EDITOR'S NOTE: Reporter Jason Carroll recently traveled to Afghanistan as part of his ongoing American Morning series "A Soldier's Story" which has followed the journey of a soldier from before boot camp to his current time in Afghanistan.
By CNN's Jason Carroll in Zabul, Afghanistan
Just before leaving on a mission to a remote village in southern Afghanistan I casually asked one of the soldiers what he was expecting. He laughed and said, "I expect to get blown up..."
Roadside bombs, known as IEDs, improvised explosive devices, are a persistent problem for many soldiers, especially those who patrol certain remote areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
I discovered that finding the bombs and the people who plant them is a combination of training, hard work…and a bit of luck.
I was with the 36th Engineer Brigade. The unit is comprised of combat engineers, which are soldiers who are tasked with finding roadside bombs, working closely with dedicated members of the Afghan security forces.
They headed out on a mission from Forward Operating Base Lagman in Zabul to set up a checkpoint along Highway One, the main highway that circles the country. It is a vital transportation route, which insurgents frequently take advantage of.
It didn't take long for them to spot a suspicious vehicle carrying five men. The men told the soldiers they were farmers and builders – but they all tested positive for military grade explosives. One man was found with two million Pakistani rupees (about 23,000 U.S. dollars). Two others were found with questionable passports. In short, their stories seem questionable to the soldiers.
Then, just as we were about to make our way back to base, we were told to stay put because a 300-pound roadside bomb was discovered on that same road. I was then told it’s not uncommon for insurgents to watch a caravan of coalition forces driving out and then plant a bomb on the only accessible road back.
I have seen injured soldiers.
I was told many stories - and then reported on many of those stories about soldiers injured by these roadside bombs.
Yet, it wasn't until just that moment that the sense of protection that reporters sometimes feel while working on dangerous assignments, felt very thin.
All five of the alleged insurgents were taken into custody and turned over to the Afghan security forces. But some of the soldiers shared concern that justice may not fully be served. The Afghan legal system – especially in remote areas – is still a work in progress. Some soldiers shared stories of seeing men back on the street, just days after having turned them over to the Afghan police.
Why? Perhaps a village elder, who holds a great deal of power in these remote areas, vouched for him. Or, maybe evidence was lost. Maybe it was due to corruption within the department. Whatever the reason, it happens.
I asked a trusted village elder what he thought was the best way to secure the country and end the war.
He said to secure the country the coalition needs to stop Pakistan from importing insurgents who attack then run back across the border or pay money to Afghan locals to carry out their attacks. Next, he said, someone has to stop the corruption within the Afghan government and its security forces.
Finally, he said the Afghan people themselves must do more protect and secure the country.
He warned as long as many remain poor and uneducated they will always be susceptible to outside influences.