Afghanistan: A tale of two districts

In Sangsar, two little girls fidget in a wheelbarrow as soldiers question their uncle.
Ben Brody

In a small corner of southern Afghanistan lies two small districts that couldn't be more different. Maiwand is a bastion of relative calm, while its neighbor, Zhari, is too intractably violent to even begin the counter-insurgency campaign espoused by the coalition's outgoing commander, Gen. David Petraeus.

So what's the difference between them?

For one, the terrain.

Warrens of muddy ditches and dark orchards, which begin close to the highway, make it easy for Taliban fighters in Zhari to move weapons undetected and launch deadly ambushes from the shadows.

Maiwand, by contrast, is largely flat and spare.

"It sucks to be an insurgent in Maiwand," said Capt. Brad Davis, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor's adjutant. "There's nowhere to hide."

Although Maiwand and Zhari are both primarily populated by Pashtun farmers who grow a mixture of opium poppies, cannabis and grapes, the differences in terrain — among other things — has led them down very different paths over the last decade of war.