Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Reporting on the Afghan war: Lies and Truths

- An U.S. Army soldier takes photos of the eyes of an Afghan man at a checkpoint near of the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Tillman November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

A U.S. soldier takes photos of the eyes of an Afghan man at a checkpoint near Forward Operating Base (FOB) Tillman, Afghanistan, November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

“How can you live with your conscience reporting Taliban propaganda?”

This is what a senior German general for the NATO-led force asked my colleague at a recent meeting at the alliance’s headquarters in Kabul, where a few journalists were invited to speak to top brass, including the overall commander, General Stanley McChrystal, about improving relations with the media. The question was echoed by others in the room.

Reporting on the “war” in Afghanistan objectively is difficult, mainly because it is not a war in the traditional sense. It is an insurgency that is present in nearly every part of the country. There are more dangerous places than others of course, but there are no conventional “frontlines”. This makes travel to much of the country, especially the south and the east where the insurgency is strongest, particularly dangerous. A handful of journalists, mainly freelance reporters, do travel unaccompanied to the country’s most dangerous areas and even spend time with insurgents — but at great risk. Journalists have been kidnapped and even killed, some are still missing. Most of us have to rely on the “embed”, where we are attached to a foreign military unit, which obviously comes with its own set of problems in terms of objective reporting.