I came across the TV program Ross Kemp in Afghanistan when I was aimlessly surfing trying to find something to watch beyond the pointless Big Brother types offerings. Whilst I never thought I would say this about a program fronted by the actor Ross Kemp, I found this programing both interesting and informative. Indeed if one wishes to understand just what a hopeless predicament the UK and its NATO allies have got themselves into in Afghanistan, then Ross Kemp and his director John Conroy’s program would not be a bad place to start.
Kemp comes across as an average, fair minded chap who goes with the flow, but whose political understanding is pretty basic and conservative with a small c, He has an easy going manner and clearly likes people, which is an advantage if you find your self under attack in the Afghan desert with a group of people you hardly know. He has little class pretense and appears to be at ease with both Squadies and officers. The basic idea behind the program is that Kemp would do some basic training with a Regiment of the British army and join up with a company of the regiment in Afghanistan.
Unlike in the past when this type of program has been made, Kemp has not been embedded with a prestigious regiment like the Guards, Artillery, or a rough house unit like the Paras and Marines. Instead he has been inserted into a bog standard British army regiment, the Royal Anglians. Whether this was because Ross Kemp is an Essex boy and that county is one of the main areas from which the Royal Anglians recruit, or it was due to the so called prestigious regiments being unwilling to have an ex East Ender actor tagging along with them I know not. What ever the reasoning behind Kemp being embedded with the Royal Anglians the program is all the better for it, as the Regiment mainly draws its recruits from the youth of Essex, Suffolk and the surrounding areas and it is not a regiment known for its Hooray Henry’s and high flyers.
The first episode is familiar stuff as previous TV programs have dealt with training and Barrack life and it is not untill Ross Kemp reaches Afghanistan that the program picks up a pace. The first thing one notices is just how isolated the British troops in Afghanistan are from the local Afghani population. As in Iraq the British army is corralled into massive heavily fortified bases. Although the bases in Afghanistan appear to be nothing like Baghdad’s Green Zone, as creature comforts are few. One cannot but notice the similarity between these bases and the type of ‘Forts’ the US army created in the Nineteenth-Century in what became known as the American west.
When the Royal Anglians leave their fortified compound they do so in a large, heavily armed convoy which is covered by air support. For his first journey out side the compound Kemp had clearly been restricted within an armored personnel carrier, nevertheless as it passes through Afghan villages and small towns the programs director John Conroy videos the locals through the armored vehicles front window; and his camera manages to capture the look of pure hate on the faces of the local population when they are looking in the direction of the convoy.
There is a telling moment as they pass through an empty village when a non commissioned officer who is traveling in the same vehicle as Kemp tells him, “ The reason for its [the village]emptiness is that the Talaban is probably about to mount an attack and they will have forewarned the villagers to make themselves scarce.” Which in itself makes a nonsense of the claims that are often made by US and British politicians that the ‘Talaban’ are callouss; and do not give a fig for ordinary Afghanis, for it proves that unlike the NATO forces when they launch an attack the ‘Talaban’ warn the locals when they are due to attack NATO forces? So it proved as a short while later the convoy is halted and the information leaks back down the line that a Royal Anglian has been killed and others injured when a mine exploded under their vehicle.
After yet another bloody confrontation between the Anglians and the ‘Talaban’ a group of Afghani locals approach the Regiments new fortified position. They asked the senior officer present if they could go and bury the dead which had resulted from the Anglians having called in an air-strike on a group of people who had been defined as ‘Talaban’ after being spotted on a near by mountainside. The Captain agreed to their request and whilst he did not say so, it must have been obvious to him that the real purpose of the locals was to go and bury their own dead, who probably had been part of the group who were bracketed as ‘Talaban’ before the air-strike was called in. Which again highlighted the fact that the local population is totally hostile to the British and NATO forces and if history is anything to go by always will be?
Finally in this episode we see a clip of Kemp in which it is clear he is suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, he is having a confrontation with a group of men from the local Afghan town. He attempts to lecture them about supporting the British Army and the NATO led International Security Assistance Force Mission.(ISAF) After doing so one of the Afghans looks at him with withering contempt and basically tips him bollocks and tells Kemp it is for the occupiers to bring law and order if that is what they wish not those they have occupied.
What I found astonishing was that this confrontation was filmed on the edge of a number of large opium poppy fields, from which in all probability the aforementioned Afghani gets his and his families livelihood; and it cannot but have crossed his mind that whilst he may not like the ‘Talaban’ they have not declared to the world they will destroy these poppy fields and with them the poor fellows means of support. Thus the last thing he would want would be the ISAF type of law enforcement Kemp was advocating for. Yet this went completely over Ross Kemp’s head and it seems also over the heads of most British and US politicians.
When watching this program it is well to remember that Ross Kemp is an actor, not a seasoned journalist, soldier or politician. So by putting him into the surreal, ridiculous and deadly world of the occupying forces in Afghanistan, he behaved much as any EU worker might, i e he was out of his depth, but there was no shame in that. I’m sure that having watched this program few viewers will disagree with those squadies who appeared in it and told Ross Kemp that nothing can be gained by British troops remaining in Afghanistan.