Michael's Dispatches

Battlefield Forensics

35 Comments

2011-07-19-125516-2The Later meeting

18 August 2011
Task Force Spartan, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

During a planning session at a sand table, numerous firefights broke out.  We were at safe distance but close enough to hear heavy volumes of machine gun, AK-47 and RPGs.  The enemy had hit three targets simultaneously.  The closest was a small police outpost over a mile away.  We were hearing the sounds of six people dying.

The attack on the closest police station was unfolding something like this: A small enemy element, probably just a couple or a few Taliban, attacked from vineyards to the south to draw police to the south Hesco wall.  Meanwhile, an assault element consisting of three fighters was trying to penetrate through the front Hesco entrance to the north.  The police did not seem to take the bait.  The three enemy approaching from the road to the north were using a motor-tricycle, which are common here.  The driver was dressed in civvies while the men in back wore chest racks with ammo.  Their weapons were hidden under straw in the tricycle bed.

They made it to the gate and shot the first guard, killing him.  The attackers made it into the perimeter, killing a guard in one tower and lightly wounding the commander in the same tower.  An attacker was shot down and killed and another police officer was killed and sometime in the mix the second Taliban was killed.  The third Taliban, who had been the driver, ran back out the gate and got on the bike and was shot and killed with RPG.

Three police killed, one wounded, and three Taliban killed.  To us it was just noise in the distance.  The planning continued for a large attack that 4-4Cav was to do.

2011-07-19-132821Colonel Pat Frank, Commander of TF Spartan

After the planning session, was another meeting at the Zhary District center on FOB Pasab, in the general area of Kandahar City.  Colonel Patrick Frank presided over the American side of the meeting.  I’d seen LTC Frank sit in similar meetings in the very violent South Baghdad during the surge in 2007.  An ugly time.  As reward (or punishment) for his success in Baghdad, Colonel Frank was sent here.  His AO (Area of Operations) is the most dangerous in Afghanistan.  There are more attacks in some areas of RC-East, but they are more deadly here.  One night, I said to Colonel Frank that I cannot figure out if General Petraeus loves him or hates him, because he gets sent to all the worst places, and clearly General Petraeus was behind it in both cases in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Colonel Frank just laughed and kept explaining something about the fight here.  And today, at this meeting, in addition to so many other matters (most of which are intensely boring), Colonel Frank was bringing up something he used to have to hammer in Iraq: American forces have problems handing over prisoners if you are going to torture them.  You must stop abusing prisoners or we cannot give them to you.

In reality it seems that most countries of the world torture prisoners, and that’s the way it is.  The meeting continued and we Americans all wore headsets so that the Afghan interpreter could tell us what was being said.

An Afghan assistant interrupted to inform the Afghan leadership that the six bodies had just been brought back.  Three police, and the three enemy.

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Afghans gawked and made photos.  In many countries, there is no compunction against photographing the dead.  Some readers in the past have been unhappy when I published images of dead enemy, or they complained that it’s against US embed rules to publish identifiable images of dead Americans, and so it’s hypocritical to do the same with Taliban or al Qaeda.  I didn’t write the rules, and so there is no hypocritical bone there.  However, I don’t publish photos of dead US troops, but will not hesitate to publish images of the enemy; after all, they publish them, too.  No need to try to justify it; my double standard is clear to see.  This was a case of Taliban attacking Afghans, who fought back.  No Americans were involved or present during this fight.

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The Afghan police and Soldiers backed up so that I could make photos.  Afghans typically are very polite like that.

2011-07-19-130623

One enemy had rigor mortis in a strange position.  He was mooning everyone.  An American forensics person told someone to cover him up.  The forensics team was more respectful of the dead enemy than were the police.  (Not that the Afghans were being disrespectful, but that they were slightly indelicate.)

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Our guys, actually civilian contractors, gathered forensic evidence.

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This man’s thumb was missing but the other fingers were fine.

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Fingerprints can be checked against our growing database.  Maybe his prints were on a weapon, or a bomb, or maybe he had been enrolled into our system for some reason.  All detainees, for instance, are enrolled in the biometrics database.  Maybe it will turn out that he lives in London or Tampa.  No telling.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    John-Capt in ANG · 7 years ago
    Always good to see those who bring violence rewarded in kind. Also good to hear the ANP held their own and it sounds like their training held the test of fire.

    I've tried explaining the differences in culture within other spots and the US but have given up. Now I just say, "Just go. If you sit on your couch/chair in the US and read/watch TV, you'll never get it or understand the scope of what you don't know."

    Keep publishing photos. That's why I follow your posts/ dispatches. If I want watered down crap I'll go to a corporate news site.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    rob m · 7 years ago
    This is an awesome post. Very graphic but I'm glad you posted these pics. Nice to see the good guys winning.
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    Ben · 7 years ago
    Great post. I'm not an addict of gore but those are great pics.
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    Dan · 7 years ago
    Even though they weren't in suicide vests they must have had little hope of returning alive when the diversion didn't work. The burned man no doubt sustained instaneous rigor as the protein in his body coagulated from the fire. Bizzare postures are common in burned bodies.
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    Mary · 7 years ago
    Thanks for the real stories Michael...invaluable! Truth is brutal but necessary.
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    Carl Gierke · 7 years ago
    The picture of the foot at the bottom of the second page looks similar to mine when I was young. I got "mild" frostbite on my paper route and had that texture for many years after.
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    Steven · 7 years ago
    Thanks for the post, you never water down reality. People only exposed to mainstream media tend to forget that war is indeed ugly.
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    Victoria · 7 years ago
    Whoa - that was graphic. Probably not unusual for you Mike, but not something I see, ever.

    Great job and thanks again. Inferno book is beautiful by the way.
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    Prufrock · 7 years ago
    I hate slasher flicks and their gratuitous violence. There's always something to do with an innocent person being terrorized.

    These pics don't seem to have the same effect on me. I just feel sad, and a little tired, looking at them. What a waste of their lives and time. What a crass and hardened culture they live in.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      MN · 5 years ago
      [quote name="Prufrock"]I just feel sad, and a little tired, looking at them. What a waste of their lives and time. What a crass and hardened culture they live in.[/quote]

      I'm surprised how much the same I feel as Prufrock looking at these; sad and tired, as much reminded of the waste of our lives as theirs. Between fanatics and incompetents, there are always more dead people than there should be, and they are often the wrong ones. I can see these guys very detached and clinically, but even though they are the enemy I do feel like it's such a waste of humanity on all sides. These guys should have had a peaceful life herding goats, but they and their mentors chose a different path. Maybe they felt little choice based upon circumstances beyond their control, their beliefs, and the pride they were raised with. I understand that. I would rather buy them or befriend them than kill them. We have tried all of that, often badly, and sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. They are still the enemy unless they choose not to be. I certainly haven't forgotten that, and if it has to be a zero sum game then better them on that truck than our men and women.
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    Scott · 7 years ago
    In the second to final picture, the Afghan police officer's right hand is clearly visible. Are we looking someone whose hand healed very poorly after a break, or a birth defect? Lacking the use of a hand would have a significant impact to the efficacy of this particular individuals job performance. Might he be better suited for a different job? Great reporting, keep up the good work.
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    Ryan Foo · 7 years ago
    [quote name="Scott"]In the second to final picture, the Afghan police officer's right hand is clearly visible. Are we looking someone whose hand healed very poorly after a break, or a birth defect? Lacking the use of a hand would have a significant impact to the efficacy of this particular individuals job performance. Might he be better suited for a different job? Great reporting, keep up the good work.[/quote]

    He did kill the guy ;-)

    Thank you for your updates Michael, these dispatches gives me a better idea of what to expect when I'm over there.
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    Jeff · 7 years ago
    Winning perhaps, but three friendlies died as well. Do you know how their remains were treated? Assume a quick burial per Muslim custom, but how were their comrades taking it?
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    Anita Henderson · 7 years ago
    Michael, thank you so much for your dispatches, we owe a lot to your perseverance and bravery in bringing information to us about the Afghanistan theater of war. FYI, the guy with the strange pits on the bottom of his feet has Pitted Keratolysis which is generally caused by a bacterial infection and responds well to topical antibiotics. Being semi barefoot exposes the skin of the foot to every bug under the sun ;-(( We usually see it in the US when people sweat a lot providing a moist environment.
    I am a dermatologist in Columbia, MD and have seen quite a few cases over the years.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dick Sherman · 7 years ago
    Thanks for the update Michael. A question: I haven't heard anything about your book that I ordered and paid for a year ago. I guess some folks have received their copy - I have not. Can you fill me in on the problem.

    Be safe and continue the good work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    wmaster@michaelyon · 7 years ago
    Mr. Sherman, can you shoot me over an email with your order information to wmaster@michaelyon-online.com and I will get to the bottom of what the problem is.

    Thanks
    Richard
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    Violette · 7 years ago
    Serious business ,good,bad,ugly all in one.
    It's remind me also: I just have a rock in place of a heart,sometime !
    Funny looking policeman,his left[photo] hand maybe was tortured,hence shadenfreude.
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    TheOldMan · 7 years ago
    What a waste of life. These people could have been productive people, farmers perhaps but in the grasp of a stupid ideology, they are dead. I have a son who died at birth (genetic problems) and when I see idiots wasting their lives, I think of him who never even had the chance at life.
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    3rd Infantry Grunt · 7 years ago
    Dead dunecoons, it just gives me a warm fuzzy all over!
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    MAUREEN · 7 years ago
    Thank you for the truth. Wish all of the US could see these pics. Maybe this war would take front and center, as it should be.
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    John Neville · 7 years ago
    Thanks for the knowledge you send us. The forensic and ID stuff is really valuable. We will learn a lot and we will get good ids on people. We come to know our enemy much more intimately and he will suffer because of it. Thanks to the troops and to the Forensics guys.
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    Ibncalb · 7 years ago
    my feet look just the same. i work on a beach for weeks at a time barefoot. it's sand foot.
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    Billy · 7 years ago
    Thanks for showing us what goes on and glad to see Afghan police kicking some Taliban ass!
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    JMHH · 7 years ago
    Coming up on the 10th anniversary of the horrific attack and mass murder of thousands of my fellow Americans, I was glued to my television on that day. I watched the horror unfold over and over again, but I wanted to.

    I wanted to commit every detail to memory so that I would never forget what the terrorists did to my country and to thousands of innocent people. I felt no anger. I felt no fear. I did not feel anything.

    Watching the events unfold, the only thing I felt was a sense of coldness that froze every emotion, and all that I was left with was a crystal clarity of thought. I knew then that this enemy must die, but not for the purposes of revenge. This enemy had to die because it was so purely evil that to allow any of them to live would be equivalent to committing suicide. I do not see human beings when I view these photos. I see nothing but the elimination of a fiendish atrocity against civilization.
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    Brad Bonds · 7 years ago
    Do people really understand we are at war? Maybe they aren't seeing it; or they think if it doesn't look like a World War movie then it's not a "real war." It is horrible, to me, hearing children out of high school talk about joining the military to get a job, go to school, and try for a good future, talking as if that's all going to happen in a magical personal place of peace for them, rather than in Afghanistan. I'm there to help them search and apply for jobs. I am not yet too jaded to at least try helping them find work, but there is none, other than facing military draft by default. I praise their voluntary enlistment, I praise their worlds of opportunity, I praise them and support them without reserve. Sitting beside them are our returning vets who are now in the same sorry situation - no job. They have given so much it would be cruel to ask them to speak up and tell everybody, "Hey, look at these pics, that's my dead buddy!" It's a real war: dead Americans look exactly the same.
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    Tracy · 7 years ago
    Thanks Michael for your courage and steadfastness in telling the whole story! The media is lame and the story so important. We love and support you all and your families too.
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    DesertDave · 7 years ago
    Mr. Yon, The only good day huh!

    I DO see how some brass up the a.. er chain would not be too thrilled. These pics had to piss off a lot of the Afghans. But I'm glad you had the guts to tell this story and all that you do. I hope it all works out. Keep it up !
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    matt · 7 years ago
    In college I got something similar from a rented ice hockey skate, same pits, hurt like the dickens after a while, turned my socks yellow and hard.

    I was a stubbon dipstick so I never went to the clinic, took a couple weeks til I got to the point that it really hurt to walk so I got some Gold Bold and after a week of using that and throwing away my old socks it went away. I ended up throwing out the shoes too.

    Its not fun stuff.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    bryan · 7 years ago
    Is it wise to advertise the level of forensics that is done on the ground is Afganistan? Perhaps the brass would like to keep the Afgan bad guys supplying photographs, prints and DNA rather than wearing gloves and hiding from all cameras? I have never been to Afganistan so I am asking legit questions. I am not speaking rhetorically.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      MN · 5 years ago
      [quote name="bryan"]Is it wise to advertise the level of forensics that is done on the ground is Afganistan? Perhaps the brass would like to keep the Afgan bad guys supplying photographs, prints and DNA rather than wearing gloves and hiding from all cameras? I have never been to Afganistan so I am asking legit questions. I am not speaking rhetorically.[/quote]

      An interesting point, but I would assume this forensic investigation and tracking has been common for sometime, and as a percentage of those same Afghan officers are probably also on the Taliban payroll, I'm thinking that it's not a big secret. In this case it isn't being performed in a secret CIA safehouse, but is pretty much on public display here. A wise question and I commend your cautionary note. I'm no intel expert and could be wrong. I default to Michael's experience and judgement.
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    Dave · 7 years ago
    The position of the motorcycle rider still doesn't make sense, unless he died instantly after the bike caught on fire. He still would have had time to freak out and react and not just keep riding the bike until it flopped over and died then laid there for a while for rigor to set in. However, many people in pain die in various fetal positions.
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    Ted Thomas · 7 years ago
    what the unnamed Army general objected to in the post. Graphic? Very. Disturbing? Indeed. Isn't war always like that?

    Keep it up, especially if the Army kicks you out again. If they do, I'll be writing to my Senators (including the minority leader in the Senate) to ask why.
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    Jack E. Hammond · 7 years ago
    Dear Michael, I have never disagreed with you, but I can understand the generals view point. You remember how Americans got so upset over that one Iranian Mullah holding up a body part after the failed Iranian rescue mission under President Carter and then the Somalias dragging that body after the Ranger Shoot Out in 1993 and the contractors hanging body parts in Iraq. It is something we don't approve of, and that part of the world may think, that we think it only applies to our guys and not our enemies.

    Jack E. Hammond
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    ArmyPA · 6 years ago
    For the curious out there, the little pits on that INS foot are a sign of pitted keratolysis. Our Soldiers get it from time to time, and it has an absolutly horrid odor. In the book 'Horse Soldiers', an operator suffered from this, and the author wrote a rather comedic anecdote about a bare-footed shura that quickly turned into a covered-foot shura.

    -Army PA
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    Heath · 5 years ago
    That are three less terrorists to worry about. :-)

    Go get 'em !!! 8)
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    Heath · 5 years ago
    If the terrorists try to strike the U.S. Homeland. Our Chevy & Ford trucks will be filled with your dead. Do not mess with the U.S.A. 8)
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    Christine Jones · 5 years ago
    I am a Combat Camera member a few years back I was deployed and you mentioned me in your Adam Ray story. I just thought it was interesting that I am doing a story on battlefield Forensics and your name popped up, your name made me think of that sad day. Hope all is well. If you are ever interested and coming to visit our unit let me know. It would be amazing to hear your stories.

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