For three years, it seemed like I was either going to, coming from, or living and working in Afghanistan. I spent a year in-country, always with my own local driver and fixer. My primary role was covering Canadian and coalition military operations for the national wire service as a writer, broadcaster and photographer. But much of my time was also spent documenting the changes and hardships the Afghan people were enduring as they entered their fourth straight decade of war.

Two things left a profound and lasting impression on me from my time there. One was the commitment and fearlessness of our Canadian soldiers and their allies. The other impression was left by the resolute and resilient Afghan people themselves.

Theirs is a simple life and a complex society and culture rooted in centuries-old traditions. It can be a brutal way of life, but it has also bred a confoundingly kind and welcoming people for whom generosity, humour and goodwill go hand-in-hand with abject poverty, suffering, death and destruction. I won't ever forget them.

At War

I was in Afghanistan when the first Canadian regular troops began arriving in numbers in February 2002, but Canadian special forces had been operating in Afghanistan since the previous fall.

I spent a year in Afghanistan, based first in Kandahar in the south and, later, in Kabul in the north, always with my own local fixer and driver. I was with a recce squad when Edmonton-based 3PPCLI launched Canada’s first combat assault since the Korean War, on a mountain in the Sha-i-Kot Valley near the Pakistan border. It was Canada’s first-ever helicopter-borne assault.

My buddy, Alberta-based filmmaker Garth Pritchard, and I accompanied Canadian regulars and American SoF on operations in Tora Bora as they looked for Osama bin Laden. There were many other operations and adventures to follow.

Over the course of three extended assignments in Afghanistan, I came to know our soldiers well and admire them deeply. Some 158 died there, the highest casualty rate in the coalition.

God bless them all.

Stephen Thorne