Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman MBE REME is currently serving as the Task Force Helmand Spokesman and SO1 Media Operations with 16 Air Assault Brigade in Lashkar Gah on Operation HERRICK 13. Here he blogs about a trip to ISAF headquarters in Kabul.
I finally escaped the confines of Lashkar Gah this week to look at the training of our Afghan National Army brethren, and also visit our higher Headquarters in Kabul. I hitched a lift on a US Marine Corps Sea Stallion helicopter to Camp Shorabak, the home of 3/215 Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and their British Advisory Group, 1st Battalion Irish Guards.
I was amazed at the scene that met me, given the preconceptions I had from my days here in 2006. We really are in support now, and it was great to see the Afghans looking and acting like a very professional organisation. These guys know what they are doing and I consider it a vital part of my role to make sure that this message gets out, both to the Helmandis, and to the UK media and public. My first thoughts are that there is the potential for a very interesting documentary on the work that is being done here.
Following Camp Shorabak I jumped on a Hercules bound for the metropolis of Kabul, nestled in the mountains of the North. The aircraft in which I was travelling was a repatriation flight for an ANA soldier (they are known as “Warriors”) killed in action in Helmand, and I was privileged to be able to join in the Afghan ramp ceremony honouring their fallen comrade – a truly touching and very profound occasion.
Once in Kabul I was ushered into the back of a Ridgback protected mobility vehicle, and driven through the crowded streets – I will never complain about driving in London again! The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Headquarters is situated in a concrete jungle in the centre of Kabul, surrounded by various Afghan Ministries and International Embassies. It really is a sight to behold; staff officers and soldiers from a multitude of nations work here in support of General Petraeus and the senior military leadership, with uniforms of all shades and hues and a plethora of languages all working together as one giant organisation. I spent my time linking in with various strategic communication specialists, making contacts and trawling for advice and information from the ISAF media experts.
I also used the opportunity to visit the British Embassy and meet the key communications staff representing the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Whilst there I undertook my first interview with the national media. The BBC’s Nicholas Witchell wanted some reflections on the meaning of Remembrance Day for the military in Afghanistan, to transmit as part of the Radio 4 Cenotaph coverage, as well as gaining my first impressions of how our work in Helmand was progressing for the Today programme. The interview seemed much more poignant following the loss of Rifleman Gurung and Sergeant Rayner recently, and my experience at the Afghan ramp ceremony in Kandahar.
Strange as it seems, although I have only been in Afghanistan for three weeks now, Lashkar Gah already feels like home and I am looking forward to returning to the rural atmosphere of Helmand after the hustle and bustle of Kabul and HQ. It is an odd military phenomenon that we seem to take a perverse pride in how much harder our living conditions are in comparison to other troops on operations; the more basic, the better, allowing us to bond in the mutual experience, and gently castigate those who “have it easy”. I can just imagine the Paras in Nad-e Ali complaining about the “easy life” that we staff wallahs in Lashkar Gah have in comparison – twas ever thus! Until next time…..