WAR DIARY: 'Diplomacy on the ground takes centre stage' - MoD information officer Jonathan Spencer sees Clare Short stay 'on message' at Number 10 - and persuades the media to focus on wider issues than events in Bagram

Wednesday 14 November



Traffic. I'm in late, there's lots going on and I don't feel on top of

it. For an off-camera briefing we try and get the Secretary of State on

a live cellphone link from Tashkent, but the signal doesn't hold.



In the office we field calls about UK troops at reduced notice to

deploy.



Regional press fire their usual questions - 'Is anyone from Wales in

Afghanistan?'



Thursday 15 November



I'm woken by calls overnight that could have gone to the Pentagon -

they're awake. There are two main headlines: Christian missionaries are

rescued, and a significant Al-Qa'ida building is destroyed.



The Department for International Development is holding a press

conference at Number 10.



As an MoD press officer, it's worth me being there, but Clare Short is

'on message' and direct, and handles the military angles as robustly as

her own brief.



Number 10 is an interesting experience. These days I am rarely

star-struck but the portraits on the stairs command a fleeting glimpse.

It's slightly awkward being recognised by a TV crew opposite the front

door. I avoid the mistake of waving, and smile instead.



The pace is changing fast. UK forces have deployed to Bagram air base,

near Kabul. Our statement is delayed, but the press seem to have another

source. Downing Street has briefed the lobby and we're left catching up

with defence correspondents up against deadlines.



Friday 16 November



At last - a day off.



Monday 19 November



The pace in Afghanistan may be fast and the situation fluid, but the

media, having raced ahead of events, now need an angle to slow down

their own story - a point I've tried to make to news editors at Sky and

News 24.



UK forces stood up at 48- hours readiness to deploy meant exactly that.

It didn't mean they were going on Sunday. So now a 'troops put on hold'

headline gets them off the hook - despite it being inaccurate.



The only additional force deployed to Kabul is chief press officer,

Simon Wren. He's attached to a Foreign Office delegation and running an

impromptu media facility. Diplomacy on the ground takes centre

stage.



Tuesday 20 November



With media speculation circling, it feels like we're in the eye of a

storm. The phones are quiet. PRO Paul Sykes peers out of the trench

across No Man's Land. There's little on the horizon.



If there's anything on hold it's press conferences - we do them when

there's something to say.



But talking to individuals, correcting a marked focus on Bagram with the

bigger picture can also engage the media frontline - if not the Evening

Standard. Marines aren't 'stranded'.



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