December 12th, 2009
01:53 PM ET

A trip to Helmand, Day 1

December 12, 2009, 9 a.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan
It’s day three of waiting and we are crossing our fingers for a flight to pan out so we can finally make it down to Helmand province and get a glimpse of how the Marines are doing six months after Operation Khanjar (Strike of the Sword). Khanjar was a major U.S. Marine-led operation to secure, hold and eventually build in areas of Helmand province that had been under the hands of the Taliban for many years. (Related: July 17, 2009: Afghans skeptical of U.S. offensive)

We're heading back to Khan Neshin district, a place CNN camerawoman Mary Rogers and I went to in July as they raised the Afghan flag over an ancient castle representing a new beginning for the Afghan government and people in the area. Now I'm with CNN cameraman Scott Clotworthy and producer Russ Finn to see what has been going on since then -  has progress been made and have the have the locals started to trust them?

8 p.m.
We made it to Helmand a few hours ago.  Took a C-130 with the Marines. The crew was gracious enough to let us fly in the cockpit.  It’s always amazing to see the contrasts in Afghanistan – we left flying over mountains covered in beautiful white snow and landed in a vast pool of dirt and sand at Camp Bastion. (See photo above of Camp Bastion) Then we were instantly off to Khan Neshin.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Inside a C-130 on the trip to Helmand province."]

My first impression: the base is built up but still rudimentary.  It is tucked into an old castle that dates back to the 18th century.  The Marines we are with are friendly and accommodating; I’m sure it isn’t pleasant having journalists popping in and out when they are the ones who have to live like this for at least seven months.  The men are Marine reservists; already met a lawyer from Virginia and doctor from Texas.  They have the very basics but I haven’t heard anyone complaining yet.  I was told it’s been quiet here; the kinetics really occurred this summer and now it’s about helping the local government grow.

Looking forward to tomorrow and to get a real feel of what’s been going on in the 6 months since I was here last.

An interesting tidbit on how basic the base is: for the bathroom, they use what is called a wag bag.  A wag bag is a waste kit which consists of one bag in which your waste goes into and then a zip lock that you throw that into.  After that it goes into a larger trash bag which will eventually be burned.

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