(Above: Global National’s Alberta Correspondent, Francis Silvaggio, speaks about his experiences covering Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan)
EDMONTON – Global National reporter Francis Silvaggio travelled to Afghanistan six times to cover Canada’s military role in the country. Now that the mission is over, he’s reflecting on those experiences.
The first time Silvaggio was embedded with the Canadian troops was back in 2006.
“It was an incredible experience because, going into Afghanistan, we have to remember that we really haven’t had to cover, as an industry of journalists, any wars revolving around Canadian soldiers,” he said.
Silvaggio explains it was a new experience for many of the soldiers as well as the journalists covering the mission.
Reporters rushed to sign up for hostile environment training and, all of a sudden, Canada had reporters who were trained as war correspondents.
Still, the reality of covering a war was very different than training for one.
“It’s one thing to learn hostile environment training in a classroom and in a field environment and then being tossed in… like, ‘here you go.’”
“You become so honed in,” Silvaggio said.
“It’s just a story, until you have these wake-up moments, and you realize it’s not just a story, your lives can be at risk.”
That realization hit home in 2008 when, a few days before Silvaggio was scheduled to leave for another trip to Afghanistan, Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung was kidnapped while working near Kabul.
While in Afghanistan, Silvaggio lived on military bases, and was embedded with the Canadian military.
During those assignments, he was under the Canadian Forces’ guidance and protection. He followed strict reporting rules created to protect operational security.
However, there were opportunities where he could travel off base.
“We always knew that when we were on our own we were at high risk of being kidnapped, and there were often times that we knew we were being followed.”
But Fung’s kidnapping changed the way he did his job.
“It made us all take a reality check.”
Silvaggio said the Canadian embed program allowed journalists to have insight into what the Canadian soldiers were doing on a daily basis.
But, he said, it also allowed them to take a step back.
He remembers how certain communities were struggling with the decision to send young girls to school and how citizens handled the security issues created by the clash between the coalition and the Taliban.
“It’s tough,” said Silvaggio. “The soldiers are very quick to point out you can’t measure this with the same measuring stick you would in North America. Progress is very slow, it’s very tedious.”
“What the coalition was trying to do was build a foundation.”
“I don’t think there was any misconception that it’s going to happen in a snap.”
Still, the situation has improved, he said.
“There are children going to school, there are girls going to school, there are more rights. It’s not perfect and there’s still a long way to go.”
Silvaggio believes it could be frustrating for those who served to leave Afghanistan while there is still work to be done.
“They’ve given the Afghan military, the Afghan government the opportunity to move forward and hopefully they’ll be able to continue that momentum.”