In Helmand province to assess claims of progress
LASHKAR GAH - While the turmoil in the Arab world continues to dominate the headlines, I have made a beeline for Helmand province in Afghanistan.
This town is its capital. This afternoon, I was out in the Bolan Bazaar, which was a riot of oranges, nuts, cell phone cards, and all manner of merchandise.
It is not that I have a deliberate desire to avoid North Africa or the Gulf, and the extraordinary events going on there (far from it); it is more that these trips take time to organise.
This one has come up after months of preparation, and when good opportunities are available I don't like to miss them.
The main mission of the BBC team I am with here is to gather material for a special one hour documentary charting the history of the Western intervention in Helmand since 2005.
But I will also be preparing something for Newsnight that we hope to put out in the next few weeks.
There has been quite a lot of talk of progress here in recent months.
There have been false dawns before, so even though the conversation now tends to be littered with caveats it is nevertheless beginning to assume a steady up beat pattern.
You could easily argue that there ought to be progress because the resources now being thrown into this fight are enormous.
There are more than 30,000 Nato troops in Helmand and Afghan security forces nearing 20,000.
The Soviet army garrison here was just 2,500, with its Afghan allies numbering about twice that number.
Today's foreign intervention is much more ambitious in its scope though. Whereas the Soviet army simply aimed to hold this town and the nearby commercial centre of Gereshk, Nato is trying to pacify the whole province, while improving its poor governance.
So, my task in the coming days will be to see whether this effort is indeed bearing fruit, as its advocates claim.