Special Forces Afghanistan

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ORUZGAN, Afghanistan — Afghan fighters bristling with rocket launchers and machine guns pour into a government compound here to try to intimidate a small team of U.S. Special Forces soldiers in their midst. (Related graphic: A-Team in Afghanistan)

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The Green Berets, a long way from home and two days from their base, want to destroy 10 tons of weapons found in bunkers under the hilltop headquarters of the fighters’ leader, a district chief here. The atmosphere is suddenly hostile.

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“If things go sour,” Special Forces Capt. Paul Toolan tells a two-man sniper crew he quickly orders into position on a rooftop, “go for the head of the food chain.” He nods at the white-turbaned district chief standing nervously a few feet away.

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In a nation raw from two decades of fighting, with remnants of the al-Qaeda terrorist network still a menace and with Osama bin Laden having eluded capture for 2 1/2 years, the front lines of war emerge and vanish like storm clouds. Elite teams of Special Forces soldiers see the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan as their classic fight. Many concede that they relish serving here.

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For a few recent weeks, Toolan and his 10-member team allowed rare and intimate access into their operations in the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan.

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Read the the full story by USA TODAY’s Gregg Zoroya here.

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