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Reporting in Kabul

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The attacks in Kabul this morning on the Serena Hotel and a guesthouse used by the UN underscores the dangers facing journalists in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, David Rohde of the New York Times wrote about his experiences during the seven months and 10 days he was kidnapped by the Taliban before he escaped earlier this year.

His colleague, Sultan Munadi was not so fortunate: he was killed during a mission to free the British reporter Stephen Farrell last month.

Guesthouse on fire, KabulThis morning's attacks give people like me pause for thought. The BBC is the only British broadcaster to have a permanent bureau in Kabul.

We were there during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, and remained throughout the US led assault on the country in 2001.

It would be so much easier to simply report that troubled country from behind the wire of the British base at Camp Bastion or position ourselves alongside the Canadian media pool at the ISAF base in Kandahar.

But we have a responsibility to tell all sides of the story - not simply report Afghanistan as it looks from inside the perimeter of an army base.

That we're able to do so is a tribute to the bravery of my colleagues in Kabul - not just those you read online or see and hear on air such as Ian Pannell and Martin Patience, but those behind the scenes who help them tell the story. The risks as we have seen this morning are all too real.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News Editor.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Jon:

    Thanks for bringing to the attention of the public regarding,
    the dangers of reporting from Kabul.....


    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 2.

    Well done BBC for maintaining a presence in a deeply dangerous area of the world that affects lives globally.

    One particular aspect of what is driving terrorist activity throughout Afghanistan/Pakistan/ and the planet is the prolific opium trade. BBC archives have maps showing the most over-run areas of drug gang culture?

    As a mother, I am deeply saddened that other mothers, globally, are losing their children through heroin addiction/suicide bombers under the guise of freedom fighters. What sometimes appears to be a religious/political ideal is about manipulation of children to kill themselves destroy those who fight the drug trade?

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I completely agree with you, Mr Williams that the BBC has a right and responsibility to report all sides of the story in a conflict in a country that has an ongoing war. But I for one originally from a South Asian have seen and experienced and silently watched along with my other countrymen the despicable double sided stories the BBC put out during the genocide that took place for about five months at the beginning of this year. And this was because the BBC was very well looked after by the presiding government of this country and because they were allowed to stand with the armed personnel and tell all the lies that came with such perks and comforts. A great shame that Britain which once was looked upon as the Great Country which would not tolerate double standard, should stoop down to telling lies and side with the powerful government forces (which included the UN and the Americans) and allow many women, infants and Children (some in their wounded and starved state) to be cluster bombed, shelled and thus be killed mercilessly from air, land and sea.

  • Comment number 5.

    Jon:

    Also; Thanks to the BBC for keeping a bureaux in Kabul (Afghanistan) even though it is a very dangerous and temper place to run an operation!

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 6.

    Mr Williams, it is good to hear the BBC tries to keep guys "on the ground" in difficult circumstances.
    But having heroic guys on the ground does not automatically translate into adequate journalism.
    For example, it wasn't BBC's 'guys on the ground' that broke the big story about the close relationship between President Karzai's suspected opium runner brother and US officials. This story was broken by journalists Filkins, Mazzetti and Risen tapping away in a New York office (NY Times)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/world/asia/28intel.html?_r=1&hp

    Headline: Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll

    "Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

    "The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

    "The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House."

  • Comment number 7.

    There are reports that under the Taliban, opium growing was limited and some sort of control over opium was being reached. After the invasion of Afghanistan, poppy-growing and opium production has apparently grown exponentially.

    What's up with that?

    There are those who say when the CIA money flows in, drug money flows out. (ref: South America). Now that may be an utter fallacy, so it would be good if brave BBC journalists could investigate and write up a definitive, factual, rigorous article on the opium trade in Afghanistan?

    You have to wonder whether BBC journalists in Kabul ever step back a few paces and ask - what are we doing here in the first place? Okay, it was 'bloody revenge' for '911', in the first instance. Saudis and Egyptians planned '911' in Hamburg and Florida, so why on earth are Western armies tramping around Afghanistan, terrifying and alientating future generations of Afghan children?

    I've heard a few reasons for western troops being there:
    - soldiers are hunting for Bin Laden. (Trash the haystack, looking for the needle?)
    - soldiers are bringing democracy to Afghanis (at the end of a gun?)
    - soldiers are liberating oppressed Afghani women (tell that to the mothers of dead Afghans and bridal couples bombed at wedding parties)
    - soldiers are looking to make the space safe for an oil pipeline (ok, let's follow the money)

    Anyone heard any other reasons?




  • Comment number 8.

    Meantime, that Man of Peace, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Mr Obama, has just 'personally intervened' in a bloody war by overseeing the funnelling of another $1.5 billion of US taxpayers' cash into the war machine of that paragon of democracy and freedom: Pakistan.

    New York Times journalists are on a roll at the moment.

    "U.S. Quietly Speeds Aid for Pakistani Drives on Taliban"
    By ERIC SCHMITT of New York Times

    "... the United States has quietly rushed hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors to Pakistani forces in recent months, said senior American and Pakistani officials.

    "President Obama personally intervened at the request of Pakistan’s top army general to speed the delivery of 10 Mi-17 troop transport helicopters...etc. etc ".

    You can't make this stuff up.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Dear greengreencard. Have read your comments and those of sirjohnwood.

    What is clear and evident is there is much bitterness declared. Thankfully there is expression of that on this global BBC site that is open and free for rational discussion. As a mother I have encouraged my children to express their concerns about how families, globally, express their concerns about drug culture and drug gangs who allegedly fund terrorist activities to destroy social cohesion to maintain those who live high on the drug trade?

  • Comment number 11.

    I'm all for journalists on the ground in Kabul. Especially if they get their noses down and do some real investigatory journalism, even if it's just to prove to us they're not compromised embeds.

    It is interesting that it's not journo's on the ground but hacks in air-conditioned NY offices that have brought us the biggest 'Afghanistan' headlines today.

    I thought this article by George Packer of the New Yorker magazine was fascinating: I had no idea that one of Obama's chief advisers on Afghanistan (Holbrooke) was one of the very banksters responsible for the massive Wall Street debacle.

    There are a lot of reasons to worry about Richard Holbrooke, apparently. He was on the board of financial firm AIG from 2001-08, when the company almost ruined the world economy with its crazy deals.

    Thanks to Holbrooke's leadership, AIG needed a multibillion-dollar bail-out.

    But it's his Vietnam experience that should worry us most.

    Next to his White House desk Holbrooke has a picture of himself standing in the Mekong delta next to Vietnam war architect General Maxwell Taylor.

    Holbrooke says: "I lived, slept and ate Vietnam."

    And what was Holbrooke living, sleeping and eating?

    According to Packer, "in Ba Xuyen, Holbrooke distributed cement, cooking oil and roofing thatch to villagers, built schools, helped train and arm the militias of the local strategic hamlets."

    This means he tried to win the Vietnam war by doling out the Corn Flakes and Crisp 'n' Dry while arming vicious killers to run outdoor prison villages.

    He did this as an official for the US agency for international development, because arming militias is what the US tends to call aid.

    Jon Williams, as a journalist, as a citizen of the world, what do you make of all this?

  • Comment number 12.

    I would have thought the BBC would be fairly safe from deliberate targeting by mainstream taleban – Western media are their most powerful weapon.

    For the first time ever they are being hounded on both sides of the border. Most of their senior leadership is dead or on the run. In a purely military sense there is no way the taleban can win a war like that. On the other hand the constant propaganda from our own media has a very real prospect of providing the taleban a victory via political means.

    If they drive you out, who would they have to report every success we have in terms of civilians killed or to describe every slaughter of civilians by the taleban as a ‘security failure’?

    It would effectively be the taleban destroying their only remaining chance of victory.

    With similarities to Gaza a while ago, the BBC seems able to operate without a massive security cordon, suspiciously untouched by people who would normally go to any lengths to kill a Westerner.

    As with Gaza, and recent cases in Afghanistan, I would have thought the greater risk to your personnel was from ad-hoc gangs seizing people for ransom rather than lethal attack by the ‘official’ taleban. I think you know that as well.

  • Comment number 13.

    How does the presence of BBC's "brave" journalists in Kabul square with the propaganda that suggests Afghanistan is turning, or has turned, a corner? And isn't there a very strong suggestion that the hardest of the Taleban have been driven into Pakistan?

    And why would the BBC journalists be a target if they were accurately reporting on events inside Afghanistan? One reason may be that they were accurately reporting on the corruption of a puppet government. Another may be that they were accurately reporting on electoral corruption. A third may be that they were inaccurately reporting on the activities of the Taleban, and, or, ordinary Afghanis.

    The Middle East is a much more dangerous place largely because because of action by the Coalition. It is much more dangerous because of biased reporting in mass media. If the BBC journalists are indeed reporting everything fully and accurately then they are indeed brave, but it is a big "if".

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am confused by sirjohnwood's comments. Are your comments more out of date than the destruction of Ireland by Elizabeth I; Celebrity endorsement of products you bought yesterday; loss of control of water supply charges globally; no votes for women in 50% of the planet? This is a fascinating blog, but I have felt physically sick by lack of global education of, presumably, male bloggers on this site?

  • Comment number 16.

    I wonder why the Chief of the Defence Staff was interviewed on the BBC news this morning? It certainly wasn't to listen or take any note of what he said about the way military operations were planned and conducted. You wasted his precious time.
    What he said was that commanders in Afghanistan took full account of their resources when planning raids and that included account of the availablity of helicopters. That casualties were the consequence of having foot patrols where it is essential not to have soldiers "behind metal" and that US experiences were that helicopters were vulnerable to attack and not likely to save lives overall.
    Moreover he carefully described how the officer killed in Afghanistan had reported his wish to be able to ADD to operations with more helicopter flying hours. No suggestion from him that his death had been related to a lack of such flying hours.
    What you could also have added is that intelligence supplied to the British contingent before deployment to Helmand was that we would need only lightly armed engineers as our assignment was to provide infrastructure developments and not counter-insurgency operations.
    That would have enabled you (BBC) to challenge the distorted stories otherwise put about. Which is what you should be doing as an impartial news service run for the information of the UK public.

  • Comment number 17.

    Aah, yes. An old hymn always springs to mind when discussing Afghanistan:-

    We plough the fields and scatter the good (poppy) seed on the land...

    Muslim countries exist in the very bowls of hell, and end up dragging (particularly European) other countries down with them.

    They have contributed nothing (least of all to the world of science) and never will.

    Oblivion is too good for them.

  • Comment number 18.

    #17 "Oblivion is too good for them."

    I fear oblivion may be too good for any of us in our current state of affairs. Our judgement of other human beings, cultures, and heritage is appalling, and our sense of values has collapsed into a "black gold" hole.

    Afghanistan is set to become another graveyard of western incompetence, particularly if Pakistan is rendered to anything less than its current levels of security. The Taleban may not be interested in Al Qaeda style terrorism but there are plenty of people standing on the perimeter of this stupid battle who are just waiting to swoop when the time is ripe. Oblivion may then come to those who expect it least.

  • Comment number 19.

    My heart goes out to the journalists, they do a job that I couldn't and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them indeed

  • Comment number 20.

    It's even more dangerous when you don't even know who the enemy is as we have just found out.

    This is not a war it is just sending lambs to the slaughter. Five of our young men and another six seriously injured just trying to help those in Afghanistan to help themselves. They are not politicians they are just boys and men trying to do the job they've been told to do.

    We are all waiting for the President of the US to come out and put an end to this. So why are we waiting so long for him too come up with the right decision?

    We are already defeated so politicians must accept this and withdraw before there is even more carnage.

    Leave them to it and let them resolve it themselves as they have always done. Al Quaeda are entrenched across the world so it will make not a jot of difference to them anyway.

    As Howells rightly says bring the troops home. We are more likely to need them here.



  • Comment number 21.

    The Taliban have shot British troops says Brown. Well....doh! So THAT'S what we have MI6 for, to provide that level of analysis.
    Do the Taliban not come from the same Pashtun tribes as most of the south and east of the country? In other words, are the Taliban not...the people of Afghanistan? Sure they have opponents, but they didn't drop by from outer space: they come from villages and towns throughout the country.

  • Comment number 22.

    The BBC is reporting a 'deteriorating security situation.' The UN is pulling out. Yet the BBC remain - as you state, NOT within the official security cordon - suspiciously unharmed.

    At the same time I notice that the BBC continues a policy of not reporting taleban misconduct. For example (according to one source) 2/3 of civilian casualties are caused by the taleban. Not surprising: if you plant thousands of land mines and boobytraps in populated areas obviously civilians will be the bulk of those harmed, many will be children. This is why land mines are illegal. Why does the BBC not report or condemn the illegal taleban use of mines in civilian areas?

    Does the BBC have a formal deal with the taleban?

    We don't criticise you - you don't target us?

    Or is it an informal thing?

  • Comment number 23.

    Hello again
    You will now get a first hand taste of why I have been almost blanket censored by WHYS. When the USA troops entered Baghdad the first thing they did was shell the Aljazeera offices killing and wounding the journalists. Since then Aljazeera has been banned from Iraq. The BBC, as far as I know, reports regularly from Iraq. Does this indicate that the BBC has an agenda that is acceptable to the occupation whereas Aljazeera has not?
    The journalists in Afghanistan have undoubtedly enormous courage but it's the editors that decide what appears before the public. Since the suicide of an ex-arms inspector the BBC seems to have been sliding into a conformity that mocks the courage of their own jounalists in the field.
    I will be more than happy to hear views to the contrary.
    Jim

  • Comment number 24.

    23. At 2:05pm on 08 Nov 2009, Jim Newman wrote:
    "...When the USA troops entered Baghdad the first thing they did was shell the Aljazeera offices killing and wounding the journalists. Since then Aljazeera has been banned from Iraq...."
    =================================

    Al-Jazeera banned from Iraq since 2003???

    If you go on Al-Jazeera's website you can see their correspondent in Iraq (Hoda Abdel Hamid) on multiple videos reporting from inside Iraq. Several of the videos show her alongside Iraq army vehicles/personnel.

  • Comment number 25.

    Anyway,

    The Americans have made a big mistake to send too many troops in that region and now it is going to be hard to clean that up. But I believe President Obama is the right leader for this task. To be a journalist in Afghanistan requires a lot of courage this is clear. Only a few dare to do that bravo.
    Karina

  • Comment number 26.

    Hello again
    And hello jon112uk. I've followed your advice and I've just been listening to a report by Omar Al-Saleh from inside Iraq. Thank you for embarassing me. I promise to be more careful in the future.
    Jim

  • Comment number 27.

    26. At 10:57am on 09 Nov 2009, Jim Newman
    ======================

    No problem.

    But I think you were accurate in stating one of al-jazeera's correspondents was killed by US fire during the invasion. I have no way of knowing if that was deliberate.

    Interestingly Al-jazeera was able to wander around Iraq during the worst of the subsequent conflict, suspiciously unharmed by at least some of the 'militants' as tens of thousands were killed.

    Deal done? - we give you media coverage, you don't hurt our people?

    Same deal as the BBC in Afghanistan?

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    why do you people never and i mean NEVER tell us how many afghani civilians were killed, injured and maimed ? And for those you have killed that you call terrorists - have you got any evidence ? Shouldnt the person be tried in a court of law and proven guilty and not just shot down vastly outnumbered and outgunned ? and why do we, the people of britain, NEVER hold a minute's silence for the innocent civilians killed by this invading army ? I would like to know why there is such bias and such censorship and such a lack of democracy if - as you say - we are there to spread democracy - can't you see the hypocrisy of your ways ???

  • Comment number 30.

    On the BBC'c 'Feedback programme at 1.30pm on November 13th, the presenter, Roger Bolton, asked Richard Clark, a news editor from the BBC radio newsroom, why the news and the 'PM' programme continued to carry Mrs Janes' comments that her son bled to death because there were no helicopters available.
    Caroline Wyatt, BBC Defence correspondence in Afghanistan, had already filed a report on earlier in the week that Soldier Janes had been picked up by helicopter 'within an hour' of being seriously injured. While Clark made desperate and implausible attempts to justify the omission, Caroline's report got no air time.

    There have been no comments from Nick Robinson on his blog but it's clear thatt that the BBC and other news media including dropped and then ignored the story on Thursday and nothing more has been said about it since - except for the Feedback programme. Balanced reporting?. ...or what?

  • Comment number 31.

    A great discussion why we should not be in Afghanistan.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWBRyzPzKbY

    Torture provided the extorted excuses to go to and justify war. It is not legal.

  • Comment number 32.

    Meantime, that Man of Peace, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Mr Obama, has just 'personally intervened' in a bloody war by overseeing the funnelling of another $1.5 billion of US taxpayers' cash into the war machine of that paragon of democracy and freedom: Pakistan.

    New York Times journalists are on a roll at the moment.

    "U.S. Quietly Speeds Aid for Pakistani Drives on Taliban"
    By ERIC SCHMITT of New York Times

    "... the United States has quietly rushed hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors to Pakistani forces in recent months, said senior American and Pakistani officials.

    "President Obama personally intervened at the request of Pakistan’s top army general to speed the delivery of 10 Mi-17 troop transport helicopters...etc. etc ".
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    All you had to do was to pick up a few pakistani newspapers as far back as september and you would have seen that all that seemed so quiet to new york times, wasnt all that quiet. USA has not rushed hundreds of millions of dollars to pakistani government, it was part of a bill, kerry lugar bill. USA has bought some services from pakistani government, its military, its soil, unchecked presence of americans, use of unliscenced vehicles for their personal, to name a few, in return for a a few million dollars..

  • Comment number 33.

    "The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

    "The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House."
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Ahmed karzai, is what ben laden was for CIA back in 80s, to recuit young arabs to fight against the russians..CIA has to keep quiet about his drug bussiness and the white house has not to ask anything from CIA with respect to this. The difference between ben laden and ahmed karzai is that osama was not involved in drugs, his family was influential and he was to recruit the arabs, Ahmed karzai on the other hand has to recruit afghans, and to be able to influence them, he has to have money, and to have money for this purpose, he has to deal with drugs..

  • Comment number 34.

    The story has a massage for Journalist community.The journalists have to review their angel of reporting. Are they able to report the true pictures of the society? My part of the world is much cool compared to Kabul.But I am not feeling so secure and there is sufficient reasons for my insecurity.The reasons are not easy to describe in word. It can be experienced.I don't see any effective reflection of my concerns in the serious media. But I can find some close reflections in Hindi Cinema/ Movies ; Which is famous for it's unrealistic Presentation . Sorry I am not much exposed to Hollywood and other.------------------- saroj mishra

  • Comment number 35.

    I Just want to give the reporters and journalists credit for the bravery and dedication they put out to do their jobs. It is a great resource of knowledge and it is truly remarkable what they do.

  • Comment number 36.

    We have a great appreciation for you guys, you face so many dangers in every day life, especially while reporting from lawless places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Russians tries to control Afghanistan and they failed and now USA is trying the same. I do not think that it is good idea to be in that country at all. British soldiers should be called back ASAP.

    You guys are brave fellows .. Kudos to you
    ~ LM ~

  • Comment number 37.

    I think its great you guys are brave enough to stick around and report despite what is going on over there. It really is amazing to have that stuff going on there and have the journalists still doing their jobs and giving us the news as it happens.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    Great job reporting what happened!
    I don't know, they say the war on terror is making progress, but I don't know what defense anybody can have over suicide bombers. How can you really combat people that are willing to blow themselves up?
    Mickeyy

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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