Michael's Dispatches

Thin Air



14 October 2011
Nimruz Province, Afghanistan

This lucky image was captured two days ago in the Dasht-e-Margo (Desert of Death.) The Baloch tribesman is a member of the Afghan National Police and was part of an Afghan security escort to a very remote dam.  I was travelling with members of the Central Asia Development Group, along with the Governor and Police Chief of Nimroz Province.

For reference, the nearest Iran border is about 17 miles west from this image, and the Pakistan border is south about 60 miles.  The closest US military presence to the location of this photo is at Delaram, approximately 77 miles away.  They might as well have been 700 miles distant.  This country is as wild as it gets.  This is, after all, the Dasht-e-Margo.

Our security was the goodwill of the Baloch people.  They are famously independent and famously hard fighters.  An ambush had been set up, almost certainly for us, during our previously scheduled trip some days ago.  Due to an unexpected delay, we didn’t make it.  The ambush took at least 9 enemy (2 more seem to have died in the desert) and a policeman.  Part of the fighting in that ambush took place a couple of hundred meters from this photograph.  The combat started here and unfolded over a period of about five hours, with a running gun battle spanning about 100km of desert.  The enemy fought well and to the end.  I was told the last fighter had buried himself in the sand, Apache style, and made a last stand where the men with us today shot off his head.  The two who vanished, apparently with wounds, set off by foot even deeper into the Dasht-e-Margo.  Their chances of survival are shallow.

The men we were with had chased them down.  Tactically, today, they operated far better than what US Soldiers often witness during joint missions elsewhere.  Tim Lynch is a retired Marine infantry officer.  Tim was there when the “Thin Air” photograph was made, and he was the first to highlight out how well these men operated.

As we headed dozens of miles deeper into the desert, Tim said, “See Mike, how these guys move?  Watch how they expand on flanks when terrain allows; they automatically seize the dangerous ground and collapse back as needed.  They flow like water.  And they are doing it completely without US forces.”

“I’ve been noticing it, Tim.”

The convoy passed through numerous chokepoints, but when the desert flattened the Toyota pickups fanned out, rocketing over the desert, leaving the appearance of contrails from a dozen or more jets flying abreast and in depth.  Sometimes we passed through the wake of dust of a forward truck and then back into clear air.  “This is like the Top Gun movie,” I said to Tim.  Tim answered, “People pay big money in Nevada to do stuff like this.”

A couple of years ago, Tim got the idea of taking rich clients around Afghanistan.  He said, “We could even stage fake ambushes.  Tell the clients this is a dangerous area, then, on cue, fire a belt of machinegun close by, a couple RPGs, let the clients roll out of the trucks and shoot back.  Then we’d egress, go back and give them a certificate saying how well they fought.”  Tim will get you laughing anytime of the night or day.  “What do you think of that, idea, Mike?”

“It’s very funny, but you might not have to stage the ambushes.  And besides, the Taliban will do it for free and you won’t have to pay for the ammo.”  I answered.

The trucks kept rocketing over the desert, front tires sometimes popping off the ground.  Without seatbelts, you’d be flying all over the cab, yet men in the backs, bristling with guns and RPGs, somehow held on.  At any moment we expected one to fly out like popcorn.

Chadd Nyerges, from Redondo Beach, California, was in another truck with a Baloch driver wilder still.  When we eventually stopped because someone got stuck in moon dust, Chadd’s eyes were wide open like two full moons, and he was smiling like he’d just kissed Mary Poppins.  “Dude, that was awesome!”

The day only got more interesting.  But that’s not the point.  Not for now, anyway.  The point was that “Thin Air” is a lucky photograph.  I’m astounded how well it turned out and wanted to share it.  It looks as though the Baloch tribesman is floating over the desert.  These people are a part of the terrain.

Now back to something more serious: The most important dispatch I’ve written in a long time was published on Wednesday.  Many people have posted interesting comments.  Please don’t miss: RED AIR: America’s Medevac Failure.

Say something here...
You are a guest ( Sign Up ? )
or post as a guest
People in conversation:
Loading comment... The comment will be refreshed after 00:00.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Quin · 9 years ago
    That is one tremendous photo Mike. Glad you missed the ambush. Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leyla Najma · 9 years ago
    Awesome photo! He looks like he's gliding over the terrain, almost floating! Thanks for sharing!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    snakeytricker · 9 years ago
    That is one sure fire way to avoid setting off an IED.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 9 years ago
    The folks from DARPA will arrive any minute to inspect this new technology.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ironmike · 9 years ago
    I love the idea about traveling in Afghanistan and having fake ambushes. It would be like a redneck Disneyland. Just as long as the IED are swept.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    brucerava · 9 years ago
    God bless you for what you do for us and America.....and our troops.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    njoriole · 9 years ago
    This is what true journalism is, as it ought to be practiced. Godspeed, Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Willard Cushman · 9 years ago
    I hope Mr Yon will forgive me for posting some additional info of the Baluch people here. This Dispatch piqued my interest in these people and their culture, which is one of the great things about reading Michael's Dispatches and Facebook postings. Here is an interesting reference article from Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baloch_people#Baluchi_culture
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barbara Whippple · 9 years ago
    Ahhhh Michael some day you will learn that it isn't luck, you are gifted the gifts you have developed were imprinted in your DNA when you were born. Don't you ever remember reading I have a plan for you it was w;riteen before you were one day old. God want's the story of what is going on to get out and you are His messenger. We continue to pray for your safty and honesty/ God Bless, >
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Shoshana Sumray · 9 years ago
    Amazing! They are tall, thin and their red and green head gear will blend to make the brown of the desert. A privilege to have experienced this!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    greg · 9 years ago
    So this moring with coffee , I go to a mysterious desert land with a band of warriors who float above the ground. Not bad Mike . Thanks
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anton · 3 years ago

    Feel free to visit my web site :: desert adventures
    (Tiffany: https://About.me/desertrhin

Reader support is crucial to this mission. Weekly or monthly recurring ‘subscription’ based support is the best, though all are greatly appreciated.  Many methods are available to keep the work rolling. Click the image for a more info.



Quick Link to Paypal

Recurring Donation

QR Code

QR Code


To support using Venmo, send to:


My BitCoin QR Code

Use the QR code for BitCoin apps:


Or click the link below to help support the next dispatch with bitcoins: