Diary of a video embed
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:
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.