Archive for Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Inside the Navy SEALs

Lara Logan takes viewers on mission with special ops

December 28, 2004

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— "You drop on the top of some mountain somewhere in some tiny little village in the middle of the night, and it's pitch-black all around you," Lara Logan remembers. "When you land, it's like the ground rises up to devour you, and from intelligence you know there are people with weapons in that village -- and they may or may not be ready to attack."

Just another mission for the Navy SEALs as they go about their top-secret business in Afghanistan, flushing out terrorists in some of the world's most pitiless and desolate terrain.

Logan, a dynamic young CBS News correspondent who has reported extensively from such trouble spots as Afghanistan and Iraq, recently spent six weeks with a unit of these Special Operations forces. The access she got is virtually unprecedented for a journalist. Her account -- which includes the deathblow to Roze Khan, regarded as the most powerful Taliban leader in southern Afghanistan -- will air on "60 Minutes Wednesday" at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Cut down after firing at the SEALs as he tried to flee into the hills, the assault-rifle-wielding Khan was a legendary outlaw who had been tracked by Special Ops for more than two years.

The implications of his killing? "Huge," a team member sums up for Logan.

Logan says she spent months lobbying the military to let her go along. Telling this untold story, she reasoned, could help shed light on the more visible facets of the war. And not just for the audience, but for her, too.

"When you're covering a story in a place like that," she says, "there's constant frustration because you know there's a whole lot of other stuff you can't get to, that would change your understanding of the bigger picture.

"You almost feel like, how can I really understand the role the Marines are playing, if I don't know about any of those other guys that I can't see or talk to? And the role they play is so crucial."

As she speaks, Logan is enjoying breakfast in the plush, Yule-appointed dining room at her Manhattan hotel. A 33-year-old South Africa native who has roamed the world chasing stories and now calls London home, she is in the States to finish a "60 Minutes" profile of renowned chef Thomas Keller, which includes a visit to his northern California restaurant.

But Logan has spent much of the past year in a more characteristic role -- a member of the death-defying cadre of war correspondents -- covering the turmoil in Afghanistan, which gets short shrift from the media, she says.

"Iraq is the big story," notes Logan, who in 2003 reported from Baghdad until hours before the war began, then returned two weeks later (the first U.S. network TV correspondent to do so) only hours before U.S. forces penetrated the Iraqi capital.

With a story datelined Afghanistan, "people are not going to pay as much attention," she concedes. "But if you just get a few people to pay attention, then that's the real reward."

It was Logan's sustained presence in Afghanistan that helped win her (and her photographer-field producer, Jeff Newton) access to the SEALs. Even with a journalist recording what they do, the SEALs require certain secrets be protected: No faces can be shown unless obscured by helmet and glasses; no exact locations can be disclosed. Special Ops command trusted Logan not to put its men in jeopardy by telling too much.

"She was a known entity to the commanders on the ground," says Lt. Comm. Steve Mavica, spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa. He confirmed this was "the first time in recent history that we have embedded a reporter with SEALs ground forces."

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