With most of the nation focused on Iraq, ABC News’ Nightline anchor Terry Moran opened a recent report from Afghanistan by asking, “Is the 'other war’ getting out of control?” Five years after 9/11, more than 2,641 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, but war is still raging in Afghanistan, where more than 300 U.S. soldiers have been killed. Moran spoke to B&C’s Allison Romano about the dangers of reporting in Afghanistan and how it differs from Iraq.
Do you think the U.S. media dropped the ball on this story?
Yes, but the international community and the U.S. government have dropped the ball too. There is no question one reason for increased level of violence here is because attention and resources shifted elsewhere. If there were no war in Iraq, there are 25,000 American soldiers here, we’d have a bureau here. But there are 150,000 soldiers in Iraq and that is where all the resources are going.
Afghanistan seemed solved for a while. The Taliban was scattered, the level of violence was down and there has been genuine progress. So the heat in the story dissipated. But what we’ve seen in past several months is that this story and this war are a long way from over.
We hear security is deteriorating rapidly. How have conditions changed there since the war began?
Kabul is a transformed city. It is booming in population and economic growth and you can sense that. Across the country, there are a lot of examples of econ and social progress and the girls in school.
The downside is it is more dangerous here than it has been since 2001. Since I’ve been here, there have been two suicide bombings in Kabul and that has rattled nerves in this city. Out of town, you have to pick your road and make sure you’re on a road where the Taliban is not setting up checkpoints. If they find somebody they don’t like, they’ll kill them.
There is no question that there is a lot more tension and violence here then there has been in the past several years. There is a concern that it is all going to fall apart. People are angry at their government and they are disappointed in the international community and the U.S. They think they’ve been let down and the world’s attention shifted elsewhere.
How does the security situation for journalists compare to Iraq? Can you move about freely?
Afghanistan is not Iraq. We are not traveling with security. I’ve been to Iraq three times and every time I go it is worse. It has gotten to the point where you almost can’t work out of compound. You have to pick and choose your spots very carefully.
In Afghanistan, there are places here that are in all out war, but most of the country you can get to through military transports or flights within the country.
And Kabul, as opposed to Baghdad has a bustling feel to it. You can go out and talk to people here. You can go to the markets. You don’t have to wear body armor. It is a much more satisfying experience as a reporter here because you can actually talk to people here. You can actually engage with them in a way that you could in Iraq in 2003, but that you can’t anymore there. One of the concerns here is that this could slide in that direction, but it is a long way from that.
There is one advantage people have here, they know what rock bottom is here, they know the lowest point of human misery after 30 years of war and they don’t want to go back. Iraqis don’t know how bad it can get and it seems to me they are digging their way to hell and when they get there, they’ll look around and say what did we do?
Were Afghans aware it was the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11? Does the date have much significance there?
Absolutely. Sept. 11 is an epical event in both countries. It changed both countries and it linked our destiny as Americans to this place and they know it here. Everyone knows what the Taliban was about. They were not a popular regime. It was liberation here for the vast majority of Afghans. American Army polls show the coalition here not seen as an occupying army and there is more support.
In places where there has been fighting andcivilians have been killed, there is great resentment towards Americans, but overall public opinion shows there is support for the international mission here and it all stems from 9/11. They get what 9/11 meant to the US and what it meant to their country. It essentially opened a new chapter in their country and they all know it.
Since your colleague Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq in January, how have network procedures changed?
There is much more heightened awareness throughout the news division about the dangers people face. ABC does a great job with security in Iraq. There’s no question it is the no. 1 priority. Our security in Baghdad is as good or better that a lot of other news organizations. Some of them visit us and are stunned by how much we do to keep our people safe.
But there is no question there is more consideration given on the executive level on who goes where. It is your choice if you want to go somewhere that is dangerous, but the network is much more closely scrutinizing those choices. They ask, ‘Do we really want the person in that place?’ I think that is natural and it is right.
The last time I was in Iraq was in January and I haven’t been since Bob was hurt.I’d like to go back but it is hard to work there. What work can you really accomplish there? If you’re going just to say you’re in Iraq, that is not really enough for me. But it is an important story.
How do you and your family cope with the risk?
This is very hard on families. No matter what you tell your loved ones, they are desperately worried when you’re in a place like this. What happened to Bob and others, like Kimberly Dozier and her crew, it has got us all thinking a lot. My family knows this is what I love to do, but it doesn’t make it any easier for them. But I’m certainly more conscious of my responsibilities to be safe.
The new Nightline is exceeding ratings expectations. How is it working in the three anchor format?
It is a joy to work for Nightline. I worked at the White House for five years, which is a hard news, daily beat that is intense, thrilling and in some ways confining. You are on the news every day in a very specific, almost formulaic way. On Nightline, I can do 8, 10, 12 minute pieces that tell stories, like getting at the war here.
Are we exceeding expectations? I guess we are because they were low. I’m happy with what we’re doing, but we can be a much better program. We can do a lot more.
What would you do more of?
We can do more of this [travel to Afghanistan]. I would like send Nightline to China, which I think we should do. But I understand have to have the audience there that is going to watch. That will get the network to back you and then you’ll get the resources to do it right.
We also need to make news more, either with big gets or investigations. We need to make Nightline a place where things happen for the first time and people take notice. But that will require an effort and resources.
There is a virtuous circle – at least one hopes – that as you do good work, numbers go up and that gives you opportunity to do better work. But we are a damn good program and we are going to get better. We ought to be able to earn our place in American homes.