Newsnight – report from Sangin valley, Helmand, Afghanistan

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.