Ross Kemp in Afghanistan

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan

Infobox Television
show_name = Ross Kemp in Afghanistan

caption = Title scene.
format =
picture_format =
runtime = 50 minutes
creator =
starring = Ross Kemp
network = Sky One
first_aired = 21st January 2008
last_aired = 18th February 2008
num_series = 1
num_episodes = 5
producer = Matt Bennett
director = John Conroy
country= United Kingdom
related = "Ross Kemp on Gangs"
imdb_id =
tv_com_id =

"Ross Kemp in Afghanistan" was a Sky One five part 2008 British documentary series fronted by actor Ross Kemp about the British soldiers fighting in the War in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission against the Taliban. First broadcast in January 2008, a small embedded film crew follows the 2007 deployment of the Royal Anglian Regiment's 1st Battalion (The Vikings) to Helmand Province, for their part in the ongoing Operation Herrick.

Kemp and crew participate in the battalion's initial training in Britain for the deployment. They then visit the unit during their six month tour, filming both life at rest and on fighting patrols in Helmand. The series finally covers their return to the UK.

Unlike a "traditional" war documentary, the series was firmly positioned by Kemp as being the "soldiers story", focusing on the experiences of the soldiers at home and abroad, and also features the views of their families. With a personal connection with the Vikings, Kemp is an ardent supporter of the men and the mission, and his film makes many criticisms of the situation the soldiers find themselves in.

During the filming, in one engagement the crew were pinned down by fire from the Taliban, with Kemp "nearly dying" with bullets passing "within inches". The show was praised for the closeness and realism of the battle footage, and is believed to be the first documentary of its kind filmed in high definition.



Kemp expressed that the a main motivation for the series was to hear from the soldiers who generally don't have a voice compared to other public workers. Kemp stated: "I've got many friends who are in the services, but you never really hear a squaddie giving his point of view. I'd never heard one talk publicly and I wanted to hear that voice." This would be the view of the young men being sent to the foreign climes of Afghanistan from a situation such as being 18 years old and still living at home with mum and dad, as opposed to hearing from officers trained in media relations. The series would examine the experiences of soldiers at home, injured soldiers and the families of serving soldiers. Kemp wanted to ascertain the motivation of the troops, their level of political knowledge about the situation, their views on Muslims

Kemp stated his opinion that the public gaining an understanding of what it's like for the soldiers is a good thing whatever any-one's political views on the war., informing the public what was happening out there and what the soldiers are doing for the people back home who are "fortunate to live in a [free] country"

etting up

The idea of the documentary was first thought of by Kemp around January 2005 after the series on Gangs [ The Times] Ross Kemp goes to war, 19 January2008] when he came up with the idea of embedding himself with a unit Kemp had initially wanted to do a series about troops in Iraq following the 2003 invasion and posed the idea to James Murdoch, head of Sky TV However, the MOD were reluctant due to the prevailing sensitive political situationas it was around the time of the controversial death of David Kelly

After repeated enquiries to the MOD, they suggested and later approved a series in Afghanistan The program also had support of a brigadier who had gone to school with one of the programme's makers. The commanding officer of the Anglians initially approved filming of the training by the crew on a probationary basis. The crew were subsequently deemed to have "handled ourselves reasonably well". and were allowed to go on the deployment.

Kemp's personal link to Anglians

The Anglians were chosen as Kemp has a two-fold personal interest in the Vikings. His father saw active service as part of the Anglians in the 1950s, had served in [ MOD Defence News] "We should be proud": Ross Kemp on his Afghan experience, 19 February 2008] one of the Royal Anglians predecessor units, the Royal Norfolk Regiment, for four years in Cyprus. Kemp also claimed to have an affinity with the soldiers in the Royal Anglians, as having grown up in Essex/East Anglia [ [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, Kemp's Journal, page 3] , he had the same background and possessed shared life experiences as the troops who fall in the Anglians recruiting area, albeit with the age difference whereby Kemp at 43 is significantly older than the current generation of front line troops, invariably very young, several just 18 years old.

Series in detail


The series follows the soldiers of B Company of the 1st Battalion on their training for deployment, on fighting operations, as well as examining life and conditions at the Now Zad front line base. [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan Episode synopsis - Episode 3] At times the Taliban are no more than 50 metres away [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan Episode synopsis - Episode 5] The series also features interviews with soldiers and their families while still in England before deployment, with the mother of the Anglians first casualty in Afghanistan, killed in May 2007 in a firefight at Nawzad, with the family of one of the men killed in the friendly fire incident, and with a corporal who survived the bombing The series runs until the soldiers return to the UK


The crew trained with the battalion in January 2007 for six weeks/eight weeks at Pirbright barracks, Surrey and Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, in a cold British winter in freezing temperatures, three months prior to deployment for real

From March - August 2007 as part of 12th Mechanised Brigade, the 1st Battalion was deployed to the Helmand province of Afghanistan as part of Operation Lastay Kulang (Pashto for "pickaxe-handle".), the sixth phase of the ongoing Operation Herrick.

During this 6 month tour The Battalion's activities ranged from protecting convoys and guarding the Kajaki Dam to house to house clearances in Taliban held villages during major offences in the Sangin Valley [ [ The MOD Oracle] News, Ross Kemp In Afghanistan, 14 January 2008] At one point the soldiers are fighting for 23 days straight between rest periods. The crew spent 6 weeks/two months in Afghanistan in three separate spells [ Sky Online] Synopsis - Ross Kemp in Afghanistan]

The crew first arrived at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, the main British base in Afghanistan, before moving on to forward operating bases at Lashkar Gah, Sangin and Nawzad.

On arrival at Bastion the crew are first given a medical briefing [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan Episode synopsis - Episode 2] before immediately accompanying an offensive operation in the 'green zone', a thin strip of farm land along the banks of the Helmand River, during which a corporal is killed when an improvised explosive device blows up his vehicle. While the crew is back in England, three soldiers are killed in a friendly fire incident [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan Episode synopsis - Episode 4] Eight days after, the crew returned to Afghanistan for a second tour in late August for three weeks,

On returning to the UK, Kemp met Defence Secretary Des Browne and gave MPs a preview of the series at the House of Commons [ The Sun] Kemp: Britain's got courage, 19Jan2008]


Training consisted among other things, sleeping out with the unit for about a month on Salisbury Plain, mock battles in a cold war era mock Eastern European village, convoy protection, deployment from Chinook helicopters [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan Episode synopsis - Episode 1] , military tactics, and what to expect while in country. In mock battles, Kemp and others were judged to have been 'killed'

In an unusual practice not known for embedded journalists with the MOD, the crew were taught how to handle and fire weapons, namely the SA80 personal rifle and .50 calibre machine gun. The crew would not be carrying weapons in the field, but the commanding officer insisted the crew were trained to be able defend themselves in an emergency

Deployment incidents

Convoy IED strike

On the first operation in Afghanistan, a convoy a few hours out from the main base a Viking armoured vehicle was struck by an Improvised explosive device (IED) killing a corporal The crew were in a convoy just ahead of the struck vehicle, and had apparently driven past the location of the IED

Friendly fire incident

On Thursday 23 August, in a so-called "blue on blue", a fighting patrol north west of Kajaki was struck by friendly fire when the patrol called in close air support after they were attacked from a number of positions. Three soldiers were killed when bombs dropped by two American F-15 Eagle aircraft hit their compound [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan Episode synopsis - Episode 4] . The three fatalities were declared dead at the scene, while two more that were seriously injured were evacuated by helicopter to the medical facility at Camp Bastion [ [ BBC News] 'Friendly fire' kills UK soldiers, accessed 2 Aug 2008] . The series features amateur video footage of the incident taken by the soldiers at the time

Major engagement

On his second day in Afghanistan [;col1 Sunday Mirror] Ross Kemp with our troops in war zone, 6 Jan 2008] Kemp "nearly got shot" when the crew were pinned down when accompanying B Company [ The Times] Ross Kemp under fire in Afghanistan, 7 January 2008] were ambushed in broad daylight while on an operation against Taliban compounds near Sangin.

The patrol was designed to cause an engagement with the Taliban by patrolling into an area where they knew the Taliban would be likely to attack, allowing the patrol to counter attack and call in the heavy artillery.

The contact started as the patrol walked into an area near Jucaylay village The Taliban were hidden in irrigation channels in the fields and apparently knew the patrol was coming and had prepared an ambush. The contact occurred when the patrol stepped out of cover to go around a compound.

One round passed between Kemp's shoulder and head upon which Kemp stated he wet himself although on another occasion he later claimed this may have been due to a split water pouch Kemp "went straight down, cutting my face as I hit the ground." The crew were pinned down by accurate fire from AK-47s and rocket propelled grenade (RPG), with five to seven RPGs were fired over their heads by just a metre and bullets passing inches from their heads and hitting the ground either side of them.

It was speculated that a sniper had targeted Kemp possibly because they knew they were journalists, or because their blue protective clothing looked unusual, and the camera may have looked like a weapon The crew were pinned down for "about seven to ten minutes" with return fire commencing after "three or four minutes" after the soldiers had got into cover Only after fierce return fire and the intervention of an three or four minutes could the crew be extracted

Episode listing

Reactions of Kemp

On speaking about how he unwound from his experience in Afghanistan, which he described as "an unhealthy environment in many ways", Kemp stated: "When I got home I went to the pub for 24 hours and had a good long drink" On returning Kemp said "it's difficult to come back and see life the same as it was before going,". "I can honestly say, after Afghanistan, I'll never take anything in my life for granted again." Kemp stated he most proud of this series than any of his previous work Kemp expressed hope that after the series people would appreciate the soldiers a bit better and see the bravery of the soldiers coping in hard conditions

Kemp, as he expected, was the recipient of some piss taking from the soldiers for his acting role as a Staff Sergeant in the SAS in Ultimate Force, a show he later described as "dreadful". He took it in good humour, recognising it as part of the way the soldiers cope with their time in theatre

Speaking about the conditions in the theatre, Kemp explained that the soldiers in Afghanistan were experiencing more enemy fire in six months than most soldiers have faced in 25 years in intolerable conditions and stifling heat Soldiers were under "a constant threat of snipers, RPG attacks and land mines" inducing a distinct fear of IEDs or misplaced aircraft strikes. Stating that while the everyday living conditions are bad for the men, in a war zone you "don't complain about the small things" Kemp expressed surprise that his and other's beliefs that wars since the first Gulf War were now fought electronically from a distance were wrong, and combat was still contested in close contact on the ground

He described the soldiers as "brave, dedicated and not respected or paid enough for what they do". and stated that "(the troops) are not asking for sympathy, just a little respect – and they certainly deserve that." He found them intelligent, witty and very aware of the political situation." with many soldiers believe it is possible to defeat the Taliban, an improvement over the situation he perceived in Basra, Iraq. Kemp was moved to tears when told by three seriously wounded soldiers returning to base loaded with Morphine requested to see him, and tell him their actions were not appreciated back home

Ultimately, Kemp stated he felt he had formed an intimate bond with the soldiers after their experience in Afghanistan, something he was proud to have achieved. He stated the soldier next to him while the crew were pinned down was the first to text him on Christmas day with the first three or four people to ring him Christmas Day also all people he was with in during that incident, reflecting a relief at survival Some of the soldiers he had been deployed with came to see him in the Christmas pantomime season at the end of 2007, stating that it was a good way to relax after what they had been through

Kemp criticised the "appallingly low" pay the soldiers received, stating "Sometimes I think we've got more respect for our national football team than we have for our soldiers. And that beggars belief.", "Those boys out there fighting are the ones worth £70,000 a week not those pampered players. [ News of the World] TVs Ross Kemp on horrors & heroes of Afghanistan (By James Weatherup), undated, accessed 1 Aug 2008] . He was also critical of the compensation system for wounded soldiers Kemp also criticised the "despicable" shortage of helicopters, the most important thing needed, which were unavailable purely for monetary reasons, but which ultimately had cost lives on the tour Kemp found that kit was unsuitable for desert ops, such as cold war rations and clothing deteriorating too quickly Kemp also criticised the unfit state of Pirbright barracks living quarters

On the time he and the crew were pinned down, Kemp stated he started praying "cowering in the dirt with fear", wanting the ground to swallow him up Kemp stated that it was "definitely the closest I have ever come to dying. I was so scared." "the most frightening experience of my life.", "I will never forget that day face down in a field for the rest of my life." Speaking about the sound of bullets flying overhead, Kemp stated "you realise that nobody has ever come close to replicating the sound of bullets cutting through the air in films or on television" However, Kemp stated the hardest thing he had to do in the series was not be shot at in Afghanistan, but to interview the families of the dead men., stating "I'm not ashamed to say I bawled my eyes out"


On Kemp's return, even the MoD were said to be surprised when they reviewed the film as to how close to the action the filming had come

Kemp received praise from the Sergeant's Mess [ The Independent] Reporting Afghanistan: This isn't Ross Kemp the hard man playing at being a soldier, 28 January 2008] and from Prince Harry, who briefly served in Afghanistan as a forward air controller [ The Mirror] Ross Kemp is soldiering on, 26 April 2008] . It also gave some of the soldiers on the ground the chance to see how close some of the situations they were in actually are, something they don't appreciate at the time in the heat of battle

Commentators praised how the series showed the resourcefulness and humanity of the soldiers who are fighting Kim Sengupta, a war correspondent who has also been to Afghanistan, stated the footage was "striking and gritty" and "conveys well the sense of isolation and silence punctured by prolonged bursts of sudden ferocious violence, the fear and excitement, one experiences in the type of combat being undertaken by British forces in Afghanistan" He added in was a realistic portrayal of the events of combat, including the sheer relief of survival followed by cathartic stress relief Sengupta also stated that the prolonged period of filming from before and after deployment allowed Kemp to realistically portray the effects of intensive close combat, where soldiers become fitter and appear to age markedly, weather-beaten, and become introspective with the so called "thousand yard stare".

The series was criticised for not dealing with the rights or wrongs of British policy in Afghanistan, however Kemp stated "we did not go to make a so-called traditional documentary, we tried to show was what the ordinary soldiers are facing" and "My documentary is about what it is like to be a British soldier in Afghanistan." While the series was not to be a political piece according to Kemp, he did consider the Iraq invasion was "a mistake", but believed the British involvement in Afghanistan to be a just war.


It took a year to make the series Ross Kemp in Afghanistan [ The Telegraph] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, 19 Jan 2008]

In addition to Kemp, the crew consisted of the director a cameraman and sound man with the director doubling as a second cameramen. The crew were embedded with British troops and accompanied the soldiers every single day being "in constant danger" according to Kemp [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, Kemp's Journal, page 2] . Of the crew's status in the unit, Kemp commented: "Everyone said, "The soldiers are there to protect you." F*** off! They are looking after themselves, and that they were never under any illusion that he would be regarded as a just another group of soldiers. The crew were to get no preferential treatment and experienced the same conditions and routine as the soldiers While the Vikings are a mechanized infantry unit of the 12th Mechanised Brigade, much of the filming followed dismounted operations carried out on foot.

The series was filmed in high-definition and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. It is believed to be the first time a HD camera has been taken into a war zone and used in this way [ Sky Online] Features - Making Of... Ross Kemp in Afghanistan] The director commented: "We had long discussions about the HD cameras. The advantages are pictures of amazing sharpness, how all the awful things of war are caught in a kind of surreal colour, war in all its terrible detail. There was, of course, a price to pay for this." The HD cameras were approximately four times heavier than the Z-I cameras which are usually used for filming of this type. They are also more than 20 times more expensive, costing up to £100,000 each.

The series in Afghanistan took place in sand storms and temperatures of over 50ºC. The caustic sand was so sharp it made your nose bleed The crew members carried two stone of body armour, nine litres of water, and provisions Kemp carried the camera batteries In theatre, Kemp went deaf with an ear infection, became near-immobilised with cracked feet, and suffered a cracked tooth. He also lost two stone while making the film [ [ Sky Online] Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, Kemp's Journal, page 4] Having expressed concerns about his fitness and being able to cope in theatre weighed down with equipment, he stated: "you can run very quickly when someone’s trying to kill you. It’s very motivational."

Total casualties of the tour

The 1st battalion suffered 9 casualties during its tour, 5 hostile and 4 accident [cite news |title= 'Friendly fire' kills UK soldiers |url= |publisher= BBC |date= 2007-08-24 |accessdate=2008-05-14 [ ] ] . Kemp was travelling in a convoy in which a corporal was killed by a mine strike on his vehicle. He also witnessed the death of a private. The film was dedicated to the dead soldiers, and the men and families of the Vikings.

DVD release

This series was release on DVD on April 07 2008, under the title Ross Kemp In Afghanistan and with a certificate 15. [cite web |url=|title= Ross Kemp In Afghanistan DVD|publisher=The|accessdate=2008-05-04 ]

Follow up

Kemp's next project was to be a documentary on drugs in Thailand for Sky.. Kemp stated he would love to return to Helmand in six months or a year to document any progress made in the region by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission.


External links

* [ Official website at Sky One]
* [ Times Online article and video of Kemp under fire]
* [ Telegraph article on Kemp’s deployment]
* [ Sunday Mirror article on Kemp in Afghanistan] Dead link|date=July 2008
* [ Ross Vs Taliban – Sunday Mirror article]
* [ UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) official article]
* [ 2 minute video clip of the documentary]

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