Afghanistan: 'A war that the media just doesn't get to see'

As defence secretary Des Brown admitted the military challenge in Afghanistan had been "even harder than we expected", journalists have criticised the Ministry of Defence for not allowing them to cover "what is really going on".

BBC Kabul correspondent Alastair Leithead said that the media does not get to see the war in southern Afghanistan involving thousands of British troops.

"In Helmand province, where most of the UK forces are based, the fighting has not been as intense 'since the Korean War' to quote the commander of Nato forces. Brigadier Ed Butler made the point that the battles have been more intense in Afghanistan than in Iraq," he said.

In the past six months, 35 British soldiers have been killed in
Afghanistan and 211 injured fighting, mainly in Helmand province, but
TV news crews claim to have been mainly confined to Kabul.

Channel 4 News chief correspondent Alex Thomson said the military was
happy to "have reporters along for the ride when it's soft hats and
hearts and minds stuff in the streets of Lashkar Gah, but when the
mission's turned on its head into a war, they suddenly cannot find room
for reporters".

Leithead said: "We have to rely on squaddies who hand over images of fighting they filmed themselves on a mobile phone to see what's really going on.

"Helicopters are in short supply, the press officers say, or it's too dangerous to have reporters on the ground. But the soldiers want us there.

"Commanders on the ground are keen to get the media out to see just how difficult their job is and just how well their soldiers are doing to stay alive amid such a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine gun and mortar fire.

"But the answer from Whitehall is a firm "no" and it has been since the mission became more about fighting for security than winning hearts and minds."

MoD director of news James Clark, a former Sunday Times correspondent, responded to the criticisms saying: "Journalists can go where they like — they're not restricted to Kabul and they are perfectly free to move around the country if they wish."

Clark said taking journalists to forward operating bases would require flying them out on helicopters, which is dangerous.

"We don't risk our guys' lives purely to fly journalists in so that they can file copy. Where we can, if we've got helicopters going up there, and we can find room for them, we will, but at the moment the reason that we don't take them up to the forward operating bases is that we can't guarantee when we will get them out again.

"Journalists that go up there have to be prepared to spend a while up there — some of them are and some aren't.

"We're keen to do it — there is no reticence from the MoD's point of view it's quite the opposite. There are so many absolute untruths printed about what goes on in Afghanistan that actually it would be very helpful for us to have cameras there.”

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