Fort Bragg East: Rebuilding Afghanistan

Across Afghanistan suicide attacks are on the rise and in much of the country U.S.-allied forces confront a revived Taliban. A surprising exception is the eastern province of Khost, a hotbed of insurgent activity and al-Qaida ties since before 9-11 but today an unlikely oasis of hope in a troubled land. With the help of security and aid money from American soldiers based in Khost, Afghans and the Khost governor have managed to bring hope to a region once known as the most volatile area in Afghanistan.

Paved roads now stretch on for miles, markets are bustling, and the smell of raw sewage no longer hangs in the air. Many of the U.S. troops in Khost come from the 82nd Airborne Division, which has deployed to the central Asian country five times, including earlier this year. Some of them are skeptical as to whether Khost will long escape the instability of other Afghan provinces. Others view Khost as a harbinger of hope, proof that forging real alliances between U.S. military forces and Afghan civil authorities can produce lasting peace.

Reporter Kevin Maurer and photographer Andrew Craft traveled in Khost with a Pulitzer Center grant on behalf of their newspaper, the Fayetteville Observer, which serves the Fort Bragg community where the 82nd Airborne Division is based.

Khost, as it was

On one of my last days in Khost in 2007, I remember the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers guarding Forward Operating Base Salerno's main gate were shocked that we'd go into the city without guns, dressed like westerners.

Days before, we asked Saifullah, our translator and fixer, if we needed to wear the shawal kameez -- the long shirt and baggy pants -- worn by men in central Asia. He said no, but at the gate, he said next time we went to town that it might be a good idea.

Fort Bragg soldiers make a difference in Afghanistan

Kevin Maurer, for the Pulitzer Center
Khost, Afghanistan

Lt. Col. Scottie Custer is an 82nd Airborne Division artillery officer in a place where the big guns he's trained to use are worthless.

Navy Cmdr. David Adams is a former submarine driver leading a team of Fort Bragg-trained sailors in a landlocked country.

And Arsala Jamal — a man schooled in accounting who once kept the books for the University of Nebraska's education center in Pakistan — is the appointed governor of a war-torn province in Afghanistan.

Round One: Winning Essays

In March 2008, The Pulitzer Center partnered with Helium to launch its first round of the Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest. Find the winning essays here.