Five years, five embeds

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Jeff Stephen

When the embed program started with the Canadian military at Kandahar Airfield back in February 2006, correspondent Jas Johal and I made up the first team from Global Television to arrive. Since that time, pretty much the whole Global National roster has passed through here, more than once for many.

This is my sixth time to Afghanistan and my fifth as an embedded journalist. When I think about what made the newscast back in 2006 and what makes the news today, the difference is paramount.

The learning curve both for soldiers and news teams has also been equally impressive. We used to dash out onto the streets to report on an improvised explosive device that the soldiers uncovered alongside the road. Now it’s just a routine part of their everyday job.

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The vehicles the Canadian military was using have also changed dramatically. Back in 2006, we went out on a night patrol in Kandahar, patrolling in the back seat of a G-Wagen. Our mission for the night was to be on the lookout for a suicide bomber. Intelligence reports stated he would be driving around in a white Toyota Corolla. Well, as soon as we left the gates of our compound almost every other car on the road seemed to fit that description. I was constantly adjusting my audio levels on my camera because of the yelling and screaming going on in the G-Wagen, which would have given us about as much protection as a Jeep Cherokee – if we had met our assignment. Unfortunately, other soldiers fell victim to such attacks and it wasn’t long before the G-Wagen was retired.

As the soldiers became advanced, so did the vehicles they travelled in. The following year, the heralded Nyala was the vehicle of choice by the Canadian military to protect itself against IEDs. That summer, Johal and I spent a few days going on patrols with a young Capt. Matthew Dawe and his troops.

Capt. Dawe was a very impressive 27-year-old who came across as a born leader, with the kindness and sense of humor that made you like him instantly. Johal and I did some great stories those days, going through the villages trying to root out known Taliban members and supporters.

It was only days after I returned home to Montreal when I turned on my television and saw Capt. Dawe’s picture – and five other soldiers – that I knew instantly they had been killed. A stack of mines had been placed – one on top of the other – by the Taliban, and when the soldiers’ Nyala drove over it, it proved no match. They died instantly. I still think about Capt. Dawe often.

And while many more IEDs are found and destroyed than ones that actually go off, they are still the main cause of death to NATO and American soldiers. You almost never hear of a soldier losing his or her life in a gun battle.

On this current embed, I talked with a soldier from Combat Camera discussing how much the Canadian soldiers have adapted to tricks the Taliban try to play. It was common knowledge from the beginning that suicide car bombers usually drove alone and the suspension would be hanging low from all the explosives packed inside. The Combat Cameraman (who shall remain nameless) told me, what they didn’t realize was that some cars actually had “suicide bomber” written in Pastun to warn all the villagers. This particular driver with “suicide bomber” written on the side, went a step further and put a comrade – who had been recently killed – in the passenger seat.

Security cameras later revealed a Canadian soldier had checked the car, and at one point, was actually leaning against the dead Taliban member sitting in the passenger side while the driver was being interrogated. Cameras also revealed one Afghan interpreter got up off his chair and walked away as the car approached. Obviously, he read the Pashtun sign but didn’t bother relaying the message. The driver didn’t set off his explosives at this checkpoint, but tried for a bigger target.

As he sped toward a larger group of Canadian soldiers not slowing down, they opened fire. As they approached the car, the driver was still alive and trying to set off the explosives. An investigation revealed one of the bullets had cut the ignition wire. One of the craziest stories I’ve ever heard for sure.

After five years, the security situation has improved. Dramatically in some areas. Schools are opening regularly, and more and more Afghans are earning a living for their families.

With the world as busy as it is these days, these stories don’t get out there as much as perhaps they should. But anybody reading this blog should know, that a difference here – for the better – has been made.

Jeff in 2006.

Jeff is Global National’s photojournalist usually based in Ottawa.He is currentlycovering the war in Afghanistan. You can follow Jeff on Twitter: @JStephenGlobal.

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