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Mining snow

First of three parts: Tuesday, March 5, 10 a.m.

Martin Savidge reports from the field for CNN on major breaking news stories and has anchored several of the network's regularly scheduled newscasts.
Martin Savidge reports from the field for CNN on major breaking news stories and has anchored several of the network's regularly scheduled newscasts.  

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world.

By Martin Savidge

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghanistan is a very beautiful and a dangerous place -- a land of contradiction. It seems that for every pleasure there's a price.

I think about that as the sun returns to warm our bodies after the horrific night before. It blazes through the relatively thin atmosphere above 8,000 feet. We're now peeling off layer after layer of the heavy clothing that last night we couldn't wait to put on.

Cold is no longer the enemy: Now it's thirst.

We're almost out of water. Down to a few swallows in my CamelBak between cameraman Scottie McWhinnie and me. Our bodies are still drained from yesterday's march. We're beginning to show the first signs of dehydration.

Our battle with nature plays out as the fighting of Operation Anaconda wails on.

CNN's Martin Savidge reports that after nearly 19 days, largest battle of war against terrorism completed (March 19)

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Images from Operation Anaconda 
Map of Afghanistan  showing the location of the fighting

Savidge reports: The Battlefield

A reporter's reflections
The road home
Getting out
Mining snow

From our ridge, we look down with the soldiers onto the village of Sher Khan Kiel. The war here today is almost all one way. Coalition forces are pouring it on. There are no signs of villagers but plenty of signs of men with guns.

Warplanes continue pounding the valley floor. Wave after wave of them comes in to drop bombs. They fall so close to our position you can hear the shrapnel cutting the air just over our heads. The ground trembles, clouds of smoke envelope us.

The soldiers of Delta Company call in the strikes from our position.

Peering through binoculars, we can see pickup trucks maneuvering about in the village and men passing between buildings but rarely stepping into the open. We can also see one large truck being loaded with something next to a mud building -- with what, or for what purpose, we can't tell.

Grid positions are radioed to the planes and they dive onto the targets with the sound of ripping fabric. The soldiers grow frustrated as the bombs continue to miss. It's not really that the pilots have made mistakes. They're just still working the laundry list of targets called in from earlier this morning.

The contrails of B-52 bombers line the sky. When they curve, it's a sure sign the bombs are on the way. Their impact feels like an earthquake and looks like a volcanic eruption. No microphone can capture the brutal force. You have to be here.

'Head for the mountains'

And we have to find water.

The soldiers can't spare any. They're running low as well. The medics say stream water's okay to drink, but up on this ridge there are no streams nearby.

We decide to go for the snow.

It gleams just 200 hundred yards away. But getting to it means crossing open ground, exposing us to the jets and the Taliban.

I grab an empty plastic water bottle and my CamelBak water carrier and "head for the mountains" -- believe me, it does get better than this.

I time my move between airstrikes.

I clamber to a cluster of snow-covered rocks. Using a spoon, I scrape the dirt and debris from the bombs off the top layer and begin slowly loading the containers. Then I carry the treasure back to our position where I set the snow bottles in the sun to melt. I have to make several such trips, since snow fills a bottle but melts into far less liquid by volume.

The water Scottie and I end up with is more like swill, dirty with bits of rock and who knows what else. We drink it down and feel our bodies gratefully absorb it.

Things are looking up. There's an urgency to get the first images of fighting we have on the air. We're told we can get a chopper out later in the afternoon. I welcome the news, as a few Taliban mortars pop off nearby.

Back to Bagram and safety by tonight I think. Since our adventure began, that might be around the 300th time I've been wrong.

Coming next, Savidge on trying to leave the battlefield: "I manage to make it close to the lip of the pickup zone, only to be nearly blown backwards as the huge helicopter bolts into the air. Baptized in dirt and sweat, I fall to my knees, wasted by the effort -- and shout not-so-pleasant words that are swallowed by the thundering departure of our would-be lift ..."




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