Michael's Dispatches

Death in the Corn: Part II of III


Published: 17 September 2008

The ambush was set, but “Terry” Taliban didn’t step into it. The most successful hunters are not the ones who bag something every time, but the ones who hunt all the time, and 2 Para has been hunting the most dangerous prey. The soldiers of C-co 2 Para are not sure how many they’ve killed in the past five months, but the estimates are around 200, and during the days I spent with them, their average daily kill would put them well over that number.

Moving out of our ambush position, we set off from the ANA (Afghan National Army) compound to “tab” (walk) back to Gib, watching every step. While a soldier with a metal detector swept a skinny path ahead, other soldiers scanned the flanks, simultaneously trying to step in the prints just laid. The soldiers watched not only for ambush and mines and other bombs, but for “dickers.” Dicker is a British term derived from the war in Northern Ireland, where the enemy had a simple but effective system of look-outs to track British patrols and activities.

We arrived safely back on Gib, and the soldiers went about their business. Some headed to the outdoor gym nestled among the mortar pits, while others cleaned their dusty weapons. By 0800, the heat was already rising, but I fell asleep, sweating on a green canvas cot under a mosquito net inside a tent that trapped heat during the day.

Perhaps an hour into the slumber, a British sniper and his spotter were up scanning the corn, tree-lines and buildings with their optics. The sniper’s .338 caliber bullets are powerful enough to flat-blast a Grizzly. The bullet is powerful enough to penetrate most body armor, and still kill the wearer. The sniper scanned through the crosshairs while corn tassels waved in the hot breeze, until the image of a dicker fell under the reticule. The bearded man wearing a turban was observing a British patrol, apparently thinking he was hidden by the trees. The sniper dialed in the range.

But neither the sniper nor spotter could see a radio or weapon in the dicker’s hands, and they did not want to mistakenly shoot a curious farmer. Yet a dicker doesn’t always need a radio or telephone. He can signal, or just walk away and tell what he sees, or pick up a radio hidden nearby. He can carry a snuff box with a little mirror inside for checking his mustache, and use the mirror for signaling. The decision was made to fire a warning shot. If the man was Taliban or working for them, he would get a free lesson on how to do it better tomorrow. If he was just a farmer, he might say the British shot at him but missed.

The sniper controlled his breathing and slowly exhaled one final breath. He squeezed the light trigger…BAM! Bear-stopping bullet launched at three times the speed of sound over the corn, startling birds that fluttered away. The slug hit a tree, splintered through bark, ricocheted, and struck the man, who fell.

What can be said other than, oops?

The man probably was dicking the patrol, and the locals had been duly warned to stay back. Still, the ricochet was unfortunate and the wound turned out to be critical. Locals gathered the wounded man and rushed him to the gate of FOB Gibraltar, where medics quickly took him in. The British and Americans provide one-stop shopping for the enemy; they will shoot down the enemy free of charge, and if he survives, provide top-notch free medical care. The British doctor, Captain Aki Lalani, pulled on the blue latex gloves and went to work. While Dr. Lalani and the medics tried to save the man, they called for a medevac helicopter, which roared into Gibraltar. (The British are critically short on helicopters, yet on two separate occasions the British diverted helicopters solely to pick up wounded Afghans. In each case, I saw good reason to believe that the men were Taliban, or at least helping the Taliban.)

Medical evacuation: ATV with trailer and stretcher rushes Afghan shot by sniper to the helicopter.

Gibraltar is so small that when a helicopter lands, the whole camp is dusted, tents flap and rattle and quickly fill with even more grime, if that were possible. I stepped out of the tent, the grime and sweat turning to mud on my skin, and came around with the camera, just as some soldiers loaded the wounded dicker on the helicopter, which evacuated him to Camp Bastion for the best trauma treatment just about anywhere in the world. There was credible information that Taliban were trying to shoot down a helicopter, but that the Taliban also did not shoot when they knew one of their wounded was aboard. Information would arrive that persuaded me the wounded man probably was either Taliban or working for them.

The British doctor who treated the Afghan is in the middle with blood-covered blue gloves.  The last I heard, his patient had survived for at least about the first 24 hours.

Each day, I would ask Major Adam Dawson how the convoy to Kajaki was going. I was very concerned that it would fail, providing a windfall for the enemy (and a huge setback for us). Major Dawson was tight-lipped, but as the days rolled by, occasionally I got snippets that the top secret convoy was inching forward. Later it would become public that the average speed was a painful 1 mph for the more than 100 miles just to deliver the turbine.

Later that afternoon, after the man was shot and the helicopter flew him away, the enemy sniper started shooting again. The rifle cracks were very loud, as if the rifle were being fired from somewhere on the small FOB. The crack-to-bang got shorter by the day. There was maybe a third of a second between the supersonic crack of the bullet (which truly was very loud) to the bang of the rifle that fired it. Sound at STP (standard temperature and pressure) travels at roughly 1,100 FPS. A rough estimate: 1,100FPS (1/3S) = a range of about 370 ft, or about 120 yards. He could be hit with a bow and arrow! Whatever the case, the sniper was very close, apparently hiding out in the cornfields.

There were some Danish soldiers on Gib—the British soldiers get a kick out of them. The Danish infantry, despite their small numbers, have a good reputation among the Brits because the Danes, they say, will mix it up. But the Danes at Gib were intelligence, not infantry. Recently, an American mission was running nearby, but our folks did not alert the Danes, who could have told our guys that they were about to be ambushed. A few minutes later, sounds from a fierce firefight rumbled over the base.

The Danes have always been interesting. I recall Special Forces friends coming home from Denmark, telling tales of the rigors of their scout swimming course, and saying that the Danish frogmen all swam like fish. The Danes would tell stories about the Vikings, but the SF soldiers were more interested in hearing about Danish women. I’ve never grown tired of hearing Danish stories. One never knows what they will say next. A Danish soldier at Gib told me that when he was younger, he operated a call-girl service from his house, right in front of his mom and his girlfriend.

The Danish section on Gib was just near the headquarters, and so I saw them frequently. Often, at least one of the Danish soldiers would be watching porn on a computer. When I told them that American soldiers would get busted for that, they were astonished. No, they were shocked. What?! American soldiers are not allowed to watch porn? The Brits couldn’t believe it, either. We’re just a bunch of Puritans to them. One particularly energetic Danish soldier had bought two blow-up dolls, and when I saw the dolls still in the packages, I thought it was a joke. But other Danes assured me, “It’s not a joke. He bought those for business.” Nobody seemed to mind that another soldier might be sleeping among them with his love balloon.

The Brits didn’t know what to think of the Danes, except that they were great at their job. The Danes served two functions: saving British lives, and comic relief. The Danes also had scored 16 cases of American MREs, and offered me all that I wanted. I promptly took a whole case and thanked them profusely.

That sniper in the corn, or wherever he was, kept shooting over FOB Gibraltar. A real sniper would have killed some of us by now. He was just a guy with a powerful rifle, yet it was only a matter of time before he blew someone’s head off. Usually he fired around dinnertime, but then grew bolder and began taking potshots during the day. He was at least smart enough to fire only one shot at a time, and to space out his shots, while apparently moving around.

Time: 0Dark30.

The next morning at about sunrise, we were out on a mission, heading in the direction where the sniper was known to lurk. We were not looking for the sniper, but the Brits were attempting to lure the enemy into attacking, and Terry kindly obliged.

The Taliban imposes a curfew. After sunset, Terry turns on the bombs in case the British come to attack at night. Then, just after sunrise, they turn off the bombs so locals can work the fields. The locals often mark IEDs with plastic in a tree, or a bottle on a stick, or some other marker. Terry uses saw blades and mortar rounds and HME (homemade explosives), and landmines in their bombs. Soldiers get arms and legs blown off. With the excellent body armor, immediate access to doctors like CPT Aki Lalani, helicopters, and outstanding trauma centers at places like Camp Bastion, sometimes a soldier will lose multiple limbs and survive.

Green Zone means danger.

Irrigation ditches and muddy ground surround the fields.

Approaching the abandoned compound.

The mission was divided into several sections. The section I followed was to occupy a fire support location called Lima 1-1. It was a recently abandoned family compound, which can house up to a couple dozen family members. The compounds are made like little forts, complete with firing positions, sometimes even moats and watch towers.

We would get into position first, to observe and cover the other two elements as they moved deeper into Terry country. As if we could go any “deeper.” The Command Sergeant Major, who told me to call him Charley, was at the head of our group, while Major Adam Dawson led the element most likely to get into serious contact. The Danes had told me that every time the base comes under attack, CSM Charley just walks around calmly. The Danes said that one day he had a cup of coffee in his hand—saying things like, “Stay focused. Pick your shots. Good job, keep at it boys. You’re doing fine work.”

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Freedom Now · 13 years ago
    What great reporting.

    Some people are only aware of the mistakes that the British have made, like their negotiations with the Taliban in Musa Qala.

    Yet British forces are fighting fiercely wherever they are deployed in the country. Stories like this one and the one about the convoy to Kajaki Dam reveals the truth about their fighting spirit.

    We should honor such faithful allies. I am grateful and inspired by their unselfish acts of heroism.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dave · 13 years ago
    These pictures remind me very much of images from Vietnam - except that we have an opportunity to win this war and redeem the Western powers by bringing peace and modern civilization to a neglected corner of the world. If we succeed, we deal a mortal blow to terrorism worldwide. If we fail, we will fight the war in other countries. We civilians support you and pray for you men. May you destroy the enemy and return to us safely, and may your grandchildren have pride in your contribution to our great victory!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AmericanJarhead · 13 years ago
    Most excellent writing and photography. Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Orion · 13 years ago

    Incredible reporting as always.

    Do you have any data on what actually happened to those French soldiers who were ambushed by the Taliban? I'm very puzzled as to what went on there as I saw photos at Paris Match of Taliban wearing a French soldier's uniform and with his weapon. What happened to their backup or cover? Why were they there?

    I figure if anyone knows - YOU will and asking never hurts...


    • This commment is unpublished.
      Si Yip · 3 years ago
      The French troops suffered a lot of casualties, and the wounded were beheaded or had their throats slashed by the Taliban.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Pizzo · 13 years ago

    Thanks as always for the great reporting. Tell the Brits thanks from America. Great pictures as well. Keep up the reporting. Things are a little nuts over here with the election and all.


  • This commment is unpublished.
    Hanna · 13 years ago
    I doubt you remember me, er talked several years ago. The minute I saw your name on FR I remembered you and your wonderful reporting. Several years ago I lost everything on my computer including your e-mail address. Since then new computer, new e-mail address.

    So glad to see you are still reporting! You do such a wonderful job:-) As always, BE CAREFUL:-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thud · 13 years ago
    Again reporting that puts any British reporters to shame...please keep on showing just how good our troops are....they deserve all the exposure they can.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brooke · 13 years ago

    My husband is in the Army and always talks about your books and articles. Today for the first time, I read Part I and Part II of Death in the Corn Field. Great writing and excellent photography!

    My husband is also currently in Afghanistan. We don't get to speak too much or too often but your articles were eye opening to say the least. You even have helped to clarify some of things he has been trying to explain to me.

    He would love to meet you one day. If you want his information, e-mail me. You never know if your paths might cross. He knows you are in country but I am not sure if he has had a chance to read your articles.

    Keep up the good work
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jason · 13 years ago
    Love the last pic in this article, reminds me of Animal mother from full metal jacket, only not as muscly. note the AB+ blood type written on his body armour. Excellent reporting and pics as usual mike. makes a change from just seeing casualty figures of allied troops in the main stream media. keep it up.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Fernando · 13 years ago

    Thank you for the fantastic read. It helps "average US citizens" like myself appreciate what our servicemen and servicemen from other countries do to protect our liberties and freedom. How does one go about shipping goods to soliders over there? You mentioned that they are always happy to receive snacks, etc.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    pull2eject · 13 years ago
    Thanks for doing what you did for more than one reason, Not only does the world get to see what is actually going on there, but also the squaddies know as long as your there reporting then somebodys listening.
    Keep on keeping on thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ali · 13 years ago
    Great Site but also give some coverage on the attrocities committed by these eages. . . .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Huntress · 13 years ago
    Please check out http://www.anysoldier.com/
    Click on "Where to Send"
    On the left of the page you will see a drop down menu that allows you to chose "country."
    Once you do that, a drop down menu below that will allow you to chose WHICH Country,
    Obviously Afg and Iraq are available.
    If you choose AFGHANISTAN, lets say, a list of names will appear of soldiers & Marines stationed in Afghanistan. Click on any name. An email from that person appear on the right & generally outlines what the men/women in that unit need.

    You can also click on the sister site: http://treatanysoldier.com/ to select pre-made care packages to send to your soldier of choice. Both sites work in conjunction with each other.

    Hope this helps!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Amy K · 13 years ago

    thank you again for serving as our eyes and ears. I put a check in the mail today, and I hope that other readers can support your next dispatch with funds in addition to leaving their appreciative comments.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SHODAN · 13 years ago
    Been a fan since the beginning - ordered 2 copies of your book, one for my Dad who started and couldn't put it down. I've yet to start mine because I know I'll suffer the same fate, but I did sneak a few pages in.

    In these days of massive media bias, when the anti-war left wants the world to perceive Iraq as a dismal failure, and puppets like Obama more than willing to placate them, some friend of mine have wondered how, in the midst of such BS, can the American public really find the truth? "Simple" I tell them, "Go to Michael Yon's site and you'll get the straight scoop on everything concerning the wars."

    I have repeatedly stated that I truly believe in these days of massive propaganda, misinformation, and downright disinformation, that the Internet is the "Great Equalizer". In wars past, even Desert Storm, the 'net wasn't the massive information tool that has become in our everyday lives. True, idiots would find what they want to believe regardless if the 'net was here or not. But most people want the truth, and misinformation only works when people can be truly misled on all fronts - "All of the people all of the time". Even in ancient wars, not everyone believed propaganda put out by their enemies. Propaganda works when you can control the flow of information, and the liberals have forgotten that we don't live in a network world anymore, and that most people no longer get their news from a printed publication. The BS of the past doesn't work in the present, as too many have access to the truth, and they will find it.

    Again, the 'net is the Great Equalizer of our time. You, Michael, have become one of truth's biggest factors in the struggle between those who would misinform for political and personal gain, and those who wish and hunger for the truth, knowing there's more to the real story. Americans aren't as stupid as the left believes, and with your work you're helping to further educate the masses. Keep it up, and:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    HLH · 13 years ago
    I was also going to suggest the www.anysoldier.com website.
    I currently have "adopted" groups of soldiers in Afghanistan.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DKC · 13 years ago
    Your byline first appeared in my junk mail box several months ago and I ignored them, thinking they were were from a political fundraiser. It is only recently that i see what you are about. Please accept my thanks for giving us a nitty-gritty first-hand look at what is happening in Afghanistan (and Iraq) and my small contribution to your work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Richard Garrison · 13 years ago
    The close up of the slab-sided weapon is a British M1889 British Martini-Henry Marks I-IV (I am not sure which model), which were used heavily in India, through Persia, etc.
    Love your work

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack Williams · 13 years ago
    These are the so-called "Kyber pass Martini henry" rifles which are locally produced imitations. These rifles were famously used by the Empire troops against the Zulus at Isandelwanda and Roark's Drift. See this site:


    There are two main varients, the 1871 Mk 1 and the 1877 Mk II long lever action. There was a "Mk-III and "Mk-IV" but most were just reconfigured Mk ! or !!'s. Other variations were named and several different modifications were made on each of the main models.

    The "Khyber Pass" varients are made in backyards and shops from scrap throughout the region. Here is a site that discusses them. They can be quickly identified when compared to an original.


    Another rifle shown in one of the pictures. It is a locally produced imitation of the Snyder Enfiled..which was a 1866 British issue breech loading adaptation of the 185 muzzle loading Enfield. The muzzle loading Enfield was much used by Imperial troops in India and imported by the thousands by CSA forces for use during the USWBTS. It was probably the most common confederate firearm. Actually, there may be an imitation 185 enfield standing in the corner of one of the pictures.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    funky1 · 13 years ago

    Once again another profressional job done on reporting on British troops. I was in Basra in early 2007 when you reported on our troops bagging the militiants trying to ambush our guys.

    Good job and if you are ever in Tidworth, UK. Give me a shout and I will buy you a few beers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Phineas · 13 years ago
    Great reporting as always, but this section jumped out at me:

    We would get into position first, to observe and cover the other two elements as they moved deeper into Terry country. As if we could go any ƒ??deeper.ƒ? The Command Sergeant Major, who told me to call him Charley, was at the head of our group, while Major Adam Dawson led the element most likely to get into serious contact. The Danes had told me that every time the base comes under attack, CSM Charley just walks around calmly. The Danes said that one day he had a cup of coffee in his handƒ??saying things like, ƒ??Stay focused. Pick your shots. Good job, keep at it boys. Youƒ??re doing fine work.ƒ?

    Anyone who's seen "Zulu," a fabulous movie, will recognize "Colour Sergeant Bourne" in this. I thought it was just a joke in the movie, a sterotype of the British, and yet CSM Charley is a living example. The British fighting man is just amazing for his steadiness. If only they had a government worthy of them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MLTS · 13 years ago
    I have read your writing for years now. The book is on my shelf and your bank account has heard from my bank account a few times. Your writing has become a part of my life as I assign your text to my children as part of their schooling for it's clarity, vividness, and structure; use your stories of bravery, self sacrifice, and honor of the military community as examples of how a good person should act/react in the world; uphold your work for it's speaking of truth, be it good or bad, against the roaring noise of the media bias and the uninformed.

    Here is my problem with this article. Call me a puritan, not cool, or whatever. Pornography is a multi billion dollar industry. Some estimate the perveyours of this blight make more money than most businesses, worldwide. The use of this product destroys our families and makes victims of the men, women and children that are used to portray the acts of violence against human beings. When you give a wink and a nod to the practice, implying American unworldlyness as compared to the Dutch in their restriction of the product to its troops you have, in the position of influence I have given you in my world, made pornography a thing to seek out more information of and prostitution in the face of family a good thing. I challenge you, and your substansive journalistic skills, to find out the truth and consequences of this destroyer of our families, present and future, with its use of it by our men and women and children. To research and report of the predatory practices of the industry and how many crimes against humanity result when people view this product as normal and good.

    I realise this is probably not the forum for this sort of email but there is no other way to attempt to contact you that I can find on the website. Please accept my appreciation to you for the job you do in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. My thanks to you for your commitment to excellence. My gratefullness for your willingness to share with us what you learn.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Meaker · 12 years ago
    One note about the Martini rifles. Most common caliber .45/577: these may be very old originals, may be local imitations. There were also Cadet variations that used the . 0 British round (used through WWI and WWII and Korea). A recent lot hit the market from the arsenals Nepal. That lot was old, but not a local imitation. Some were made at the Indian arsenals about the 1890s.

    Without careful inspection it would be hard to distinguish local imitation from very old. In either case, you take your life in your hands if you shoot them.

    The big "raindrop" on the side is a cocking indicator.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Afghan · 12 years ago
    Just wanted to say great photos Michael
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susan Periano · 12 years ago
    The reporting is clear and it's a wonderful service you're providing. Like comment #22 I believe pornography is abusive and has created more unhappiness in the world. Pornography is sometimes confused with the notion of entertaining adults. Mature adults do not need to resort to denegration as a means of entertainment and immature young people need strong values to emulate. Pornography accomplishes neither. Including it in your reports allows for commenting which is good. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in such conditions, let alone write about them. Thank you hardly seems adequate. Now having been exposed to your coverage I will be sure to add you to my daily prayers. God be with you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susan Periano · 12 years ago
    After reading and viewing the photos, the war becomes close up and personal and not so distant. The service and sacrifices you're making are immeasurable. Like the commentor #22 (:Blight) I agree that pornography has created more unhappiness in the world. Mature adults do not need denegrating filmmaking, and immature young people need values to emulate. Pornography accomplishes neither. I cannot imagine what it is like to live under such conditions, let alone witness and write about them. I will keep you in my daily prayers. God be with you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    andy mcatee · 12 years ago
    i`m only home from helmand province,this is the first time i have read your work,it`s truly inspirational,thankyou for highlighting what we are doing in afghanistan.your photographs are fantastic and remind me of what i have just left behind in fob keenan.i will continue to read your work.thanks andy mac
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CopenhagenDK · 12 years ago
    Having fired a Martini-Henry, it's worth adding that "...you take your life in your hands if you shoot them" might be overstating the case. They fire black powder, which doesn't subject the weapon to the same pressures modern ammunition does. The round makes more of a "woosh" than a "crack", and my first shot gives the impression that - much like the LAW misslie - you swore you could beat the bullet to the target in time to see the impact. Check the weapon carefully - or have your armorer check it - and try a low-power cartridge the first time you fire the weapon.

    PS Note the slenderness of the wooden stock under the barrel. The barrels of the soldiers at the battle of Rourke's Drift got so hot from repeated shots that the linseed oil used to preserve the wood boiled out of the pores burning the soldiers' hands. They reportedly tore strips from their uniforms to wrap around their hands. The experience is credited by some for the heavy wooden stocks on the military bolt action rifles that followed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Erik Christian Monte · 12 years ago
    I was stationed in FOB armadillo just on the other side of the helmand river... just about km from FOB Gib, we could actually see FOB GIB from Armadillo, I was part of the Danish infantry company from February to August 2008, I remember every morning hearing the shot coming from the other side of the river, and it was the paras that were in contact... We also had a lot of firefights but not was many as our English friends on the other side of the river...
    You fail to mention in your article that FOB Armadillo was so close, I actually think we were closer to GIB than Robinson was... Sometimes the Taliban fled from a firefight with the para only to come into combat with us...
    We didn't loose as many men as the Paras did, but my section's(squad) Corporal was killed the 26 of march...
    It was quite an experience been there... Just Glad we had such a great company just on the other side of the river...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heartland Patriot · 11 years ago
    I know this is an old article. The reason I write now is that there is a current of folks here in the USA who say that Obama is trying to "internationalize" the war. If he is, it is the ONLY thing right he has done. The Europeans (Brits exempted from this) need to share more in the COMBAT. Americans have come to their aid oh so many times; they could come to ours this time. AND, if they don't want to send combat troops, then we need to reevaluate what sort of aid, military or otherwise, that we are giving to them. Think of all the military equipment we sell at a cut-rate to European nations...if they can't help fight, maybe we should put the prices of the equipment where it should be or not sell to them at all...sure, they can buy old Russian junk if they want, but that is what they will get most of the time: old junk.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Erik Christian Monte · 7 years ago
    Asesore blog and fotos.
    I was stationed in FOB Armadillo just about 2 km from FOB GIB... I personally lost a couple of good friends there... Seeing the green zone reminds me of my time there... Thanks Michael

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