Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Photographers' Blog:

Embedded in Taliban territory

Photo

Photographer Yannis Behrakis is seen in Afghanistan.

One of the most challenging and exciting parts of my job is working with some of the toughest and best-trained men in the most dangerous and challenging spot in the world. Last January, Reuters photographers received a group email asking for volunteers for an embed in Afghanistan “during the two most dangerous months of the year, May and June”. I did not think much before responding. I was on my way back to my home base in Greece after a two-year assignment in Israel.

By mid-March I was back in the gym to be fit for the embed. After a series of emails with the U.S. military in Afghanistan and a bit of paperwork, I received the approval for a three-week embed with the 2-508 Infantry Parachute regiment, (the Red Devils) part of the 82nd airborne, based in Arghandab valley near Kandahar. I was very happy and relieved to get the go ahead. I arrived at Kandahar airfield (KAF) on April 30. After a two day wait at the airbase, and a few rocket attacks, I got the green light to fly on an Australian Chinook chopper to my base in the valley -- a region considered the most dangerous on earth at that time. To whoever is a fan of extreme games, I suggest a flight with that "bird."

Canadian and U.S. Army soldiers board an Australian Chinook transport chopper in Kandahar airbase in southern Afghanistan, May 3, 2010.   REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

We flew at a maximum of 300 feet over fields and small villages at high speed, zigzagging all the time with the gunners occasionally shooting their machine guns. The flight was supposed to be less than 20 minutes, but the “bird” stopped at several small bases to unload or pick-up soldiers. The flight ended up lasting for more than two and a half hours. At some point it had to go back to the KAF for refueling. Most of the soldiers were throwing up after the first 10 minutes of our long flight. Myself and two Canadian soldiers were the only ones not vomiting. We joked that our Australian crew had made a bet to see how many of us they could make sick.

A Canadian soldier reacts during a low flight onboard an Australian Chinook transport chopper over Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan, May 3, 2010.  REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

After arriving at the base and getting a camping bed in a big tent with another 10 soldiers, I tried to find out who was who on the base and if I could start my work as soon as possible.

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