SANGIN, AFGHANISTAN - This town, nestling in a valley in northern Helmand, has long had a fearsome reputation.
The 3 Rifles Battlegroup which operates here lost a soldier on Thursday, taking to 21 the number of men who have been killed since it deployed last autumn.
People talk about a "smuggler's culture" here of drug trafficking, and deadly tribal rivalries.
Meanwhile the planting of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has grown into an industry of such scale that Sangin district is rumoured to account for half of all such bombs encountered by British troops in Helmand Province.
Yet despite the sorry story of struggle and loss, there is much talk these days of progress. The bazaar now has 600 traders, which is three times the number of shops that were open one year ago.
Phil Weatherill, the Stabilisation Advisor from the Foreign Office serving here, estimates that the area of the town that he can safely move around in has expanded 10-fold in the past nine months.
We walked about town on Friday morning, looking at a school and health clinic that have been operating recently.
The existence of this bubble of relative security is dependent on a ring of outposts manned by British and Afghan troops surrounding the town.
It is on the edges of this security belt, particularly to the north and east, that almost daily firefights take place with the insurgents.
The signs of progress being reported fit neatly with the "metrics" of success preferred for the past year by Nato's commander General Stanley McChrystal.
Out have gone Taliban body counts, to be replaced by tallies of shops open, children attending school, and IEDs pinpointed by tips from locals.
By these measures, there is definitely a distinct change going on here. The questions that interest me are why is it happening, and why are coalition casualties still running at similar rate to last summer?
I'm not going to attempt answers yet, because my stay here is not yet finished, and the state of this violent place will be the subject of a Newsnight report in due course.
One thing is clear to me though - and that is how hard it is to find the right levers to influence people in a district like this.
The bazaar may be doing much better, but it is still segregated into virtual no-go areas for different tribes.
A local policeman tells me that these tribal conflicts have been violent for the past 20 years - since the Soviet Army withdrew in fact.
There are other factors complicating Nato's job too - like the existence of a substantial opium industry in this valley.
Add to this a fierce insurgency against both Nato and its Afghan government partner, and you have an inkling why it is so hard to make the kind of rapid progress that, for example, the Iraq surge brought in Baghdad during 2007.
Still, quite a few Afghans agree that life has changed for the better. How far this improvement can be consolidated will be a key question now that the Operation Moshtarak offensive in central Helmand is winding down and troops become available for operations in other places, including Sangin.