Feb 23 at 8:08am by David Tate
Wow… talk about timing. To catch you up: Since October, I have been planning a trip to Afghanistan. In particular, I plan to go to SE Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. The name of the documentary was going to be “Outpost Khost”. The name has since changed (for now), but the mission remains.
The plan is to get to Bagram where we will be assigned a unit. We hope to rotate into the field with this unit, then rotate out again once their mission is complete. From this. we plan to produce a docu-series that will show the inside life of a small combat unit. We have some other plans as well, but for reasons, I won’t say much more. We have been fortunate enough to hook up with WBRA (PBS/Roanoke), who has agreed to sponsor our series. With this blessing, we have been working for the past several months for funds that will allow us to remain in the field for up to six weeks. To date, the efforts have been relatively slow. We expect that to change soon however.
Next week we will be receiving our grant proposal. We hired a professional service that is reknowned for its work in helping people like me to professionally and properly present our proposal. We hope this will help us secure the funding we need. For this reason and the fact that we are under the PBS umbrella has our hopes skyhigh that we will soon have the funds to complete this project.
With that said, imagine my delight and sadness at today’s news. Seems as though we guessed right:
At the Pentagon, orders have been issued to prepare equipment and supplies for the coming offensive, although the operation will not necessarily require additional troops in the region, a defense official said on condition of anonymity. The upcoming operation, first reported by the Chicago Tribune, has been dubbed the “spring offensive.” Another Pentagon official declined to discuss the possibility that troops would extend operations to the Pakistan side of the border, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden (news – web sites) and top lieutenants have long been said to be hiding. But the official said that might have to be the next step.
Defense Department officials believe current operations in Afghanistan are not having the effect they want on the terrorist network and they are determined to do more, the official said.
Officials already have said they hope to finally capture bin Laden this year, a development that could benefit President Bush (news – web sites) in the November election. About 11,000 U.S. troops are in the region.
One senior defense official said Pentagon leaders determined a couple of months ago that it is important to catch bin Laden, more for the symbolism than for his military value. ”I can say that Osama bin Laden and (and former Taliban leader) Mullah Omar represent a threat to the world, and they need to be destroyed, and we believe we will catch them in the next year,” Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for military forces in the region, told CNN.
I talked to Col. Hilferty today and we’re still planning to be in country by April 1st. Obviously it all depends on securing funds. I spent an hour on PBS’s “Blue Ridge Live” talking about my mission and I was featured recently in the local paper… still no bites though. Funny thing is, I’ll probably find the money somehow and show the naysayers what’s up. Then things will change.
Feb 22 at 10:10am by David Tate
As anyone who has followed my work over the years knows, on occasion, I get slammed by someone good; a parent of a soldier, a Marine in the field, a journalist on the way to Oruzgan. Yes, even other journalists have given me grief over the years. I’ve had some even say that I was akin to a ‘military stooge’ just because I am former military! How about that. Because I can speak the language and understand what it means, I am a ‘stooge’. The problem with that is that I get the feeling people believe my mission is a “pro-military mission”. So I just wanna clear up my anxiety on the issue, even if just for me.
Be clear: I do this line of work, when conditions permit, to be able to reach the people that are involved. I have a great passion for understanding “the people”. I absolutely love the thrill of walking down the back streets of Kabul, picking a random bakery, climbing into the the small kiln room and having tea with some people I can’t even talk to properly. Raw culture with primitive means to communicate between us. Gotta love it.
Fact is, none of this would be possible without the military mission. Just isn’t possible for two reasons: My life and the video market. There is no market for my work that involves the people. There is a market for military video.
Early on in my career, I just traveled to travel. Loved getting shots of the kids. If you can make the kids smile, you can get into the heart of a village. The camera is a perfect means to achieve that. Problem was, there was no market for that type of imagery; at least from what I knew. It wasn’t until after spending nearly a year in Afghanistan, in 2004, that I realized the hours and hours of video I had collected, was actually an archive of world history. After all, I witnessed the first Afghan election from Kandahar (a day I’ll never forget. It was the highlight of the year). And to ensure that it became part of the historical archive, I tracked down a distributor who agreed to take my future video on. That’s when the military connection really took off.
Obviously, other than the preservation of military history, I need the military for security. Hands down, just a fact. The only way I can get the imagery and the contact with “the people” is with the military. While I agree it may cause the dynamic to shift some; something is better than nothing. Besides, in pursuing that, I have had many, many opportunities to interact with “the people” without the military anywhere near me to influence anything.
Beyond that, when not out working with “the people”, I’m also looking for those ground level military stories that help illustrate the war through the everyday eyes of those serving there. That, more than anything is what draws people to this site: The ability to get a basic, stripped down, outsider view of something that involves them or their family.
It is true that this is a pro-Afghanistan blog. That is another complaint I get. Those folks tend to link “pro-Afghanistan” with “pro-military/war”, which isn’t necessarily the case, however. First and foremost, I want Afghanistan to succeed for the people of Afghanistan. I know a better life is in their future if a functioning government can be achieved. It is just going to take time. Beyond that, a functioning government is the best result for world stability. For that, I support the ISAF forces assisting this country achieve that. It is really that simple.
However, supporting the mission is a personal feeling that I have chosen to make public and in no way influences what I write. This blog is simply a ground level look at what I see on a day to day basis when I am out in the field. In between trips, I like to throw out some educated opinions and make some short films as well. However, the WHOLE idea of this blog is to help you see, feel and understand as much of what I’m seeing, feeling and understanding without actually being there. That is why the approach to this blog is often times raw and unedited. Actually it started as a diary to show you the journey an independent journalist will take to do his job.
With that said, I am still dealing with some personal issues that have me grounded for a bit. In lieu of anything else for now, I am re-hashing my 2004 epic journey through Afghanistan that many of you have never read before. I hope you understand my situation and enjoy this series. I will try to post the entries as close tho the actual dates as possible. There will also be a likely intermission in a few weeks due to a pending trip to Haiti.
Monday January 26, 2004
Well… the new adventure is about to truly begin… I hope. I have decided that it’s time to go to Afghanistan. There are many places I want to go, but for a few reasons, the story in Afghanistan is the one we’re going to pursue. We are calling this docu-series, “The Backseat War”. The reason is obvious and is connected to the lack of attention on Afghanistan due to the invasion of Iraq. Some have asked me, ‘what slant are you going to take?‘. It is a valid question, in a way, but only so based on ignorance of who I am.
First: I have decided that Afghanistan is the story because I believe that it is a story that would be noticeable enough on the PBS circuit to eventually be distributed internationally. In short: I want my show, “The Battlefield Tourist” to be a benchmark program on PBS that not only solidifies my crew, but also WBRA as players in the field of quality, independent programming.
So what are we doing? Without getting into too many details, the meat is that Ben and I will travel to Afghanistan where we will embed with an Army or Marine unit that is in an active combat zone. We plan to stay with this unit for up to eight weeks. During this time, we will produce dozens of segments based on the everyday lives of the soldiers and marines on the front line in Afghanistan. This docu-series will focus more on the efforts of these few dozen men instead of taking an empirical look at the situation in Afghanistan. Simply: The goal is to portray as accurately as possible, a day on the front line in the true “War on Terror”.
Currently we have teamed up with WBRA (PBS-Roanoke) and we have begun the long and expensive task of preparing a grant. The grant money we are looking for will allow a two man team to go to Afghanistan. It allows for post production as well. Additionally, we are budgeting for an interactive website and a photo book to expand on the knowledge presented in the docu-series.
We are very excited about this and will begin sending out our proposal to various foundations in hopes of securing up to $120,000. To do this, we have hired Grant Proposal and Research Services from Knoxville, Tennessee to help us properly prepare our grant proposal. We believe this extra effort in addition to joining forces with PBS, is what will put us over the top in which we will realize our dreams.
Be assured that if this first opportunity happens, we will be in a fantastic position to increase the likelihood that we will be able to continue producing this series of programming. If this doesn’t work, I expect to be back in local TV soon, knowing that I did my best.
Note: My best friend, Ban Davis, passed away April 14, 2007. He was just 40.
Feb 11 at 10:10am by David Tate
Time is almost up for the defenders of Marjah, Helmand Province. One thing, as sure as the air we need to breathe, Marjah will be taken.
My Connection to Marjah
For several months now, British forces have been clearing, pushing and holding areas around Marjah preparing for this attack. For at least the past two weeks, allied special forces teams have been infiltrating the town of 80,000 and taking out key enemy leaders.
However, this battle really started last May when reports started coming out of Marjah that Taliban fighters, including foreigners (particularly from Baluchistan, Pakistan) were beginning to mass as the Taliban retreated from a series of offensives British and American forces conducted in the Helmand River Valley and the area around Now Zad (which, btw, were the first major combat orders handed down by Obama – not the current situation in Marjah, which is widely being reported. Maybe they mean the first major action since Obama’s escalation was ordered?).
Dubbed the Taliban’s “logistic” base, it began gaining major importance to the Taliban after Garmsir fell to US Marines in May 2008. Coincidentally or not, 1st Battalion, Sixth Marines (1/6) led that attack and will be one of at least two Marine battalions pushing into Marjah.
Another battalion, 3rd Battalion, Sixth Marines (3/6), is also on the forward line of enemy territory (FLET). Coincidentally or not, that battalion is led by Lt. Col. Brian Christmas. Colonel Christmas was a former officer with BLT 1/6 when they deployed to Oruzgan in 2004. That deployment was hailed as the “most successful” in the history of the war, at that time, but was marred by the removal of its very intense battalion commander, Lt. Col. Asad Khan. Colonel Christmas is also the son of Gen. George R. Christmas who won the Navy Cross in the Battle of Hue in 1968.
The coincidences relate to me because I have embedded with both units, including time with then Captain Christmas in Oruzgan. It has been very interesting to follow the lineage of the units I have a tie with, and for the sake of the people in Marjah, I wish you all the best of luck.
Key to the battle: The people. This will be the first major attempt to win reconciliation with the Taliban in this fashion. This is true. More recent reports suggest the enemy is a local force more so than a foreign force, which poses a serious dilemma.
So what does reconciliation mean? Fact is, many of the Pashtun Afghan Taliban are young men fighting for a way of life – for their culture. They believe their way of life and culture is being forcibly changed – that is why they fight and they aren’t necessarily “terrorists”. These are the people that need to be pulled away from the islamists. That is what this attack, and subsequent government/humanitarian effort, will aim to do.
Will it work? It is a tall order and will take TIME. Reporters going there six months after the attack and reporting that “nothing is being done”, will be missing the story. Marjah can be evaluated in 5-10 years for accuracy.
The key to a successful outcome will require some serious discipline. If the Marines turn this city into rubble, the battle will already be lost. You can bet that the Taliban will try to create a mass civilian casualty event which will forever prevent the government from having a cooperating population. If the Taliban are preventing people from leaving and allied forces call in close air support on every house they take fire from, the allies will lose this battle.