Michael's Dispatches

Death in the Corn: Part III of III


In five months, the crews have fired about 2,500 high explosive (HE), white phosphorous (WP) and illumination rounds through their 81mm mortars, to devastating effect. It is known that the enemy has been trying to figure a way to target the mortars in these photos, but the reality is that the enemy will likely have to keep suffering the barrages. Taliban in the open are often simply at the mercy of the mortar.

Today, a serious mission was afoot, and the mortar crews were following the progress of the infantry by constantly aiming the mortars at targets that would support the infantry as they advanced. At least one jet was overhead and also a British Apache was on station.

FOB Gibraltar: 2 Para firing 81mm at a Taliban position.  There have been thousands of such battles in Afghanistan since the war began nearly seven years ago.

Some soldiers stop working out long enough to watch a 500lb bomb explode.  How many gyms can a man watch a Taliban battle between sets of sit-ups?  That concertina wire in the background marks the beginning of Terry country.

This was another serious fight, with some close calls for 2 Para soldiers out there on the ground. At least nine Taliban were almost certainly killed, and another was wounded. The locals reported, “Many Taliban killed.”

I was taking some notes for this dispatch when the sniper started early, firing over FOB Gibraltar for the fifth day in a row. He started early, recklessly and foolishly with about 10 shots, between about 1220 and 1225 in the afternoon. He seemed to be begging to get shot, but still nobody could see him.

04 September, 2008

That morning a dicker was watching a patrol. A British sniper had him in the crosshairs, and the rangefinder put him at 820 meters. The Taliban dicker was behind a wall, and was visible only from mid-belly up. The time was 0715 when a British sniper squeezed the trigger, launching a .338 bullet that arced to the target, striking the dicker in the neck. He fell.

Just over an hour later, another dicker, this one at about 800 meters, took a British 7.62 bullet in the buttocks. The man was dressed in black. He fell.

Incredibly, both men had survived the snipers. Locals brought the shot men to the British, who treated them as if they were wounded soldiers. Journalists are not permitted to photograph or interview captured enemy combatants, but I did ask Major Dawson if I could observe how they were being treated. Major Dawson obliged immediately. Both men were conscious and lucid. The British soldiers, the doctor and medics, were treating the prisoners diligently and respectfully, and given that my visit was on about 30 seconds’ notice, it was a candid moment.

And so a medevac helicopter was called and took one man away to be treated at the trauma center. A second helicopter came for the Taliban dressed in black. The British are dangerously short on helicopters, yet three times I saw the British call helicopters for wounded men, who in each case I thought were either Taliban or at least their allies. I boarded the helicopter with some British soldiers and the Taliban prisoner, and we roared out of FOB Gibraltar.

The story of 2 Para and 3 Para will never be fully told. But it’s obvious that they did their duties as soldiers, in so many missions that I was briefed on but have not described here, such as helping deliver the critical turbine to the Kajaki dam. Despite the bad trajectory of the war in general, there have been some stunning successes.

The British soldiers will not quit. Despite hardship and loss in Iraq when their own press veritably disowned them, the soldiers kept fighting in Iraq (there really was some serious fighting down there in Basra), and their morale was far higher than the British media would have us believe.

My first month back in Afghanistan leaves mixed impressions. Clearly we are losing and the clock is ticking. But then, we nearly lost Iraq in 2006, yet that war was turned around at the very brink of disaster. Losing doesn’t mean lost. It means try harder and try smarter. Keep slugging and keep thinking.

Days after I left FOB Gibraltar, word came that Jason Rawstron, a British soldier from 2 Para had been shot in the head and killed.

Jason Rawstron [Photo from MoD.]

I took a moment of private silence, and later saw this:


Lieutenant Colonel Joe O’Sullivan, Commanding Officer 2 PARA paid tribute to Private Jason Rawstron on the night of his death:

Early this morning C (Bruneval) Company were conducting a patrol from their base at Forward Operating Base GIBRALTAR when they were engaged by the Taliban, and in the exchange of fire Private Jason Rawstron was killed. Jason Rawstron began his service with C (Bruneval) Company 2 PARA, and although he later moved to the Assault Engineer Platoon, it was to Bruneval Company that he returned for the Battalion’s tour in Afghanistan. Bruneval is the Parachute Regiment’s first Battle Honour, and Jason Rawstron, like all of his friends in today’s Bruneval Company and across the Battalion, was every bit the Paratrooper of that first Bruneval Company 66 years ago; tough, resourceful, fearless under the fire that he had experienced so often and never knowing defeat. He joins eleven other members of 2 PARA Battlegroup who have given their lives for their friends and what they have been asked to do in this part of Helmand. Bruneval Company and all of us in 2 PARA Battlegroup will mourn Jason Rawstron and our hearts go out to his family and friends at home. We hope that what he was, and what he and friends and his battalion stand for and have achieved in this most demanding of summers will in some small way bring them comfort at this most painful time.

Utrinque Paratus


To read the first two parts of this series:


Death in the Corn: Part I of III

Death in the Corn: Part II of III

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Fred2 · 11 years ago
    "Yet if we destroyed the opium crops, we would only be turning the locals into enemies"

    I don't think prosperity is guaranteed to be the right answer. It's very much a western-liberal answer. The social situation could be that economic devastation is called for. Our western outlook would tend to blind us to this.

    Witness Iran, where prosperity in the form of oil money has made them more virulent. Compare Iran to Chad. It doesn't matter what Chad wants because they don't have the money to do it.

    Oil money isn't that different from opium money. It enables. We tend to assume it enables peace and harmony. Sometimes it enables war. What would it enable in Afghanistan?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pid · 11 years ago
    As a Brit, I'd like to clarify that the vast majority of us back home do know it's a war, call it just that, and watch, listen and think about the forces we have deployed over there.
    Hat tip to them, next time you're around them, please Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Santo · 11 years ago
    My prayers are with Private Rawstron and his family.

    The British are doing a good job in tough circumstances. I appreciate their service and sacrifice.

    Western media are a joke.

    Keep up your good reports.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA, USA
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Skysoldier LRS 101st · 11 years ago
    Until we hit the T-ban/AQ where they live, they will keep hitting us where WE live. P-stani "soveriegnty" is a joke. A couple strike packages with the heavy stuff included would obliterate thier camps, compounds, and madrosses. Hats off to 2 Para, they are true warriors. The US has its Paras and Air-Assault Regiments here also, and we ALL agree the next ride on a chopper we take should be the one into the tribal belt. They, the FC, or Frontier Corps, have been shooting at us, helping thier T-ban brothers...we are gonna lite them up when we get the chance.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sue osborne · 11 years ago
    My son is in infantry training right now and will probably ship off to Afghanistan in January. Michael, my continuing to read your epistles feels a little masochistic to me, but I am SO glad you are on the ground and telling us the truth. My son is only 18 and I tell my friends I hope he lives long enough to become nice! I am proud of him and his desire to serve his country. I am English by birth (American by choice!) and am also proud of those great British soldiers. Thank you for telling their story.
    Sue Osborne
    Newberg OR
  • This commment is unpublished.
    The Thunder Run · 11 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/22/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Kautz · 11 years ago
    Being retired military, I know what it is like to be out in the weeds looking for something other than MRE's or even worse LRPS. I was stationed in the British sector in Germany and worked with them on many exercises.....good guys. If you have a mailing address please send it to me so I cand send them some goodies.

    Keep up the good work. I have trouble keeping your book as I keep giving it to friends. Need to order another one again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matthew Gonzalez · 11 years ago
    Chris Hitchens from MSN's Slate Magazine brought up an interesting point, and while I'm not sure I agree with his stance saying Obama would be better than McCain for winning the war in Afghanistan (ugh American politics), I can say that I didn't understand the imperialistic history behind Pakistan.

    "The very name Pakistan inscribes the nature of the problem. It is not a real country or nation but an acronym devised in the 1930s by a Muslim propagandist for partition named Chaudhary Rahmat Ali. It stands for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, and Indus-Sind. The stan suffix merely means "land." In the Urdu language, the resulting acronym means "land of the pure." It can be easily seen that this very name expresses expansionist tendencies and also conceals discriminatory ones."

    As much as we can try to deny it, we're going to have to expand combat operations in Afghanistan if we want to win this thing. How we'll do that without the MSM jumping on it like its Cambodia and Laos all over again, I don't know. I only hope that Petraeus somehow creates an outcome better than anyone could have ever hoped, again.

    If we lose this war, we'll have more than just debt to worry about....

  • This commment is unpublished.
    D Williams · 11 years ago
    "new strategy that proved successful beyond our wildest dreams. " ... surge ...... ????

    It didn't surprise me that it worked. From what i read from you this is all we needed all along .... to fight and have enough men to stay behind to keep the peace. Why did it surprise you .... you sound like Obama.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    _Rob · 11 years ago
    Mr. Yon,

    One small correction: he is at least COL McMaster (P); his promotion to Brigadier General, I believe, awaits Congressional approval.

    Thank you for your outstanding and candid reporting. Bravo Zulu!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barry Sheridan · 11 years ago
    Michael, Thank you for providing this independent insight into the activities of our troops in Afghanistan.

    My thoughts are always with them.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    JackA · 11 years ago
    Michael - Thanks for all you're doing in covering the war(s). I've read your book and each time I check your blog, I spend lots of time learning more about what's going on. I'm glad we have folks like you reporting the truth of what's happening. I wish our mainstream media did the same. Keep up the excellent reporting.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Randall Hannaway · 11 years ago

    Many thanks for your continued reporting and of course to are brothers in arms. We are fighting the good fight and I sincerely believe good will prevail over evil.

    In my thoughts and prayers,

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Garett · 11 years ago
    Did 2 Para mortars bring their dresses? I'm sure the Afghans would like them cross dressing on man love Thursdays.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    howell clark · 11 years ago
    the rifles appear to be henry martini rifle of the 1870-1900 that british troops and their allies in india and elsewhere used a great many of these were captured from the british and thier indin partners from a terrible defeat in afganistan in the last century.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    rwilkins · 11 years ago
    "The Taliban is apparently actively trying to split off the Canadians, and may well succeed. Some serious military thinkers feel that Afghanistan is not of sufficient strategic consequence to continue fighting for, and itƒ??s clear that much of the Canadian public is ready to quit. Enemy leadership is fully aware of this, and are trying to exploit the Canadian weakness."

    maybe you should mosey on over to see our 'weakness' for yourself eh?

    some of us don't think ideas and discussion is a weakness; nor misguided propaganda helpful
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan K · 11 years ago
    "Heading the Centcom effort will be Colonel H.R. McMaster"

    huh? I thought he was going to ARCIC/TRADOC??? Are you sure about this?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob Reynolds · 11 years ago
    Micheal My son is one of the 2 Para C Coy who you were with. It is with great pride that I read about their exploits and respect people like yourself who bring us back the stories. It is sad that our boys are out there but this crack regiment are doing what they do best. I await their return to buy them all a beer or two.

    Bob Reynolds
    Proud Father
  • This commment is unpublished.
    bdcochran · 11 years ago
    In the 1970s, I watched as Spetnaz troops tested the one paved road (the highway running from the Iranian border to Kabul) at a location east of Herat to learn if it would support troop transports for the upcoming Soviet invasion. Now, I see by your pictures that there is more than one paved road in the country. It is an improvement that I never thought would happen.

    I have always wondered whether the mud fort built by Alexander the Great remains standing after the fighting of the 1980s.

    It used to be a fascinating sight to see the blue eyed, red haired nomads traveling with their camel caravans.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    orpheus · 11 years ago
    i'm not so sure it's a woman begging
    look at the size of that meat hook
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Naomi · 11 years ago
    Michael, I support you and what you are doing and bought your book; however, I disagree with you as to your opinion on the Presidential candidates. I personally think "who would do what" should be left out of your reports and just stay with the facts and realities of the war. We know you risk your life to report the truth. God Bless our troops and you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joshua Jones · 11 years ago
    Hi Michael, its Capt Josh Jones from C (Brun) Coy, 2 PARA. I just want to extend a massive thanks for your piece on C (Brun) Coy who have now returned to the UK. Its great to read a part of our story on your site. I hope that you are well and I am looking foward to keeping a track on you via your web site. God bless and thanks again
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michaela walsh · 11 years ago
    I am the gilfriend of the late Pte Jason Lee Rawston and if anyone else has any photos of Jason please could you let me Know thanks x
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Charles Matthews-Bel · 11 years ago
    Michael-Thanks for some excellent stuff.I was in the Dhofar war in the 70's and see a lot of that,in your reporting on Afghanistan.The scale in Afghan is larger!

    With regard to heroin cultivation,why do we not purchase the stuff at market price(whatever that may be),and then try to move forward? Perhaps the Kabul Government would not find thus in their interests?

    Fine reporting-Keep your head down!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jesse · 11 years ago
    I've read the 'Death in the Corn' series several times now, and I always find something new. This time around I was struck with just how different your reporting is from what I read from the big guys. I have read some good narratives from embedded journos at the NYT, but I especially appreciate the analytical expertise that you bring into the mix. Your breadth of knowledge in the region is nothing short of rare, and it makes you a far more impacting when you offer up an opinion.

    Reading the comments of girlfriends, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who have family fighting in Afghanistan and their reaction to your reporting is priceless and touching. Every one of your dispatches gets the same result: gratitude and thanks. Keep up the good work
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John S. · 10 years ago
    "This time around I was struck with just how different your reporting is from what I read from the big guys. I have read some good narratives from embedded journos at the NYT..." from Jesse on 4/23/09

    Jesse, the "big guys" aren't "reporting," as traditonal (i.e. WWII & Korea) reporting implies there is an element of truth in the narratives. Without Michael and people like him, we simply wouldn't know what happens in the war zones. And, incredibly, you credit the NYT with some accurate reporting? Maybe a couple of pieces slipped by the editors, but the NYT by any definition is anti-war AND anti-military as evidenced by their giving critical information to the enemy. I'm not going to detail it here, but I could easily. Just Google it..."NYT+antiwar+traitorous+aid & comfort to the enemy." If the NYT had been reporting during WII like they are doing now, the June 5, 1944 headline would be "ALLIES PLAN TO LAND AT NORMANDY TOMORROW MORNING!"

    But, everyone has an opinion...this is mine. Great job, Michael...God be with you.

    Master Chief, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
  • This commment is unpublished.
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