Notes from Afghanistan – July 5, 2007

July 5, 2007

Consider this a special edition of my weekly rant. My thoughts and feelings could not wait until the weekend.

I wanted to write about, what I call, the ‘most unfortunate secret’. As most of you have already heard, another 6 Canadian soldiers were killed Wednesday when their armoured personnel carrier hit an IED (Improvised Explosive Device).

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66 soldiers have now died on this mission. That part, you know. What you may not know, is how each of death is ultimately reported.

On the surface, it’s a fairly systematic process. Reporters are notified, almost immediately after the incident. We know something bad has happened because our internet is shut down to prevent the sharing of sensitive information during this process.

We’re usually, formally, told of the incident within a half an hour… and are given details, throughout the day, that we can’t report until the embargo is lifted. We wait for the bodies to be brought back to base for identification. Then we wait for the families to be notified back in Canada. This can take a long time, as much as 12 hours or more.

As a result of this process, embedded journalists are burdened with the ‘most unfortunate secret’ for several hours. While mothers, fathers, spouses and children are excitedly planning “welcome home” celebrations and making arrangements for overdue quiet time with their serving loved one… they have no clue that complete and utter disappointment will soon be knocking at their door.

That is the secret that we, the embedded few, are burdened with for many hours. All day, Wednesday, I walked around base picturing the horrible moment when each of these unsuspecting families casually answered the knock at the door. “Dear Mr. or Mrs. XXXX, we regret to inform you that at 11am today, your loved one was killed by a roadside bomb.” Honestly, I don’t know what is said during these terrible visits but that’s how I imagined it. Regardless of the delivery, the message remains the same. These soldiers will not be coming home alive.

As a journalist, knowledge is supposed to be invaluable. But understanding the inevitable tragic outcome of these situations makes me think, sometimes, it would be better not to know at all.

As I write this, ISAF has just sent out a release saying another coalition soldier (not Canadian) has been killed today by an IED in Eastern Afghanistan. I wonder what his unsuspecting family is doing right now.