After weeks based next to Kabul International Airport, I finally had the chance to fly out of the city on media escort duties.
Part of a Public Affairs Officer’s (PAO) role is to escort media. Although Afghan media and many international journalists based in Kabul travel freely across Afghanistan, if any of them wish to travel on International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) aircraft, they need to be accredited and have a media escort.
Among our small public affairs team at ISAF Joint Command (IJC), one officer and one senior NCO are responsible for accrediting media who wish to embed with ISAF forces. This applies to Afghan as well as international media, and is essentially an administrative process to ensure that the journalists are bone fide.
When ISAF controlled Afghan security nationwide, ISAF accreditation was all that was required for journalists to travel across Afghanistan and visit ISAF forces across the country. However, as the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are now the lead for security, all international media must also have Afghan media accreditation issued by the host country’s foreign affairs ministry. Additionally, if journalists wish to interview Afghan troops, they also need authority from the Afghan defence ministry.
Hence, hosting media can be quite a bureaucratic process. Fortunately, both of our team members have plenty of patience and a diligent work ethic to make certain that when journalists arrive all their paperwork is complete. Many US troops in Afghanistan are from Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville in North Carolina, and the Fayetteville Observer has sent a reporter and photographer to find out what these troops are doing here.
It has fallen to me to escort them. We have travelled to interview 82nd Airborne Brigade troops working in Regional Command North (RCN), which essentially covers the whole of Afghanistan north of the Hindu Kush, from Turkmenistan in the west, south of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to China in the east, and is commanded by a German major general.
While here I will be discussing wider issues with the German PAO and his US Army deputy. Fortunately, there is nothing too hot for me to deal with. The heat comes from the temperature. After the cooler elevations of Kabul, though further north, Mazar-e-Sharif is 5,000ft lower and about 15C warmer at 30+C.