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The boys of Baylough

At remote Afghan base, U.S. troops locked in battle for hearts and minds.

The boys of Baylough

BAYLOUGH, Afghanistan — The hand-painted sign leading into the small U.S. base here reads, "Welcome to Hell."

It seems that hell has a swimming pool.

In the desolate mountains north of Kandahar, a platoon of handpicked soldiers is locked in a localized counterinsurgency struggle in one of the area's meager population centers.

Combat Outpost Baylough, in Zabul's rugged Day Chopan District, looks over a verdant bowl of orchards and villages and is surrounded by craggy 10,000-foot peaks.

Baylough is beset on all sides by several local Taliban teams that regularly launch rockets and mortars into the base and harass soldiers with rifle fire.

On July 24, the soldiers got an early wake-up call as three rockets crashed into the base around 4:45 a.m. Within seconds, the troops were pouring fire into the mountains where they could see armed fighters scrambling for cover.