Byline: CHRIS HUGHES
DUSTY Gereshk town is bustling with life and the approach from the Afghan National Army checkpoint looks friendly enough.
As we negotiate our way through the morning rush hour of battered motorbikes and rusty old cars, kids in rags wave as locals look at us a little nervously. This is what peace looks like, but the Taliban are just 600 metres away.
And and we are sitting in a British Jackal fighting vehicle armed with a 50-calibre gun and a general purpose machine gun.
In 2007, I witnessed the Royal Marines putting in a checkpoint here while Taliban mortars and rockets rained down, some landing just 50 metres away. Then the only victim was a local whose guts were blown apart and I watched as British medics tried in vain to save him.
Other locals shrugged and got on with their lives - even the children, who had become used to the sight of a man dying in front of them.
The Taliban then owned much of this Helmand town and it has taken five years to throw them out.
Yet still they are just outside Gereshk, their scouts ever watchful from motorbikes or rooftops.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of war in Afghanistan, our Afghan Army allies run the place.
On October 7, 2001, UK forces joined US troops in attacking the Taliban-ruled country, which was providing a haven for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists. America had hit back just 26 days after the attack on the Twin Towers, expecting a swift and decisive victory.
But it became what President Obama recently called "the longest war in American history".
Some 1,700 US troops have died in Afghanistan and thousands more have been wounded. And 382 British troops have paid the ultimate sacrifice in a conflict our Government insists is enhancing our own national security.
I have been to Afghanistan more than a dozen times and witnessed the changing fortunes of war.
The country has undergone monumental change in the past decade, with almost pounds 160billion spent on military operations and nearly pounds 40billion more on aid and peacekeeping. Some aspects of life have improved for its people - women's rights and education among them.
In 2001, only one million children in Afghanistan were in primary schools, a fraction of them girls. …