War reporters in need of helicopter airlift

Bays: logistics "will get a lot harder"

A UK company is in talks to start flying helicopters into Afghanistan to help the hundreds of journalists who face being stranded as winter approaches.

Logistics and risk management company Global is negotiating with Tajikistan officials to allow use of its Russian MI8 helicopters to transport journalists and their equipment as well as taking in aid.

Global’s decision to bring in extra helicopters comes as many of the journalists who have been in Afghanistan since the war on terrorism started are beginning to leave.

Many of the hundreds of journalists who travelled to areas closer to Kabul got there by roads that are fast becoming impassable as winter sets in.

The only other means of transport in the region is a Northern Alliance helicopter which flies once a week and has been used by broadcast organisations to take in journalists with equipment and supplies.

Reporter James Bays from 5 News jumped the queue for a helicopter ride when he contracted malaria.

"The logistics of working there are like nothing you’ve ever come across, and they will get a lot harder when the winter comes," he said. "It’s already getting markedly colder and I expect a lot of the journalists will be coming out. But in a few weeks’ time there will be heavy snows and there won’t be any land routes. It’s not going to be easy."

Sources said that some news organisations have been "staggeringly naive" about conditions in Afghanistan and that journalists have been left with inadequate supplies or clothing, with little forethought about how they would get out.

Up to 135 journalists and crew are understood to have their names on a waiting list to get on a Northern Alliance helicopter out of the Panshir Valley.

ITN producer Tim Singleton, who returned to the UK this week, said that the situation could become "very difficult" if Global did not succeed with taking in extra helicopters.

"Northern Alliance helicopters were the only means of getting our kit in, but they were extremely unreliable. We would be told to be at the airfield at a certain time and when we got there they would say that we had to wait until the next day."

By Julie Tomlin

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