Afghanistan and the Grenadier Guards

August 24, 2007

I am off to spend some time with my old army unit who are currently in the thick of it in Helmand, Afghanistan. I used to be a Captain in the Grenadier Guards 20 years ago. I left in 1987 and went out to Afghanistan to become an independent video journalist. I have been back many times since.
I first became interested in Afghanistan during Christmas 1979 when I saw an ITN report breaking the news about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Earlier the same day I had been inspecting my great-grandfather’s campaign medals and observed that he had one from Afghanistan, dated 1880, with the ‘Kandahar’ clasp on it. I started reading up about Afghanistan and have remained fascinated by the country.
On my first trip to Afghanistan I went to Kandahar and filmed the Mujihadeen fighting there. The Mujihadeen guerillas were trying to kick-out the Russians and remove the Afghan government that they sponsored. The group that I was with then were from the southern Pushtun tribe. They had been receiving supplies and training from western countries for years to help them beat the Russians.
In 1992 the Afghan government collapsed and the Mujihadeen entered Kabul. But the fighting didn’t end then. The factions that made up the insurgency fought amongst themselves until the Taliban, then a poorly known Pushtun group, took Kabul in 1996. But the Taliban allowed Al-Quada to run training camps in Afghanistan, so after 9/11 the Americans supported their removal by Afghan Northern Alliance troops with aerial bombardment.
But now NATO is fighting a resurgent Taliban and the Grenadier Guards are one of three British infantry battalions currently engaging them in the South. It would have been impossible for me to imagine, back in the late 1987 on the outskirts of Kandahar, that 20 years later the Pushtuns that I was with would be up against the Grenadiers. As they had been against my great-grandfathers regiment 110 years earlier.
I want to see how the Grenadier Guards, and the British Army, are getting on. I left a peacetime army. I wonder what I will recognise in a regiment that has been on constant operational duty for the last 5 years. I want to understand the conflict from the soldiers perspective. Are they similar to the people that I served with?
There have been reports in the British press about the intensity of the fighting in southern Afghanistan, casualty rates have even been compared to the levels seen in frontline troops in the Second World War. Yet the British public seem ambivalent. If the fighting in Afghanistan is important then they shouldn’t be. I want to know how the soldiers feel about this disinterest.
As a journalist, Afghanistan has been one of my haunts. I am concerned for a country that has been ravished by war now for 28 years: War that seems to have no end. I am troubled that we are now part of this conflict and I want to find more about what we are doing in Afghanistan.
I am going to update this blog. I am going to take video and photographs, upload them to the internet and distribute them widely. I am going to twitter. All for the new Frontline Club online news service.