The Korengal Valley has seen some of the most vicious fighting in Afghanistan (see this past post). And as a result, it’s become a must-see destination for bang-bang reporters.
‘The Korengal Valley became a media magnet when word got out that journalists who went there were virtually guaranteed to experience combat,’ said Vanity Fair magazine contributor Sebastian Junger, a repeat visitor and author of one of the most compelling accounts of the fight in this corner of eastern Afghanistan.
’For a while almost one-fifth of the combat in the entire country was occurring in the Korengal,’ he noted. …
‘In the Korengal, you photograph US troops doing what they were trained to do, and that’s fight, fight and then tomorrow, fight again,’ Getty Images photographer John Moore said after a recent stay.
So great is the valley’s pull that more than half the applications received by the US military for media visits to eastern Afghanistan request the Korengal.
However, it’s a risky assignment as journalists are as exposed to harm as the platoons they accompany in these treacherous surrounds.
’I have found in the Korengal an area of spectacular, albeit deceptive beauty, where a seemingly tranquil paradise can turn into your worst nightmare in a heartbeat,’ said combat photographer Keith Lepor, who in September took a bullet in the chest during a mission. His life was saved by the ceramic plate in his body armour.
’I was almost killed twice, both times when I least expected it,’ Junger recalled of his own visits to the valley.
While grateful that their efforts are not ignored, the troops regard the media pilgrimage to one of the most perilous spots in Afghanistan with detached amusement.
’It’s almost become a rite of passage for journalists, so they can say ‘I’ve been to the Korengal,” said Lieutenant Cliff Pederson of Viper Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, which lost six men killed in action and 19 wounded since deploying here in July.