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A reporter's reflections

'We knew everything before it was going to happen'

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
CNN

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghanistan is a very interesting place. I can see why people say it gets into their blood.

It's a beautiful place. It's also a very dangerous place. It's a place where for every pleasure, there seems to be a price.

You can you have an absolutely wonderful day, a beautiful day, followed by just a horrible, horrible dust storm. Or you can be up in the mountains and be in weather that's sunshine-and-T-shirt, and then at nighttime the cold can actually kill you.

It's that kind of contradiction that makes it such a fascinating place to cover as a journalist.

I think if I were to look back on the time I've been here -- and it's been over two months -- probably the last three weeks have been the real microcosm, the buildup to Operation Anaconda, being embedded as a journalist with forces.

Battlefield coverage

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

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EXTRA INFORMATION
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

This isn't a new idea for journalism. It's been around, actually, since World War II. It's a coverage approach that was used somewhat in Vietnam. But after that, it fell out of favor with the military.

Essentially, what it means is that we come in before the mission begins, and spend about a week working with soldiers: living with them, eating with them, training with them, going into military briefs, having full access to everything -- the planning, the intelligence reports.

By taking that route this time, we knew everything before it was going to happen, and that was such a rare and remarkable opportunity as a journalist.

And then of course, there's going along on the mission: Probably those first two times we tried to fly in -- in the CH-47s, after Operation Anaconda got under way -- were the most fearful for me; once in daylight and once at night.

You're packed into those helicopters, one body on top of another. You're flying, often in darkness, hearing the reports coming in from the front lines -- heavy fighting, the landing zone is under attack.

And you're thinking, "My God, in about 60 seconds I'm going to land right in the middle of this and I'm locked inside this helicopter" -- and it's essentially a flying bomb: You have all that ammunition, and you know that one stray bullet will turn the thing into a massive fire. Your chances of getting out would be pretty slim.

To see it through

I've covered conflicts before, but always from the periphery.

I've been shot at and "mortared and missiled" before -- but we were always on the outside looking in, and we always had an escape route: We had a vehicle that was there, and usually a driver, and we knew the right way to get out. If things got too hairy, we left.

This time, I knew going in that there was no way to leave. For good or bad or whatever, we were there until the outcome was finally decided. I think that's something that sticks in your head.

But it's been a great experience. And I do think I'll want to come back.

Like the soldiers here, I think I have my own sort of mission. And I'd like to see it through.

Revisit Savidge's "Behind the Scenes" reports from Afghanistan in a CNN.com In-Depth Special on "The Battlefield."