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Afghanistan viewed from a different side

By Alex Thomson

Updated on 26 April 2010

Channel 4 News travelled through Afghanistan to talk to those who live with the ongoing war. Alex Thomson reports on what the team heard from Afghans fighting and fleeing the conflict.

It has been raging longer than world war two and yet the war in Afghanistan has barely been raised in the 2010 general election campaign. As reporting with British forces is banned during the campaign Channel 4 News has taken the chance to report from the Afghan side.

Independent filmmaker Mehran Borzorgnia has been travelling from the Afghan capital Kabul, south to Helmand province, moving independently and at great risk around the regional capital Lashkar Gah.

Channel 4 News chief correspondent Alex Thomson reports on what our team heard from Afghans themselves, some fighting the British, some fighting alongside the British - and some just fleeing from the war.

Alex Thomson writes:
TV news is forever (rightly) castigated for showing too much of the Nato perspective on the war and too little of the Afghans' view (rightly).

Because I have two young children and a desire to be not-kidnapped, I don't venture into Helmand villages without either ANA or Nato. Even if I wasn't a complete wuss, ITN wouldn't allow me to do so anyhow, such are the risks.

Luckily my good Afghan friends can do so with more subtlety and far greater success - though it still takes balls of steel and it would be better not to name them. The results of their courage and resourcefulness have brought the Afghans' experience of war vividly to Channel 4 News and this week's film is no exception.

Beyond the Nato fortresses they were able to witness firsthand the futility of Afghan anti-narcotics cops, their tractor teams raking up the odd poppy field here and there in Helmand's vast opium fields.


The first destroyed field turned out to belong to the mayor of the village. Half his family were then arrested along with a hefty stash: 5,000 rounds of ammo; AK47s; police uniforms; sundry grenades and explosives. At first the young men said they were police too. Eventually they claimed they just had "a lot of enemies around here."

Just like the British forces on patrol here, nobody really had a clue who they'd really arrested, or why.

The shiny new governor of Helmand was on hand, purring approvingly and talking about how poppy is diminishing, security spreading. It's not how it looks and feels on the ground.

Our team made contact with, and met and interviewed a group of armed insurgents not 20 minutes drive from Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah. They said pretty much what they always do say: plenty of ammo and recruits... strong local support... lots of cash from some countries around the world.

What matters, of course, is not what they say but what they do. And for the best part of a decade now they have held down the greatest arsenal the world's seen, with a few Kalashnikovs, RPGs and a lot of roadside bombs. Which means two things. Nato is learning the same lesson the Soviets were given here.

And the Afghan people are left to hedge their bets. Would you support Nato when their real commander in chief in the White House says he wants out of Afghanistan? When it is too dangerous to travel to the bazaar because of roadside bombs? When Nato can scarcely leave their bases without coming under fire? When the Mujaheddin or Taliban or insurgents (choose your terms) are everywhere and control the place by night and they know where you live?

Well - would you support the foreign occupation?

No wonder that so many Helmandis cannot wait for Nato's Operation Moshtarak to take, hold and make secure central Helmand.

They are leaving. Many deciding that life in some filthy, dust-filled refugee camp way up north in Kabul, is better than the current existence in violent, unpredictable central Helmand.

Months into Operation Moshtarak Nato has dismally failed to dislodge the fighters. For the Afghans, just another broken promise.

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