3 Injured in Roadside Bomb Attack Outside Bagram, Afghanistan

Securing Afghanistan's busiest airfield puts expeditionary airmen in harm's way.

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The airmen will also disseminate information about particular people they are looking to detain. This consistent pressure will either force these fighters into hiding, push them out of these communities or, in the best case, prompt local forces to detain and turn them over to coalition troops.

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"That's a win," says Air Force Capt. Mike Alvord, the operations officer for the unit. The 18-19 man squads, often led by an enlisted airman, also bring supplies and doctors into the villages.

If locals seek medical attention, Reapers will bring them back on base to the Egyptian and Korean clinics here. The Egyptian facility is the largest humanitarian medical facility in all of Afghanistan, and one of the highest profile Muslim-to-Muslim facilities. Roughly a quarter of the doctors at the Korean clinic are Afghans.

This is the entrance to the Egyptian and Korean medical facilities at Bagram. These house the largest humanitarian medical mission in Afghanistan. (Paul D. Shinkman/USN&WR)

But perhaps the most compelling source of goodwill stems from the jobs found on base here. Each day, as many as 800 vehicles and 5,000 pedestrians pass through the gates guarded by this task force.

"If they see [Bagram Air Field] as an economic source, that's our best interest to succeed here," says Reaper commander Christensen. "We're planning right now that BAF will be an enduring base."

Christensen touches upon a source of uncertainty for forces throughout Afghanistan, all of whom do not yet know how many coalition troops will be left behind as an enduring force after the U.S. withdraws all combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul beginning July 23, but was unable to finalize an agreement on the size of this enduring force. These negotiations should be completed by October, he said.

Christensen points to the success his unit has had in creating stability so far.

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"We're sitting on the fault line between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban," he says of the historic warring boundaries. "The more time we have to give capability to the [Afghan National Security Forces], the more success they'll have post-coalition."

The Afghans so far have been receptive and hospitable to the American presence, DeGuelle says. They remain highly concerned, however, about the possibility of a complete U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2014, known in policy circles as the "zero option."

That could lead to civil war, DeGuelle says.

"It comes down to the Afghans and their national security forces dominating the terrain," he says. "Corruption issues within the government have the potential to discredit the government and the security forces."

But a majority support the ANSF, he says.

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