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Afghanistan: fearless under fire

©

Latest update : 2008-08-22

FRANCE 24's Nicolas Ransom and Mathieu Mabin spent a fortnight following the French commandos in Afghanistan.

Nicolas Ransom's notebook

 

First night at Airborn
First night at Airborn. There are three bunk beds in our room. Gas, Lionel and Bubu are sleeping in the lower beds. The only vacant beds are the upper ones. I don’t really have a choice. I have to lay my sleeping bag on the beds closest to the ceiling. Gas is smiling and joking about night time rocket attacks.
“Throughout the month we had three of those…” said Bubu. This was not reassuring to hear on my first night here. All three men are laughing, not at me but with me.
“We are protected here. If a rocket strikes, there’s always the roof, and then the upper bed to stop it,” said Gas, laughing.
The background is set. Late at night I fall asleep.
On July 25, a French officer who taught in the Afghan army died in the south of the Wardak province in a rocket attack.
 
October 14 under fire
I’m beat. We just returned to the camp. It’s nine o’clock and this was my first day under fire. I felt fear I never experienced before. The Talibans? I haven’t seen them. Only their rockets. Two of them fell only 50 meters away from me. Gas replied with his Minimi firearm.
There’s a lot of noise all over the place. It’s difficult to understand what has happened exactly. Filming is my only goal. But these bushes, the dust, this dust. Just dust that the Americans call ‘moon dust’. It is everywhere: on the camera and in my lungs.
 
A night of rockets
The time is 10pm and I’m about to sleep. Suddenly, a big explosion occurs. Bubu, a French military, and I look at each other.
“Are the Americans shooting?”
All of a sudden, on American communication device, a marine informs me that this is a new Taliban attack on the base. The shell fell about 100 meters away from us. The Americans are responding to the mortar shelling. First a light brightens the night, in order to locate the enemy target. It’s daylight at night-time.
This reminds me of Guyana, when I covered Ariane’s majestic take-offs from Koru. But here, there are no forests. Only mountains. 1, 2, 3, the mortars are launched one after the other. The national Afghani army, which is present on this camp, retaliates, in its own way, with the old 122D30 artillery from the old wars against the Soviets. The Afghani set their cannon. A French military tells me to open my mouth so that my ribcage doesn’t get compressed. The detonation is spectacular. The Afghanis are smiling with pride. Some mortars were made as early as 1983. Ammunitions from a past era. Obsolete artillery, that operates nevertheless.
 
Mined road
Tonight, the Afghani captain talked with Jean Gael, the French captain.
“According to Afghan secret services the Taliban will mine the road leading to our camp. We must plan and launch an operation at dawn,” said the sleepy Afghan.
Incredible information! The Afghans and French wake up at 3:30 am and at 4 we walk along the quiet route. Nothing is in sight. No fighter, no bomb and no mine. But the Afghan troops keep their efforts up. New alert at 8 am. An anti-tank mine was discovered. Luckily, two American armored vehicles circulating along the track have been stopped in time. One of them would have exploded, undoubtedly. The American anti-mining experts are doing the rest of the work. There are no damages, but the information given to us by the secret services is quite mysterious. Wasn’t it particularly specific? This intelligence information justifies their existence in a way…
 
Last evening
The rescue operation aiming to regain two American Humvees is nearly completed. An air raid against a Taliban position and a massive gathering of forces on the field.

I must get back to Kabul now. We’ll get a ride on a military convoy. We must leave quickly so as to reach Kabul early enough, to avoid the heavy traffic of the city. It’s night. Black night. A dark 1:30am dawn at the back of an armored vehicle. I can only see the lights of the cars driving towards us. Drivers are honking. It seems all of them are… In Afghanistan military convoys never stop, even if they have to drive on the wrong side of the road or even leave the road… Every vehicle is potentially dangerous. Suicide attacks with loaded vehicles are quite frequent here. Jean GAEL and his unit lost one of their comrades last September 21st. A 16-year-old kid exploded as a convoy was passing by. We reached safely Warehouse, the French camp in Kabul. It was one heck of a rodeo in an armored vehicle.

Date created : 2007-11-02

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