So busy I didn’t even notice the lens was broken
Covering wars is the hardest, most dangerous and most exciting part of my job. This is not only shooting pictures, it is a way of life. To follow the story, make contacts and be respected by soldiers I am following is hard and complex job. Photographers who are doing the same job as me will understand my thoughts. Others may never have that privilege. Words can only explain. With pictures I am trying to show the reality. Nevertheless, I want to explain what happened behind some of my pictures I took during my recent time with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
On March 21, I arrive at Kandahar Air Field (KAF). On my way out of the KAF flight terminal, I find my good friends U.S. Army Colonel Ed Kornish and Sergeant Major Andy Bolt waiting for me. Soon after, over coffee and cigarettes, Colonel Kornish says there is a mission planned in Zabul province and we’d better hurry.
Just a few hours later we are on our way in four Humvees. Around three in morning, we stop to take a rest in a small base near the village of Shajoy and at first light we move to join the Afghan National Police (ANP) at one of their bases nearby.
Then we all move off towards another village, where the soldiers and police hoped to surprise a group of Taliban fighters. The convoy of four ANP pick-ups and four Humvees soon leaves the tarmac and heads into the desert, avoiding even dirt tracks to escape the ever-present danger of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). I can’t see anything. Dust is everywhere, coming in through the gunner’s position on top of the truck. I cover my face with part of my scarf and with the other part I try to protect my cameras from the dust.
A few times the convoy stops for soldiers to observe the area or for the ANP to question villagers. An Afghan villager resists the ANP when they find his motorbike has no papers. The officer quickly detains him and punches him few times for good measure. I watch it from a distance but I’m too far away to take pictures.
About 20 minutes later, I see an ANP foot patrol in front of a mud-wall compound carrying rifles and RPG-s, and I jump out of the truck and run to join them. The ANP soon find a PKM Soviet-made machinegun, the other policemen start to shout and run towards a hill-top. I start to follow him.
Straightaway, the police open fire at three motorbikes carrying six Taliban fighters trying to escape. The Taliban dropped the bikes and returned fire. Wild chasing started, U.S soldiers follow the Taliban up the hill as one ANP truck drove around the hills to block any escape and other officers join me on the hill.
Another group of ANP arrive and a policeman fires off four or five rounds from his PKM by mistake, hitting the ground less than a metre from my feet. I just look at him. It was not the time to say anything.
I start to climb another hill with a few ANP to catch moments of the fight as gunfire and RPG rounds continue from a distance. It was a very hard climb and I start to think again of quitting smoking, or throwing away my body armour, helmet and water to get to the top. Somehow I reach the hilltop. I hear the screeching sound of a bullet hitting a rock nearby and I dive for cover.
A few metres on I see on two Taliban giving up their weapons. One of them is on the hill, the other in the valley. There is more chance of tripping and injuring myself going down the rocky slope, so I run as fast as toward the top of the hill to capture the moment of surrender. When I got there, Colonel Kornish and Captain Perry show up red in the face from the climbing and adrenalin. I’m not really sure what kind of pictures I’m taking as I can’t see too well from the sweat pouring into my eyes.
I move down with Colonel Kornish and Captain Perry and see three dead Taliban lying between the rocks, their bloody faces already covered with flies. The second detained Taliban looks up at me as I shoot pictures of him. He sits on ground as ANP stand guard. Soon after Sergeant Major Andy Bolt shows up, his truck was damaged and he is disappointed he could not engage the Taliban at close range. He hugs me and tells me he was worried about me when he saw me through binoculars alone on the hill top.
I took some good pictures, but more than half of them were unusable because my 24 mm lens was damaged when I dived for cover on the hilltop. I had been so busy I didn’t even notice the lens was broken.