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Harrigan’s harrowing Afghan assignment

Nov 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Steve Harrigan’s 11/2 months in and around northern Afghanistan sounds like “Survivor” meets Edward R. Murrow.
There was the salmonella (he keeled over during a live report); the altitude adjustment (“tricky” in the oxygen-light atmosphere in the Hindu Kush mountains); the food fatigue (all local, all the same, all the time); the lack of privacy (living three to a room and being the object of constant local curiosity); the crossing of tribal lines (after two months without a signed contract with CNN, Mr. Harrigan hopped to Fox News); and the bee sting just before a recent live shot (his lip swelled up and gave him a fleeting lisp).
Oh, yes, and there are the American, Northern Alliance and Taliban military operations day and night as the United States pounds points in and around Kabul. Asked whether one gets used to that, he said it depends on “how close the booms are” and where they originate.
Tank fire, for example, tends to draw return fire and may send Mr. Harrigan and cameraman Joel Fagen to the basement for a wait long on “fear coupled with humiliation” because the Northern Alliance soldiers find the journalists’ trepidation amusing. “The worst sound is when the Taliban is firing artillery nearby,” Mr. Harrigan said.
A graduate of hostile-environments training and a veteran of numerous hot spots covered during his decade as a Moscow-based correspondent with CNN, Mr. Harrigan takes most of this in stride. After the attack of food poisoning “and everything that goes with that,” he was back on his feet for the next live shot.
He’s now starting each day with a breakfast of boiled eggs, brown bread and a pot of tea (beans will be added to the menu at lunch and dinner, which also will be cooked by soldiers).
It’s the mice who make themselves at home in the mud fort at which Mr. Harrigan and Mr. Fagen rent a room that are tough. “They don’t get scared when you yell at them. They just look over at you like, `What the hell are you doing?”’
Mr. Harrigan said the room is costing $50 a day, their Jeep $70 a day and their translator $150 a day. In other words, there’s much more than the 200 miles of rough terrain that separates him from other American news crews more comfortably ensconced in Hodji Bahaudeen, just inside the border of Tajikistan.
“You can’t see the war from there,” said Mr. Harrigan, who likened reporting on the war from there to sticking your toes in the water and saying you’re swimming in the ocean. “You can’t report a war from 200 miles away.”