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Satinder Bindra: Reporting in Afghanistan



CNN: Satinder, there's been fighting, as you've been reporting all day, in spite of reports for the Taliban to surrender Konduz to the Northern Alliance. What's the explanation coming from your side?

BINDRA: Well, first, it could be simple miscommunication. Communications here are very poor, so when senior commanders are closeted in meetings with the other side -- with the Taliban side, perhaps -- the results of those meetings are not getting to the ground troops fast enough.

What has been announced today is that the hard-core Taliban and the local Taliban will surrender, perhaps, by Sunday. But there are many people who don't believe that, because, after all, 11 days ago Taliban commanders said they wanted to surrender and when Northern Alliance forces started driving into Konduz, they faced a moderate hail of gunfire.

So the feeling here is that the hard-core Taliban -- the Pakistanis, the Chechens, the Arabs, and the al Qaeda fighters, perhaps -- may not want to surrender, even though they are talking about surrender. So today's attacks might be a certain message pointed toward the hard-core Taliban, that if they don't surrender, then the Northern Alliance has the wherewithal to launch blistering attacks.

CNN: It could be some kind of message that's being sent, or even miscommunications, as you mentioned earlier. But could it also be that Northern Alliance Gen. Rashid Dostum says one thing and the commanders on the ground where you are just don't agree with him and they're doing what they want? Is that plausible?

BINDRA: It is very plausible. The Northern Alliance is a large and loose alliance. There is a regular army here. There are several local armies here. Then communications are a problem. Like I said, people here communicate on radio systems. There is no proper phone. So clearly, it could be, as you mentioned, several parts of the alliance are pushing their own agendas.

CNN: What's it like for you, personally, covering this war?

BINDRA: Well, for me, as I found, I've had to steel myself and brace myself to see and hear some unpleasant things. Allow me to describe a situation, if I can. A few days ago, I was at a frontline hospital. This hospital was nothing but a tent. And while I was there -- I was there only about 15 or 20 minutes -- I saw a whole bunch of young Northern Alliance fighters. Some of them are barely out of their teens; now all of them had horrible injuries. I saw fighters with their left and right feet clearly blown out.

Now, in my very presence, doctors performed amputations. And I was touched when I noticed all these fighters were very patient. They were in great pain, but they hung around. They waited for doctors to finish the amputation before, then come to them, provide them medical aid and some comfort. So clearly, these are some times in this war you see things that you haven't seen before. And emotionally, sometimes it gets difficult to learn how to handle them.

CNN: How do you handle them?

BINDRA: I remember cameramen Greg and myself, when we drove back from that hospital -- for about one-and-a-half hours, both of us couldn't speak anything, because we've been numbed, we've been shocked. And we were also deeply touched by the silent courage of these soldiers. So we said nothing, and then next morning, we talked about it and tried to get it out of our systems. So by talking amongst ourselves, perhaps, that was one coping mechanism that we've managed to find here.

CNN: On a very basic level what about food, clean water? Where do you sleep, for instance? Can you tell us a little about that?

BINDRA: In seven weeks in Afghanistan, we've perfected the art of living like gypsies. We carry a huge five-ton truck with us. So whenever we move, we throw our sleeping bags in the truck; we throw in tables and chairs; we have stoves to cook. That's how we move. We move constantly from battlefront to battlefront. There are great challenges here because there's no infrastructure. There's no running water, there's no power, there's no electricity. So we have to carry generators. We have to carry fuel.

So we've learned that while covering this war, your logistics, in many instances, are just as important as your journalism. If you forget your sleeping bag, if you forget fuel for the generator, or if your generator doesn't work, then you're not going to be able to get that story out.

CNN: In a situation like this -- all sides trying to get their story out to the journalists there and put across their views -- how do you know whom to trust?

BINDRA: Well, you have certain people here. For instance, we've known some commanders. We've dealt with them. We talked to them on the phone. We asked for escorts. For instance, we wouldn't go to see them without an escort. We do ask for an escort and if this escort shows up -- for instance, about two days ago, we went to a mountaintop to see U.S. planes bombing Konduz. At this mountaintop, there was a Northern Alliance general who was calling the strikes.

We asked him to send us an escort. He sent us an escort, but we didn't realize there was yet to walk five hours up a steep mountain path. It was so steep that one of our mules even collapsed along the way, and we were also scared.

Many of these areas have just been retaken by the Northern Alliance. There's bunches and a band of a Taliban fighters who are still around. Recently, in this area, seven journalists have been killed. So you do exercise caution and care. We try and tend to stick together when we go up to meet people. But again I must stress, we only go to meet people who we know well.



 
 
 
 



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