On The Mop-Up Patrol

Traveling with U.S. special forces, a TIME journalist lands in the middle of a fire fight

The attack comes a little before 5 a.m. Sporadic machine-gun fire has been heard throughout the night, and in the early hours of the morning, a hilltop observation post tells the team of U.S. special forces that there is suspicious movement south of the perimeter. Then comes small-arms fire, followed by the whoomp of an incoming rocket-propelled grenade. Tracers show a stream of outgoing rounds in reply. Afghan soldiers fighting with the Americans send their own RPGs into the night. The local Afghan commander, a short, stern man called Ismael, says they were plundered from a store of Taliban weapons he...

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