Afghanistan diary: Days 7 and 8

BBC Look East Defence Correspondent Alex Dunlop and cameraman Shaun Whitmore are spending a week in Helmand Province.

Some 1,500 troops from the eastern region are embedded in Afghanistan, mostly in Helmand.

They include 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, bomb disposal teams, RAF air and ground crews, medics, reservists and the Norfolk-based Light Dragoons.


My cameraman Shaun and I are embedded with the British military. It means we are in Afghanistan as their guests. They pay for our flights, food and lodging. With those come conditions. We see and hear things on the front line, which for operational reasons, cannot be broadcast. Commanders here do not want to have their best laid plans revealed to all and sundry.

Image caption Each of Alex's reports are checked by military chiefs before being sent back

A military embed is mutually beneficial. We get access to the stories that might never be told; they get their message out to a far wider public.

Before my reports are sent back to the UK, a military media unit and senior commanders pore over every picture to make sure nothing in shot could compromise security - a new weapon, sensitive electronic equipment, the faces of interpreters or those serving with special forces. It could put lives at risk.

For the BBC, there is a clear line between broadcasting sensitive military matters and maintaining editorial independence. Occasionally - and quite healthily - there can be a tension between the two.

Image caption Alex and Shaun have had to contend with searing heat and dust storms during their trip

Our main frustration of the day is trying to send a cut film back to London.

We try to upload it via our BGAN satellite dish at Camp Price while waiting for our helicopter flight. After half an hour, the computer packs up. It just cannot take the midday heat.

We land back at Camp Bastion and finally get it away, once the kit has cooled down.


We're on the home run now. A big dust storm is brewing outside.

A film to cut on the work done by 33 Engineer Regt (EOD) based at Carver Barracks in Essex. They're training Afghan National Army soldiers to detect and defuse improvised bombs. Against all their instincts, the engineers have to let the local security forces make mistakes.

"We have to let them off the leash," Sgt Kevin Lloyd from 49 Field Squadron tells me. "It's the only way they'll learn."

Image caption After a week with frontline troops in Afghanistan, Alex and Shaun are on their way home

The heat defeats us yet again as flashing red LEDs on the BGAN - a small satellite dish - scream out that the dish is overheating and about to melt down. A combination of an air conditioned tent and a table fan sort the issue.

A final chat with (Look East presenter) Susie (Fowler-Watt) in the studio in Norwich before we leave. Quite surreal that my wife can see me so far away in the Afghan desert in a live link up via satellite. Thank heaven I ironed my shirt.

Our flight leaves at midnight, so we're having to cut and run. My sudden overriding fear is the plateful of rice with prawns I have just inadvertently downed while bashing out this blog. I have a severe allergy to shellfish. Mindful of that, Shaun has declined to sit next to me on the homeward leg to RAF Brize Norton.

We're done.

Watch Alex Dunlop's reports from Helmand Province on BBC Look East.

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