Diary of a video embed

December 11, 2006
Laurent Hamida has joined the British Army’s Zulu company in southern Afghanistan. This is the first posting in a series in which Laurent will blog about his experiences as an embedded video journalist.          
 Laurent Hamida         
I had second thoughts about the idea of being embedded, it was going to be my first time, at least officially! When covering a conflict, we always find ourselves either on one side or on the other. It has been very rare for me to have a chance to work from both sides.I had already worked alongside Western armies before, but this had only happened after arrangements made spontaneously in the field. I had already spent a month with Chechen fighters, several months with the Afghans, that was not called being embedded, but wasn’t it a form of it, after all? One doesn’t just walk around on one’s own around the Chechen forest, or one just doesn’t get anything.                Obviously all those who let you go with them believe your work will give them something back. A military leader once told me, “I am happy to have you around, I will not try to control what you do, I just want you to show what is going on here.” Then the facts proved those had not just been mere words.

So my first embedded assignment, in the South of Afghanistan with the British troops, I jumped on it. Not the slightest chance, today, of anyone working in the south of Afghanistan on his own!

My own experience with the Taliban was enough for me not to hesitate for one minute. My first impression: surprise, starting in London. Departure on a direct military flight: England, Kabul, Helmand, everything perfectly organised: the ultimate dream.

In all my previous experiences with Afghanistan, making it to the country had already been a nightmare in itself. Arrival in Kabul at 3pm, donning bulletproof vests and helmets, very funny, but we had to play the game and we dutifuly followed the pilot’s instructions… I couldn’t avoid thinking of the Afghan Antonovs packed with ammunition on which I used to arrive before.

After the welcoming ceremonies they took us on a Hercules that would take us to Bastion, the main British military base in Afghanistan, and then to Khandahar. It was going to be non-stop to Bastion, said the steward, a soldier. I almost laughed at the idea of arriving in Bastion by night.

After a warm welcome and an excellent dinner offered by the PIO [Public Information Officer] colonel, there were maps and a briefing. Then he announced that the next morning we would be leaving with a light tank squad to spend 10 days in the south.

At that point, the commander who would lead our pack entered the room: a several-days-old beard, red-eyed, calm voice, strong handshake. He asked about our gear, very professional, he wanted to make sure we had what was necessary to spend 10 days in the desert.

I asked whether I would be able to have access to power for my film equipment. No worries: 12 volt plug in the tanks, plus generators: total luxury! Then the PIO intervened: everything is possible, it is entirely up to us to have ourselves accepted by the soldiers; there will be no limitations to our work, no editorial control, no restrictions to our activities. Sometimes, however, we will not be able to use our phones or Bgan [satelite phone] for obvious security reasons: perfectly reasonable.

We leave at 8am, spend 10 hours in a tank, deep into the desert, dust and dust and more dust. I have taken the position of a crew member, on the bridge. By sunset we arrive somewhere in Helmand province. There the Zulu company sleeps in holes in the ground in the middle of nowhere. By 6pm they are all asleep, wrapped in sleeping bags scattered around the tank. The night is cold.

I talk to the Major who confirms that what we hear in the distance, about six km away, are, in fact, Taliban bombs. But it is not us they are targeting.

After a good sleep, we wake up at 6:30 am, and after a cup of tea we leave on savage check-point routine in the desert. One hour in the tank, stop, wait for a vehicle, one more hour in the tank, wait, go on, stay mobile, always, stay mobile, that is the unit’s rule. By 1pm we return to our starting point: it already feels like home.

I have to edit and transmit my story. First the camera doesn’t work any more: dust and more dust! I have to disassemble the whole thing, and clean it with 90 degrees alcohol and cotton swabs. After one hour of work, my camera comes back to life. I edit my piece on the left side of the tank, I am nervous: my first story!

After two hours of editing and one hour of struggling over the shotlist, all that is left to do is to start the generator, plug in the Bgan and start praying! Tons of transmission problems, I had to send my four-minute story several times… Things that happen… By 8pm I collapsed into my sleeping bag, always next to our dear tank

Material gathered by Laurent includes:

Embedded with troops in Afghanistan

Heavy firefight in Afghanistan

If you’d like to know more about Laurent’s experiences in Afghanistan then please send him a question via the comment box below.

John Clarke, Reuters Global Editor for Television, writes about the issues surrounding the use of ‘embeds’ in the Reuters Editors blog.

 

Comments

Great to see you embedded with 45 Commando. At last they are starting to be seen. As a parent of one of the Marines, it is very interesting to see what they are up to.
It is also good that the media can be embedded with the military. It makes life so much more accessible, and gives us an up to date insight into what is happening around the world.
When is the next entry to your blog? Are we going to see more videos?

Thanks, and take care

Posted by Monty | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for your comment. We expect Laurent to be able to file several personal accounts from his embed, although we are a little bit in the lap of the Gods…despite our best technology of laptop video editing and delivery via satellite phones, even this technology can be a bit unreliable from a dusty desert which can be harsh on such equipment. Laurent had to resort to helicoptering out some of his recent cover of a firefight between British forces and the Taliban, but we’re confident he’ll be able to tell you more of his experiences.
John Clarke
News Editor, Reuters Television

Posted by John Clarke | Report as abusive
 

A blog wouldn’t be a blog without the comments from other people – i think its a great idea.

 

DOES MR HAMIDA HAVE THE INTENTION OF WRITE A BOOK TALLING ALL HE LIVES IN AFGANISTAN ?

Posted by Mrs FALCON | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for passing on my e-mail to Laurent Hamida whom I have worked with a couple of years ago in Paris and would like to contact again

Posted by Christian Desplaces | Report as abusive
 

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