June 23, 2008 NBC Nightly News, 7:00 PM
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now to the war in Afghanistan. Two Friday nights ago, we were there at Bagram Airfield. Because that was the night we reported Tim Russertís death, our trip ended, we came home without showing you some of what we had reported there. Tonight, we have a look at life there and the war effort now in its seven year.
(Begin tape.) Several U.S. commanders complained to us about the lack of resources, aircrafts, soldiers and support because of the war in Iraq. In fact, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said today the Iraq war is constraining the military effort. He said violence is up in almost every single measure in Afghanistan, where they have learned to make do with what theyíve got.
Friday night at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. As you look at this scene, remember every one you see volunteered for duty at a starting Army salary of $16,200 a year. And this is what passes for nightlife Ė in this unforgiving place in the middle of a war. Thereís brand name fast-food served from trailers, a hair salon that couldnít be farther from Beverly Hills.
By order of the base commander, Friday night is really the only time these troops are allowed to let up and let go of the constant battle tempo here. Some choose another tempo entirely. Itís all theyíve got and all week they look forward to country music night.
Others choose to spend their precious down-time staying up to par physically. This is, for most of them, the only time they have to themselves and many of them use it to make themselves better at what they do.
Bagram was first used as a military base by Alexander the Great. Itís now home to thousands of Americans, including the 101st Airborne, carrying out an air war that goes on by day and night in a place that hasnít changed in centuries.
By the way, are these craters, Iím seeing, like from the Blackhawk yesterday, what war are those from?
ARMY MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SCHLOESSER [Commander CJTF-101]: Those are mainly from the Soviet and then after the Soviet Ė you know, the fight against the Soviets, the warlords fought here against each other, and the truth is is that they really devastated Kabul.
WILLIAMS: And always in the background, whether U.S. commanders admit it or not, the looming presence of Osama bin Laden, widely believed to be not far away just over the mountains in Pakistan.
As the two-star general in command of the 101st told us, thereís a deep sense here that this is the war that grew out of the 9/11 attacks.
SCHLOESSER: I just wished that everybody would remember 9/11, do the visual of the twin towers collapsing when they think about why we are here in Afghanistan.
WILLIAMS: This is the heart of it.
SCHLOESSER: It is.
WILLIAMS: This is the original war.
SCHLOESSER: Thatís right.
WILLIAMS: Where is Osama bin Laden?
SCHLOESSER: If I knew, Brian, I would go get him tonight.
WILLIAMS: How big a deal is that for you?
SCHLOESSER: I focus on it every day. I donít Ė I donít stop the day, but I tell you, I think about it every day. (End tape.)
WILLIAMS: A few days earlier, we put the same question to the young Special Forces commander whoís among those in command of an outpost even closer to bin Ladenís last known location.
(Begin tape.) SPECIAL FORCES SOLDIER: It doesnít matter anymore where Osama bin Laden is. Heís been relegated to the back country of Pakistan, of northern Afghanistan. It doesnít matter anymore. Heís just a forgone symbol that has lost its criticality in the war. He has been relegated.
WILLIAMS: But as the face of evil to the modern world, symbols still have power and meaning.
SOLDIER: They do, but itís a symbol that hasnít been able to show itself in a long time and it will not show itself for a long time.
WILLIAMS: Will we get him?
SOLDIER: Eventually. America never stops. We will get him eventually. (End tape.)
WILLIAMS: The view from Afghanistan on our visit there ten days ago now.