by President Barack Obama on Dec. 1 during a speech at the U.S. Military Academy, still were arriving "in country." In southwestern Afghanistan, a Marine expeditionary brigade was in the midst of being replaced by a much more robust expeditionary force -- and the media elites began referring to the area of operations as "Marine-istan."
By late April, the battle for Marjah, in the heart of Helmand province and a major center for illicit opium production, was being described in the U.S. and European press as "undecided" at best and "a failure" at worst -- and the poppy harvest had yet to come in. U.S. troops and those of Western allies were openly critical of new, more restrictive rules of engagement aimed at protecting civilians.
We reported all this -- while highlighting the courage and perseverance of the young Americans who volunteered to serve in this long, difficult and dangerous war. ISAF headquarters, then headed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, countered that our description of the situation was too pessimistic. But of course, as the "optempo" picked up, so did friendly casualties. Public approval for the fight here in the shadow of the Hindu Kush plummeted, and no one in Washington -- or any other Western capital -- spoke of "winning" or put the words "victory" and "in Afghanistan" in the same sentence. But that was then, and this is now.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.