An Artery of Opium a Vein of Taliban

27 July 2009
Sangin, Afghanistan

Afghanistan as seen from Washington and London.

Afghanistan as seen from the shoes of pundits who do not land here, who often say we have enough helicopters.  Any politician who says we have enough helicopters should be shunned for incompetence, lying, or both.

Afghanistan as seen from the eyes of Big Business and regional powers.

As seen from the altitude of the International Space Station: Most of the world’s opium supply is produced in the area depicted.  The 'Green Zone' is an artery of opium and a vein of Taliban.

As seen from the altitude of an SR-71.

As seen from the top of Mt. Everest, if Mt. Everest towered another 26,000-odd feet atop the about 3,000 feet of this hot Helmand 'desert of death.'

The Helmand River as seen from Google Earth.  Nearly everything in this image is under Taliban control.  British and U.S. forces (almost exclusively British here) are contesting this control.  The British are making progress in the Sangin area.  We are vastly undermanned and under-resourced; however, some villagers in outlying regions here believe that the British are Russians from the last war.  Near the top of the image is Kajaki Dam.  The British control the dam, but the Taliban are in uncontested control of the surrounding area.  The enemy fired on a helicopter at Kajaki this weekend, and shot one down at Sangin a couple weeks back.

As seen from a British helicopter through my camera between Camp Bastion and Sangin.  The 'Green Zone' in the upper left is the Helmand River Valley.

Comments   

 
0 # sharon johnson 2009-07-26 19:03
Dear Sir,
There is much interest in Afghanistan, by those of us with young men there. Yours is the first real report I've ever seen.
My son will be deployed in late October.
I pray you get support. I have very little money to share and I'm sorry!
God be with All those brave fighttin young men. And God Bless the People of Afghanistan who crave Freedom!
Yours.
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0 # Zeno Davatz 2009-07-26 21:27
Thanks again. Keep up as many fotos as you can take of what you see in Afghanistan. Really outstanding together with the text.
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0 # Mark Mc 2009-07-26 23:07
Great pictures and awesome reporting. As serving military who has served in Afghan, its great to read your detailed reports, rather than listen to the sanitised and often hackneyed reports from the mass media. Kepp up the great work. Donation sent!!
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0 # jez 2009-07-26 23:42
Michael.. great pictures as always. Whats this new camo the Brit Troops are wearing?
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0 # Ken Van Tassell 2009-07-26 23:55
Thanks again for a birds eye view and have forwarded information from last article on needs of Freedom Fighters to group called The Oxford Club. Hopefully I can get more support for you and our troops. GOD bless you and all of the Cowboys and support doing a fine job while back here media is focused on some racial crap that should have never have happened! Donation sent.
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0 # Ken Van Tassell 2009-07-26 23:59
Please support coalition men and women; it should not cost an arm and a leg to talk to loved ones!; So little goes a long way.
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0 # Jennifer MackInday 2009-07-27 02:01
Another outstanding report. Stay safe and please keep the news coming.
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0 # Robert Sanders 2009-07-27 02:29
It's good to see a fellow Floridian reporting the true info about this war. I am from Sebring, which is about 30 minutes from Winter Haven and i have ventured up there plenty of times. They got a hell of a Hooters there. I've been in the Corps for 18 years as a helicopter crewchief on a CH53-Delta and Echo, and i totally agree that you cant have enough of them in country. Even if all they carry is mail, it's a huge morale boost for the troops. Your doing a great job. Look forward to reading more. Stay safe and keep your head down.
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0 # Asif Ali 2009-07-27 02:33
We would never learn from history, although it's there to explore.

".....Since 1898 and 1934, the Marines invaded Cuba 4 times, Nicaragua 5 times, Honduras 7 times, the Dominican Republic 4 times, Haiti twice, Guatemala once, Panama twice, Mexico 3 times and Columbia 4 times," Washington has intervened militarily in foreign countries more than 200 times."
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0 # Bohemond 2009-07-27 03:55
Asif Ali: And your silly point would be....? That Kipling's redcoated Soldiers of the Queen with their Snider-Enfields and bullock-drawn supply train failed to sort out Afghanistan, therefore it's impossible for all time? That the crude and incompetent Soviets were stymied by an insurgency ten times the Taliban's size?

Afghanistan certainly was not a 'graveyard' for the Macedonian, Parthian, Kushan, Hun, Ghaznavid Turkish, Mongol or Timurlic Empires! All conquered Afghanistan quite successfully; and it happens that the Widow's second Afghan war (1878-80) reduced the place to a British vassal state, which it remained until after WWI.
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0 # Bruce 2009-07-27 06:58
"Two Apaches overhead offer little protection against a lone wolf with an RPG, but these helicopters slip off into the sunset."

Those appear to be chinooks.
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0 # TheOldMan 2009-07-27 07:03
Just looking at the kit those soldiers are carrying makes me start sweating and feel tired.
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0 # Steven 2009-07-27 07:40
Bruce,

Ummmm... Try reading the post again. It will come to you.
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0 # Christin mom to Graham 2009-07-27 07:43
You don't know how I value your timely updates. My son is at FOB Bakwa in Afghanistan with the USMC and is their FAC officer. Yes, we worry but with your reports it is easier to see just how much support the troops have, and reading the comments is comforting to know that not all of America is against what my son is doing. Donations made to you as well as Operation AC, his description of the heat and slow computers were an exact match to how you have described some of the other camps and bases. Stay safe, thank you for your photos and comments.
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0 # Yamz 2009-07-27 07:43
"Afghanistan certainly was not a 'graveyard' for the Macedonian, Parthian, Kushan, Hun, Ghaznavid Turkish, Mongol or Timurlic Empires!" - the only person who actually took Afghanistan successfully was Ghenghis Khan (and even then he had a hard time).

Alexander took Iran in 3 months, he fought in Afghanistan for 5 Years....peace only was settled once he married Roxanna (who was an Afghan) which basically means peace, because Afghans wont fight against relatives. "In a letter to his mother, Alexander described his encounters with the western and northern tribes (Afghans) thus: "I am involved in the land of a 'Leonine' (lion-like) and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldier. You have brought only one son into the world, but everyone in this land can be called an Alexander.”"
The Parthians (the base of that empire was once Afghanistan), Kushani's, and Ghaznavid's are all Afghan empire's (Ghazni is a province in Afghanistan today and I dont know why on earth you think that they were Turkish).
The White Huns migrated and intermarried with Afghan's forming the Ghilzai tribe.
Timur-e-Lang came to Afghanistan, fought, lost too many men and a peace agreement was made, this is a relatively new revelation because I have not heard of it anywhere else and if you know anyone that can translate the site then it's on there: http://www.jame-ghor.com/. As peace returns to Afghanistan it's REAL history can gradually be revealed, not accounts by embaressed empires trying to make it seem like they didnt fail.
...and also the last time the British came to Afghanistan the grandfathers of the Taliban and residents of all Afghanistan drove them out. The British could not conquer us militarily at the height of their Empire so they used dirty politics and Islam to place Indians/Pakista ni's in a position of power, the British have never liked us and the people of Helmand/Kandaha r return that feeling tenfold because thats where most battle's took place and the stories are still fresh in people's minds so perhaps a solution would be for them to be stationed elsewhere in Afghanistan.
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0 # Yamz 2009-07-27 07:54
"the crude and incompetent Soviets were stymied by an insurgency ten times the Taliban's size? "

That comment is completely untrue, we lived in Afghanistan during the Soviet war, and they were in no way crude or incompetent, their soldiers were very well disciplined, effective, had state of the art technology and they knew how to use it, but they ended up fighting a large force because they went and killed innocent people which will never sit well with the population and therefore the insurgency grew.
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0 # Tim 2009-07-27 08:12
The quality of your photography is excellent. No wonder you need a copyright line on each. If you weren't such a unique writer, you would have another career waiting for you. My compliments, and thanks for such credible, close-in reporting.
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0 # Pritch 2009-07-27 09:23
It's not a new camo but what appears to be an issue desert shirt dyed to make it more fitting for the green zone...
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0 # Mark Miller 2009-07-27 09:24
I would like to hear Michael's thoughts on the deadliness of the Taliban's IED's. Are they as bad as the EFP's that resulted in so many American casualties in Iraq?
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0 # Will Buckley 2009-07-27 10:56
Love what you're doing Michael and keep up the good work. I'm a college ROTC student who hopes to join the fight after I graduate and your contribution gives us all amazing insight and persepective on what we're up against. I'll donate what I can and I hope others do the same. God Bless.
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0 # jic 2009-07-27 15:51
"It's not a new camo but what appears to be an issue desert shirt dyed to make it more fitting for the green zone..."

That would fit with the several soldiers wearing temperate DPM. But why would they dye their shirts aquamarine? Why would so many of the soldiers have not dyed their desert DPM shirts? And why did none of the soldiers who dyed their shirts dye their trousers to match?
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0 # Jack E. Hammond 2009-07-27 16:13
Dear Michael,

The rocket strapped to the back of the soldiers back pack which you refer to as "various rockets" is an updated version of the M72 LAW that was used in Vietnam. While the US developed and originally manufactured the M72 LAW it is no longer produced in the US and is licensed produced in Norway. Both the British, US, etc forces in Afghanistan have the M72 LAW instead of the antiarmor weapons they replaced them with. The US replacement the the AT-4 and the British replacement the LAW 80 are two heavy and have warheads dedicated to antiarmor (HEAT warheads) use. The versions brought from Norway are dual purpose and weigh about half of the two modern weapons I mentioned. Also the M72 LAW round is very, very MUCHO cheaper. By a factor of five M72s per AT-4/LAW 80 round.

As far as I know the US Marines don't use the M72 LAW as they have the SMAW which while called an RPG type weapon is not, but when people see them in action I can understand why. The SMAW is extremely accurate (ie it has a spotting gun on the side copied from the British LAW 80) and has various types of rounds other than the standard antiarmor rounds.

Jack E. Hammond

.
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0 # Jack E. Hammond 2009-07-27 16:29
Quote> "the crude and incompetent Soviets were stymied by an insurgency ten times the Taliban's size? "

That comment is completely untrue, we lived in Afghanistan during the Soviet war, and they were in no way crude or incompetent, their soldiers were very well disciplined, effective, had state of the art technology and they knew how to use it, but they ended up fighting a large force because they went and killed innocent people which will never sit well with the population and therefore the insurgency grew.

Dear Sir,

Your statement is at odds with all written and video material (even from the Russians). The Red Army soldiers were probably more brutalized in their two year service by their officers and Sgts than those in the British Army in the Napoleon War, the soldiers of the French Foreign Legion before WW1 and the Japanese soldiers after WW1 till the end of WW2. And that is saying a lot.

A book has recently been published by a reporter who is pro-Russian (married to a Russian woman) that is based on official Russian files of the Afghan War and material supplied him by retired Red Army officers who have served in both the GRU and the KBG. One of them the station chief in Kabul in 1979. Would they lie.

Some Russian officers have stated they lost the war because of one reason: LOOTING. Red Army helicopter pilots even made deals with ground units to go out and find Afghan's traveling on roads and fire and block them so the ground units could come up. Afghans were very wary of coming on Red Army road blocks due to the mass looting. In fact the original divisions called up in the southern USSR republics to invade Afghanistan in 1979/1980 had to be pulled out because many of them were made up of Moslem soldiers who were appalled at the behavior of the Red Army. And this is the sad part. Many Afghans (not the Puastuns though) welcomed the Red Army. Because while the Russians wanted an Afghanistan friendly to Russia, they did not expect the two factions in Afghanistan would fight over who could be the most like Stalin in 1930. That was why the Red Army killed the then president of Afghanistan. Not because he was not pro-Russian enough, but because he was so cruel as turning his own against them and the Russians.

Finally, having stated the above. In last half of the Afghan/Russian War the Red Army used more and more airborne forces (the soldiers who wear the white and blue strip t-shirts) like the French did in IndoChina. They were disciplined and did not loot. But by then it was to late.

Jack E. Hammond

.
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0 # Doc Watson 2009-07-27 17:08
...besides money, or will fix what needs fixin'?
Thanks for the reports and the tweets.
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0 # nick 2009-07-27 20:01
one side reporting
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0 # Rob Bruce 2009-07-27 22:29
Hey Nick, try going out there before you mouth off, you obviously haven't a chuffin' clue, keep up the good work Michael! Good to see someone telling it like it is...
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0 # Tom Cantwell 2009-07-27 23:21
Having spent parts of 03, 05, 06 and 07 in Iraq, now doing a year in Kabul, and having followed your reporting for years, I want you to know that you are the Ernie Pyle of today. We (some) were just celebrating the life of Walter Cronkite. No clue. You are what journalism ought to be. God bless you Michael.

btw, your blog should be required reading for all English citizens. You've covered our Brit buddies well and their heroism deserves to be honored somewhere other than in the mil-blogosphere . You Limies are welcome in my Army anyday.
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0 # D Smith 2009-07-28 00:41
Got to KAF but not out to the remote bases. Rode into KAF in a Brit C130 and the Brits I was with were going on to Bastion and more remote points. Great guys. Thanks for the detail, the pix and the on-the-ground view point. Donation sent. Keep your head down
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0 # Larry 2009-07-28 04:02
God bless Michael Yon for bringing us the true story from the front lines and God bless our troops. May you all come home safely and in good health.
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0 # Jason Reddall 2009-07-28 11:37
Quote - "Dear Michael, The rocket strapped to the back of the soldiers back pack which you refer to as "various rockets" is an updated version of the M72 LAW that was used in Vietnam".

Your being too smart for your own good Jack, Michael is fully aware of what the rocket is, he was merely stating that the Brits use a variety (not in the picture) including the the AT 4 and Javelin, both of which are anti armour weapons. The Javelin is heavy and expensive and not very practical for an enemy with no armour. I've seen footage of British troops using a Javelin to kill one Taliban because he was too far away to shoot with a rifle. What they need is more snipers, and helicopters of course.
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0 # Jack E. Hammond 2009-07-28 20:55
Quote - "Dear Michael, The rocket strapped to the back of the soldiers back pack which you refer to as "various rockets" is an updated version of the M72 LAW that was used in Vietnam".

Jason> Your being too smart for your own good Jack, Michael is fully aware of what the rocket is, he was merely stating that the Brits use a variety (not in the picture) including the the AT 4 and Javelin, both of which are anti armour weapons. The Javelin is heavy and expensive and not very practical for an enemy with no armour. I've seen footage of British troops using a Javelin to kill one Taliban because he was too far away to shoot with a rifle. What they need is more snipers, and helicopters of course.

Dear Jason,

Sorry if I gave that impression. But from time to time Michael has posted asking for ID of weapons (ie one time a bouncing type of bomblet South Africa made and sold to Saddam). As to the AT4 I was unaware the British Army had bought any. But the information was FYI for others also.

As to the Javelin I saw the report on it and the misfire (ie that is a very expensive misfire). I contacted the representative for the Javelin at Rayethon -- ie he was a Sgt with the Special Forces in North Iraq/Kurdish area in 2003 and took out I believe 5 Iraqi tanks with the Javelin. He was extremely interested in Yon's report and Rayethon got on the subject of why the misfires.

As to the use of snipers. The sniper was probably in a position that a sniper could not get at. Remember the sniper was just harassing. The US Army is aware that the Javelin is a very expensive "bullet" to get at one or even two bad guys. The US Army is pushing hard to R&D and manufacture and get to the field a smart 81mm/120mm mortar round that will home in on laser for Afghanistan.

With the British though in their forward operating bases it I can not understand why they did not bring a bunch of their MILAN launchers and missiles. They now are dirt cheap and eventually will be destroyed. During the Falklands War, the British advance on Mt Stanley got stalled by a bunch of Argentine bunkers with .50 caliber machine guns. One two man British Royal Marine MILAN section took out several of those bunkers by just firing on the muzzle flashes.

Finally, as strange as it sounds, Brazil still has in production one of the best long range "heavy" sniper weapons that the US Army found in the Korean War. The old 57mm recoiless cannon. The 57mm RCL fires a fully spin stabalized round which has astonishing accuracy at long range. It is fitted with a scope to help achieve that accuracy. That would be a weapon that is light and accurate which would be a lot cheaper bullet than the JAVELIN or having to use laser guided 500lb/1000lb bombs.

Jack E. Hammond

NOTE> One item of concern to the US Army units in the Kumar River Valley area is "heavy" sniping rifles. They don't state the type or caliber. But the use of heavy caliber (.50 caliber and up) requires training. They could cause serious problems for our guys in the hands of bad guys with training. And the question, besides the type of heavy sniping/materia l rifles is where are they getting them, who from and who is giving the training? I fear it would be still some Pakistani agency.

.
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0 # Chris 2009-07-29 00:00
Thanks Michael, your reports are the only real reports of AFG i can find. The UK MOD and British media seem to prefer fluff and gimmicks to real reporting.
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0 # Jan Weekley 2009-07-29 01:05
I am amazed by the wonderful photography!! Great reporting, too!! I also didn't realize that Afghanistan is so near to Iran. Therefore, Iran has the U.S. fighting on both sides of its borders. Is that not correct?

The soldiers are watching the movies that you listed for relaxation??!! Oh, my gosh!! To me that would be about as relaxing as being someone who has been hit by a train and is watching movies about train wrecks!! Ouch!

God bless to all.

A lady from the South.
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0 # Jan Weekley 2009-07-29 01:05
I am amazed by the wonderful photography!! Great reporting, too!! I also didn't realize that Afghanistan is so near to Iran. Therefore, Iran has the U.S. fighting on both sides of its borders. Is that not correct?

The soldiers are watching the movies that you listed for relaxation??!! Oh, my gosh!! To me that would be about as relaxing as being someone who has been hit by a train and is watching movies about train wrecks!! Ouch!

God bless to all.

A lady from the South.
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0 # Julie Henderson 2009-07-29 03:38
I want to give something back to our heroes living and sadly passed on, how do i get started, I have a son who has been on 2 operations in afghan already he will be coming over 11 sept 2009 again. I want to support our British troops! Hello any body 2 yorks a great big hug and kiss to you all.XXXXXXX Your all Solid.
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0 # Lcpl Fiancee 2009-07-29 07:48
I don't understand the lack of interest in this war. Then again, I do. Nobody here feels that it concerns them, and it's a shame. Nobody knows anything about it. And that just makes your job all the more important.

My fiance is over there. I wish I could find more news on what is going on. There's just not enough. I know everything that is available through news sources about this war...and I still feel so in the dark.

Here's hoping you get a picture of my Fiance.

And here's hoping you get proper funding. Good luck.
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0 # A.T. 2009-07-30 00:22
Michael,

Can I ask the same question as Mark Miller ? There is a debate in the UK over the relatively low numbers of MRAP level protected vehicles given to our troops. Your view would be very interesting.

The comments on LAW vs. later anti-armour rockets are interesting. Seems to support the concept that we should be re-balancing some of our defence equipment spend in the direction of simpler-cheaper against major war technologies ?
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0 # Chris Werb 2009-07-30 02:08
The M72 in the picture is almost certainly a specific variant (M72A9) intended to defeat structures and adopted for this purpose by the UK armed forces as the Interim Anti Structure Munition or Light Anti Structure Munition (I've seen both names used). It does not replace the AT-4 variant (AT-4CS) as used by the UK forces in Afghanistan which is called the Interim LAW or I-LAW. The I-LAW replaces LAW-80 as a stop-gap in the anti armour role until the much more sophisticated N-LAW top-attack LAW enters service. LASM may well stay in service alongside its much larger replacement - likewise I-LAW alongside N-LAW.
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0 # USMC Mom 2009-07-30 07:39
Michael-so glad I found your online magazine. My son (US Marine) will be deployed to Afghanistan in a couple of months.

I have been in search of REAL news about Afganistan, but haven't found any until today when I stumbled across your site (via Sgt Grit newsletter).

Keep up the good work and stay safe!
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0 # Pritch 2009-07-30 11:43
If I read my correspondence correctly, it was simply an attempt at using 'Dylon' to alter the colour of the Desert UBACS. I believe the way they ended up is the reason why not everyone has done it! Why hasn't everyone got standard DPM ones? Not everyone wants to pay for them I guess. They're not issue.

*Great pics btw*
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0 # Bay 2009-07-31 16:06
I can't help but hate this entire vile region of the world, and the fact that we have to go there to kill these spawn of Satan.
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0 # Nikki Ball 2009-08-10 01:42
Thank you for taking the wonderful picture of my son (with the headband and the big gun). I can't explain the mixture of feelings I have as the mother of a british soldier, I am so proud of him and yet everyday is a living nightmare until he comes home, I dread every knock at the door and my heart breaks every time I hear a soldier has been killed, he has recently lost a very good friend and I worry just as much about what he experiences and sees out there as I do about him being killed or injured, when I saw this picture I cried and thought I would never stop, this is my little boy and for him to die in a far away land and not to be able to help or comfort him would be unbearable
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0 # Kate Ranson 2009-08-11 09:02
Pride, terror, admiration overtake us as we look at the pictures waiting for the one we know is there - our grandson.
These boys are such babies when they leave us to return having seen such things in months that no one should see in a life time. Relief and guilt surround any news of fatalities when names are unknown and then revealed. A privilege to see these pictures - the reality behind the passing out parades and no. 1's - Thank you.
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0 # windy 2009-08-13 11:09
jack what your saying about the milan is fine but i would'nt want to carry that antique around the battlefield.the firing post weighs 18kg the thermal sight is nearly the same again then you got the air bottles which you need alot of then the batterys and lets not forget the missiles themselves 12kgs each.then the next problem is once fired you can't control the actual missile for around 500 meters so any targets with in that range are out of bounds.if the javalin is 4 times more exspensive then so be it i wish we had them when is in.
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0 # Brian K. Sain 2011-02-01 05:26
We American police snipers will assist UK snipers with needed kit ... as we do our own ... www.AmericanSnipers.org
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0 # Brian K. Sain 2011-02-01 05:28
We police snipers in the US will assist UK snipers with their kit needs ... just as we do our own ... www.AmericanSnipers.org

Godspeed mates. Brian
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0 # Leyla 2011-02-01 07:53
Thanks for the the photos and of course commentary..... ....it's amazing what a day in the life of a soldier is.
Most people who live comfy lives have no idea at what the price that comfort comes at!

Keep Safe,

Leyla
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0 # Ken 2011-02-01 08:47
Thank You again for your great reporting. Please convey my great appreciation to these young men and women, and let them know that they are in our prayers daily. Please be safe.
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0 # Darren Stewart 2011-02-01 10:58
After some deep discussions and obvious political decisions - and no little critique of the brits by the American generals, the American Marines moved in and took on the Sangin area.

After the early 'we will sort it out' - the US troops have found it very tough there. But worse the British tactics which the US said were wrong and responsible for failure were tossed aside. The men were drawn up into larger bases and ground was given up. I watched in abject horror last night as I saw panorama - a BBC show - and the Americans who had withdrawn from the British bases that were spread around in line with 'not following the British failure in tactics' - have had to switch back to British tactics AND a much harsher direct invasive policy of wrecking houses and the local population's property and buildings. The retaking of 'Pharmacy Road' has cost a great deal of American troops.

The Brits fought damn hard in Sangin, and I hope the American generals rethink some of their Brit abuse. And perhaps they should not automatically assume they know best. In the meantime, having seen that film, I'm no more convinced in the Military and political focus of this war. The whole plan and emphasis of the war, the war effort, and its aims need a severe re-assessment. The current tactic in Sangin is directly turning the populace directly against the NATO troops. Thats blazingly painfully obvious. Do the Generals actually know what they are doing, and why - and for what military purpose, direction and basis of momentum?

The footpatrols looking for the next IED death is a rolling world war one level of stupid. Its time for a change of tactics/technol ogy and approach. Is this really the best method we can provide to our men and women facing the IED threat. What are the foot patrols achieving ? The men walk territory, then return to central bases handing it straight back.
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0 # Linda Osburn 2011-02-03 17:24
Could you please list items that you feel are crucial for our soldiers that Americans can send? I have seen list of items but want to know what the soldiers really want. Yes want!
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