Enigmas of the battle in Arghandab

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October 19, 2010 16:17

A Canadian Forces CH-146 Griffon utility helicopter is seen in flight from Kandahar Air Field (KAF) to Arghandab district in Kandahar province on October 18, 2010. Photo - Massoud Hossaini

I have been waiting for many days to go to Arghandab, a lush green valley few kilometres northwest of Kandahar city. A military operation is going on in the area since the last couple of weeks. I’m staying in Kandahar Air Field (KAF) for the last 19 days and during my stay I’ve covered a Medevac unit in US military camp Ramrod. During all this time I’ve been asking the US army to send me to the war zone in Arghandab valley. At first, they canceled my trip telling it is so dangerous out there for journalists. So little they know that we are here to cover that kind of operation and we do it with our decision and it is our own responsibility to take care of our lives.

Our camp is abuzz with rumours. Some say the US Army is losing there and that the Taliban have put up a vigorous resistance against foreign troops. Others say a tough battle is going on there with a lot of IEDs and mines making it difficult for troops to move. Some also say that a lot of civilian casualties have taken place during the military operation in Arghandab valley and that’s why the US Army would not let any journalist go there.

A Swedish radio journalist who went to a camp near Arghandab told me that most of the nights he could see fighter jets droping heavy bombs over the valley.

On 17th October, late afternoon, Media Support Centre in Kandahar Airfield informed me and two other journalists that on early morning of 18th a flight will be arranged that will take us to Arghandab. But minutes before our departure, one of them informed us that the flight is canceled once again!! This was the second time for me. As a consolation, I was told that they are ready to send me to a camp in Kandahar city which they had already offered me after my first cancellation of Arghandab trip. I refused it earlier and did the same this time. I was so angry yet laughing at the same time. How did they not remember that I did not go there in the first place and assumed that I would not like to go there again? Isn’t it stupid? They really want to force me to give up on Arghandab valley and go somewhere that has nothing for photography? Why do they send western journalists to really important places to have good stuff but not me? Is it because of my Afghan passport and nationality? I ask these and a lot of other questions…

The same day Mr. Roach from Media Support Centre called me and told me that there is a flight to Arghandab and that he will sign me in and it will be just me! I left around 2 pm yesterday and after 20 minutes flight with an empty Canadian Chinook helicopter, I arrived at a Camp in Arghandab called OCCD. As soon as I came out from the helicopter with my heavy badges, a US Army soldier came and shouted at me, asking: “Are you the reporter?” I said, yes I am, thinking he will pick me up but he said: “You have to go back. We don’t accept any journalist here!!!!” I tried to talk to him but he was pushing me back to the helicopter again!!! I was surprised to find that one part of the US army sends me there and the other part kicks me out? Even our Afghan army, which is not professional, would not do this to me!!

I came back to KAF and in the airfield I saw a 50 year-old Afghan translator coming out from the same helicopter. I asked him if he is working in Arghandab camp and he said yes. I introduced myself  and asked him why the Americans kicked me out? He was scared to say anything about Arghandab but when I promised of not using his name he agreed to give me some details. He informed me that last night, a US soldier opened fire on a prisoner of war and killed him. The dead was a Taliban commander locked inside a cell in the camp. Probably they did not want any media representative to know about it. He was scared to talk more about it so I could not ask him if the prisoner was handcuffed, blindfolded or something like that.

I came back to my place in the Media Support Centre. I called my office chief and told her the story about the prisoner. Later, I informed all other journalists. A BBC journalist called me and handed a paper which was an ISAF statement about this event. “A detainee in ISAF custody was found dead in his cell in southern Afghanistan on Sunday. The detainee was captured during an operation on Saturday and was being held in Kandahar Province.” the ISAF statement read.

I think the reason that they kicked me out of that base yesterday was the detainee story but why did they not let me go there before? Does the US Army believe in fighting for freedom and democracy in this country? Do they believe in free media? If I am an Afghan, could they not trust me and send me to a war zone? I have two main questions to ask. Firstly, why did they embedded me a few months ago? Secondly, why they did let the New York Times reporter go there? Are they really losing there? Why they don’t let the US and Afghan people know what is going on? Is it a dirty war going on there? I have hundreds of other questions that I can ask and might not find the answer for a long time.

After all these issues, I decided to cover another war zone which is in the Zari district of Kandahar. I have not given up on Arghandab but I am really tired of facing the friendly US soldiers in Media Support Center where they are constantly giving me bad news. One of them told me that it was so hard for him to tell me about my second cancellation of Arghandab trip. Now I’m waiting in Camp Wilson for our unit commander to come back. If he likes me then he take me to cover the operations in a place called Siah Choy. I should go and take a shower and look nice. Maybe the commander will like me and take me there to do my job and give you the information that I’m allowed to find!!!

You can judge yourself.

Massoud Hossaini is a 29-year-old photo journalist from Afghanistan who has been covering the war in Afghanistan since the last several years. He frequently embeds with the coalition forces in Afghanistan to find out the other side of the story. His stories can be read on http://massoudhossaini.blogspot.com. Diary written by Massoud Hossaini; Edited & Published by Moign Khawaja.

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