COMBAT OUTPOST DURANI, AFGHANISTAN (CNN) — The armed Black Hawk helicopter lands along an open road in a remote valley. A small group of U.S. soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade kneel in the underbrush, weapons ready. They secure the landing zone for the less than one minute the chopper will be on the ground as we jump out quickly.
From the landing strip, it's a short climb up the hill to Combat Outpost Durani where just a couple of dozen soldiers are manning the post.
The first thing the soldiers tell us is everything is pretty calm in this region. But when I ask when is the last time the base got hit, they acknowledge there was enemy fire just the night before.
But this outpost is all about everything but combat. The small number of troops on this remote hillside are really on the front line of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy for the war in Afghanistan.
The main job of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in this valley is to work with the local Afghans to try to help connect the Afghan villagers with their government. It's an uphill battle, the soldiers say. The Afghan people are very suspicious of their government and not willing to accept the help from the U.S. troops most of the time.
"At least here in our villages we are responsible for, a big theme seems to be they just want to be left alone," said Sgt. William Michael Burns of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
"These people are really, I don't know ... They're disenfranchised from the Afghan government," observed Specialist Garrett Clary.
That's a problem because the underlying strategy for Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is to build better governance because with a more stable government, the Taliban no longer have as much influence.
Just a couple of days after we left Durani, the commander for all troops in eastern Afghanistan told reporters at the Pentagon that they've started to gain an upper hand on the Taliban.
"We have stopped that momentum and we've turned the tide a little bit," Maj. Gen. John Campbell said on Wednesday. "And this is fighting through a very, very tough summer. As you know, June and July had the highest number of causalities for coalition soldiers ever in Afghanistan. August, that went down. I think in September, that went down as well."
The men at Durani and throughout eastern Afghanistan still face plenty of insurgent activity. Attacks using rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and mortars are on the rise, they say. Commanders say there are a rising number of foreign fighters here.
All of that is presenting a challenge for the U.S. troops even as top commanders are beginning to identify the areas they will recommend to turn over to Afghan control.
But the bottom line right now in this part of eastern Afghanistan: nobody with boots on the ground (as the military refers to those on the frontline) is really talking about a military victory. They are talking about setting the conditions for the Afghans to take over so U.S. troops can go home.