- 01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003
- 02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003
- 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
- 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
- 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
- 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
- 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
- 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004
- 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
- 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004
- 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004
- 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004
- 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004
- 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005
- 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
Time to once again open my life up a little in order to share the plethora of wealth I'm about to absorb. I'm going to be back in Iraq through September, so hop on board and check back every couple of days, I'll do my best to update as much as possible. Questions? email@example.com And check out the site I'm working with: http://www.billroggio.com Support independent journalism!
Monday, August 30, 2004
I made it to the ISAF side of Kabul International Airport and met up with one of those real colorful people you meet in life. An Army reservist from Virginia Beach, Sgt. Linda Lucas. Linda is one of those flamboyant type of African-American women that are often exagerated on comedy shows. Except no exageration here, Linda Lucas is bonafied fun.
"Heyyyy Baby!! How's it going???"
Loud and wide open, an infectious personality that you will either love or hate. Everyone knows Linda Lucas here. Mother of two grown women just enjoying her time here in Afghanistan. She has a pretty good job. She's just one of a small handful (she says two) of Americans on this base which is full of Europeans. They even have beer tents here (unheard of on a U.S. base).
Her job is to keep track of VIP's, and today, I'm one of them. So is the Asst. Secretary of State and the Albanian President. We spend an hour or two together, where in one very telling scene, Linda picks up a drawing made by a local Afghan. The drawing is taken from a picture of her daughter and son-in-law. "I sent him back three times. There was just something wrong with her eyes." Not this time, Linda was so tickled about the drawing that she couldn't help but let everyone know. "My baby... I knew he could do it!!"
After her exhuberance came pay time. The Afghan had to take it back three times before it was right and was hoping his hard work meant a tip. On the other hand, Linda had to send it back three times and she wanted a discount. Afterall, she was planning on another 5-6 pictures over the next few months. "He doesn't know it, but he's getting a good tip at the end."
The artist sucked up a $10 discount and swallowed his pride. $100 dollars. "I need it for rent..." he said.
After being at the base more than four hours now, I was getting itchy. I had Lucas take me out to the waiting C-130. Her job was to get me on the plane. I knew my chances were fine on my own, but appreciated the help. As we pulled up, I was right. It was the Texas crew flying a West Virginia plane. The same one I landed at Shindand with before. No problems there. They said they'd manifest me and make room. Lucas was rid of me to concentrate on Albania's president.
After at least another 90 minutes, the platoon of Afghan National Police were marching their way down the tarmac toward the plane. The crew just got word that 60, not 50 cops were coming. Time to change the paperwork. These AFP are being sent to the Shindand area to help with electiuon security. No one would tell me how many, but I know of at least 200 ANP in addition to the 1,500 ANA that have deployed to Shindand this month. Once I update the story, I can get home and concentrate on the bureau's election plans.
The ANP loaded up and got ready for their flight. Like before, I noticed that many opf these men had vever flown before and were facinated with the prospect of flying and the plane that surrounded them. It was actually a little comical watching them look around and try to figure out their seatbelt. Small amuzements.
Seconds after starting the propeller, I hear a wierd noise and see the crew chief drag his finger across his throat. Never a good sign. Sure enough, we had some engine trouble and we were not going to Herat that night. The ANP were quickly marched away, which sealed the decision to make way for the front gate. Once out of the base, I saw the ANP guys waiting in the parking lot I usually catch a cab in. The trucks pull up and the guys are egging me on, so I jumped in the back with them for a trip through Kabul with the ANP.
It's always fun doing that sort of stuff. It really adds the context to what you're reporting on. I enjoy those little things as much as anything. To be honest, I have found such great hospitality here. It's just tough knowing there's an element that would enjoy chopping my head off. Can you imagine living in a town where maybe 5% were active Jeffrey Dahmer's? Keeps your adrenalilne running!
Back in Kabul we came to my turn and I had to get the guys to stop the truck. The driver finaly heard the shouts and stopped. I jumped out, was thrown my pack and waved good-bye to the smiling newly trained membeers of the Afghan National Police. Most were young, some middle aged. All in crisp, new uniforms. The color of the uniforms is a light gray with bold and impressive looking government patches. They all have those rigid Castro looking hats on. They were obviously carrying a message of professionalism that the central government wants to stress. They also carried assault rifles and RPG's for other things they want to stress. Not your typical police force..
In an ironic twist, I was dropped off in front of the main hospital, where things would soon get very busy. That's because it was right about this time that a huge bomb went off.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Saturday, August 28, 2004
U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad: You know Amanullah, you should come to Kabul and quit being an ass.
Amanullah: You called me an ass?
Khalilzad: No you fool! What I am saying is that we have 10 tons of whoop ass circling you as we speak and you best just get on that plane down at Shindand before I blow you and your Taliban infested horde into the great abyss!
Amanullah: You called me a fool?
Khalilzad: YOU SON OF A...
Amanullah: Ok, I'll come.
Seriously, this is a huge deal for stability, especially right now. The coalition had other things on its mind before this trouble happened (for those of you who missed it, go back a few weeks for a first hand account of that day in Herat). Ismail Kahn is even threatening to order a boycott of the elections (yes, I'm sure he controls a large chunk of his flock's vote). Whatever happens, it will be interesting. Here are the contending possibilities:
a.) Amanullah will be given a cabinet post in Karzai's government once he wins.
b.) Amanullah will stay under house arrest indefinatly and his Taliban followers will get bombed into next year if they don't follow the ceasefire.
c.) Amanullah will be given a post in the Karzai cabinet and his followers will get bombed into chowder if they don't mellow down.
d.) Kahn's forces and Amanullah's forces begin fighting. U.S. airpower sends Amanullah's forces to the next world (afterall Kahn, with near Taliban ways and all his drug/weapon smuggling buddies, is the Karzai-appointed Provincial Governor).
I didn't have to file anything on Thursday, which was good. It was Mahmut and Umit's last night in Kabul. Mahmut is gone for good, Umit will be back in a week. Mahmut's replacement has a name unlike I've ever heard, so I'll have to update you later. Nice guy. Spent the past six months in Najaf, got 10 days off to see his wife and child, and is now here in Kabul for five months. I thought I had it bad. He smokes and speaks little english or farsi Should be a fun filled adventure for him.
You can find some stories from this past month at http://www.iha.com.tr, story ID - 19575 & 19604. You can also find my exclusive stories on Herat at 19051 & 19121.
I'm finally getting all of my tapes in order for my forthcoming documentaries. One will be on the literal birth of an army. I hope to tell the story of the Afghan National Army as is goes through its growing pains. I've been fortunate enough to have had the most exclusive access to this army and I'm excited to be working on it. I'll also be releasing a wrapup of Afghanistan in 2004. Considering I am probably one of, if not the most, travelled journalist in Afghanistan this year, I have collected a lot of insight, video and pictures of this conflict. It would be a waste not putting the exierience out in a complete fashion.
To start it right, my good friend Kent (firstname.lastname@example.org) is putting together my website at:
Within the the next few days, it should start getting some content. Kent assures me that I will like it and it's coming soon.
Three months and counting.....
Friday, August 27, 2004
On Wednesday morning we took a trip into Khowst, my first into this city. Last time I was here, so was FOX's Greg Palkot. Our first day, Greg got to respond to an attack on an American convoy that resulted in the soldiers killing a 17 year old boy.
The boy had ran toward the convoy and tried to throw a grenade into one of the vehicles. Fortunately for the soldiers, the grenade went off in the boy's hand. Seconds later he was cut down by a .50 caliber machine gun before he could get to a second grenade with his one good hand. So as we left the wire, that's what I was thinking about which leads to the tip of the most challenging part of being here.
Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is just a simmering war, which has its own inherent risks. The nature of the war (only 31 U.S. servicemen killed in 2004 to date) leads to a letting down of one's guard, but it also adds to a sense of constant dread Although not likely to happen, at any given time you could be kidnapped, blown up, ambushed or just simply step on one of the millions of mines scattered around the country. And it could happen anywhere. There is no "bad side" of town. The whole freaking place is a potential health risk.
I'm not sure why I'm thinking this way. Maybe because I know my time will be over in three months, as will the elections. Maybe its because three months is still a long time and it coincides with a first time real discussion with about when to start a family. Who knows...
Khowst itself is very run down. All the streets are dirt/mud and it has a rather tainted smell. Like usual, as we drive by, the children wave, the men just stare and the women are non-existent. Before long we get to the UNAMA compound and set down to talk with a Global Risk guy. These are the former Special Forces types that have been working as unarmed observers trying to get the election process off the ground. They provide the security assessement and possible solutions to problems. Interesting guys, the ones I've met. He went on to tell me that Khowst, a one time Taliban hotbed, is very much involved in the voting process. He said that because the place was so conservative, the Mullahs had huge sway over the people and the Mullahs are supporting the coalition effort. Good news for Karzai, this area is Pashtun. I'm offered a Foster's, which I accept, causing the Marines to instantly drool. They have what's called General Order #1 - No alcohol. Period. Ahhh. It was as good as it sounds.
Afterward we headed off to a military/civilian hospital that was getting some major funding by the local American PRT. I toured inside the current place to see what was in there. In one room was a boy who looked like he'd been burned. He had a tube coming out of him and did his best to smile. Next to him his dad, who looked like his great-grandfather. Further down the hall was a room near full with men. Several had gunshot wounds. I saw a few more rooms with more of the same.
The overall conditions in the place were horrible. It smelled terrible and didn't seem to have much guidance for sanitation. One thing I've learned here is that it is so poor, that often times conditions like this are absolutely unavoidable. And this is the province's main hospital. Afterwards I went back to take some pictures of the boy I saw, which made him smile. I handed his dad $5 and moved on.
Soon the sky grew dark and a thunderstorm came down on us. That got me concerned about joining the Marines in the field. I was also getting pressure to get to Herat, so one the way back I decided I would skip two days of humping up and down mountains in the schorching heat along the Afghan/Pakistani border in favor of trying to catch a plane out to file the two stories I now had.
Once back to the FOB, I checked on a flight and was told there was one I could get on scheduled to go out around 1100. They told me to check back the next day at 1000 ready to go. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with a Marine sniper team, getting some pictures and information for a Soldier of Fortune article I'm working on. Good guys there. Won't go into it much, you'll have to buy the issue which will be out in January or February. Speaking of, there's an article I wrote coming out in November's issue as well, so check it out.
Thursday August 26th, 2004 1000
So I get told my C-130 back to Bagram is coming and I'm stuck in Salerno another day. Nothing I can do about it, so I start getting some writing and editing done while hanging out with some of the Marines. I hear that a patrol is heading out and since I can use the video, I ask to go. It should last four hours.
An hour later I walk by some soldiers talking about being "bumped". That usually means a flight problem. If they are bumped today, the ripple effect would keep me in Salerno until Sunday. So I go to where they schedule the flights to find out what's happening. Turns out the soldiers as a unit weighed too much for the liking of the pilots, so they didn't take them on. Fortunately, me and all my gear comes in under 220lbs. and I was offered a spot on the plane instead and within two hours, I'm sitting at Bagram Air Field waiting to be picked up. My luck continues.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Khowst is a very dangerous place for our troops. It's close to the border of Pakistan and the coalition doesn't enjoy as many friendly faces as they do most other places. That means the pilots are a bit edgy landing there. When they're edgy, they come in fast and sharp. This time was no exception... in fact it was the most gforce ridden flight I'd ever taken.
The base is also notorious for taking rocket fire. Last week 7 rockets came in on Monday. Five landed inside the base. Fortunately, no one was hurt. However a full moon Thursday and Friday makes it a near guarentee that rockets are on the adgenda soon.
We landed with no problems and quickly exited the plane. As I scanned across the air field, it didn't appear that anyone was there to greet me and I was right. So I followed some 25th ID guys into the camp and made my way to the Marines' HQ.
It took a few minutes, but finally someone was able to come up with my POC (point of contact), a Captain Heatherman.
Heatherman was surprised to see me. He knew I was coming sometime, just didn't know when. So things were a bit confusing from the start. Not only that, but my backpack disapeared and it took several hours to track down. Eventually, everything worked out.
Once again, I am fortunate enough not to have an escort and once again, my beloved Marines took me in without a problem and have treated me well. This really makes my job so much easier. Obviously, most journalists do not get to do the things I get to unescorted, but that is proof that hard work pays off in the end.
Arriving in Salerno early, it was already hot and very humid when I got off the plane. The Marines say it's been raining a lot lately. Must be just here beceause the U.N. is about to relase a report that says 20 of the country's 32 provinces are once again hit hard by the drought. For many of these regions, it's the 7th year in a row. Some people never catch a break. 23 years of war and seven years of drought = misery.
In the afternoon, I was invited to join some of the officers of 3/6 on a recon of a couple of landing zones that would be used in an operation kicking off the next day.
3/6 has been patrolling, but they had yet to "punch out" in force as they are planning for in the morning. Looks like once again, I'm in the right place at the right time.
The flight was cool. Anytime you can get a Blackhawk ride with open doors... it's awesome. We flew along the Pakistani border and saw nothing but goats. The door gunners got in a little trigger time (not at the goats), I got some video and everyone was happy.
August 24th 0730
Lima nd Whisky Co. were inserted today for a rather grueling hump. In all, it'll cover more than 30km in the mountains over the next four days or so. I'll be inserted tommorow afternoon for some foot time myself. Can't wait... right.
Obviously I cannot say much about this effort yet because it just started and I need to ensure operational security.
I was supposed to head to Khowst today on a mission to buy medicine and other humanitarian things the Marines are gathering up. That was pushed off until tommorow, giving me another day to be relatively relaxed.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Days off are good here. This is a place where you lose track of days and time. There is no "working for the weekend" here. You get what you get and take it when it comes.
Apparently I will be leaving with USMC 3/6 on a week long patrol shortly after I get to Salerno. That's right; FOB Salerno, not Asadabad. No problem with me. Khowst is one of the more dangerous places in the country and it should be an interesting week.
So... a day at Bagram. Nothing really to write about except that the Detroit Lions are on TV, on my day off. Now all I need is a beer.
PS - My new website is starting up. Although far from finished, you will soon be able to see all my pictures from Afghanistan as well as access my blog. So please bookmark www.battlefieldtourist.com
Friday, August 20, 2004
So I'm supposed to be at Bagram by 5:00 and I still have no armor. What's that you say? No armor? As I jumped on that C-130 in Shindand last week, I only had a quarter of my flak jacket. The rest was sitting on the tarmac and would be picked up by a souvinier hunting Afghan Soldier. It then ended up in the hands of an Embedded Trainer and was supposed to be here in Kabul anytime. Only problem is that It's still not here and it needs a major repair! The whole right side tore at the stich in Herat.
My backup plan is having Ahmed try to borrow some from the Turkish Army. If that doesn't happen and I don't get mine repaired in time, I guess I'm missing my chopper today. That wouldn't be good because I'm tired of sitting here and I'm ready to go.
Something has changed here since my vacation. I'm sure it has to do with the main two changes: Me being bureau chief and the internet. That's right... we have the internet.
Earlier this week we decided to paint the office. On the same day, the internet guy shows up and for an extra $100, we can get internet that day! Holy crap. So we spend the day painting and gettting the place looking good for the uupcoming elections. We should be fairly busy, so it needs to look good and we needed internet. Got'em both on the same day.
Unfortunatly, internet is kind of like crack to these guys. After just one week I am about to throw down rules on internet usage. We aren't paying for information sent and recieved, but this is an important research/communications tool that can't be utilized right now because there is always someone on the line chatting or surfing or whatever. So today... things may get a little wierd. For the most part, we all stay in the compound right now, only emerging when we have a story to shoot or an interview/press conference.
The shop in general is having a mood swing. Some guys are homesick, others are pessimistic and yet others clueless and content. We've slowed our pace some because we have been getting slaughtered by Iraq and Najaf. That is a bit demoralizing: That you can't sell anything on Afghanistan because of Iraq, even going into the political season both here, and in the U.S. It amazes me.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Punctuality is big in my book. When you're late, without calling, it tells me that you think your time is more important than mine. So one of the few traits I possess that I'm proud of is the fact that I am punctual.
On the way to Task Force Phoenix along Jalalabad Road, the phone rings and it's Major Bloom. I'm right around the corner so we pull in still holding cell phones where we meet up and take a two Ford Ranger truck convoy down to Pol-e-Charki, the main ANA HQ. Me and a 65 year old photojournalist named Jonas Deseaveny are about to become the first embedded journalist with the Afghan National Army. Me, Jonas and Wakil, our terp.
We drive the 15 minutes to Pol-e-Charki where we meet our Afghan escort, Captain Muhammed Osman. A non-english speaking former Mujahadeen. Big beard on a brown, slender face. About 150 lbs. Looked very Tajik, which proved to be the case. He hails from Parwan Province, which is near the famous Penshjar Valley.
Also with us are two majors, a Hezarra, one of few with such rank. We also had 14 guys armed with AK-47's and RPK's. With gear and all we had just two white Ford Rangers between it all. We looked like an armed yard sale on wheels. On various legs we would pick up extra escort vehicles. The first leg, to Qalat in Zabol province would take about 8 hours on relatively good road. The only real worry was that is what Zabol Province, on of the most dangerous inn the country. One mine or RPG and a good number of us would be dead and wounded. I was in one truck with Osman, while Jonas rode with the Terp. That meant charades and sign language mixed with bits of my Farsi and three Afghan's English. It would be a long eight hours.
Qalat, Zabol Province 1600
Enter one of the oldest fortresses in Afghanistan, said by one American based there that it has never been taken by force. "We could take it" mumbled Sgt. Matt, a Vermont State Trooper just wrapping up his time as an embedded trainer.
He took us on a nickel tour of the place which was very enlightening. The large walled fortress sits atop a good sized hill overlooking downtown Qalat. Within the fortress is another hill, maybe 75 feet high, which acts as the main outlook.
Everywhere you look in this place there are stacks and stacks of old ammo. A war trophy hunter's paradise. THere was all sorts of abandoned things from rocket launchers to mortar charges. The place was littered. Everywhere, including under the main outpost, were bunkers and caves just filled with everything you can imagine. Some serviceable, much of it wasn't.
I spent a lot of time wandering around the place, just taking in all of it and grabbing some pictures as well. We end up sleeping in a room next to the embedded trainers. All but two of the 15 or so trainers were gone on missions. Sgt. Matt and Lt. Sid.
Matt was a big guy, bald head, meant business but was a good guy. Sid is a young 25, Lieutenant, and is ready to go home, "It's been a long 9 months..."
During the night I spent some time with the troops without a terp, which always makes things not so easy. Besides, with a terp it's just not as fun.
Later that night, Wakil and I went to visit with the officers , all of whom are friends and happy to see each other. The room was small with eight or nine guys sitting around, some of them the commanders with us. They were drinking some vodka drink from Germany that was 52% vodka and mixing it with coke. On the DVD player was a larger than a belly dancer should be woman giving some guy a lap dance. It was frightening, especially with that crazy Pak woman singing going on.
We had a few drinks, but being a Muslim, Wakil doesn't drink much, if at all, so we made it a night and hit the sack.
Thursday August 12h, 2004
The morning came quick and we started gearing up for a patrol that would take us east of town about 20 km. Matt wanted to do some presence patrolling and stop by a cave he'd spotted earlier.
Like most patrols, this one was bumpy and dusty. For this one, I was in the back of
a deuce and a half with 20 ANA soldiers. Once again I was envisioning a huge blast that throws me and a dozen soldiers into the air. 1 IED at this moment, and there would be a serious problem. Fortunately, I am able to keep this stuff from affecting my demeanor and judgment and I eventually push the thought to the back of my head.
Barely an hour into the patrol and the convoy comes to a halt. We're in the back, the two Americans inn separate Rangers in front, with some extra ANA Ranger support in between. Nearly 50 men in all. In a flash, Matt is out of his truck running up a hill with a half dozen or so ANA at his side and in tow. The unit I was with dismounted and spread out across the left (as we faced, Matt in the center). Then without any notice my squad took off running as to cut off anyone trying to slip out leftside. The run was grueling. Up a hill, across a ravine, down a hill and up an even bigger hill. Me and my flak jacket were lagging bad. I stayed within 10 meters of one soldier and had the RPG grenadier taking up the back (he probably felt like me).
Eventually like in most of these cases, there was nothing to be found. So after I caught my breath and had a heart attack, wee pulled back to the road and pushed on toward the rightside elements that had now began moving east and were about to search an abandoned village. Oddly enough, these abandoned houses had no physical entrance. What was there had been mudbricked up. The troops cracked open three our four houses like this, including one that seemed to be relatively fresh. Inside the men found nothing. After we left, I couldn't understand why anyone would seal a house for nothing. Perhaps the owner wanted to come back some day.
A few miles away we made it to an area in the desert that did seem to have several caves in it. As we approached and searched each depression, it turned out to be a series of collapsed caves of some sort. Nothing too exciting, just another grueling hike through some hot and parched wasteland.
Later that evening I went and visited the guys at the front gate. They had a small two story guard shack that kept everyone but the guards themselves. Inside I hung out, playing the sign language game and burning a few CDs of the pictures I had taken. Of course that's a mistake. Don't bring candy to school unless you have enough for everyone.
They offered me dinner, a stew served from a bucket, which I politely declined before asking for chai sabz - green tea. I spent a few hours there getting to know guys like "Rambo", a burly Pashtun with sunglasses in the cool way. We smoked a few cigarettes and exchanged some culture before I decided to call it a night as I stumbled my way back to my room.
Tuesday August 10th, 2004 0600
Early rise to another long day. To start, a four hour drive to Kandahar that ended up only taking two and a half. They brought us to the edge of the American base called "KAF" - Kandahar Air Field where the ANA base and future Corps HQ would be located. Once again we were given a room near the Americans and were relatively comfortable.
The heat on this particular day was incredible. Had to be more than 120. I have never felt anything like it. Jonas regretted not bringing a thermometer, "...just so I can say it was 130!!"
Jonas had spent time in Afghanistan during the Mujahadeen era. ONce in 1985, another time in 1989. Now in 2004, he's back to finish a picture book of Afghanistan: Then and now.
Jonas is about as easy going as they get. He's been doing freelance pictures since the year of my birth (1967), has a couple of books out and has done quite a few prestigious exhibitions. Other than that, he did well in real estate and now enjoys his retirement (at least this part of it) in Afghanistan.
He was born in Germany during the war. Many things we saw on this trip would take him back in time. One time I took a picture of him lighting a form of gunpowder used to fire mortars. He said it was one those things. He had me take a picture of him doing it. Preserving a memory he's been holding in his head for 60 years.
Kandahar was so hot that we decided not to patrol, but instead, take us to Tarnak Farms, a former Al-Qaida training camp where the plot to launch 9-11 was hatched. It's the place hit by Clinton ordered Tomahawk missiles in 1998. It was also nearly the target of a bold commando raid three years before 9-11. To me, it represents the epicenter of the War on Terror and I wanted to go back.
I first went there last April. Then, like now, i just looked at it, took three bricks and left. For Jonas, it was a great experience. Picture-wise, the twisted metal and wrecked buildings was like being a kid in a candy store. But this place also brought back his boyhood memories of Allied bombings during World War II.
We spent a good hour there then took off again for camp. Pretty lazy day. Too hot. I'll save the video for the third anniversary of 9-11.
Later that night we met with all the officers for tea and dinner. We talked about tomorrow's plan and got to know each other a little better. What stands out is a question I asked of these officers. I will often randomly ask a group their ethnicity in an effort to gauge the assimilation of the ANA. 2 Pashtuns, 6 Tajiks and a Hazarra. Not bad. I later learned that would be a bit skewed.
The Hazarra told Jonas that the two "Pashtuns" were actually Tajik. He said that 98% of the ANA officer corps was Tajik. He even went so far to say that non-Tajik officers have little authority over junior Tajiks. This is definitely a shortcoming, so far, of the ANA. To make matters worse, the officer told Jonas that just a few months prior, he was supposed to go to France for training. Instead they sent a Tajik in his place, using his name. Later when I mentioned this to an imbedded trainer, he told me he had heard similar stories, so the problem seems widespread.
Friday August 13th, 2004 0530
Today s the day that will go down in my memoirs as hell. Ahead of us was 15 hours of jaw-jarring carnage that I doubt can be rivaled in my future. First though, we would go to the feisty province of Helemand and its restive capital Gresch. There we would check out another ANA compound and conduct a checkpoint.
It was just a two hour drive, but the terrain went from mountain to flat desert. The ANA base was on the backside of a U.S. Special Forces base. It was rather small and primitive compared to the others we had visited. Just a mudbrick walled compound with a few mudbrick buildings in it. Very simple.
The checkpoint was setup for us. I don't know how often they do them, but this was no doubt a "media op". We stayed just an hour because of the huge drive ahead. I got some pictures and video and we made our way out. The real memory of this was two guys on a motorcycle that got stopped. They were carrying a 20 foot bamboo ladder around their necks with 10 feet of ladder dragging behind them. Quite funny. Of course, nothing was found during the checkpoint and we moved on.
There really isn't much to write about the next ten hours except that the road was nothing less then a ten hour bronco ride. Every eight feet, the pavement separated. In many places the potholes were so big and so many that it was impossible to more than 5km an hour. In many places there was no road at all and often, that was better than the road itself. The road itself was fair game. Cars weaving and bobbing, trying to dodge holes to no avail. Outside it was so hot that it was better to keep the windows up with no AC, than to put them down to feel the breeze. Absolutely miserable.
Somewhere in Nimroz or Fahrah Province, we hear what we don't want to hear: A very bad noise under the right front tire. We pull over and it turns out we've bent a bolt somewhere involving the shock absorber and we were in the middle of nowhere.
The soldiers stopped a jingle truck and borrowed some tools. Within the hour, they had it fixed up like new. For sure Afghans seem to have the ability to anything. Remember our trailer that almost lost a tire in Ghazni Province a few months back?
Hours and hours would go by. Hours of mind numbing nothingness. Don't think the scenery wasn't spectacular, because it was, it just went by very slowly.
The stick out memory here is the houses. They're mud houses like everywhere else, except they have domed roofs versus flat roofs. Pretty interesting.
Near the end, we passed through a town called Shindand. It was memorable because it was a huge old Soviet air base. It was on both sides of the road and went on for a few miles. Hundreds of buildings falling apart. Dozens of rotting jets and choppers on the runway. I also noticed at least a dozen tanks near the base. Well kept tanks. Tanks belonging to Ismail Kahn. Tanks that by the next morning would belong to his arch-rival and former commander, Amassullah Kahn.
Two hours later we were at the ANA base in Herat. We were given a nice room at a guesthouse-type of place where the Americans stayed: Cold drinks, hot showers and real food. It was great. I would later spend some time with the guys that got us here safely before grabbing a shower and hitting the sack.
Monday, August 16, 2004
I woke up feeling pretty good, considering the past week has been spent driving from Kabul to Herat, via Kandahar. My only problems at this point was the sores on my rear. I was just happy to be in Herat and made a vow that I would never travel that leg from Kandahar again.
Early on it was clear that something was wrong. The ANA officers and the American trainers were talking about fighting that had erupted around the province. I looked out at the tarmac of the airfield behind us and there was the ANA, bright and early, freshening up on infantry assault drills. I looked at Jonas and told him, "There's something big going on..."
Turns out I was right. During the night, the forces of provincial governor, Ismail Kahn were attacked in three places: North, east and south. In the south was the heaviest fighting at an old Soviet airbase in the town of Shindan.
For some reason, it didn't seem as though anyone was taking it too seriously, but II thought for sure something big was happening. On our way to tour the ANA HQ in downtown Herat, that thought was confirmed when we passed and armored personnel carrier (APC) and a tank heading south.
To get to ANA HQ, we passed through the city and into a compound shared by Kahn's forces and the ANA. As we drove it, we passed dozens of militiamen getting ready for battle. Tanks were gearing up as were a dozen APC's, all heading south.
Unfortunately, I was the guest of the ANA and they were eager to show off their advances. I was eager to take the video, but my interest was now focused of the scene unfolding in front of me.
I asked the ANA commander who was with me if we could walk up the road so I could get some shots of the militia. As we did, I was with 20 meters of Ismail Kahn when I first realized who I was looking at.
He's a former Mujahadeen leader of the famous type who wears all white, with a white pakol and a relatively long white beard. He was chattering away on his phone, clearly directing a battle. Our interpreter said that he looked sad. Turns out, the three prong attack came from three former commanders. The main rebel is Assabullah and it was his forces that attacked Shindan and taking Khan's weapons, including probably the dozen or so tanks we saw in Shindan the day the fighting started.
Unfortunately, Kahn was not interested in having me video, and I watched as an incredible picture slipped from my fingers. Eventually though, when we got farther away from Kahn, I was able to take a pretty good shot of him on the phone. To my knowledge, I'm the only one with such video.
We finally got back to the main ANA compound where Jonas and I decided to get on that day's Ariana flight to Kabul. I needed to get the video in, having a major exclusive like this was.
Our hotel manager offered to get our tickets for us. We also had to buy a ticket for the Wakil and Capt. Osman. $220 later and we were assured tickets. A while later the manager comes back and says that the flight for today was booked. Jonas and I decided it would be best that I got out first, so the manager swung a deal for me to get on the plane. He still had our money in his pocket, so I was sure this was on the down low.
At three o'clock, things went bad. Khan ordered the city to shut down and told everyone to go home. Although I can't quote him, it was martial law. That also meant that Arianna decided not to send its daily flight. Both me and AP:TN counted on this flight to get our video to Kabul.
How it works: APTN or us have a stringer in any city, in this case Herat. This stringer gets video of important events and ships it to Kabul via the daily Arianna flight. The pilot hands it off and whala... news ala Afghanistan. This is just a small reason why covering this war is so difficult.
So Arianna cancels and we're both screwed. What to do... Earlier in the day some U.N. people and their State Department friends landed and were still there. I decided I would try to hitch a ride if possible. So I ran across the ANA compound toward the tarmac, but the closer I got the more I realized this wouldn't be an option. There were a bunch of guys in civilian clothes with bullet-proof jackets, beards and sunglasses. All had machine guns.
As my heart sunk a bit, I looked off to my right and coming in from the south was a C-130 from the Texas National Guard coming in. I was shocked. Provided I got on the plane, I would beat APTN. I knew there was no way an Afghan stringer would make his way on this plane, nor think to try.
As the plane unloaded some supplies, I ran up to the crew chief and got permission for the four of us to get out. I ran as fast as possible (which slowed to a trot eventually) and excitedly told everyone the news. Jonas and Wakil decided to stay, Captain Osman and I would get a ride out.
On the plane I expressed to Osman that this was a big deal. I was just shocked it worked out this way. Interestingly enough, the story isn't over.
At Bagram we had no contact at all and am unsure that they even knew we were coming. Over the past week and into this one, I have been completely free to come and go within the military system and it finally felt good. It should be this easy for established journalists here. Since I am one of maybe two or three to want this type of full coverage, it makes sense let the rules slack for certain people. The way I see it is that it's hard enough getting news on Afghanistan out, no need to make it harder.
At Bagram, we walked into the TOC (don't know what it stands for... but it's the place that is similar to a civilian terminal. We got some weird looks because of Capt. Osman, but other than that, no problems.
We checked in and I got the number to the PAO, but it was after six and no one was answering. I knew my way, so Osman and I loaded up and headed for the main street at Bagram. Within just a few seconds, I flagged down a civilian contractor who agreed to take us to the front gate.
I have to say that the front gate at Bagram continues to morph every time I go. Unfortunately we had no taxis waiting at the front gate which has since been pushed back 200 meters farther than usual. That meant an additional 200 yards, plus another 150 to the gate into the town of Bagram where we would get a taxi.
The town itself looks like it's out of the early 1900's with muddy streets and hard-working poor people. The first taxi offer was $50 and unacceptable. The second $40, then finally $30. We took that one for the 50 km drive through the dangerous countryside of Afghanistan.
The plan was to meet Ahmed at the intersection of Jalalabad road. I paid enough to get Osman back to the Corps HQ at Pol-e-Charki so when we met Ahmed, we could part ways.
When we caught up with Ahmed, Osman decided he wanted to stay the night at our house and that it was too late to go to the base. We have an extra bed and I'm the boss, so of course there was no problem.
We finally made it home after nearly a week across east, south and western Afghanistan... an incredible road trip for sure. It took an hour to file the story and send the video (including the internet cafe), which would be the first video to come out on the big fight brewing in the west.
We had some tea and some food, took showers and went to bed, at least for a second. I quickly realized how important the deal in Herat. So I decided to get up and repack in the lucky event that I get another opportunity like the one I just had.
Sunday August 15, 2004 0745
We slept until 8:00 and treated the Captain to a good scrambled omlet. Interestingly enough, it was made with crushed tomatoes which threw me back in time.
It was sometime around 1983 and at a Boy Scout winter campout. We had a cool log lodge-type of cabin and my dad was Scoutmaster. That one morning I remember we were making scrambled eggs. My dad insisted that we put tomatoes in it. I knew for a fact I didn't want the tomatoes and it turned into a near riot of the boy scout sort.
Back in Kabul, we finished breakfast and headed to Pol-e-Charki and dropped off the Captain. There we found out that Karzai got a major troop movement passed in the Afghan Security Council and that 1,000 troops or more were getting ready to head to Herat.
We thanked the Colonel and took off for Kabul where we needed to get a camera and to the airport to try to get pictures of the army leaving for Herat. On the way, I got a hold of Major Bloom and begged him to somehow get me on a plane. Within a half hour, he called back and said he got me approved to go. I had my gear with me just in case, and it was paying off.
To make this clear: This day is unprecedented in Afghanistan war coverage. It is just not possible to make a call and get unescorted permission to get on a mission. I was absolutely in disbelief that it happened so quickly.
At the ISAF side of the airport, we went through the standard security procedures: Bag search, pt down and bomb dog. The usual. After that the wait was on. An hour and several calls to the guy I the booth go by when finally Major Peat comes to the gate and picks me up. Soon I realize I am the only journalist at the departure. I again was shocked. Two days in a row. The rest of the journalists were herded toward an Antinov cargo plane to do stories on ballot boxes going on at the same time.
I shoot a bunch of video and pictures, pack it up and send it back to Kabul CFC HQ with instructions to call Ahmed once he got back. Ahmed picked up the tape and fed my second international scoop in two days.
I had free roam and was only stopped once, by a Brit. I introduced myself and he said, I"I know who you are." He never offered the greeting back. He did want to know what I was doing unescorted on the ISAF tarmac. I told him my instructions were to stay away from the propellers, otherwise, I was welcome. He didn't seem to like that answer and walked away. Later I would hear some PAO called Ahmed complaining about what I was doing there. Ahmed tried to explain I was embedded with the ANA, but apparently the guy wasn't listening. I would also later confirm there was a ruckus,. but not with the Army, which makes me guess the Brits were pissed.
After a few hours I finally got on a Belgian C-130 where we sat and sweated with about 50 smelly Afghan soldiers before we were told the flight was cancelled because the missle detection system was out. This plane had earlier cancelled for other problems, so maybe this was best.
I hopped off the plane and headed straight for another C-130. This one American out of West Virginia's National Guard. "Can I get a ride?" I said as the engine roared. "If you wanna stand." the crew chief yelled back. "I don't give a shit." Typical Dave response.
In I go. This plane crammed to the gill. 70 some soldiers plus Americans. Gear packed 8 feet high and no seats. The two combat camera guys that were also on the Belgian plane tried to get on, but were turned away. They walked to another U.S. plane and were turned away from that before they came back to my plane. We made room for them as well, absolutely nuts. Sgt. Ski and Sgt, Witzke. Two good guys and I'm glad they made it. The ride, just over an hour wasn't too bad. My seat a duffle bag..
On our way there, I'm informed it's going to be a "combat drop" and be ready for a hot LZ. this confused me because I knew there was no fighting in Herat yet. That's when, to my huge surprise, I was told we were landing at the former-Soviet airfield in Shindan, where a day before, more than 30 were killed in the fighting. Wow a break. I'm going to the middle of the fight. Scoop number three in three days.
The landing was very uneventful and it turns out the ANA and Special Forces had already secured most of the airfield and the only thing hot about the LZ was the 40 mph wind that made it hard to stand.
The base is a huge former Soviet base with dozens of jets, helicopter and buildings falling apart where they have stood for 15 years. Great place for a battle. Everywhere was shrapnel, mines and detonators. A place where mine casualties should be expected.
I got all the video possible of the soldiers landing at the airfield and decided to start to concentrate on where I would bed down. Afterall, my presence is known by a relative few, I have no escort and need to step it up.
After some exploring, I ran into a trainer from J-bad (Jalalabad) with whom I worked with before, Tim Kinsman. Seeing a familiar face, I drifted with them and ended up in an old concrete building. Turns out I ended up with medics and group of trainers from the Marion, Indiana armory. The same town my parents now live in.
I have luck streak a mile-long by now.
Over the next few hours I call Heidi and find an empty building to have a cigarette in and think. I end up talking to some of the medics for an hour or so outside in the cool breeze, under a billion stars, before taking off to go to bed.
Monday, August 16, 2004 0645
It was a tough night. My liner sleeping bag and a dusty concrete floor. The building's windows, all gone. Even with the major wind, it was a good 15 degrees hotter in the building than out, making sleep difficult. Once the sun comes up, it's
near impossible to get back to sleep, so I get up.
My plan is to stay as long as I can. Shoot some video, send it with the combat camera guys, shoot some more, than make it back to Kabul. Being the only journalist here, I could dictate the timetable.
After shooting all the wreckage and soldiers I could, I made my way toward the Special Ops soldiers hanging out near the control tower. It didn't take long before the CO, a Lieutenant Colonel (named John), came up and asked, "Who are you?". He looked very surprised to see me. I told him who I was and why I was there. He told me the theater commanding officer would be coming in today as would a planeload of press. I told him that if he wanted to avoid a logistical nightmare, he could radio Kabul and let them know I would have the video anyone would need concerning the fight. HQ thanked him for the info leaving me to change my mind.
With journalists probably coming, I had to get out on the first plane.
I went back and packed my things. I then carried it in two stages to where I thought a plane would park, eventually found an old Russian command trailer and had a cigarette.
I learned in the Marines while waiting for a bus, light a cigarette and the bus will come. As soon as I lit the darned thing, I looked up and the first C-130 of the day was coming in.
The plane landed and out pops about 50 ANA troops with gear, followed by a cameraman for NBC (Mark, an Australian) and an Italian photographer who worked for AP stills. I tell the guys hi and run to the crew chief; it's the Belgians again. Without hesitation, he let's me get my gear and get on. A flight straight to Kabul with my 3rd international scoop in three days in hand. Even more incredible was the string of luck I was having moving about. It felt great. It felt like the days of Vietnam coverage as I've read about.
Once in Kabul, I'm met by Belgian intelligence officers who escort me to an escorted room where they debrief me. I had no problem at all with it considering they just got me home.
They ask about the fighting, what I heard, what I saw. They asked about the runway and asked for a copy of my pictures. They also asked for a copy of the video, which I agreed to, but on my timetable. They escorted me to the gate where Nadir was waiting to pick me up. Here's the unedited story.
STORY: AFGHAN ARMY CONTAINS FIGHTING IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
LOCATION: SHINDAN, HERAT PROVINCE
TEXT & VIDEO: DAVID TATE / IHA, KABUL
Since Sunday, more than 1,000 Afghan National soldiers and their American trainers have been flooding into this former Soviet airbase that just two days ago, was the scene of fierce inter-factional fighting.
Early Saturday morning, inn a scene captured exclusively by IHA, Herat Provincial Governor Ismail Kahn is scene reacting to a coordinated three-pronged attack on his private forces inn Herat Province.
At least 25 people have been killed. There's also been civilian casualties when a
gas station in Shindan was hit with artillery fire. Kahn's men also held at least 23 prisoner's just outside the base's main gate.
Early Sunday, a large team of U.S. Special Forces landed at Shindan and reported the airbase as nearly empty. The base was then secured, reportedly with the blessing of Kahn.
Soon after, 10 C-130 cargo planes from the United States, Belgium and Portugal were ferrying hundreds of Afghan Army troops to the scene. By Sunday night, more than 500 were on the ground aided by around 75 American trainers and Special Forces.
The government troops not only took control of the airbase, but also effectively contained the fighting which had moved 10 km north of the base, just 35 kilometers from Herat's main power station. More than 700 government troops already protect the south entrance to Herat city. Those troops have been in place more than three months after fighting erupted earlier this year.
By 10 A.M. Monday morning, more government troops were landing. Throughout Monday morning heavy artillery fire has been echoing in the distance north of the base at Shindan.
Once home, I spent a few hours was spent filing and feeding. A meal, a shower, a smoke. Then finally for the first time since I got back, I sat down, typed this blog entry and wrote Heidi. Tomorrow or Wednesday, it's off to Herat again.
Monday, August 09, 2004
BTW - I will be the first journalist in the history of the Afghan National Army to embed with them. Another personal milestone.
Talk to you soon.
Now, I have to admit, this is probably going to be my most dangerous assignment yet. The ANA tend to be the ones that do a lot of the fighting and the places we are going is seeing a lot of fighting now... so I have a bit of fear right now.
Today, ISAF changed command. It is the sixth command to take over since the war began. A ton of brass was there, but like any ceremony, it was a bore. I left immediately after the ceremony and left Ahmed to do the press conference. Advatage: We beat everyone to the story by at least an hour... so maybe, just maybe, we'll get some sales.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Be clear on this: I took this job for Afghanistan and myself, period. The country is so broken and the story so underreported that I feel obligated to come back to finish what I started, so I am. But I'm convinced that the powers that be were trying like mad to keep me from doing it.
I made it back to the hotel and went out looking for my last good meal that I'll have for some time: A Big Mac. Oh hell yeah! I love my Big Macs! The biggest thing I crave when in Afghanistan. From there a quick note to my wife at the internet cafe, a stop at the store to buy my Afghan money-changer some whisky (on request), one final beer and a good, long shower. I wrapped as much luxury as I could into two hours knowing that the next four months would be very testing and demanding.
On the flight, I realized that it was the same jet I took to Istanbul with Karzai. I also met a guy from Polaris, a picture distributer. What luck. He's going to hook me up with his boss and hopefully I'll be able to earn extra money with stills. Considering I'm probably the most travelled journalist in Afghanistan, this could work out well.
And as the sun began to rise over the mountains of Afghanistan, once again, another Talking Heads song popped into my head. I don't know the name, and I barely know the lyrics, but it fits like a glove: Home, that's where I want to be but I guess I'm already there. I feel numb... I guess Heidi knows what she should get me for Christmas, huh?
Thursday, August 05, 2004
So with all this freetime, I get to harrass the Public Information Officers with emails. Today I got an invite to go to one of three places, two of which I've already been to. Problem is, Ghazni, Jalalabad and Gardez are almost always quiet. This adds evidence to my theory that these guys are not facilitators, but hinderers. Plain and simple: The US Army does not want the full story of Afghanistan out, just their version.
To: Major Peat/Captain Eckert,
Why do you offer embeds in places where there is little to no action? Wouldn't it
be better to show us what is being done for voter security in paces like Khowst,
Qalat and Helemand? It seems as though you guys are working overtime to keep
people away from the action. Now, I might be wrong, but I would like to know what
you think of this perception shared by many colleagues.
Ghazni, Gardez and Jalalabad should be replaced with Salerno, Qalat and
See ya next week.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
The three generals who split off; Karzai's Foreign Minister Abdullah, Karzai's Defense Minister Fahim, and Karzai's Education Minister Yoonus Qanooni are in controld f tens of thousands of armed militiamen in and around Kabul, some say up to 50,000. To many people it appeared as though Karzai booted Fahim from his ticket as a signal that the warlords are finished. Fahim, the country's most powerful warlord, isn't liking the tone and is heading in a different direction than Karzai.
The real problem is that Afghanistan has never once settled a political problem at the ballot box. It is always done on the battlefield. I have very serious feelings that Afghanistan is on the brink of a civil war. It just feels different going back.
WASHINGTON, July 31: The United States has warned its citizens that the security situation in Afghanistan is still critical and there is a general threat to all Americans visiting the country. The new travel warning, which supersedes the one issued in February, warned US citizens against travel to Afghanistan. "There is an ongoing threat to kidnap and assassinate US citizens and non-governmental organization workers throughout the country," the warning said. The State Department also warned Americans that the Afghan authorities' ability to "maintain order and ensure the security of citizens and visitors is limited". "Remnants of the former Taliban regime and the terrorist Al Qaeda network, and other groups hostile to the government, remain active. US-led military operations continue." Travel in all areas of Afghanistan, including Kabul, is unsafe due to military operations, landmines, banditry, and armed rivalry among political and tribal groups, the warning said. There was also the possibility of terrorist attacks, including attacks using vehicular or other improvised explosive devices. "The security environment remains volatile and unpredictable." The State Department reminded Americans that Afghanistan was having presidential elections on Oct 9 and violent incidents aimed at disrupting the election may escalate as the election date draws closer. There have been several incidents of election violence, including an attack on a UN bus carrying Afghan election workers in Jalalabad. That incident resulted in three deaths and ten wounded, the statement said. The State Department pointed out that there have been a number of attacks on international organizations, international aid workers, and foreign interests and nationals, including the killing of a UNHCR worker in Ghazni and car bombing in front of the UN compound in Kandahar, both in November last year. There have also been several attacks on International Security Assistance Forces, resulting in deaths and injuries, including two deadly attacks in January this year, the department said. Although the United Nations has resumed operations, which were temporarily suspended in the aftermath of these attacks, the UN continues to be the target of attacks throughout the country. In June, a UN and NGO convoy was ambushed in Gardez, a UN demining team was ambushed with rocket-propelled grenades in Loghar, and a UNHCR convoy was ambushed with RPGS and small arms fire in Kandahar, the statement said. Over the past year there have been several unsuccessful rocket attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan, including a rocket landing in a field opposite the embassy compound in December last year and another that landed in the ISAF compound near the embassy in June, an explosion in the perimeter wall of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on Nov 22 and an explosion at the ministry of interior on June 5. Family members of American officials assigned to the US embassy in Kabul are not allowed to reside in Afghanistan. In addition, unofficial travel to Afghanistan by US government employees and their family members requires prior approval by the Department of State. The department warned that terrorist actions in Afghanistan may include suicide operations, bombings, rocket attacks, assaults or kidnappings. Possible threats include conventional weapons such as explosive devises or non-conventional weapons, including chemical or biological agents.