It has been just over a year since the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and just under a year since Dan Rather of CBS News hid his million-dollar dimple under mufti and went on assignment among Afghan resistance fighters.
Now NBC News reporter Betsy Aaron has returned to the country for a closer look -- one that amounts to more than darkness on a hilltop and the muffled sound of mortar fire. Aaron came back with striking news tape of the resistance fighters and their plight; her report will be seen tonight on "NBC Magazine with David Brinkley" at 10 on Channel 4.
The images are of a sesperately unlucky little country in a seemingly hopeless struggle against a superpower -- a country that is "one of the poorest" in the world, Aaron says, and one that has an illiteracy rate of 90 percent. Impoverished peasants hide out in the hills above abandoned villages. They can barely afford to stay alive, and yet they have audio casette recorders with which to tape the sounds of their battle against the Russian troops.
"We have only God; we have nothing else," an old woman tells Aaron. A 28-year-old troop commander who looks much older says, "We are washing our country clean with blood" and says 4,500 men have been lost in his province alone.
Aaron rides in a captured Russian truck, asks a resistance fighter, "Are we seeing the annihilation of a people?" and stands among the deserted buildings of an empty town.Traveling with her on this impressive mission were cameraman Tom Woods and producer Joe DeCola.
Unfortunately Aaron, like Rather, is compelled to make a virtual plea for American intervention and assistance in Afghanistan, although she doesn't spend as much time on the question of why-hasn't-America-come-riding-to-the-rescue as Rather did. Still, one doesn't expect from reporters this kind of foreign policy sermonette.
An eerie but exquisite snowfall -- first of the winter -- is one of the last scenes in the report; Aaron says, perhaps too melodramatically, "There's just so much hunger, so much killing, so much suffering a people can endure."
The obvious conclusion is that the people of Afghanistan are approaching the limit.