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Kandahar travel non-embeded

Going guerilla in Kandahar…

I have to get to Kandahar from Canada. I am an indie so I have to get there under my own steam. Any suggestions? I heard you can often catch a lift on a cargo plane out of Dubai…

Also, anybody been to Kandahar itself lately?
I would love to ask a few questions/get any tips.


by [a former member] at 2007-09-06 03:38:36 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Lakefield , Canada | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Dude you’d be an idiot to travel on to Kandahar on your own.

by Bill Putnam | 06 Sep 2007 04:09 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
What Bill said.

The only people who even try to operate “guerilla” as you put it, have extensive conflict experience, and deep contacts in the region they can turn to in case of trouble, and even then they’d only go outside of embed, or a safe zone like Kabul, for a few days at the most, low profile.

But if you want to be kidnapped, killed, robbed … go ahead.

by Tom Popyk | 06 Sep 2007 04:09 | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
careful…gonna end up in a box…or a bag. afghanistan is not at all cheap and certainly not in any way safe- its tough to do good doc or pj work with holes in your head, or no head. if you are serious about going out in conflict areas, pick someplace a lot low intensity…where going guerilla is relatively “safe”. nepal maoists come to mind.

by [former member] | 06 Sep 2007 04:09 | Salt Lake City, United States | | Report spam→
Or maybe southern Thailand.

I would agree it is foolish to try and go to southern Afghanistan on your own, the only way you will get good stuff that is not linked with the military would be trying to cover daily life and you would just be a glittering prize for the Taliban by wandering round villages or the city. They are not going to welcome you going round to take pictures of poppy fields and the Taliban are not going to have you joining them on attacks so what would you want to photograph?

As has been shown it is not even safe to sit in a Kabul bakery and heed the stories of those that have been kidnapped or killed. Do you speak Dari, Farsi or Pashto? It is not going to be possible at all to lower your profile.

by David Holland | 06 Sep 2007 07:09 | Istanbul, Turkey | | Report spam→
I was in afghanistan a few months ago and was told I could I hire private security i.e. car/driver and 4 armed guards for about $500/day and up for a place like Kandahar.

On the other hand a private security forces themsleves would be a great story if one had the time and money…

by [former member] | 06 Sep 2007 08:09 | Moscow, Russia | | Report spam→

Thanks for the intense feedback.

I am really thankful and listening. I do have a solid friend/contact in the PRT, where I can almost certainly crash if needed. I didn’t think I would have to do that…but I could. It sounds like you are telling me that even day long (and certainly overnight excursions) through the city to speak with locals (by interpreter…no I don’t have the language) would be stupid. The foundation of the piece is the effectiveness of reconstruction efforts. I was under the impression from my contact that it was NOT instant death or abduction to enter the city (though of course some danger is there)…but then he does tend to have protection himself.

I am listening and heeding your warnings and will continue research, weigh the risks, and modify or scrap as needed.

I am ok with calculated risks but don’t have a deathwish.


by [former member] | 06 Sep 2007 11:09 | Lakefield, Canada | | Report spam→
For all I know you could be the Greatest Talent Ever, but with all due respect: if you have to ask the questions you ask in your original post, you should not do this sort of thing before you have gained a lot more experience in more moderately hostile environments. Please don’t forget that although you may be willing to take risks, there are always others involved, be they the locals who get in trouble because of your presence or actions, or the people who are ordered to go looking for you if something happens to you. There is no such thing as “taking your own risks”.

As for USD500/day security, you’d probably be better off without it. And yes, I have done a story on private security companies. A four man team working for that kind of loose change is more than likely to try and sell you to the first bad guys they can find. Remember, the Taliban say they got millions of dollars for the Korean hostages. This kind of inflation sucks in our line of work.

No offense, but someone with your apparent lack of resources and experience simply isn’t able to calculate the risks involved in working in Afghanistan at the moment.

All the best.

by Morten Hvaal | 06 Sep 2007 12:09 | Colombo, Sri Lanka | | Report spam→
The PRT in Kandahar city is behind wire. It is a military base. If you are with him, I can’t see any way you would not have to go through an embed process. I can’t imagine the PRT would simply allow you could crash with him, or cover PRT work without prior military or DFA approval.

by Tom Popyk | 06 Sep 2007 16:09 | Toronto, Canada | | Report spam→
If you’re serious about going over there, great. But it sounds like you’re going over on a lark. Guys who do that get turned off in a quick way, man. I second Morten and say go to a less risky zone before heading to the meat grinder that Afghanistan (unfortunately) is turning in to. Don’t think about going to Iraq right now either.

Tom is right about the PRT. You have to go through the embed process. They’re more than likely behind the wire. Safe and secure.

Do what you gotta do, mate. Just remember the consequences can be eternal.

by Bill Putnam | 06 Sep 2007 16:09 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Hi there,

Thank you all so much for taking the time to give me your input.

I cannot make any final decisions right now as my contact is in transit, and I am waiting to get more details from him.

I understand my original post did not carry much detail. I am new to the board and thought I would get a response or two from people who had been there and get into details then depending on what issues came up and what alternate steams of information came to me in the meantime. I have plenty of information that I DO know about ways in and what to do when I get there. I was looking for those little gems that I don’t know which can save time, money and increase safety.

I am not going on a lark. I feel it is an extremely important and relevant issue. Billions of dollars are being spent and many lives lost. There is a great deal of discussion in Canada right now whether our troops should be there and whether our money is being used effectively.

I have not spent time in Middle Eastern hot zones and I recognize they are a different beast from anywhere else. I have been making assessments based primarily on ongoing and continually incoming information from people who live and work there, which is not entirely unreasonable. No, I am not capable of making a full risk assessment myself, but I am in the process of collecting as much information from primary sources as possible. Once that phase is done, I will make my decisions.

Without getting into my background too heavily, I have spent time doing stills in conflict zones in Central America in the last 15 years. I have infantry training to the platoon commander level. These things still place me firmly in the category of newbie for this region and I am the first to admit and attempt to address my deficiencies. However, nor am I a total tw*t without a clue.

Again, I won’t get into all the details at this time as I am still gathering my information and doing MY feasibility study. However, I was not planning on wandering around randomly through Afghanistan. I am aware of the danger to and thoughtful towards local informants. I would primarily be interviewing people directly associated with reconstruction efforts for their point of view. I don’t think they would be in any more danger for talking to me than for working with CIDA or other western based organizations.

I am also thoughtful toward local security forces. I have friends currently serving in the region. I do not relish the idea of being abducted and having security forces come after me. My understanding is that if I am not embedded, I am on my own. I am sure if I was captured, they would attempt to get me but frankly, with some knowledge of the way it works, they would really be taking an opportunity to kill/capture/interrogate Taliban operatives they are after anyways. My survival would be classed as nice but far from mandatory. Anyways, enough of that…If I go I will be doing all that I can to avoid that scenario.

As you have been kind enough to take the time to respond to me, I will update about this project once all my information is in. Thanks for your time.

This is an amazing board.


by [former member] | 07 Sep 2007 14:09 (ed. Sep 7 2007) | Lakefield, Canada | | Report spam→

I rarely post on here, but I don’t want to read about you or anyone else being killed.

If you do not have an embed you will not stay or go anywhere with any troops. I have worked there and know. I have just communicated with several people who have worked in the region. There is NO “guerilla” way of doing this. You will be adbducted and or killed unembedded. You can fly from Dubai to Kandahar, there are charters, I don’t have the name of the airline in front of me.

You can also fly to Kabul and grab a UNHCR flight for around $250.00 CASH one way (no cheques or credit cards) to Kandahar Airfield (KAF) and then what? You must have a press card to fly UN flights there. To embed you must be accredited to a news agency and have a letter in writing and a letter from your doctor saying you are in good shape (CDN embed), you must book ahead (like months) to get a spot and have your own body armor (min $1400 US), that you must bring with you. You must register with ISAF in Kabul or within the base at Kandahar or no embed. That must be organized way ahead of time as well.

Just so you know when you get to Kandahar Airfield it is a fair distance from Kandahar City. Are you going to hire a cab? Who is the cab driver? You could get abducted straight out of the airport parking lot. Where are you going to sleep? Where are you going to buy your cell phone(you’ll need one) Oh yeah, the Taliban can monitor your cellphone conversations. So when you call your buddy, they’ll know where you are heading and how.

I have stayed at the PRT, it is in the centre of Kandahar City and is small and is in very dangerous place and it is very hard to get a spot on a patrol or operation. The spaces for Canadian embeds are always full and hard to get on, you can’t just hide out on the base or wait in Kandahar City at the Ramada (there is no Ramada ;-)).. or bank machines

You can’t show up at the gate and ask to get in either. No ISAF badge, no entering the base. The ISAF accrediation is managed by the US military. Even if some how you got on the base, then what? Do you think you can walk around unnoticed?

With all due respect Latin America and Afghanistan are as different as the earth to the moon, so your past experience is helpful but will do little for you over there.

I admire you enthusiasm, but you should get more experience as a photojournalist before doing this type of work. Try the Balkans, get some field experience and then maybe try a conflict zone.

by Louie Palu | 08 Sep 2007 02:09 (ed. Sep 8 2007) | Washington DC, United States | | Report spam→
Afghanistan in the 60’s. That was the place. Crappy vans and tie-dye shirts……….hah the dope is still there.

by Paul Rigas | 08 Sep 2007 02:09 | Grass Pants, Oregon, United States | | Report spam→
and unfortunately so is the killing and violence that it fuels…

by Louie Palu | 08 Sep 2007 02:09 | Washington DC, United States | | Report spam→
Louie pretty much hit the nail on the head. As always.

by Bill Putnam | 08 Sep 2007 06:09 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→

Your best bet if this is your very first time to Afghanistan would be to go as an embed with the KPRT. It is where the reconstruction efforts are based out of in Kandahar City, including the CIDA-sponsored projects you mention. That being said, the Canadian Forces can pick-and-choose who they want embedded with them. Right now since it is a Quebec-based ROTO over there, many of the journalists are from Quebec media outlets. There are only so many spaces for embeds at the KPRT or at KAF. Priority for embedding or for “seats” on any operations or patrols is usually given to seasoned and accredited journos. That’s just the way it works.

Even then it’s still a very dangerous place for them. Recently a cameraman for Radio Canada (this was his fourth time to Afghanistan and he’s been to Iraq as well) lost his leg in an IED explosion that claimed the lives of two Canadian soldiers. After incidents like this it’s understandable that they might deem it too dangerous to have embeds accompany certain patrols, so you could be stuck cooling your heels at the KPRT or at KAF.

A new requirement for embeds with JTF Afghanistan is for them to have first-aid/hostile environment training and dog tags. Also, as in the past you need to bring your own helmet, flak jacket and ceramic plates, anti-malaria pills, have updated needles for the area, insurance, passport/visa(s) and pay your own way there and back. There are also very strict rules on what you can and cannot cover in theatre.

So there you go. If you’re interested you can find some threads here on the subject of embedding either through KAF or ISAF in Kabul.

Good luck.

Sgt Frank Hudec
Photographer/Canadian Forces Combat Camera Reserve Team

by [former member] | 08 Sep 2007 06:09 (ed. Sep 8 2007) | Ottawa, Canada | | Report spam→
Interesting perspective from a recently embedded and seasoned Canadian journalist: http://www.theglobeandmail.com//servlet/story/RTGAM.20070907.wcoblatch08/BNStory/Front/home

Sgt Frank Hudec
Photographer/Canadian Forces Combat Camera Reserve Team

by [former member] | 08 Sep 2007 14:09 | Ottawa, Canada | | Report spam→

I was in Kandahar in May for several weeks and hope to go back in the fall. I am doing a long-term project on women there, and May was my fourth trip to Afghanistan but my first to Kandahar.

I am collaborating with an Afghan-American woman who lives and works there, and together we are working on a book, multimedia features and print pieces. Through her I have excellent contacts and unusually good access to women in their homes. Good contacts who can advise and protect you are critical to doing any kind of work in this region. I had tried to get to Kandahar on previous trips but security was just too dicey to make it work before.

The first hurdle is to physically get there. The best way is to fly in and avoid the more dangerous overland route. The risk of being kidnapped, or just hassled, robbed and/or roughed up by thugs on the Kabul-Kandahar road is fairly high. I avoided this by taking the once weekly flight on Ariana directly from Dubai to Kandahar City. It goes on Thursday mornings, and continues on to Kabul (the reverse trip is on Wednesdays). I stayed a couple of weeks in Kandahar, then caught the continuation of the flight on a Thursday to Kabul, where I stayed for five or six days working on other stories before returning home from Kabul via Dubai. If you need the name of the travel agent that booked my ticket (round trip Dubai – Kandahar – Kabul – Dubai for about US$450) let me know. You can also fly to Kandahar from Kabul via Ariana (very cheap at US $50, but also unreliable and often inconvenient, as it only goes once a week), or via a very expensive UN flight (US $280 each way, last time I looked) if you can get access through an NGO or gov group. The military also flies to Kandahar, but you need some kind of connection to get on board.

Unlike Kabul, Kandahar is not a place you can just wander around. Kabul has several thousand non-military expats living and working there with many others that pass through in transit, and there are many businesses and services that cater to them. Kandahar has perhaps 50 non-military internationals and none of these kinds of services. As a foreigner you will stick out and that puts you at risk. You really need to be with someone who knows the place and who has good contacts. Even then you can get into trouble (see the story on this site about Ajmal Nakshebandi and the Italian journo he worked with, if you haven’t already done so).

As a foreign, female journalist I was virtually alone. I kept a very low profile, and dressed the part of an Afghan woman, which meant headscarf, long tunic and baggy trousers when indoors, and a burqa or chaderi (black all encompassing garment) on top of that when on the street. I was always escorted by locals who knew the local scene well. I wanted to photograph on the street but was very limited in my options. Driving around I could photograph from the car, but we could not stop anywhere for very long for security reasons, even though I was always escorted by at least two young men who served as bodyguards. If I got out of the car for more than a few minutes with my cameras, they usually insisted we get going. Fortunately, I had the advantage that I am neither tall nor fair-haired (dressed up in my friend’s Kandahari clothes, as long as I didn’t open my mouth people assumed I was Afghan), which helped a bit, because if you look foreign you are at a distinct disadvantage and all the more a target.

Unless you are staying at a military base with generators, there are other logistical issues. Electricity is intermittent, and you will need to have a plan as to how to charge your cameras and computer. Luckily I was hosted by my Afghan-American friend, and her compound had a generator. Not everywhere has this, so you need to be prepared. Dust is also a perennial problem and gets into everything. I dealt with this by dedicating one wide angle lens to one camera body, and a mid range zoom to another, and never changing the lenses and thus avoiding getting dust on the sensor. Keep everything in a camera bag or backpack when not using it to protect it from dust.

There’s more I can tell you but this is already getting long. If you have any specific questions, let me know. The concerns that the people voiced earlier on in this thread are all valid, so I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to research well and be prepared. The risks are high and very real.


Paula Lerner

THE WOMEN OF KABUL – A Multimedia Feature – WEBBY Award Honoree
Photos and Audio by Paula Lerner

Paula Lerner Photography * Boston * 617-489-6747

by Paula Lerner | 08 Sep 2007 14:09 (ed. Sep 8 2007) | Boston, MA, United States | | Report spam→
Here are the detailed JTF-AFG OP ATHENA Media Embed Instructions for anyone that is interested: http://www.forces.gc.ca/site/newsroom/mep_e.pdf

Sgt Frank Hudec
Photographer/Canadian Forces Combat Camera Reserve Team

by [former member] | 09 Sep 2007 08:09 | Ottawa, Canada | | Report spam→
Will – the reason so many people are being kidnapped in Iraq and Afghanistan is precisely because governments are paying stacks of money in ransoms – but of course never admitting this so as not to encourage more of the same.

by Wade Laube | 09 Sep 2007 10:09 (ed. Sep 9 2007) | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Thanks for those rules, Frank.

by Bill Putnam | 09 Sep 2007 14:09 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
I have been in Kandahar by my own this year (and in the neighbouring areas in the 2006).

Everything is possible if you have experience and you are READY TO RISK for your job.

If you need help or further information send me an email.

Best wishes,


by Unai Aranzadi | 09 Sep 2007 22:09 | | Report spam→

We all agree everything is possible including death and abduction and your experience speaks for itself, however some one like Russ who is new to this could GET KILLED without a little more training and experience first.

Be Safe.


by Louie Palu | 10 Sep 2007 02:09 | Washington DC, United States | | Report spam→
Yes that´s right Louie. If Russ has not experience he shouldn´t go to Kandahar by his own.

Anyway is his decision and If he is going I always will be ready to help (like all the LS friends, wich I consider is one of the best tools for conflict reporting since the 35mm Leica was created in the 1930´s!!!)

Best regards!

by Unai Aranzadi | 10 Sep 2007 08:09 | | Report spam→
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade country report for Afghanistan: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/dest/report-en.asp?country=1000

“The security situation remains extremely volatile and unpredictable. The threat to foreign nationals, including Canadians, from terrorist and criminal violence in Afghanistan is high and insurgency attacks are not expected to diminish. There have been a number of attacks against the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), ISAF, coalition forces, and foreign nationals. There is also an increasingly significant risk of foreign nationals being kidnapped throughout Afghanistan; appropriate precautions should be taken with regards to personal safety. There have been numerous kidnappings against Westerners, including journalists and those working with NGOs. Some victims have been killed.”

Sgt Frank Hudec
Photographer/Canadian Forces Combat Camera Reserve Team

by [former member] | 11 Sep 2007 02:09 (ed. Sep 11 2007) | Ottawa, Canada | | Report spam→
Here is something for you: Lonely Planet Afghanistan

by Daniel Etter | 20 Sep 2007 06:09 | Cologne, Germany | | Report spam→

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Bill Putnam, Producer. Bill Putnam
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Tom Popyk, Journalist/Videographer Tom Popyk
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London , United Kingdom
Morten Hvaal, Photographer Morten Hvaal
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Louie Palu, photojournalist Louie Palu
Kandahar , Afghanistan
Paul Rigas, Photographer Paul Rigas
Cebu City , Philippines
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Wade Laube, Wade Laube
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