Newsnight – report from Sangin valley, Helmand, Afghanistan

September 29, 2007

This is the full 16 minute documentary that originally aired on BBC Newsnight on 26 September, 2007. It’s available for download on Google Video. My original text from the evening that I returned from Sangin:

I have been out on operations with Colour Sergeant Jim Bastin of the Inkerman Company and a platoon of the 3rd Kandak of the Afghan National Army. We left the base in the middle of the night for a long walk through the Green Zone to mount an attack as the reserve platoon of A Company of The Royal Anglians.

The Green Zone is the area on either side of the Helmand River, which runs vertically through Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan. It is fertile and wet and very heavy going to walk through at night. There are tall plantations of corn, vegetables and fields of hemp, all irrigated by streams and a multitude of channels dug by the farmers.

After a difficult walk we arrived at the start point of the operation and began what the military call an “advance to contact”. This means that the soldiers moved forward looking for the enemy, or rather waiting until they fired at us and then trying to eliminate them. By 8am the Taliban obliged.

The fighting went off and on all day as the British and Afghan soldiers moved from compound to compound. The Taliban would fire at us and normally run before soldiers were able to get there. The Taliban had prepared escape routes and most of the time they manage to carry their wounded and dead away. When The Royal Anglians commander ordered CSgt Bastin to clear 2 compounds with his Afghan force, I went with him. We found some clothes covered in blood but couldn’t find a body.

By midday it was baking and we were exhausted. Most of the British soldiers were carrying at least 70lbs in weight and had to fight and run with it on all day. They carried food and water, lots of water, and then weapons, ammunition, radios and all the other paraphernalia that modern war requires. This is typical of the fighting that is happening in Helmand now. The British Army’s 12 Brigade, which is currently on tour there, has been battling hard to regain control of the Green Zone and the Taliban have not been giving it up easily.

My trip was made less comfortable by the diarrhoea that I have contracted and can’t seem to cure myself of. It was hard going but then at 44 I was the oldest man on the battlefield. There could of course have been an older Taliban there, but that is unlikely because the average lifespan in Afghanistan, I am told, is 42.



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8 thoughts on “Newsnight – report from Sangin valley, Helmand, Afghanistan”

  1. Chris says:

    Excellent reporting – no glamorisation & no spin. I was on the edge of my seat watching this. Come back safe lads & good luck to the terriers of the ANA*.

    *hoping this is isn’t a gross insult to Muslims…

  2. Andrea says:

    I love your comment Chris. You’re getting behind our lads whilst still showing sensitivity towards our Muslim countrymen and women.

    I too found this film utterly engrossing; a testament to the bravery of our men our women who are simply doing their job, and further testament to the bravery of people like Vaughan who put education above personal safety and comfort.

    I’ve posted elsewhere about the fact I saw my lovely brother, quite by accident, towards the end of Vaughan Smith’s film, but the point about this piece was that it stood alone for me as the most insightful journalism I’ve yet seen from Southern Afghanistan. Seeing my brother was just a magical ‘extra’.

  3. Halo says:

    great work and i wished it had got wider broadcast time to show all what is happening and how our boys and girls are doing out and what there and what there doing also

  4. Mel Thurlby says:

    Great video showing the hard work our guys are doing out there every single day. As a former member of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment I am very proud of the work the Vikings have done out there, and I wish them all a safe recovery back to the UK at the end of their tour. Well done lads!

    ‘Stabilis’

    Mel Thurlby

    1 R Anglian (1969-1983)

  5. Simon Wheeler says:

    Excellent documentary footage. Good to see the ANA doing so well and British soldiers working so professionally under challenging conditions. I just wish the Afghan police were advancing as well as the ANA. We never seem to get much reporting on the police force but I read frequent reports that it is they who are responsible for holding ground won by ISAF/ANA and are not sufficiently trained/equipped/motivated to do so. I completely agree with the policy not to intervene on poppy fields. They will go by themselves once rule of law and irrigation are restored. Afghans don’t want to grow poppies.

  6. Bob Hastings says:

    As an ex 1 Royal Anglian I will say it was a very informative report.
    I proud of what the lad have done out there.
    I would also like to give the Volenteers of the Royal Gibraltar Regt that are helping the Vikings do such a sterling job.

    Well done Guys

    Bob Hastings

  7. Graham Goodey says:

    Dear Vaughan,

    Please forgive the slight misuse of this comments page but I was one of the Royal Anglian Platoon Commanders in your report. Some of my soldiers feature in the footage and I was hoping it would be possible for you to send a copy of it – I’m sure you appreciate how much the guys value good quality footage of what they went through.

    Many Thanks

    Graham

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi Graham – have forwarded your message to Vaughan – hope he gets a chance to rely. In the meantime, you might want to check out the YouTube footage here:

    http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?p=r&user=FromTheFrontline&page=2

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