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Continuous coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Photos: Kandahar's ubiquitous checkpoints

You can't move a quarter of a mile without hitting a military or police checkpoint in and around Kandahar City.
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At a busy traffic checkpoint, cars traveling from Arghandab into Kandahar City are searched for weapons. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

At the northern tip of Kandahar City, U.S. troops and Afghan National Civil Order Police run a traffic checkpoint at the high pass to Arghandab district, searching cars heading into the city.

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Ahmed Wali Karzai is dead. Really?

What U.S. officials couldn't do, a close friend and bodyguard did.
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Ahmed Wali Karzai (C) talks on the phone as he sits with supporters celebrating the re-election victory of his brother President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar on Nov. 3, 2009. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

A family confidant killed Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, inside his house in central Kandahar on Tuesday. For those of us who've been to Kandahar, and heard the tales of the size of shadow he cast, it's hard to believe the ex-Chicago restaurant owner, paid C.I.A. asset — and oh yeah — the man considered to be one of the most corrupt men in Afghanistan, is actually gone.  

U.S. officials as influential as the late Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke never managed to maneuver his removal as head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, where the rumors of his huge cuts from the opium game became so brazen and his hold on power so complete, he'd long come to epitomize the rottenness of the entire Karzai regime.

But now he's dead, killed by Sadar Mohammed, a friend. And what happens next — as explained by Matthieu Akins in a Foreign Policy piece analyzing the potential fallout, doesn't appear good.

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How many drones does it take to kill a terrorist?

New US defense secretary says there's only a couple dozen terrorists left to kill.
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Pakistani tribesmen gather for funeral prayers before the coffins of people killed in a U.S. drone attack on June 15 in North Waziristan (Thir Khan/AFP/Getty Images)
In case you missed it, over the weekend the new U.S. defense minister, and former C.I.A chief, Leon Panetta, told the New York Times that the defeat of Al Qaeda was within reach. In fact, he said that if the United States could capture or kill about 10 or 20 terrorist leaders believed to be based in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, then the war would be won.
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Photos: US rebuilds mosque in Afghanistan

Photos of the day from the front lines of the Afghanistan War.
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Outside a mosque in Zhari District, a boy speaks with Afghan troops while pumping water from a well. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

A boy stands next to a mosque in Sangsar that U.S. troops paid to have refurbished. The mud brick structure is painted white, though it is a rarity to paint any mud building in Kandahar.

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Photo: the drone war

Photo of the day from the front lines of the Afghanistan War.
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Soldiers ready a Shadow drone for takeoff at Forward Operating Base Pasab. The unarmed drones are equipped with high-tech surveillance equipment. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

 

Soldiers ready a Shadow drone for takeoff at Forward Operating Base Pasab. The unarmed drones are equipped with high-tech surveillance equipment.

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Cleaning up after war

Photos: At the end of a day of rescue missions, a Medevac unit's job is not over. They have to clean up the mess that was left behind.
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Staff Sgt. Stephon Flynn, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matt Grove, Spc. Josh Diehl and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Greg Love polish the windows of their medevac helicopter at Forward Operating Base Pasab in Zhari July 2. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

After a helicopter medevac mission, when the rotors stop turning and the screaming turbines wind down, the crew's job is not over. Often there is a significant amount of cleaning to be done before they can go out again.

All of the Black Hawk's glass needs to be regularly cleaned — the result of countless 200 mph collisions with Kandahar's various insect species. Some particularly tough bug splatters need to be scraped off with a credit card.

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Photo: On the lookout

Photo of the day from the front lines of the Afghanistan War.
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Outside Combat Outpost Sangsar in Kandahar's Zhari District, soldiers scan for movement in the fields before heading out on patrol. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

Outside Combat Outpost Sangsar in Kandahar's Zhari District, soldiers scan for movement in the fields before heading out on patrol.

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Photo: The fog of war

Photo of the day from the front lines of the Afghanistan War.
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Fog of War: Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division make their way through thick smoke after blasting a mud brick wall apart in Kandahar. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

Fog of War: Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division make their way through thick smoke after blasting a mud brick wall apart in Kandahar.

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Afghan troops excel ... on the soccer field

On the soccer field, Afghan soldiers belie all the stereotypes.
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Afghan army soldiers play soccer on an American military base in Kandahar. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

When you ask an American infantryman what he thinks of the Afghan soldiers he patrols with, he is likely to complain that they are disorganized and marginally skilled. This is not entirely unfair criticism for troops who have had little training on the battlefield. But on the soccer field it couldn't be further from the truth.

During downtime in Kandahar's combat outposts, American troops are usually found in the gym or watching movies on their laptops. Afghan troops are playing soccer, wherever they can and with whatever passes for a ball and goalposts.

At Combat Outpost Sangsar, two chickens scramble between the dueling troops, feathers flying, as a youth-sized soccer ball crashes through a precariously leaning stack of metal pans.

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It's not just the Taliban stalking US troops in Afghanistan

Big cats have been following US troops, adding yet another potential danger.
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Two adult Caracals walking 40 meters from an American infantry squad. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

Last summer when I spent two weeks at Combat Outpost Lakokhel in Zhari District, a few soldiers there swore they had seen a mountain lion-sized cat stalking around their guard towers at night. While I believed they thought they had seen such an animal, I privately felt they were probably seeing a big, sneaky stray dog.

Now I am embedded with soldiers at Combat Outpost Sangsar, just a couple miles from Lakokhel, and the sightings persist. Last night the patrol I was out with spotted two of the cats circling them in the dusty gloom, using their thermal imagers. I don't have high-tech equipment like that so I couldn't see them firsthand.

One of the soldiers managed to capture a few photos of the cats on his imager, and I in turn photographed its eyepiece. The thermal images, while a bit indistinct, appear to show two adult Caracals walking 40 meters from an American infantry squad.

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