Michael's Dispatches


The villagers assembled under shade near the dry riverbed.

Captain Max Hanlin, from San Francisco, on his sixth combat tour, sat down with interpreter Daoud, or “Popeye.”   Soldiers call him Popeye because Daoud Khan says he is part owner of some Popeye restaurants back in several New England states.  Interpreters remain a significant weakness for U.S. forces here.  We hire Dari-speaking intepreters from places like Kabul to translate down here, in an area where they understand neither the language nor the culture.   (Language and cultural translation being separate issues.)  Captain Hanlin explained that he has suffered his share of bad interpreters, but Daoud is gold.  His English fluency and  understanding of American culture, and local culture and language are what is needed.  He was born just south of here in the Arghandab.

The men assembled and Captain Hanlin must have spoken with them for a couple hours.  The villagers said they could not defend against the Taliban because President Karzai had taken their weapons.  Captain Hanlin would be hard to pick out as a killer who is on his sixth tour, four of which were with the Rangers who are not known for dropping in to have tea.  A graduate of Duke, his seemingly lighthearted personality didn’t indicate what came next.  Captain Hanlin asked how many Taliban usually come to the village and the men answered just a couple or a few.  And so Captain Hanlin said they have shovels and tools, and look at all these rocks.  Just bash ’em in the head.  Kill them.  Keep their bodies.  Get on a motorbike and come tell us, and we’ll pay you for killing them and there will be no further recourse.  Just kill them.  You have them outnumbered.  The men didn’t seem to bite. 
Cell phone coverage does not exist in Baghtu Valley.  They are on their own.  They might kill the first group, but the one that followed would come for vengence.  Neither we nor the Afghan government can protect them.  Meanwhile, information came in that the Taliban also contacted the village via radio, asking if the villagers attacked us, but a villager responded that they had not attacked us because they “didn’t have anything.”

Meanwhile, just nearby, other soldiers were collecting biometric information with the HIIDE gear.  (Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment.)  The HIIDE takes fingerprint, photo and retinal photo of each fighting-aged male.  In the interest of political correctness for the home audience—which means nothing here—the kids are not entered into the system.

We moved from Shah Tut village to Padah.   Two soldiers counted everyone as we departed.  It’s easy to lose someone even in broad daylight, and so the soldiers often do a head count.  Sergeant First Class Olaf Munch tapped each soldier as they passed through and counted aloud.  It’s probably no exaggeration to say that Olaf and I did a hundred missions together in Iraq.  He’s a well respected soldier and good at his profession.  I was saddened to get the news that Olaf was sent home shortly after this mission for more medical work related to the previous bombs.  Godspeed to Olaf.

We walked  through the farmer’s fields, some of which were growing poppy for opium.  Popeye the interpreter picked some poppy and stopped a young soldier and told him this is where the cocaine, crack, and heroin comes from.  The soldier cracked up as it became apparent that Popeye, though a smart man, had never been in the drug business.

A radio transmission came in.  A bomb had exploded and a soldier had disappeared.  He was “DUSTWUN” (Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown), or missing in action.  MIAs are relatively common in Afghanistan.  Bombs detonate and people disappear.  Sometimes they fly into rivers or off cliffs or simply disintegrate.

Veteran SSG Jose Rivera was recently in a Stryker that was hit with an IED.  He came out fine and continues to work hard.

The experienced soldiers kept giving me tips on how to not get blown up, and I was listening with both ears.  When going on missions, it’s important to identify the most experienced soldiers and stay close to them during any potential rough spots.  The soldiers also thought something might happen here, so I stayed close to experience.

After the DUSTWUN report, the soldiers counted again and called up that we are all accounted for.  The DUSTWUN occurred in their old Area of Operations, the Arghandab, which was being covered by 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.  Staff Sergeant Scott Brunkhorst, 25 years old, was killed in action.

Padah: N32'03.213' E066'02.576'  Elev 4,438ft

Snipers and Air Force JTACs (who can call airstrikes) were watching our route from vantage points.

The riverbed doubled as a road and the ANPs took the easy route while we stayed in the fields.  An ANP saw something suspicious and started hacking into the ground with his weapon as if it were a pick axe.  Speaks highly of Russian designs, but not so much for ANP training.  After he finished hacking, he banged the barrel against the rock to get out the gunk.

The mortar team consists of three soldiers.  One carries that 60mm tube with a round inside ready to fire.  The morale of that three-man crew had to be high; during any chance they were cutting up about something.  They had the boys in Shah Tut in hysterics by passing gas.  It was challenging at times moving with that mortar.  The soldiers go over the walls because the enemy places bombs on the sides and in openings.

Charlie Company came into Padah.  The men were praying at the mosque so we waited under some fig trees until they finished, and they then invited us to meet outside at the mosque.  It’s common knowledge that Muslims don’t like us in their mosques—but this seems to be common knowledge that is untrue.  Muslims in various countries don’t seem to mind.  They didn’t mind in Iraq, here, Kashmir or other places I’ve been.  They don’t like soldiers coming in with combat in their eyes—that’s a fact.  Many enemies in Iraq and here used that against us and would use mosques as fighting platforms or warehouses.  (If the enemy shoots from a mosque, they will get shot at.)  The Islamic world is vast and so it’s not good to make generalizations.  It can be said that Muslims in many countries do not mind if you come into their mosque any more than Christians mind if you come into their church.  It’s okay so long as you respect their territory.

Captain Hanlin talked about various subjects and drifted over to asking them to use their shovels and rocks to whack any Taliban who came in.  He asked if I had any questions, which turned out to be a mistake.  I asked the villagers about opium production and prices which started an argument between the village elders.  I had no idea what they were arguing about, but it went on for an impressive fifteen minutes, and finally, it was said, that they had settled.  What do they want?  Opium production, or Karzai as President.  An elder said he wanted both.  I smiled at Captain Hanlin, rather sheepishly, and said there are no further questions.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pappydude · 10 years ago
    Many thanks your reports, particularly this latest.

    With our son out on mission these last many endless days (A CO), your words and images bring him closer to us this Sunday Morning in the Midwest of the World. And while we worry for him and all out there In Country, we are encouraged by their unselfish brave work. They are protecting us more than we know so far from us physically but never but never very far from our thoughts.
    "Don't Tread On Them!".
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cindi Later · 10 years ago
    First. Thank you to the parents who posted above. Thank you for you're son. May God bless each of you.

    This is an amazing insightful post. Thank you for reporting the truth.

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    Douglas Gugino · 10 years ago
    Mr. Yon - thank you so very much. I felt I was able to stay connected with the troops in Irag via the army's website. Yours is the only way anybody can understand what is happening in Afghanistan.

    May the God of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, etal bless the troops, civilians and yourself. May understanding to the Taliban be granted. May hope be shown ...
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    Paul Abat · 10 years ago
    Mr. Yon, we truly appreciate your efforts on behalf of the American people to bring us the intricate details of this conflict. In my lifetime I have never seen such dedicated and insight from a reporter. The support that our family has provided to you over the years seems far less than what we have received by having you there. We will continue our support. Thank you.

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    Peter Warner · 10 years ago
    Thank you for this dispatch, Michael. Thank you as well for your devotion and diligence in bringing us all news and photos from the front.

    I'm sure you're not happy with losing the embed, but I hope you can take it as an opportunity to rest yourself. Prayers for your benefit outgoing.

    Best regards, Peter Warner.
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    Gregg · 10 years ago
    Michael, previously you reported that you were removed from an embed position because there were too many journalist waiting for an embed position. Is this a new or previous embed position? Who do we complain to for kicking you out of your embed position?

    Keep up the good work. You are the only battle field journalist/reporter that we trust to bring us the good, the bad, and the ugly without shading the truth. If the Brass don't like it they can stick it where the Sun doesn't shine. Please let us know who's giving you the boot and we'll make them wish they hadn't with a letter campaign and blog postings that will broadcast their names and arrogance all over the Internet.

    Be save and God Bless.
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    Radio Jihad · 10 years ago
    Thank you for putting the professional back in Journalism. Excellent photography, Excellent storytelling skills, and insight into the Islamist culture and giving us just info to make up our own minds outside of the Facts.

    Keep up the good work!

    The Radio Jihad Team
    Tuesday Nights 7-8:30 PM (EST) Blog Talk Radio
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Donnette Davis · 10 years ago
    Once again your descriptive writing together with the images you post can almost place a person there. Thank you for this dispatch. I need to mention that the little snippets of humour do not go unnoticed.... You are simply the very best there is! Donnette x
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    Charles Griffith · 10 years ago
    Michael Yon mentioned in one of his captions that sometimes our sophisticated heavy vehicles are at a disadvantage (...for any number of engineering-design-defying reasons, I assume....) while at the same time and in many of the same areas the enemy scoots about on motor bikes or pickup-truck-equivalents. But, this same heavy armour is required for our troops' protection against that same very mobile enemy which doesn't need such heavy armour. What's the answer for this?

    I'm torn between total admiration, respect and awe for what our troops are doing in central Asia under impossible conditions, exhibiting superb training; while at the same time questioning our uber-massive logistics efforts, heroic in and of themselves, plus our very large troop presence in this vacuum of civilization....notwithstanding Hammurabi and all that. All of this accomplished from half way across the world. This unique feat must be emphasized, but is generally ignored by the media. Thanks to Michael Yon for filling that information vacuum.

    Let's take this very necessary war to this vicious Islamic enemy on his home territory rather than our territory by an offshore presence controlling drones and air-strikes remotely, using an absolute minimum of our troops on that Asian moonscape terrain so accurately rendered by Michael Yon's photographs.

    Lastly, we cannot control opium grown for local survival amidst subsistence-level conditions. This is symbolic of our inherent inability to effect lasting changes inside of very alien centuries-resistant tradition.

    In short, Michael Yon should get a Pulitzer for his photo-journalism provoking these thoughts, instead of those lightweights back here in the United States who're self anointed arbiters of all that is right and proper.
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    Scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    I doubt these 2 little villages with no permanant troop presence will play any significant role in the impending battle for Kandahar (read Kandahar city). Tim Lynch has pulsed that issue. How do you see that playing out?
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    Ned Chipley · 10 years ago
    Michael, again I am impressed with the total quality of your photo-journalism. It's simply the best.
    I write a "Morning WakeUp Report" in which I give links to articles of interest relating to the "World Scene", "Political Scene", "Termites Among Us" (home-grown terriorsts and those who support them), etc. I have given links to your blogs on several occasions, and the two reports I read this morning on FB will certainly go out also. Many, many thanks for your excellent work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 10 years ago

    Can you please elaborate on why the soliders don't like The Hurt Locker? I am interested to know their perspective. Are the combat and/or bomb scenes inaccurate?

    This was a great dispatch. Thanks for all you do.
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    xoxoxoBruce · 10 years ago
    Thanks again, Mike. Once again you clearly illustrate the plight of these remote villagers... like willows trying to survive the battering winds of war. The Russians, Taliban, Central Government, and the Coalition, all asked for their allegiance, then give them nothing and leave them to fend for themselves.
    Sure, just kill the Taliban with shovels and send us a messenger. I sure hope this isn’t the “official” plan to win the hearts and minds of these people.

    I appreciate what you are doing, (that’s why I help support you financially), but like other responders I’m frustrated, being unable to complain to the right powers about your embed termination. After all, the asshats responsible work for ME, and I’d like to know who they are.

    That said, I won’t try to second guess your strategy for dealing with the military bureaucracy, as I’m sure you know best. Take care and thank you.
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    With Respect · 10 years ago
    I know many parents , freinds and loved ones of our soldiers log on here . I just wanted to send all of you a message from my family .

    Our loved one arrived home safely 2 years ago ... but we do not forget the sacrafice you all go through. Please know , that we keep you in our thoughts we see and understand the blue star parents .. my family and I are joined with you all eternally. May you find peace and rest in knowing you are not alone. Blessing's on you .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 10 years ago
    Its amazing how green those villages are considering how barren the rest of the landscape is.
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    Jeff Stanley · 10 years ago
    Sorry, but I don't get it: "The villagers said they could not defend against the Taliban because President Karzai had taken their weapons." What? Does he think he's the governor of Massachusetts? I know Capt. Hanlin doesn't make policy, but I wouldn't have bitten on his little pep talk either. Meanwhile, are our Special Forces engaged in operations organizing indigenous resistance?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 10 years ago

    A lot of things have been said. One person has made the comment below:

    Quote -- Let's take this very necessary war to this vicious Islamic enemy on his home territory rather than our territory by an offshore presence controlling drones and air-strikes remotely, using an absolute minimum of our troops on that Asian moonscape terrain so accurately rendered by Michael Yon's photographs.

    Lastly, we cannot control opium grown for local survival amidst subsistence-level conditions. This is symbolic of our inherent inability to effect lasting changes inside of very alien centuries-resistant tradition.

    In short, Michael Yon should get a Pulitzer for his photo-journalism provoking these thoughts, instead of those lightweights back here in the United States who're self anointed arbiters of all that is right and proper. -- Unquote

    To wit, the first sentence is puzzling. Where or how would he if he could take the war to this vicious Islamic enemy? And he talks about more troops. From where? The Captain of this unit has already done six tour and he is only a Captain!!!! More troops requires a war tax. And most who are for getting tough and taking names and kicking a** are against taxes period!!! The suicide rate among our soldiers is at an all time high because of the repeated deployments. The reason is the US Army has 43 combat brigades when it needs 50 or more combat brigades. But President Bush blew a golden opportunity to call Americans to join the US Army on September 12, 2001 and instead told them to paste American flags in their windows and go shopping and cut taxes. And we have paid ever since. Remember that region had been cleared of the Taliban in 2002 and when Bush left office they had control of it back. Also, the reason those villagers don't have guns to fight the Taliban is because they are of a different tribe of the Pashtuns than the present president of Pakistan -- ie this is mainly a war against Pashtuns of tribes against his tribes.

    Second, those farmers are not growing Opium just to survive. When the Taliban told them to stop growing Opium or else before 2001 they did not starve. They grow it for the same reason that some farmers grow marijuana secretly between their corn rows in the summer. It is big money. And with that money some of them old farmers can afford a young 14 year old wife (the young men never get young wives btw) or more important a status symbol of a dancing boy. One former ambassador to Afghanistan who was born in Afghanistan has told the American public that over and over in articles. But everyone keeps saying they do it to keep from starving. Jeez! It is like Pearl Harbor. All the signs are there in plain sight.

    Finally, in that region, nothing has changed since almost the times the British were there (except the dam the US built on trying to make their lives better by growing two or three crops instead one, which now they use to grow opium). On many forums for young military officers going to Afghanistan where those that have been there write, they say read the book "Bugles and Tigers" written by John Masters when he was a young British officer commanding a Gurkha platoon in the 1930s along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. It is still the best primer on the culture of the area.

    Jack E. Hammond

    PS> Tell you all a little know open secret among many in the US military: If the Russians pull their An-124 transport aircraft from charter to NATO we are in a world of hurt. And a USAF general pretty well said that in so many words to a US Congress committee.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Byrne · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael - always great to read your dispatches.
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    Robert Burrichter · 10 years ago
    If not for the GI silhouetted on the skyline the terrain could be the surface of the moon.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 10 years ago
    Mike good dispatch, i just wonder if this will be like Fallujah, Iraq, OR will the Talibs/AQ just melt away, across the border into Baluchistan? IF so, is the P-stani army gonna be there to greet them? If they are allowed sanctuary, this may be all for nothing. YES, we kicked AQ's azz, kicked the Talib gov out, killed thousands of them, thier leaders, etc. But wat happens if the P-stanis do nothing? We are NOT fighting a battle of attrition, it would take, years, lives, possibly cost trillions. Im sure this has been discussed, and i don't see the ANA being able to handle thier own security, not for a long time, maybe not ever. When has there been a strong central gov in A-stan? Does anyone trust Karzai&Co? LOL!!!! NO WAY. I am not comparing this to Vietnam, but how can you NOT think of it? Better find a political solution soon, coz there may not be a military one. Unless the PAK Army denies them "safe havens". Why so much negativity about "Hurt Locker"?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    kwgm · 10 years ago
    Looks a little like Palm Springs in some of those photos, but we know it isn't.

    Stay Loose, buddy.
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    Eddy · 10 years ago
    Thanks for this fascinating dispatch!
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    Ed · 10 years ago
    This is not the end of Michael Yon. Some elements of the Brass have taken exception to his fearless reporting, but that'll blow over. Michael Yon the phenomenon is bigger than that (and has greater endurance, like the ocean). With the context and detail that Mr Yon adds to his dispatches, I posit he could be reporting from Qatar and still offer a world-beating perspective on current events. I'd actually be glad to see Mike cut his risk profile a smidgen -- the guy's been in more firefights than most mortals will see in three lifetimes. We shouldn't demand so much of one man.
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    Hubertus · 10 years ago

    I was two years in Kandahar and it is good that your pictures show the beauty of the country and the uglyness of this confict.

    Stay safe, the head down and morale high!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marvin W. Inglis · 10 years ago
    Greetings, I hope that the American people realize that we are very priviledged to have a reporter of your quality. A man that is honest,upright, and reporting above any reporter I have ever known. Brave and Bold....I appreciate your work so very much. May God Bless you and continue to watch over you. I appreciate those brave soldiers that you have reported on....their sacifice for the freedoms that were are blessed to have. If anyone ever should have the Pulzier Prize it should be you. I am aware that you have lost your embedded position. The reason for that is you take pictures and report the way it actually is happening...I'm sure the Top Brass doesn't appreciate you as much as we your readers do,for all practical purposes they are probably afraid of you, your honest reporting and not lyiing about what is happening.....as you and I both know the truth hurts...however I look @ it in a different way....the Truth Shall set you free.....Thanks Michae for your time and your service.....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Fnord · 10 years ago
    "Some elements of the Brass have taken exception to his fearless reporting,"

    I dont think calling general McChrystal a liar and an insubordinate without any evidence is actually reporting, sir.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Keith · 10 years ago
    I thought you were more of a Western NC fan. Other than the fact that you can by Cheerwine at the local convienence stores, there isn't a lot going on in Ellijay. It has grown about 20x since the early 90's, but still is a pretty small town.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    james · 10 years ago
    Mr Yon i would just like to say thank you. my son is a member of c company,they have been through some really hard times,many of sleepless night for me and his mother,if it wasnt for people like you the world would never see a part of what theses men has been through.just a few more weeks and they will be home thank you again
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve Berkshire · 10 years ago
    My GOD you've become a whiny bitch. ALL of the other bloggers are noticing it too, so don't just take my word for it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dorothy Roush · 10 years ago
    The Shah is almost photo shop looking NO OFFENSE PLEASE when I saw it it was such a mirage looking photo, rare beauty.To see these pics, what we cant imagine existing is such a privilege, you do fantastic work, were really fortunate to have you.As for the whinners take it to facebook or jump out without a shute.Michael has it all & guts, one Samaritian taking the risks our Troops do to open doors many dont have a clue whats behind.He could easily step into an IED trap doing this for us.... so leave whinny out greeneyes.Thanks Michael your doing a great job its surely your calling.You bring peace to alot of people that have family,children, friends out of country, surely beats being in the dark with no foresight of what Our Soldiers see and endure.KUDOS Michael
  • This commment is unpublished.
    epador · 10 years ago
    Having flown over these areas many times half a decade ago, it neat to see them up close. Sad but predictable so little has changed.
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    Jim Wheeler · 10 years ago
    Thanks and good story. Kandahar province is a big place and so is Kandahar City (450,000). My son will be coming there in June with the 2nd Cav Stryker Reg. Hope I can continue to follow things on sites such as this and others (any suggestions?).

    BTW - Hurt Locker has many flaws re: realism. #1 - a lone wolf EOD guy would be jerked from the line so fast it would make your head swim. They don't tolerate that kind of free lancing behavior. And EOD units don't drive around alone in the desert, running into CIA units and getting into fire fights with snipers. Just doesn't happen. They are attached to other units or stay inside the wire until they get a call .. they don't cruise alone. This could be part of the issue.
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    Scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    Third article down has interesting view on battle for Kandahar

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    tjg · 10 years ago
    Not killing Tribal Afghans. I'm sure,
    Thank you Michael Yon for providing a haunting view of brave people thrust with stark excess into bad situations.
    I mean really, I remember 911, visiting NY, I remember the smell at the ruin site of the twin towers.
    It was the awful smell of death.
    Was it these people in Yon's photo that planned and brought down the twin towers?
    Was it the people (taliban) that visit and threaten them?

    Thank goodness Hakeemullah Mehsud threatened to attack NY (and failed).
    Now we have good reason again to rage a reckless war on fellow humans around the world.
    People are still blowing in Iraq and women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, why do we war in this way?
    Justice is a mockery on our southern border and murder is rampant due to economic stress and pressure within the drug cartels.
    Phoenix is the number one for rate of kidnapping in the US. It's mostly terror on Mexicians escaping the carnage so we don't really care.
    How is the production of opium tied to the Taliban and/or local Afghan tribal leaders in this war?.
    What is the price? I don't think the good Captain gets it.
    I like your questions Michael, you have a way of shining a light on the ugly underbelly.
    Thank you again Michael Yon for providing a haunting view of brave people thrust with stark excess into bad situations.
    It's nice to see the sun glasses and helmets off.
    Don't get me wrong, It would be a huge gain to see the Fab guys set up shop in the south.
    It just seems along way off...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert Dale · 9 years ago
    maybe you will like this. pretty country
  • This commment is unpublished.
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