Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reflections from 36,000ft

Afghanistan – September & October 2008

It would be easy to say that the war in Afghanistan is simply that a war between good and evil or a matter of faith depending on how you worship. How does one define victory, there will be no peace accord signed or will we watch two sides will try and rebuild there nations as in previous wars.

The cold hard reality is that no one cares about Afghanistan and never will. Afghans did not directly blow up the twin towers on 911. So the question they ask all the time is why are there still foreign troops on their soil. The enemy is there but is not seen.

After nearly a month in Afghanistan, I look back and see nothing positive. The role of the American soldier cannot be questioned each and everyone I met was that of caring. But we did meet soldiers with the look of defeat who openly questioned the effectiveness of the current strategy. The look in his eyes was the best mirror to the current situation there. And that reflection is the look of pointlessness.

Hard cold facts are never pleasant and the reality in Afghanistan is that corruption is pandemic. It is in and at every level of society and this cancer feeds on itself and the more money that is poured into Afghanistan every day, lines the pockets of the corrupt, twenty families now effectively control Afghanistan according to a recent British fact finding mission to Afghanistan.

Fact, you want to become a Police Chief, with a profitable narcotics route through your district - going rate is $150,000 and you get the badge, keep paying those above and take without mercy from those below.

Fact, In Southern Afghanistan, being a farmer, from Lashkar Gar and taking your crop and trying to bring your crop to Kandahar, to sell has become pointless. Police and Bandits set up roadblocks on almost all roads and by paying all the bribes there is no money to be made. So why grow crops when if you grow Opium you will have the protection of the local Warlord who in turn controls the Authorities. The farmer can now feed his family and have safety.

Fact, Statistics were quoted ad nausem to us, complete with power point presentations, which at times are more boring than death by paper cuts. Close to 250 International soldiers have been killed this year, the most since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Civilian casualties have tripled to more than 4,500. Highways that Generals point out of helicopters at 1000 ft and speak with pride of rebuilding a nation are void of traffic. No one dares to drive on them. Private companies supplying the ISAF forces in the South are reportedly now being known to be paying nearly $4000 for a tanker of water or fuel to get thru and onto the main base at Camp Bastion, of which a quarter of this amount goes to the Taliban.

Telephone companies operating cell networks in rural areas now turn them off in the evenings, at the request of the Taliban, according to an advisor to the Energy Minister four of the nineteen regional electricity companies are run by the Taliban.

It is not that the Afghan in the street wants the Taliban back, but the cause of the Taliban has been helped by the number of civilian deaths in the last year, killed in US air strikes. Operation Enduring Freedom can hardly claim success from the air. Nangahar, Farah and
Azizbad are not household words in the West but in Afghanistan mention these towns and everyone knows the death count of civilians and shares a sense of outrage.

Fact the Taliban will pay a soldier twice the pay he receives in the Afghan Army, fighting for the other side for $180 a month is often considered better than being shot at for $90 a month.

Fact the safest ring tone to have on your phone in Afghanistan is not a top 40 hit, but the Taliban favorite ringtone “Death to the Invader” a reference to foreign troops. Reality TV, forget Afghan Idol, that ran into trouble despite its popularity, a young woman just won a cash prize, a plastic sofa and a trip to Dubai for winning “Koran Idol” whereby contestants recite verses from the Koran in front of a judging panel of mullahs.

Fact The best business in Kabul is to run a security company and get a lucrative contract with a foreign company or aid agency. Thirty-six international security companies have established themselves in Kabul and eleven more are setting up. Cost for license $300,000, and that is the clean figure.

Add to this Afghanistan is facing a drought that has forced the price of wheat up fourfold, you will not see the hunger in Kabul but behind the mud walls in the countryside, women and children will pay the price.

Afghanistan is not a Military victory waiting to happen, the amounts of money flowing into Afghanistan are obscene. The obscenity is what happens when the money gets in country.

I started this trip expecting the dangers of any assignment in a war zone, we were shot at by RPG’s whilst in a helicopter, ran the gauntlet of driving on high profile roads and slept in some pretty average places. Yet after the month it comes down to two images that remain and best sum up the situation that we face in Afghanistan.

One the look on the face of a Marine who was heading home after a six month deployment in Helmand, we met him back in April on our last trip. They had expected the operation to last four to six days, six months later a dejected marine sat on the bench at Bagram Air Base and his eyes told the story of a unit that had been betrayed.

The second image a close up of a face of an Afghani Army Soldier and the way a shaft of light light up his hand on his weapon. His fear was that of probably his first helicopter ride and not of an enemy unseen.

I praise each and every person from the Military that is over in Afghanistan, for they believe in a cause that is directed by an Administration that was attacked back on that fateful day in 2001. Every soldier should be proud of what they have achieved, the issue is that very little has been achieved for the average Afghan and that is what needs to change.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


In 1985 Lieutenant Commander Waghorn and Lance Corporal Gill played Scrabble for 5 days when trapped in a crevasse in Antarctica. Which begs the obvious question, how do you manage to have a Scrabble board with you when you get trapped in a crevasse in Antarctica?
The same logic cannot apply to the team here in Afghanistan, not only do we have two sets of Travel Scrabble; we also have the Scrabble dictionary. There is an old Military saying that “God curses anyone who does not bring two of an essential piece pf equipment”.

Whilst we have cases of cables, batteries and various cameras (7 in fact, counting all available means of capturing video). We always carry a scrabble set with us, (and the dictionary).

There are times when we have a couple of hours between live shots or simply at the end of the day, when you are sitting around at the end of the world. Walking around kicking rocks gets boring after ten minutes or even worse when we sit around and see who can make the highest pile of rocks by balancing rocks within arm reach.

Thus we strive for the ultimate “QUARTZY” ((164 points) across a triple-word-score square with the Z on a double-letter-score square.) or dream of OXYPHENBUTAZONE, 1778 points formed across three triple-word-score squares, while simultaneously extending seven specific already-played words to form new words.

The actual reality of life on the (tile) road here in Afghanistan, is that between us more arguments are caused by the playing of brilliant words like “MALTY” (adj, resembling malt) onto a triple than “ZINGARA” (n.pl, a female gypsy).

Not that we are competitive but given that we have played by kerosene lantern at our hotel here in Kabul.

Or we sat on the tarmac next to the Afghan Air Forces helicopters freezing to death whilst bemused Afghan’s tried to figure out what the hell these people were doing.

Then there is the story of our Producer Maryam Sepehri, locking her door and closing the curtains, and reading the Scrabble dictionary before a game, whilst I simply try to remember the two letter words by rote.

With a few days on this assignment to go the stakes and tensions are rising, if only I get the letters KIJUZMS tonight and have first turn, then face it Maryam its game over. You may be winning at the moment four games to two and then you did beat me by over one hundred points in one of those games. Dana the official wordsmith of the team, correspondent and editorial expert claims that both Maryam and I cheat, and having consulted the dictionary CHEATY, is not a word unlike MALTY.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What 2 Euros can buy

There was a choice of two types available under the glass knife counter in the Italian PX store here at the ISAF base at Kabul International Airport. The price difference was two Euros.

Unlike the US military bases in Afghanistan, here at the ISAF base, it is a different world. In so many respects and in attitude, it is like a little European Union and the US Military presence is minimal. We have spent a few days here working with the US Air Force who are training The Kite Flyers (Afghan Air Corps) as I called them the other day.

The commitment to the effort here in Afghanistan of International Forces to actually do anything beyond the wire and barriers is a source of annoyance and frustration. Publicly they cannot say anything critical of these nations. But in private their words are harsh. The base here at the International airport is small and the car park is full of brand new 4x4 SUV’s that have never left the base.

However in the face of adversity, here are some examples of how International troops have embraced their deployment and somehow forgotten what this war is about.

Luke and Orsy have arranged for Salsa lessons for beginner beginning December, twice a week.

There is the tabletop fussball competition beginning soon, and a tribute to Depeche Mode is upcoming. The Beauty Salon is doing a roaring trade and massages are available. Are you the smartest person on the base? well the Dutch have a Trivia Night coming up, then there is the Mini Soccer competition.

The Italian PX store has a range of coffee machines available, and the lack of dress sense they display in the Dining Facility can only make you laugh. Running trainers worn with a full Military uniform seems more than acceptable.

Is the stress too much for the Germans? have no fear in there PX store there are stress balls in the shape of a women’s breast available, to take the tension’s away.

Do you seek “Strength, Flexibility and Relaxation” then sign up for the COMBAT Yoga class, instead of a downward facing dog maybe the upward facing bayonet pose will appeal. Instead of the sound of relaxing Tibetan mantras over running waterfalls, the “Ride of the Valkeryie” will help soothe your spirit.

After all that there is of course the choice of which bar and restaurant you would prefer, Thai, Italian or maybe a cold beer in the “Air Force One Bar and Restaurant”. All troops with the exception of the US forces are free to drink alcohol. If an American is caught drinking then a dishonorable discharge is pending, whilst the Europeans sip chardonnay on the outside tables.

It is not unusual in the evening to see male and female soldiers walking hand in hand around the base, or sitting and looking at each other between a bunch of plastic flowers. Condoms are available readily, (but I should add that they are available in stores on US bases also) there though I think they are used more for keeping dust and dirt out of rifle barrels, well that’s what they say.

It beckons the question of how committed many of the foreign nation’s are to the cause. World leaders like to boast about a coalition and commitment to Afghanistan, the reality is that some countries commit a hand full of troops and then place such caveats on there deployment that the greatest danger they face is a parking ticket on a day to day basis.

Under the glass back at the Italian PX, was a pair of standard metal handcuffs. Plain sturdy and functional cost 7 Euros. Next to them was a pair of Pink Furry Love Handcuffs, a vital piece of Military Equipment in a war zone, cost 9 Euros.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Kite Runner & Helicopters

Flying back into Kabul, as the sunset, it was not the brilliant glow of fading golden light in the mountains that held my attention. But the sheer number of brightly colored kites that ducked and dived under the windows of the helicopter.

If you have seen the opening scene from the movie “The Kite Runner” where kites fill the frame from above and below, you will know what I mean. As we came into the city at about 500ft it seemed that the kite runners below were intent on attacking the MI 17 helicopter that we were in filming a story on the newly formed Afghan Air Force.

The MI 17 is no sleek looking Darth Vader designed weapon of death but ha been the stable workhorse of the eastern block for years, it has an elder brother which is a merchant of death the MI 35. But for Afghanistan’s newly formed Air Force the 17 is there workhorse, ideally suited for the altitude and terrain here.

It is bare bones, comfort and electronic sophistication not included. Our US pilot working as a mentor for the training team also mentioned that the rotors go the other way, just like water down a sink in the Southern Hemisphere. Thus if the rotors go the other way all the controls are the other way.

But in the cockpit along with our US mentor was the leading Afghan Pilot who managed to take flying at low levels to a complete new low. The other week in a US Blackhawk in the Eastern Mountains it felt like you could safely touch the ground. In the Afghan version we at one time were crossing mountain passes with five feet to spare. Watching out of the opened portholes yes opened portholes. I felt my date with destiny was rapidly approaching and over the intercom the US pilot was insisting we go higher whilst the Afghan said “No No all is OK”.

I have had enough of helicopters for a long time.

There is a post note to the day and it was when after the first leg we came back from lunch at the base we were visiting. There was a delay in taking off, the crew on inspection found kite string wrapped in the main engine and in the tail rotor and for ten minutes the crew was seen pulling lengths of string from the engines.

No doubt The Kite Runner had run away.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Passion & Sport in Afghanistan

Karga Lake is as close to a “Lovers Point” as Afghans know, about seven miles outside of the capital Kabul. The now infamous “Vice & Virtue Police” of the Taliban may be a thing of the past, however puritan standards do still remain. Any young couples that wish to drive to the lake are stopped at one of the checkpoints manned by the Police and they are asked if they are married. Failure to verify often means that their parents are called and irate fathers mete out the consequences.

The other reason why the lake is so popular with young men is that there is a restaurant there that sells alcohol, and every young man is seen walking around with a coke can that has had added to it the evil and taboo alcohol. Whilst expensive random breath testing kits are way beyond the budget of the Police here. They have come up with their own version of testing for alcohol. Young men leaving the lake are randomly stopped by the Police on the checkpoints as they leave and have to breath on the Police. The elite nasal senses of these vanguards of virtue can immediately smell alcohol and for a few dollars the young men can excuse themselves from their lack of moral willpower.

We had been up at the lake for a shoot, talking to people about how they perceived life and issues and Kabul. A reputed warlord, who according to a diplomat here is best described as “a hard drinking human rights abuser”, owns the lake and area below the dam wall here lies one of the gems of Kabul.

The “Kabul Golf Course”, 9 holes (18 if you go around twice) opened in the late sixties closed twice for the minor matter of a Soviet Invasion and then during the years of the Taliban, who deemed golf not to be a decreed sport sanctioned by Sharia law.

We drove into the course and found the clubhouse, and the Golf Pro Mr. Afraid Abdul who has been the driving force of maintaining the tradition of golf in what can only be described as the most un golf course in the world. Jailed and beaten by the Russians, jailed and tortured by the Taliban Mr. Afzai Abdul is passionate about golf.

But before we even played a hole there are some facts about this golf course that make it unique in the world. There is not blade of grass anywhere, the greens are well not green in fact but compacted sand and oil mixed together. There is a water hazard somewhere, but there is no water, but if your ball lands in the water hazard you must take a drop shot. If you wish you may bring your own piece of Astroturf and use it for every shot. If you have any concerns about possible landmines on the course, rest assured it is safe, as it has been used for training of de mining teams over the years and completely swept.

There is one set of clubs available and a limited number of golf balls so caddies come in two’s, one to carry the set of clubs and one to run ahead and chase the ball.

Correspondent Dana Lewis confidently drove the first fairway, I was second to tee off and hit the best shot of my life with a wood straight down the fair”dirt”. Maryam Sepehri our Producer looked the epitome of golfing fashion with her Ugh boots,

But knows how to play this silly sport better than the rest of us. Tom our Security Advisor had never played a stroke of golf in his life and upon his first tee shot was dancing like a kid who had won the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, whilst Akbar our local fixer was just glad to hit the ball.

Golf articles tend to enhance the beauty of any course, but few words are needed to relay the picturesque non-beauty of the Kabul Golf Course. It is an experience that few golfers in the world will ever get to play a round here. And bragging rights go far in a game where you chase a small white ball and ruin a pleasant walk in the late afternoon light of Kabul.

We all made it to the green, sand and oil swept with a rag and for anyone who wants an insight into the speed of the greens, be aggressive as the ball sinks and leaves a deep rut as it inches towards the cup.

Some day’s you do get to experience fun on the road in war zones, and for a couple of hours we lost ourselves in a pastime that no one associates with conflict.

For the record Dana, Maryam and myself double bogeyed, Tom forgot that you had to count and would not tell us his score and Akbar never knew about scoring.

Monday, October 06, 2008

"Thunder Road" Air Assault Mission

Correspondent Dana Lewis & I have just returned from an embed, with the 101st, the Army Division, made famous by Band of Brothers. Where we did an air assault mission into the mountains of Logar Province in Eastern Afghanistan, known as one of the four doors into Kabul. Here is Dana's blog entry, which is a change from my writing, the view from a new perspective.

Dana's Entry :

I heard the bang. 

We had been on a dawn air assault by the 101st Airborne into Logar province watching soldiers hunt for Taliban militants. There were a few small exchanges of gunfire but for the most part it was quiet as U.S. soldiers backed up the Afghan National army carried out their random checks of homes for weapons and bad guys. It seemed almost to quiet and cameraman Mal James and I even walked down a road by ourselves transiting between American army units. But among the villagers there are always a few bad guys say Commanders. 

The ride into the villages had been exciting and a bit unnerving. Soldiers lined up in squads to board Chinook helos, their twin rotors kicking up huge amounts of gravel and dust. 

In the prebrief assault plan I was told the insurgents often fire rocket-propelled grenades at the big birds full of soldiers.

And in another war zone, Iraq I covered the downing of a Chinook by RPG fire which claimed the lives of more than two dozen soldiers. 

When the word came to move we almost ran onto the waiting Chinooks and then as they landed next to the so called target village, Mal and I were one of the first off the back ramp so we could film the soldiers rushing out and taking up defensive positions. Not the safest thing to do, but that's where we need to be to get the best pictures. 

And while we were on the ground-watching soldiers conduct search missions an Afghan interpreter said messages from the insurgents had been intercepted with one saying "we can't hit the helicopters" "they’re to high". 

But after three hours on the ground humping over hills and down trails at 8 thousand feet we were ready to go back to forward operating base Shank.

A soldier tossed a smoke canister into a field and a plume of green smoke marked the LZ for the big Chinooks to come back and pick us up. 

Womp womp womp - those heavy lift helos can be heard far away as their big blades slice the mountain air.

It’s a sand storm when they land. Even my ears were full of sand and I dropped to the ground on my knees as the air beat my body with sand and gravel. The engine exhaust makes you feel like someone has you over a searing hot grill as you rush up the open ramp at the back and get inside next to 31 soldiers in this case. Safe and sound as the helo lifted off?

Well just as we were airborne I heard a bang. It sounded like an explosion but a muffled one given the noise of the engines. 

But when we landed back at Shank a Captain who had watched us lift off and followed us in asked me how the day went for Fox News. 

I replied, "Well we didn't get shot at so I guess it was good”. And that’s when he said "oh yes you did".

Apparently insurgents fired an RPG at our helo and that was the bang I heard. It exploded just next to us and slightly under us. But fortunately didn't damage the helicopter. 

It was a better day than I realized. We we're luckier than I knew at the time as we rode for home on board the big Chinook. 

Friday, October 03, 2008

The bottom of the Ninth

October 2nd 2008

Sometimes going out in Kabul, can have as many potential risks as an embed in the hinterland. Certainly this was the case with yesterday when we had arranged o meet the head of the Kabul CIB. This man in the last few years has had eleven attempts on his life including one suspected attempt at poisoning, the last attack was the week before last.

The following blog is what I recorded on my blackberry as the morning went along

07:45 depart hotel enroute to meet the man I have dubbed Sean Penn , from the movie, Dead Man Walking" . He is the head CID Police Chief targeted three times for assianation in the last few weeks . The plan is to ride along with him for a few hours . The reality is that this is as dangerous as an embed
08:00 at hq
08:05 phone call shooting on jalabad road heading out
08:30 ninth and bottom of the innings , we ask why the baseball bat in the car in the Chiefs car, he says his driver plays but we think he hits more than balls
08:50 chief is tense gripping his ak 47 as we drive to scene of shooting
09:15 jalabad bus station
Chief examines bus with bullet hole , blood on seats and floor
Bodyguards all have fingers on their triggers as the boss walks around
09:30 at the NATO base reporrts that the french isaf troops were involved and now chief has gone inside to investigate ,reports that one person is dead and more injured. French deny they were involved. We wait outside the base in the sun
10:16 sirens and singing driver speeding back into kabul , more police escorting us , appears to be eight pickups loaded with police and guns in convoy
10:46 back at the police hq interview with the boss , as he continues to fidget with three phones in front of him, whilst a policeman with an ak 47 stands behind me at attention. They have not forgotten how Massood was killed by a tv crew here , just before 9/11. No one in any place of power here trusts a tv crew.
11:10 one more scene asks Dana "can you show us your police cells"
11:12 not exactly the black hole of Calcutta but still the seven guys being held are not happy to see me with a camera pointed thru the bars , espicially the man from Pakistan being charged with terror as he stares down the lens
11:25 we take our leave , a frantic three hours and it feels good to take off the body armour

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thrills & Reality


Wednesday October 1st 2008

There is thrill and reality of covering the war in Afghanistan. It does not have to come from being in "kinetic action" as the new term for gunfights with insurgents is referred too. The thrill of being in a Blackhawk helicopter filming out of the window past the guns hanging out the side, with the wind rushing in and buffeting you at a 150 knots, as you fly twenty above the ground crossing mountain passes of 10,000 ft. You can feel your stomach lurch as the updrafts rise and drop, like a rollercoaster with no track. 

We headed to the Eastern Province of Khorst and Camp Solerno. Moving around a battlefield is sometimes like a game of chess and getting from A to B is often a matter of waiting at C. C being back to Bagram and then driving to Kabul. The distance from our original starting point at Camp Shank to Kabul is less than forty miles by road; two hours drive at the most. But conditions here make travel on unsecured roads to risky. So air transport is the only way and it will take nearly 36 hours to safely get back to Kabul. 

Our connecting flight on a C130 had a check in time of 11:30 pm, the logistics of moving troops, contractors, equipment and at times media like us, can only be compared to running a major airline. After we had checked in and loaded our camera kit and bags onto the pallet to be fork lifted onto the plane. The Army corporal in charge of check in, yelled out

"Could everyone please make sure that clips are removed from your weapon and that there are no live rounds in the chamber"

There are no metal detectors here and you do not have to take your boots off or empty your pockets before boarding. 

The bad news was that the flight was now not until 02:30. Even in the middle of a war zone, you wait in airports. Producer Maryam Sepeheri and I settled down to a game of scrabble, the only thing that opened was a chest of cold water in the corner and as we played on, soldiers slept in broken armchairs covered with the sweat and grime of previous passengers.

Finally a Sgt announced that our flight was inbound and let's get ready.

"Make sure you are all wearing your IBA"

Individual body armor in plain English.

Walking out of the terminal into the night, you are surrounded b y blackness, the base has a blackout policy due to recent attacks by Insurgents that included truck bombs and suicide bombers at the front gate.

You can make out the rough image of the person in front of you and nothing else and out of the darkness you hear the plane land. No lights on the runway all operations for the pilots here are infrared, it is a strange experience to hear a plane and not see it. Like children on a pre school outing you file out to the plane, there is no talking as the drone of the blades and the smell of jet fuel blasting on you as you wait.

Shuffling on, you find a seat on the webbing and take your helmet off, Bagram is only thirty minutes away and we finally get to our bunkhouse on the base at 4am.

The thrill of the morning chopper ride over the mountains will remain with me forever, but the reality of traveling here, even short distances is brutal.

Post script – FYI I beat Maryam by 10 points in scrabble, Qi on a triple letter

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


There is a freedom to write that exists in our society, just as there is freedom to read. Perhaps that is what distinguishes democracy from tyranny. Under tyranny any comment about the state is dealt with and those who make the comments are persecuted and suffer.
I allow comments on my blog as I believe in free speech and will defend it, unlike people who hide and think that posting as Anonymous, I am not afraid to write and tell the truth.
Truth can hurt, and people who truly think the world is a kind and good place will only be guided by fools and dictators.
I write what I see and experience, because trust me I have seen the evil side.
If you believe in truth then you have nothing to fear.

And yes I am a cameraman and proud of it.

The view from Bee House 5

Camp Shank
September 29th 2008

The view from Bee House 5 is a bunker; then again view is a wrong word to use, as there are no windows in barracks in Afghanistan. You live in a dark cocoon where day and night are realized by either opening the door to whether it is dark (thus night) or light (thus daytime), or you can look at your watch.

Most of the bases in the East of Afghanistan come under regular attacks from rockets of the Insurgents on a regular basis, there is no witching hour the rockets can come at any time and soldiers do get injured or killed again on a regular basis.

Whilst you can easily ignore a stewardess on a plane trip with disdain about what to do in the event of an emergency when the soldier introduced us to Bee house 5.

The first and foremost information parted was not where the closet latrine is or what hours the Dfac (Dining facility) opens for meals. But what to do in the event of a rocket attack.

Calmly it was explained that there is usually sixty to ninety seconds between the first strike and following rockets so if you are not hit in the initial attack make your way as fast as you can to the bunker.

The bunker outside our beehouse was about ten feet long made of two concrete U shaped bocks turned upside down and covered with sandbags. Inside there was a stretcher, two sandbags to sit on and 31 bottles of water. Blocked at each end apart for a squeeze entrance to get in and out off.

The next question, we faced was whether to sleep with your boots on or off. Whilst it may sound like a silly thing to consider before going to bed, the reality is that in the event of an attack, could I in the dark find my boots, tie the laces and get safely to the bunker. Then again I would also have to have my camera on and be filming at the same time using night vision scopes which are the hardest things to use whilst not in a panic and having your heart race at 150 beats a minute.

In situations like this the camera never leaves my side, if I go to the latrine the camera goes with me, brush your teeth or go for a meal the camera comes with you. Because at any stage an attack can happen and running across a rocky parade ground a couple of hundred meters to get the camera is not an option. If it's not with me then I do not get the pictures, bunker or camera – the bunker will win.

I finally went to sleep last night at around ten thirty, late by isolated Forward Operating Bases standard, fully clothed with my boots on. The local wisdom is that if you have not been rocketed by midnight then it is a good bet that the night will pass quietly. I had practiced counting my steps down the stairs to the bunker three times before lying down. Two normal steps then a small half step and a drop to the ground three steps to the right and into the bunker.

In the early hours in the dark I finally took my boots off in the dark, reached across and checked my camera with night vision was at arms reach before falling asleep.

Just another day (or night) on the frontline in Eastern Afghanistan, a clear night sky crystal clear with stars and luckily no rockets rained down.