Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Surviving an IED in Afghanistan’s Helmand

June 9, 2010
(An IED blast in Afghanistan's Helmand province.Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

(An IED blast in Afghanistan's Helmand province.Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

Reuters photographer Asmaa Waguih was embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. for two months. Here’s her account of a close shave with an IED  blast.

 

It didn’t take me long to figure out that a large part of my time with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan would be marked out by the Marines’ order : “hurry up and wait”.  I would wait for hours for flights to remote places, for a foot patrol to start but above all wait for action to happen so I could shoot live combat.

The first thing I asked the officers at the 3/6 Marines base was : which battalion or company were going for the longest patrols and which had got shot the most,  so I could embed with them.asmaa1

There were so many patrols taking place and so intense were the searches in IED (improvised explosive device)-strewn Helmand that it was hard to keep track of what was going on. I went on several of these patrols  but didn’t find any action, despite hours of walking, jumping over ditches in the poppy belt. The Taliban simply seemed to have vanished. Somebody said they were waiting for the poppy harvest and once the money came in, they would buy ammunition and start attacking again.

I extended my embed by another month in the hope that the next patrol I went on would end up in an engagement with the Taliban who were surely lurking in the area. But my luck was running out in a perverse way; all the patrols I went on turned out to be peaceful affairs while the others ran into action. Why couldn’t I be in one of them  ?  I kept asking, rather loudly a major at the main base as the day of my departure approached.

A captain heard me and said :  ”You  need action shots, come with us tomorrow, we get shot at everyday”.  I signed on immediately and next morning we were on the road headed for a compound where the Marines had engaged in a firefight the previous day.

Our mission turned out to be peaceful, we didn’t find any enemies and we were heading back to base, with me again without any live pictures. The one odd thing I noticed was that we took the same route back as the one we had come out on. Whatever little I had learnt from my experience with the other patrols  was that you never took the same road back because of the threat of IEDs.

It was easy for the Taliban to plant the IEDs. A bit of gunpowder, a timer and a cellphone to trigger it off. They would tell residents not to come close to the road till the foreign soldiers passed by and then they would trigger the explosion with a cellphone.

I was in the middle of an 11-member Marine patrol walking close to the captain. We were not far from the base. And then I heard the explosion on my back. For a moment I thought someine had fired a rocket-propelled grenade from the other side of the road. I hit the ground instinctively and near me was the broken jar containing the explosive which hadn’t fired well.

The captain looked at me and said : “They did it again, they didn’t mix the powder well, otherwise me and you specially woud have been killed. Congratulations you survived your first IED.”

I got my picture, finally, but it was a close shave.

Comments

Asma Waguth is a brave gal to be with the marines in the Taliban country. Asma, you did not confront the Talibans because they are simply snipers, in my estimate one or two to take care of a Platoon of the marines. They are required to create fear among the foreign forces for this is the prerequisite medicine to overpower their enemy. You want some Taliban action, then try to see from the opposite side. France 24 women journalist seek Talibans and accompany them to see them in action. Right now with your tour with the marines it would seem that you can write more of your experience with the marines than that of Talibans. Try next time with the Taliban commondos and then compare them with that with marines. I would await your views of the combat from the other side. Have a nice day.

Posted by Rex Minor | Report as abusive
 

While I understand that your professional considerations as a photojournalist demand that you see “action”, I find it ironic, and slightly disturbing, that you benefit from the continuation of war.

But is it really so bad to show us some images of peace in Afghanistan? These stories, left untold by our increasingly sensationalist media, are the ones that I want to see.

But hey, in your defense at least you’re acknowledging that your images of violence are exceptions rather than the norm, so cheers for that. Too bad that that little fact will probably get lost somewhere in the process of publishing.

Posted by Eileen | Report as abusive
 

‘While I understand that your professional considerations as a photojournalist demand that you see “action”, I find it ironic, and slightly disturbing, that you benefit from the continuation of war.’

How is this ‘ironic’? photojournalists are not out to save the world and stop war altogether, they are just there to document the event and show it in a real and honest way.

Also, photojournalists don’t ‘benefit’ directly from war and don’t rely on the continuation of it in the slightest. War is awful and at the end of the day is just an important newsworthy event, so naturally it falls to photojournalists to cover it well and extensively just like any other major news story.

 

I think that both sides views of any conflict are important, so that the reasons behind a conflict can be thought over in the future. The graphic reality of what is going on is of importance for conduct and management of events as they unfold. One persons experience can cause us to reflect on the whole situation, hence the value of the photographs and writings of journalists.

Posted by john shaw | Report as abusive
 

With all do respect Rex please do research before posting about a topic you know nothing about. Find me a single article that shows where an entire platoon of Marines, Soldiers, or Airmen.

Posted by Jstanley | Report as abusive
 

@Stanley
Please contact “France 24″ cable net work to send you a copy of the video. I was equally surprised and saw the marines pinned down by supposedly a single sniper. I felt sorry for the marines because they were practically dancing to protect themselves from the sniper. I even posted on this forum earlier that the marines are getting the dancing lessons.
Why do’nt you talk to a marine who has been there to tell you about the way they fight. Have you read any published books about these people who have never in their been defeated. The Brits lost the two Afghan wars and were practically massacred. The Soviets were defeated despite their armada. The current USA commander is doing a good job trying to pull out the troops without giving the impression of a defeat or surrender.
Rex Minor

Posted by Rex Minor | Report as abusive
 

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