Heart of darkness: inside the Afghan war zone
On 28th July 2009, I flew out of Sydney bound for Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. It was to be the start of a fascinating trip into the Afghan war zone.
I embedded with the American 10th Mountain Division in Logar province, in the East part of the country. I was then shipped out to “The Tip of The Spear” as they called it, to the district of Kherwar.
The unit I joined was part of the Coalition’s blocking force against Taliban forces who are trying to use the area as an alternative entry point to the Wardack province and into Kabul.
The boys from 3-71 CAV were a great bunch of guys. They were highly professional and a determined group.
Most of them were on their third or fourth 12 month operational tour of duty.
On my fist day with the US troops there was a memorial service for a young soldier who was killed in action two days before.
I was lucky enough to be given unlimited access to the service. I decided to give the guys some privacy by staying well back and shooting on a long lens. I found it a really moving experience.
That same night I was rushed to the helo pad in Altimar and boarded a CH47 Chinook helicopter which flew low level through the mountains to my new home for the next four weeks.
I would patrol with the soldiers every time they went out the gate.
Again, they gave me unlimited access on the patrols. It was by far the best access I have been granted on an embed.
On day three an injured Afghanistan National Army (ANA) soldier was brought to the aid post.
He had been shot twice in the chest. An Afghanistan National Army commander advised the US guys that he had committed suicide. As it turned out later in the day, a fellow soldier had accidentally shot him.
The young bloke died just a few minutes after being brought to the aid post.
Permission was given to me from the ANA commander to photograph the body being prepared for travel back to his parents in Kabul. It was a solemn moment as the soldiers streamed through the aid post and paid their last respects.
Every night the US soldiers would “Stand To” and wait for the Taliban to attack them at the school on dusk.
In one of the windows was carved the words that summed up the US soldiers feelings towards their attackers: “Fuck the Taliban”.
At the end of my time with the US troops I flew south and commenced a trial embed with the Australian forces in Tarin Kowt.
I have to say this was a very disappointing experience after the access that the Americans had granted me.
The Commanding Officer of the Australian Task Force was risk adverse and denied us access to the stories on the front line.
It was an opportunity that the ADF has misjudged.
We are just not interested in the pro active spin that the ADF want us to cover during their hosting activities. It should not be called embedding, but hosting.
It was only by sheer determination and our ability to tell the soldiers stories that we managed to get some very interesting picture stories out.
It was a frustrating time, being so close to the action and yet so far from it.
But nonetheless I feel to be given the opportunity to get out there and be with Australian and American soldiers’ on the ground, to see, hear and taste the same experiences as them in such a hardened country was indeed a privilege.
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