Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

101st Airborne


04 March 2011

Plans are afoot to embed with the 2-506 Infantry in Paktika Province.  If all goes well, the hard work will begin several weeks from now.  The Battalion Commander is Lieutenant Colonel Don Hill.

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War Stories & Rumors


tankimg_9890_1000-webRussian Tank near Tarin Kot

02 March 2011

There are always the stories.  Some true, some not, most are hybrids.  There was the story in Iraq of the farmer who found a crashed UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).  The farmer thought it might try to fly away so he tied it to a tree.   There was the rumor among some Iraqis that the UAVs were piloted by mice.

When I went through the excellent British tracking school on Borneo island, British instructors warned about Afghans who can track you across the rocky desert.  The instructors said a sniper team had moved into place in Afghanistan, was tracked down and killed.  Such tracking would be easy to do in most places here.  If you move during daylight--making it easier to hide your tracks--you might be spotted from miles away.  But if you move at night for any appreciable distance, you’ll almost certainly leave behind an easy to follow trail.  You might was well drop a red marble every ten steps.

I heard a story that, given the source and circumstance, had the ring of truth.  It went like this: Taliban had been attacking some cooperative villagers with IEDs along a road.  In response, one of our Special Forces sniper teams secretly moved into place to shoot the Taliban.  The sniper team, out there on its lonesome, spent the night waiting.  Patience is ninety percent of their game and with sunrise they had gotten nothing.  But the team had been compromised, and an Afghan was coming straight toward them and when he finally got close, he found them pointing weapons straight at him.  “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!  I am from the village!”  The man was not the enemy, but was sent to bring a “grocery list” from the village to the Americans hidden on the hill.  Nobody was hurt.

There is no telling how much of this story is true, though it’s good for a laugh, and is in character of the place, the Afghans, and, for sake of storytelling at least, it’s true enough.

Scorch & Puddle


puddle-finalimg_9661-webThe Puddle

28 February 2011
Urozgan Province, Afghanistan

This morning, we drove a dangerous unpaved road from Tarin Kot to Dehrawud, passing recent bomb craters and ancient wrecks of two Soviet tanks.  The muddy road often splashed brown soup across the windshield while grey skies threatened to unleash again.  More rain could bring flash floods that could leave us stranded in Taliban country.  We kept our heads covered as we splashed through villages and dark men and boys often tried to peer in.  Away from the villages, in the countryside, there were occasional flocks of sheep, goats, and camels, along with countless opportune ambush sites.

Read more: Scorch & Puddle

Dead Taliban in Chora


(A raw, unedited note from war.)

dead-talibanimg_9436Men lining up to pay respects to killed Taliban

27 February 2011

The places have names like Sangin, Arghandab, Panjwai, Now Zad, Musa Qala, Korengal Valley, Pech Valley, Tarin Kot, or Chora.  Names that mean almost nothing to most people, but everything to others.  British, American, Dutch, Canadian, Australian, and others from far and wide, have fought and died in these places. Some lost arms, legs, eyes, their buddies, and sometimes their sanity, on these battlefields.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been at war here almost ten years.  And so I am continuing a long tour of Afghanistan to discover what is going on here.

Today, I accompanied members of Central Asia Development Group (CADG).  We drove from the town of Tarin Kot to the violent village of Chora.  A quick web search for Chora will reveal countless articles about the heavy fighting.  We took an extremely dangerous stretch of road.  We saw nary a soldier, though I am told many have died here.  Leonard Grami, the Urozgan Provincial Manager for CADG, reckons well over a hundred troops and Afghans have died on this stretch in the last 14 months, including some last week and last night.

Somehow we made it to Chora and saw that the USAID project seems to be doing fine, but while the managers checked the work, Afghan authorities dumped the body of a Taliban killed last night in nearby in fighting.  They dumped him at a “traffic circle” underneath what they call “the steeple.”  Men and boys flocked to the body and were so tight around him that they must have been almost stepping on him.  When we arrived, they pulled back for a moment, and I made a panorama of these dangerous men.  Danger was thick in the air so we did not stay long, and then we headed back across the desert to Tarin Kot.

Please take time to examine this panorama by scrolling around and using the controls or mouse to zoom in and out.  Look at the faces of these men, and you’ll see the faces of Taliban.




kid-in-panjwaiDeadly Panjwai in Kandahar Province

27 February 2011
Filed from Tarin Kot, Urozgan Province

Panjwai has been one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.  Much Canadian, American, and Afghan blood has soaked into this ground.

Read more: Panjwai

Tennessee in Afghanistan


tn-in-kandaharAnyone missing this car?

23 February 2011

The weather in Kandahar was cool and bright all day.  I travelled around Kandahar City with people from the Central Asia Development Group (owned by a close friend) and we visited eight cash for work projects.  This is a very interesting story that I started researching in 2010.  More on that in a serious dispatch, later.

Have been seeing Afghan, American, and Canadian forces around town but only in passing as they rumble by.  During my first day back did not see any fighting.  More interesting was this Toyota Corolla with a Tennessee license tag and the Buddhist reference that “MY OTHER VEHICLE IS THE MAHAYANA.”

If you are missing this car, I saw where it went.

Thumbs Up in Afghanistan



22 February 2011

Arrived back in Kandahar today and immediately set off into the wilds.  Am not with troops at this time, but later will see about embedding.

While driving in Kandahar City today, we passed by some American troops doing “route clearance.”  They were looking for bombs.  Their work is extremely dangerous but they keep rolling.  Often they find bombs only after they get hit.  The “bird cage” around the vehicle is to counter RPGs.  Insofar as I can tell, the US government has done cheetah flips to make sure our troops have the right gear for this risky job.

While we drove past the American unit, a friend gave them a thumbs up and nearly got in the way of my shot!

Return to Afghanistan



Day by Day

17 February 2011

All is looking good for my return to Afghanistan within one week.  The more researched photo-dispatches will be published here.  For daily updates that will not make it to main dispatches, please sign up for my Facebook.

Your support is crucial for my work in Afghanistan.  Thank you.

General Petraeus: Unfounded rumors


16 February 2011

Just got this email from Geoff Morrell, Press Secretary for Secretary Robert Gates:

"Despite some sensational speculation by one of the London papers, I can assure you General Petraeus is not quitting as ISAF commander, but nor does he plan to stay in Afghanistan forever. Obviously he will rotate out at some point, but that point has not yet been determined and it will not occur anytime soon. Until then, he will continue to ably lead our coalition forces in Afghanistan."

River of Tears: Snapshots from the Edge of a War


River of Tears

Snapshots from the Edge of a War

Salween River: Burma on the left, Thailand on the right.

14 Feburary 2011

The Salween River forms a border between Thailand and Burma.  “Rambo” fictionally crossed this jungle current in the movie Rambo IV.  But there is nothing fictional about the war, or the bombs that often fly from Burma into Thailand, or the land mines scattered across the hidden countryside.

Read more: River of Tears: Snapshots from the Edge of a War

Sangin Then, and Now


2 February 2011

During the summer of 2009, the British were fighting hard for Sangin.  They were always outnumbered by Taliban and terrain.  Casualties were high.

Today, US Marines are paying in blood for the very same ground because, in part, they gave up a miniscule speck of Afghanistan, and then paid to retake it.  But by other reports, Marines also are fighting very aggressively and seem to be destabilizing the Taliban in that crucial area.

There is much to be learned by first reading my dispatch from summer of 2009: “Bad Medicine on Pharmacy Road,” and then watching the current BBC documentary: “The Battle for Bomb Alley.”

The tiny stretch that was then called “Pharmacy Road” is now called “Bomb Alley,” though it was just as deadly in 2009.

By reading my dispatch closely, and then focusing on the BBC documentary, you’ll notice familiar sights in this tiny speck of land, and familiar names.  Little has changed other than that Marines spilled blood regaining what the British had already fought for.  That is a shame.  The good news is that the Marines seem to be winning.

Did Mubarak Flee?

1 Comment

High USG source just told me Mubarak may have fled.  USG working to confirm.  US evacuation now very high priority.

Egypt Eruption


I asked General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey for his thoughts on the evolving situation in Egypt:

Egypt is a few steps short of a disaster.  The corrupt, incompetent regime will not survive.

Most likely outcome--- the Generals take charge, announce a reform government, start  the process of responding to the injustice and despair of the common citizen. Then the situation staggers along for some period.

Worst outcome the Generals stand with the same gang that has looted the nation--- probably minus Mubarak. Then there is a possible civil war with the soldiers in many cases siding with the people not their officers. The only organized opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood which could then possibly gain power.

Our central US foreign policy concern is the stability of the Peace Treaty with Israel.  At the end of the day if required--- we would go to war to prevent the annihilation of the Israelis.  This would be a terrible outcome for the entire region.

And--- oh by the way---there is the matter of the Suez Canal and the flow of oil to a Europe with an increasingly ant-Israeli political stance.

We have few good options.  The President and Secretary Clinton are carefully walking the line.  Oddly enough--- only the last Administration with President Bush and Secretary Condi Rice has ever taken a strong reform position with Mubarak.

This one is important.  Egypt is central to peace in the region.  Their people have been ill-used by the Mubarak Regime.  Watch the enlisted soldiers of the Egyptian Army. If they go with the people--- there will be incredible bloodshed.

Barry McCaffrey

For My Thai Friends

11 Comments img_4617c_fullweb

04 January 2011

Was walking by the water.  There were thousands of birds and so I wanted to send this snapshot back to Thailand.  Thai people are welcome in Florida!  Y'all get over here.


The Jungle Twins


01 January 2011

A Mother’s Watchful Eye

In October 2010, a rare set of elephant twins was born in Thailand, leading to vibrant media interest.· The birth was a happy surprise partly because it had been the second set of twins born in Thailand in 2010.· Many Thais consider this auspicious, and two sets of twins in one year was very welcome news in the Kingdom.· Stranger still, the first set born this year were reportedly the first male twins in world history.· I cannot verify these claims.· In any case, I set off into the jungle to find the second twins -- both are girls -- and their mother.

Read more: The Jungle Twins

Shooting Star


16 December 2010

Six years ago this week, I was packing for my first trip to Iraq.  Been a long road.

Earlier this week, the annual Geminids meteor shower was a beautiful sight to behold.  Using 4 cameras, I made about 3,600 photos over the Andaman Sea.   Due to computer issues, I’ve been able to review only about 100 images so far.   Several meteors were in the first batch of images.

Please feel free to download this image for personal, one-time use.  Shooting Star.

Also, please buy my new book!

Ripley’s Believe it Or Not


Helicopter Rotors glowing due to Kopp-Etchells Effect

14 December 2010

Ripley’s Believe it or Not has asked to publish one of my photos in their next book.  This photo was made in Sangin, Afghanistan during the last time I was with British forces.  Sangin is the most dangerous place in the country.  The enemy is good and the fighting is serious.  The area freaks out some people.  Sangin is a courage tester and every mission I half expected would be my last.  Over a hundred British soldiers were killed in the area and now our Marines are well on the way to top that.  Sangin brings no-kidding combat.  Helicopters land on small bases at night without lights.  A few minutes walk from where this photo was made, another helicopter was shot out of the sky apparently with an RPG.  Many nights, when the helicopters land, the rotors glow due to the Kopp-Etchells Effect.

The photographs I made of the Kopp-Etchells Effect at Sangin have been seen in many countries around the world, and soon will be published in Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.  You are welcome to download a copy for a single personal use only.  Please click Kopp-Etchells Photo to download.

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