Michael's Dispatches

Cheering for Mass Murder


(a quick, unedited message from Kabul)

2011-06-28-144532-Web1000pxHotel Under Fire

29 June 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan

There is heavy security around Kabul.  A “ring of steel,” as they call it, which is under Afghan authority.  I’ve been driving around Kabul for several weeks and have never seen a foreign guard, and seldom see US or other forces on the roads.   I’ve been walking around town, shopping in shops and eating in restaurants.  All day yesterday and today I was out in the city with no weapon and no troops.   I wear Western clothes and sunglasses and seldom get an extra look while driving around in various sorts of taxis and private cars.  Expats are out past midnight at the few local restaurants that sell alcohol.  This is not Baghdad.  Fighting there was nearly constant and often sustained.  If this were Baghdad, I’d have been dead the first day.  Any ideas that Kabul is falling are remarkably wrong.  There are, however, some dangers and occasional suicide attacks that are nakedly designed to get press.

Last night, as I was preparing for bed, a message arrived from a US military officer cautioning about an ongoing attack with approximately six suicide bombers.  I am staying off base so the military was just making sure all was okay.  I responded immediately to affirm all is okay.  I am far from the attack.   I had not even heard any explosions or gunfire.  Six minutes later, Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mojahid emailed me.  My normal translators were asleep, so I sent it back to the US military asking for a translation, and they were kind enough to help:

News release from Zabihullah Mojahid:

At 10.00 pm our Devoted Mojahid attacked Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul while 300 Afghans and foreign occupier countries high rank officials are attending a gathering in the hotel; the attack is still ongoing. First, the Mujahedin killed the security officers at the gate and then they entered the Hotel. They killed and injured many of the high rank officials, both Afghans and foreigners. Just minutes ago, the devoted Mojahid called me from the Hotel and told me that they are fighting successfully. We lost only one Mujaheed. We are in every level of the hotel.  So far we killed 50 of the domestic and foreign enemies. Right now, we are in all saloons and we go rooms to rooms and kill one by one of those who managed to go to their rooms, they are foreigners. Tonight 300 were gathered for an important meeting. INSHALLAH all will be killed.

Zabihullah was telling the truth, at least partly.  He has been consistently fast about getting out the Taliban message.  Usually, from what I have seen, there is a basis in truth and then Zabihullah gets into wild overstatement.  I’ve never seen him completely lie, or completely tell the truth, though it’s possible he does both at times.

By now it was after midnight and sirens could be heard, and aircraft in the distance.  I heard an unconfirmed report that men could be seen firing from the roof of the hotel, and could be seen smoking.  If this were true, our helicopters would kill them shortly.  I heard a distant explosion from the direction of the hotel, posted it to Facebook and then went to bed.

This morning, I asked some contacts for photos, and I bought the copyright for these images from Nazir Ekhlass.  Nazir explained each photo to me.  Nazir had his camera on a tripod and used a timer, keeping the shutter open for around twenty seconds.


Nazir explained that there was much shooting from numerous places.  Helicopters arrived and began taking groundfire.


Firing on helicopters.


Firing more on helicopters.


There were multiple firing points that were not on the hotel.


I doubt these were helicopters.  Possibly UAVs that turned their lights on to avoid air traffic or to distract the terrorists.


This image is computer generated synthesis of the previous images.


Nazir said helicopters were firing single shots.  The bright spots over the hill are probably muzzle flashes.  The laser looking shots are the impacts on the roof.


Nazir said that as the helicopter shot, there was a tremendous explosion far greater than a grenade.


Others reported seeing bed sheets tied together from a high window, apparently as guests tried to escape.  In the above image there is what appears to be a flashlight caught moving during the long exposure, and what appears to be a terrorist holding a weapon.


Apparent flashlight on left, possible terrorist near the right.


Nazir said this was a massive explosion.


Countermeasures from the sky.


The best hotel in Kabul ablaze in a Mumbai-style attack.


Smoke fell across Kabul while the moon and the constellation Orion “The Hunter” hung in the sky.

Nazir said that when he thought the fighting was all over, there was still a very large explosion after sunrise.

Meanwhile, as I write this dispatch, Zabihullah emailed this.  He’s cheering for mass murder.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    DAN LANE · 8 years ago
    You continue to give the best coverage to a long and confusing situation. Keep safe. We need you honest reports and we look forward the future when you can return home.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 8 years ago
    This is a very timely and content rich dispatch. Keep up the great work.
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    Eileen · 8 years ago
    As soon as I read the Seattle Times report on this, I knew I had to read your take on it--what great reporting!
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    Kenny Komodo · 8 years ago
    It appears, Michael, that someone forgot to tell the Taliban that we are winning and they are losing. Does this attack make you any more comfortable that pulling the surge troops out of Afghanistan is the right thing to do at this juncture?
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    Arlen · 8 years ago
    Nazir just happened to have his camera there set up? How does that happen?
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    Rachael · 8 years ago
    Mr. Yon,
    Thanks for your continual coverage of the events happening in Afghanistan. Stay safe...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ed · 8 years ago
    The night sky photo of the moon and constellation Orion also contains a great shot of the "Pleiades" just to the left of Orion. Great night photography!
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    Ed · 8 years ago
    Make that to the RIGHT of Orion. :oops:
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    Ryan · 8 years ago
    Arlen: I can set up a camera on a tripod in under 30 seconds. If he saw something happening outside, it wouldn't take long to setup the shots and with digital cameras he can dial in the long exposures quickly.

    I pray for all the guests at the hotel. Sometimes I wish we Americans could go everywhere armed.
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    Matt · 8 years ago
    Mike, fantastic photos. Here is a question. I was speculating that the assault force had tracer ammunition so they could shoot at helicopters or hard to see targets at night, and that tracer ammunition could be seen by everyone in the city. Is this the first time they have used tracers in an attack like this? Because as you can see, the tracers help to promote the visuals of an attack, along with setting the hotel on fire. Pure propaganda....
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    Arlen · 8 years ago
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    Ron · 8 years ago

    Great work..and that you are permitted to get the truth out to us... wonder if all the lights above the hill are illumination to light up the men on the ground using the machine guns against us and our aircraft
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon@gmail. · 8 years ago
    Thank you for the comments and ideas.

    Feral, the idea on tracers for the propaganda is an interesting thought that had not crossed my mind. Am going to file that one away for future reference.

    Ron, am thinking the lights above the hill are just muzzle flashes. This is a guess. As you know, attack helicopters don't need ANY illumination to spot hot targets on a roof. But who knows? Maybe they shot illum for the ground fight below??? I could find out but probably not a good expenditure of effort.

    Insofar as how Nazir got the camera set up, the fight lasted maybe 10 hours. Nazir lives right there so it would be simple. I saw some of his camera gear and we talked photography while downloading the photos. This guy is smart and seems more like an artist than a Taliban plant. Most Afghans hate the Taliban. Especially the smart Afghans.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sus · 8 years ago
    Hey my friend. Long time no talk ... I'm back in Asia and, as always, remain tuned in. Awesome photography. Was wondering if you were staying nearby ..... glad you're safe. Stay that way!
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    Shukri · 8 years ago
    Excellent coverage. The Taliban can't really lose so long as the US continues to ally itself with warlords, former communists and Westernizer Pashtos. The Taliban, mostly pashtoon themselves, enjoy support from the native Pashtoon majority and so merely killing off their commanders wont bring about victory. This is why the US negotiating with them at the table is the right way to go.
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    David · 8 years ago
    New Zealand news outfits were reporting kiwi SAS forces were invovled in the fighting, with two of them being injured. The news reports said they used sniper rifles from the helicopters at one point. In any case excellent article again Michael, and Nazir for the images.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    gus3 · 8 years ago
    I think I just saw a couple of these pictures on NBC news.
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    Adam V · 8 years ago
    Great work, as usual.
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    Paul Goeller · 8 years ago
    Michael: my brother-in-law Duane Hardesty has told me about you and forwarded some of your posts...i have a son who is a US ARmy major and a son-in-law who is a commander in the Navy...i am grateful to all who serve in the military...and i appreciate the "hard facts" which come through your posts. My prayers are for you and for our warriors in harms way. paul
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan J · 8 years ago
    Good pictures to see, I was wondering about the tracers also. Someone else got good pictures and you didnt have to!
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    Linda · 8 years ago
    So glad your safe, I thought about your position when I heard of the attack.
    Praying for your path.
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    Michael Reinhard · 8 years ago
    I was about 2 km from the hotel and heard most of it. I was laid up with food poisoning of some kind and couldn't sleep anyway, but it was really strange hearing all this fighting and not knowing what was going on. It sounded like an army was advancing on the city and in a strange way it was like they were coming for me.

    The next day I got to talk to some students. They said that there were 17 killed. Then they told me the subtotals (if memory serves): 10 Afghan police, 4 foreign guests, Afghan civilians and 6 Talibs. I said, "That adds up to more than 17?" They looked at each other for a moment and said, "Of course, Sir, we do not count the Talibs among the people killed."
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    takemetotheriver · 8 years ago
    The attack in Mumbai was planned and practiced over months, with little or no local assistance against a civil force that was in effect unarmed. When they met resistance the gunmen changed direction of attack, away from that resistance. I don't doubt that parts of this attack matched the tactics used by the LET, and I don't for a minute doubt a connection exists to Pakistani Islamist's. That this is not a purely "Afghan Taliban" operation seems likely to me. Perhaps you have some insight on the question there, that we cannot see long distance?
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    aziz · 8 years ago
    Know Nazir personally... Yes he is an artist (graphic designer) and indeed a smart guy... always looking for these kind of things to get it captured in his camera...
    Thank you Mike for sharing these great snaps with all of us... keep doing good work and stay safe.....
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    Najibullah · 8 years ago
    Well done, perfect report
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    Abobaker · 8 years ago
    Good job Michael and Nazir, hope to see further cooperation in this regards.
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    Nazir Ekhlass · 8 years ago
    thank you Michael for uploading these shots.

    @Ryan: setting a camera in a bulb option and setting the ISO and Aperture is not a big deal it only takes Max 1 minute. as Michael said this occasion was not for 5 minutes, i heard the firing at 10:00 PM and start taking photos at 10:10. my house located right in front of Intercontinental Hotel.
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    anona · 8 years ago
    The photos remind me of the quip:'tracers work both ways'. Also I thought (based on memories of the bad old days), that the soviet bloc tracers were white, not red as ours were. Or are we equipping the enemy again?
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    yes · 8 years ago
    Here are the english links to "he's cheering for mass murder".


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    Tony · 8 years ago
    This is a war and these things happen in war. There were a lot of attacks that day, so this is nothing special.
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    Bob · 8 years ago
    Once upon a time, Soviet and Chicom tracers were green, anona. Today there are AK munitions manufactured all over the globe with all of the colors of the rainbow as tracer markings. Last batch of AK ammo I received from some clearing house had a purplish tinge to it and a few of the guys I was shooting with remarked that GLAD had at long last taken up arms.
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    Leyla Najma · 8 years ago
    Amazingly clear photos!!
    Wow......you always put things in perspective with your photographs!!
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    FWCP · 8 years ago
    Michael and Nazir, excellent work! Thank you very much for your reporting. Your posts are regularly shared by Freedom Warriors Care Packages on facebook.
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    Thomas · 8 years ago
    The final photos says a lot.
    A too often forgotten truth is that you can live through actual events of history and completely miss the underlying reality of what's going on. It is what it is.

    How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
    ISAIAH Ch14, v12
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mahmood E · 8 years ago
    Great work guys. Glad to see the perfect shots.To the youngguy Nazir! Man, you made me proud. The world is seening your geat work.
    Please keep it up. :lol:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mahmood E · 8 years ago
    Sorry for typo ;-(
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    David · 8 years ago
    [quote name="gus3"]I think I just saw a couple of these pictures on NBC news.[/quote]
    Yes I saw these same picture I believe on NBC news. These images are excellent, thanks Michael. Activclient has helped in many ways.
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    fern · 8 years ago
    Great reporting and pictures! I'm trying to understand, why are these individuals that attacked the hotel terrorists when there target was government officials? The death toll was 9 Afghan fighters and 12 civilians. If the US dropped a bomb that killed 9 Taliban and 12 civilians, would they also count as terrorists?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nazir Ekhlass · 8 years ago
    on 7th of June intercontinental Hotel Held a reopening ceremony with the attendance of afghan Musicians.

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