Michael's Dispatches

Last Man Standing


IMG_6387-1000-webKuchi Girl in Farah

05 April 2011
Many Provinces, Afghanistan

As the Afghan war wears on and politicians, diplomats and generals thrust and parry about an endgame, one thing is clear: The outcome of this war will be decided by the last man standing.

Who that will be, and what has to happen before everyone else quits the field, are the questions that remain unanswered.

Today, spring 2011, we are making net progress in Afghanistan.  I first began writing from here in 2006.  In these five years I’ve brought you unending negative news on the matter of how well the Unites States and our allies have succeeded in meeting our goals in the war.  But now, for the first time, the tide may be turning.  Different enemy factions in this theater have been taking a brutal beating.

This isn’t the endgame.  But the battle for 2011 is unfolding before our eyes.  Recent observations suggest that it will be the most deadly so far.

Afghan-Feb-March-2011-webTrace of latest Afghanistan research journey (captured by Trackstick).

To obtain meaningful information in a war zone, where everyone has something to sell and most people who talk don’t know what they’re talking about, you need trustworthy sources with real, significant information.   In war, the closer you get to blood, the closer you get to truth.

So I was lucky to hook up with an old military friend, Steve Shaulis, who has been doing business in Afghanistan since the late 1990s.  Today his company, Central Asia Development Group (CADG), has a presence in about twenty of the thirty-four Afghan provinces.  Few Westerners have deeper contacts in Afghanistan.  I sometimes fly around Afghanistan in Steve’s company airplanes, or visit remote places with CADG personnel.  They never use armor, even in places U.S. troops won’t enter without heavy combat power and air support.  We can go to these places because Steve has built long relationships with the tribes and other local governing structures.  And CADG projects, funded by various governments (US, Australia, Canada), have employed approximately 150,000 native Afghans working in “cash for work” programs. That buys some good will, or at least entre.

I recently accompanied Matthew Goldthwaite, CADG Chief Communications Officer, as we toured twenty projects in blood-soaked battle zones, ranging from Kandahar to Panjwai to Farah and elsewhere.

Moon-IMG_8971a-1000-webMorning Moon over Urozgan.

The morning of 26 February started with the moon overhead.  Several CADG employees loaded up our convoy, including Matt Goldthwaite and Kris LeBoutillier.  Kris was a photographer for National Geographic Traveler and, years before that, an editor at the Wall Street Journal.  Today he is a reports manager for CADG.  Leonard Grami, provincial manager for CADG, worked in Africa before coming to Urozgan. He organized today’s trip to a still-contested area called Chora.

IMG_9023a-1000-webDrive from Tarin Kot to Chora.


During our drive to Chora we passed numerous Afghan police and military patrols along the paved road. Leonard and I drove in one vehicle while Kris and Matt drove separately behind us, while an Afghan security element took other vehicles.

image011-webRoute from Tarin Kot to Chora (Note: armchair analysts may be tempted to call such maps 'security violations,' yet this is the common route. The enemy knows it. That’s why people often die here.)

Before we left Tarin Kot, Leonard had picked up the red lid of a plastic garbage pail, and while a cigarette dangled from his mouth, eyes squinting through the smoke, he wobbled the plastic lid in the air.  He explained that if attack helicopters swooped down near us, we would wave it out a window.  Leonard chuckled as he described an incident where waving his garbage can lid may have saved him and his weapon-laden convoy (which might easily have been mistaken for a Taliban convoy) from friendly fire.

If we were wounded there wouldn’t be anything like the quick medevac that troops get.  We’d have to get back to base many miles away, on our own, no matter how badly off we were.  We had no backup.  Each day at this job carries the health risks of smoking a thousand cartons of cigarettes.


Along the drive, Leonard talked about the many bombs and other attacks that have been used on our route. According to his reading of the copious security reports, over a hundred troops and other people have died during the last fourteen months along this stretch or nearby.  Some were killed last week, and one died in a firefight last night.

Leonard talked about a famous local Afghan commander who, when he catches bomb-makers, forces them to sit on one of their bombs and then he detonates it.  The commander, a Warlord, is an American ally.   Out here in Realityland things are a lot different than back in Idealworld.  Later we had tea with him.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Shelby Melban · 10 years ago
    Always love reading what you've got to say because it is honest.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ben H. · 10 years ago
    Thank you Michael for another fantastic post. The realism and depiction of what Afghanistan is actually like makes your posts the most worthy of reading. Keep up the good work and stay safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sandy · 10 years ago
    Thanks as always, Michael. Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Roger · 10 years ago
    Wonderful photos and article. Sincerely appreciate your work and insights! Be 'as' safe as possible.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    masaryk · 10 years ago
    I donated a little bit (I don't have a lot) for this one -- I think the work you do is incredibly important.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 10 years ago
    Journalism at it's BEST!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter Olney · 10 years ago
    You are doing an AMAZING job, Michael! I can't tell you how meaningful this is to those of us who have family there.
    I'll be making another donation for you to continue your work and photography... the pictures tell such a story. I especially enjoy the panorama photos. THANK YOU!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Shea Brown · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael for some of the only real news coming out of Afghanistan. Your pictures say volumes,, best of luck to you as you continue to tell us all the real stories.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carolyn · 10 years ago
    These photos are lovely, just remarkable
    in several cases. Congratulations!Thank you for all you are doing!
    With admiration ands gratitude,
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peggy · 10 years ago
    Soon I will be attending the deployment ceremony for the 1-25 Stryker Brigade. I adopted the 1-24 Battalion in 2005 during their first deployment to Iraq. The maps and photos you provide in your posts help me to better understand what and where my "sons" will be. Please keep your posts coming. You're the only one in the press I trust. My sincere thanks!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    michael waller · 10 years ago
    Mike, I've been following you for years now and you still amaze me with your dispatches, photos and brutal truth. When are you going to have some book signings stateside? The beers will flow!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ralph Greenhow · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael,
    A thorough and compact dispatch that underlines the cycle of "needs met" by the creativity of Steve Shaulis, uncommon courage and respect for the culture and people from Mathew, Andy and Leonard and all and then your honest reporting. Our small part in that cycle is faithful prayer for each of you and continued support. A joint venture of heaven and earth.
    Simply Amazing!
    Persevering in such desolation of land and soul is part of the integrity of each of you men, those Afghanis must see the difference in this respectful, helpful work that benefits their basic needs. This is the very heart of free courageous men, we do honour you.
    “Last Man Standing” is the fit title.
    The maps and photos reinforce your dispatch because they capture the moment of danger there. Great shot of the moon!!! That gigapan photo compliments and opens up such a world.
    Many, many thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Fitzgerald · 10 years ago
    Wow. What a dispatch Michael. I worry about you but am thankful for all the powerful photos and insight you provide.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    morgan · 10 years ago
    Really outstanding work! I don't know of any other writer who brings so much. Your expertise and experience, contacts and access, and the PHOTOS! Thanks for giving us such unique insight. You are one of a kind, Sir!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken Van Tassell · 10 years ago
    Beautiful work Michael,your work helps an old soldier see the big picture of what our folks deal with. Keep your helment on and powder dry.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susan Herrin · 10 years ago
    I found you during the course of some other research. Without sounding like a "groupie", I will just say that I admire your work - your writing, your photos, your outlook. Thank you. What you're doing is important to more people than you can imagine. I am a grateful American - Susan Herrin
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Phillip · 10 years ago
    Hi Michael,
    I sit at my desk in Auckland, NZ, eating my subway lunch. Your words and images transport me to where you are, I can smell the sweat and taste the dirt. Stay safe! keeping posting the real stuff from where its happening! keep the lens clean and the head down!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barb Mungovan Koch · 10 years ago

    Amazing pictures, amazing stories. Your clarity of vision and ability to slice through all the levels of filler, to showcase the facts of life on the ground...are enlightening to say the least. Didn't realize I was holding my breath, as I was reading and poring over the gigapans...til I exhaled. Then, all I could think to do for you, and for them...is pray, for safety, and peace, and an end to the Taliban. Unlikely on the latter, but confirmed in faith on the former, that you walk where others simply will not, and have not.

    Thank you for bringing us to where you are. More need to see, and they are able to see through your eyes.


    Barb xo
  • This commment is unpublished.
    R. Bradley · 10 years ago
    Somehow your reporting begins to seem more important and your writing grows to meet the demands of the story; just as the story grows. I'm afraid we will be seeing truly excellent work from you in worse and worse and worse places and conditions. Reporting from those places and conditions, of course, is what makes you so very highly treasured. I hope powerful and actually important people listen to you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 10 years ago
    Dear Michael,

    I clicked the link on the story of the massive truck bomb and suddenly got a script notice then my virus program gave notice of a sudden jump in memory use. I tried to click out but it was locked. Then I hit the off button. Some hackers may be following your story line then installing programs on the links. Maybe not. But most I discover are mal-ware.

    Jack E. Hammond

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 10 years ago
    Dear Michael,

    On another note, John Masters book "Bugles and Tigers" on his time with a British India Gurkha regiment before WW2 in what is now Pakistan and the North Western Frontier, tells of how the job he feared the most was when religious seasons came and how a peaceful crowd could become totally insane. But the message was simple. Always be armed, never give up your weapon even if ordered, don't be taken alive. Lesson #2 was the Sikhs hate the Afghans and the Afghans hate the Sikhs.

    After 9/11 many (arm chair, British veterans of the NWF, the Russians, etc) warned those in the US Army and US Marines to worry about Afghan Muslim culture big time and to read "Bugles and Tigers". They were totally ignored. Now that book is almost mandatory reading for officers going to Afghanistan.

    Jack E. Hammond

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anthony · 10 years ago
    Superlative work, as usual, Mr. Mike. I always learn something from your dispatches. Thanks for the "straight skinny".
    Oh yeah, your last piece, "Calling BS..." made me laugh. I was transported back to the tank park at Camp Schwab when we were told our live fire exercise was postponed and we all "called BS" on the reason.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MyonWebMaster · 10 years ago
    [From Webmaster] Hello, the problem with the link is actually at the other end. apparently the webpage that the article is going to is running a script that doesn't play well with some browsers. I have contacted them about the issue but have received no response. To view the article i found when you are prompted to continue running the script or not choose to stop running the script. This happened to me twice and then I was able to view the story with no problem. Sorry for the problem, I hope this helps.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Violette · 10 years ago
    OH BOY ! "This ain't no place vacationing...no BS either ! ! Just DANGER CLOSE,CLOSE .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jake macgregor · 10 years ago

    anything else you need to keep up the work brother? surefire batteries? lights? pvs14? if you need gear or anything special please let some of us old wounded dogs help out since we are no longer in the fight

    i sit here in snowy montana, collecting the disability pay from my TBI addled brain and so miss being on the ground

    your posts are like a song from one's youth recalling all the good and bad heightened experiences ... and though i cussed it while there i'd give anything to be back as that seemed real, and this not

    so, please let me know what you need and i, and those of us on the shelf, will get it to you

    god keep you Michael Yon, and semper fi

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Justin · 10 years ago
    An excellent post... It is great to see you back in the field and I hope we can look forward to more of these soon.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leyla · 10 years ago
    The way you write and the photos that follow always seems to get the message across in a more potent and surreal way. It's almost as if we are seeing the way things are through your eyes and heart. Thank you for sharing and for being such an amazing man!

    Blessings and Hugs,

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Cannell · 10 years ago
    Michael, posts like this continue to impress. Keep up the diligent, tough work and keep dancing between the rain drops.


  • This commment is unpublished.
    R. Bradley · 10 years ago
    jake macgregor -- Your post is the very best in all of us, I think. Willing to go to extremes to help where you can, being completely unselfish. To everybody, send a dime or send a dollar and you have to believe it does a lot of good. I say Michael Yon is important to America.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jake macgregor · 10 years ago
    To R. Bradley this is very selfish my offer to Mikey - thank you for your kindness :>)

    I want the very best telling us what is going on over there to our men & women ... they are our best, guided by very poor decisions from a terrible Commander in Chief

    I want those kids, and Mike, to come home in one piece (unlike myself and so many others)

    someone needs to tell this, to convey what is really going on vs the Frobbits and bar flies phoning it in

    Mike has a brass pair and deserves every ounce of support we can give him

    because the better he reports, the better chance those kids have of being saved from command ignorance and incompetence

    i know, i know, not politically correct, b wtf are they going to do, send me back? (i wish)

    like Joe Galloway Mike needs all the tools to do the job well and get it out so we know what is really happening, and I will get him anything within my power

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joel West · 10 years ago
    EXACTLY Shelby, well said !
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Diggs · 10 years ago
    I like the commander who puts bomb-makers on their own bombs and detonates the whole worthless pile.
    The Afghans need more like him.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ChuckyD · 10 years ago
    Thanks for doing "gods work" my friend. I always enjoy your work because it is as close to the truth as one can get. Please continue doing an outstanding job.
    Semper Fidelis
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Traci Wilberger · 10 years ago
    Amazing dispatch Michael. Thankyou! Thanks for the tip on Bugles and Tigers I will definitely read it!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ged A. · 10 years ago
    Great, honest, and gritty work. Thank you.
    I notices when scoping the Dead Taliban panorama that one individual in the middle of the pano, just to the left of the bicyclist, is hiding his face. He also has fresh blood on his shoe. Taliban?

    In general, they all have bad shoes. I am reminded that someone once said that you can tell how advanced a civilization is by the quality of their footwear. I now realize how correct that sentiment is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ted Hannegan · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael for all your hard work and news that we do not see or hear about in the paper or on TV. What a really great job o are doing.
    Take care and keep your head down,
    All the best to you and your group.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ted Hannegan · 10 years ago
    Thanks Michael for all the news and photos we do not see on TV or in the paper. Keep up the good work and keep your head down.
    All the best to you and your group.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Makaak · 10 years ago
    [quote name="Diggs"]I like the commander who puts bomb-makers on their own bombs and detonates the whole worthless pile.
    The Afghans need more like him.[/quote]

    They have plenty of these. That exact attitude is why there is a war going on.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mike · 10 years ago
    [quote name="Shelby Melban"]Always love reading what you've got to say because it is honest.[/quote]
    don't know if i'm in the right place, however that fella on the slab appears to be, wonder if those virgins were a hook jus like mohomomomohoma dead DEAD that is, (thanks mike lov ya)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    karen · 9 years ago
    well done... may i ask u where u are and how long u will be into the land of karen
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