Thursday, 17 April 2014

Helmand - The End ?

In March I visited Camp Bastion on a media visit for the handover from British to NATO control signalling the beginning of the end for the British military deployment in Afghanistan . I've been visiting Afghanistan since late 2001 when I lived with the mujahideen fighting the Taliban in the West's proxy war post 911 . As the British are due to pull all combat troops out of the country by the end of 2014 any opportunity to witness the final days of the mission had to be taken regardless of the fact that such trips usually equate to poor picture taking opportunities, especially after my experience on a press junket to Basra for the handover in 2009 .

As to be expected the MediaOps team at Bastion were a little nervous of taking on four British national newspapers simultaneously and OPSEC (the process of having our images vetted before publication) was more stringent than ever regardless of the fact that we never even travelled beyond the wire wherever we were . This made working in Bastion frustrating but never the less I managed to get a front page image for The Telegraph (still the holy grail for us older photographers who remember the analogue era ) and a few short films to keep the web guys happy !






What struck me on the trip though after a two year absence was how the atmosphere had changed on base, in those two years all but one of the scores of once British manned bases across Helmand had been closed or handed over to Afghan Security Forces and there had also been a substantial Taliban attack on Camp Bastion by the Taliban which had resulted in the deaths of US servicemen and a number of aircraft destroyed . Since then security had been stepped up substantially, but what was most concerning for me was that the majority of the security was focused on the perceived threat from within, not outside the wire . The last few years have seen a marked increase in "Green on Blue"attacks, in 2012 fifty-three ISAF servicemen were killed by members of the Afghan Security Forces alone . Bastion is now a maze of razor wire fences, blast walls and security gates to protect western troops from the threat of attack by those they are meant to be training and mentoring . To travel around the camp now anyone unarmed has to be escorted, the days of wandering freely for a cup of coffee at the Green Bean have long gone, then again with the creeping dismantlement of Bastion the luxury of an Iced Latte will soon be a distant memory for those on the final tour ....

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