Michael's Dispatches

One Night in Zhari


2011-08-20-144517-10004-4 Cav Soldiers firing a 40mm mortar on the evening of 20 August 2011.

12 September 2011

Note: This rough dispatch was written over many days during slivers of time between prepping gear and going on missions. Different sentences were written at different times.  Many operations unfolded and there were more injuries and fatalities in the brigade, and more progress against the enemy in this area.  On the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, 4-4 Cav was again in combat, as they are every day.

4-4 Cav, Task Force Spartan
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

The sun was setting and the Soldiers were still scuffling here and there in small firefights.  Most of the surrounding skirmishes had ended but there were still a few bullets flying.  Some enemy were spotted nearby.  American Soldiers carefully aimed 40mm grenades and 60mm mortar rounds at the enemy position.  From my location, the enemy were invisible but there were Soldiers elsewhere who could see them.  It was the evening of 20 August 2011.

The 40mm is a shoulder fired weapon and is excellent for hitting “dead space.”  Dead spaces are areas where the enemy can take cover, such as in a ditch, and we can’t hit them directly with small arms fire.  Indirect fire weapons can be agile in ways that direct fire weapons like machineguns cannot match, such as hitting or firing from dead spaces.  “Indirect fire” means aiming and firing without relying on a direct line of sight between the weapon and the target.  It’s like lobbing a softball that arcs up and then drops down on a target, which might be on the other side of a hill.  Field artillery can be used as direct fire or IDF.  These inventions explode in target areas and so they are also called “area weapons.”

Our people, and the enemy, attack each other daily with grenades and rockets of various sorts, and usually also small arms fire.  Such was the case during a mission on 03 September, when Private First Class Brandon Longshore--a young trooper from Opelika, Alabama who keeps getting into combat--was lightly wounded when the enemy fired grenades.  It’s possible that Brandon shot the same enemy who killed Private First Class Brice Scott several weeks back in another firefight during an air assault mission.  The element I was with during that same mission arrived shortly after that deadly firefight.  Everyone was saddened by Brice’s loss.

Recently, Brandon Longshore was limping around here on crutches.  He’s in good spirits and we talked for a while.  In describing the 03 September mission, Brandon said he heard the incoming grenade for about half a second before it exploded.  His ears were ringing like crazy.  Some may ask why he wasn’t wearing earplugs, but it’s unrealistic to expect troopers to wear them all the time.  Combat rarely happens during ideal circumstances.  A few weeks ago I photographed Brandon saving an Afghan boy from possible asphyxiation during a firefight.  After the war, Brandon will have a lot of bragging rights.  My guess is that nobody is going to believe him because he looks too young to have seen so much fighting.  [Update: I saw Brandon yesterday on 11 September.  He’s back in the fight.]

2011-08-20-144841-3-10004-4 Cav Soldiers firing a 60mm on the evening of 20 August 2011 during Operation Pyrite Pike.
Where are the Canadians?

Shortly before the twilight images were taken, Sergeant Edward Wooden and Specialist Ian Stauffer, both from Pennsylvania, were wounded in an APOBS accident (Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System)  The two Soldiers were clearing enemy bombs from very close to where our 40mm and 60mm mortars were firing.  Sergeant Wooden is still healing from his burn wounds. I watch his daily progress as we share a tent at FOB Pasab.

Specialist Ian Stauffer recovered from his minor injury with the APOBS.  He left our tent and went to a smaller outpost nearby called Hadji Rammudin II (HRII).  I went out to HRII for other business and took a cot in the medical tent, which happened to be just 150 meters from where Specialist Stauffer stepped on a bomb after he returned to combat.  The IED only partially exploded, injuring Ian’s ankle by twisting his foot around.  Ian has gone home.  (If you are reading this from home, Ian, everyone wishes you a speedy recovery.)

Incidentally, a similar IED detonation to what Ian experienced also happened to Private First Class Nick Ortlieb in March. The two are from the same platoon.  I never met Nick but they say he is a solid trooper. Nick’s tour of duty ended when the IED detonation caused a compound fracture to his ankle.

Just as I wrote the previous paragraph on 04 September, FOB Pasab took two incoming 82mm recoilless IDF rounds from the enemy.  There were two minor casualties.  A few days before this strike, there were three minor casualties from a similar attack when six 82mm shots hit us. Recently, strikes from the 82mm disabled three of our heavily armored MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles in about 30 seconds.  Nobody was killed but that was good fortune for our side.  I was not on that particular mission and only saw the damaged trucks after they returned to base.  Several Soldiers, including the squadron commander, experienced mild traumatic brain injury from that attack.  Impacts like that scramble your thoughts.  Concussions from nearby bombs often make your mind blink out like a television that suddenly loses signal.  In Iraq, Soldiers who experienced bomb concussions would often say, “My TV went out.”

The 82mm is a powerful weapon and with a direct hit can kill everyone in an MRAP.  When the Canadians took on the Afghan district 4-4 Cav is now operating from, they had a difficult time with the 82mm recoilless rifles.  Lately, the history of the Canadian troops is softly being rewritten as successful in Afghanistan.  Reality differs.  The Canadians troops have an excellent reputation and they served with distinction, but after nearly being swallowed whole, they were ordered to abandon their battlespace.  There were many causes.  The Canadian combat forces could have prevailed, but Ottawa is weak.  The prime cause for the Canadian defeat was that tough men in mud homes without electricity defeated comfortable politicians in Ottawa, who seem to think that manufactured history will make them victorious.

In the book, “A LINE IN THE SAND: CANADIANS AT WAR IN KANDAHAR,” the author Ray Wiss writes:

“Very few will recognize the names of Shah Wali Khot, Arghandab, and especially Panjwayi and Zhari.  Those are the province’s districts where virtually all the combat in which the Canadians have been involved has taken place, an area roughly the same size as the Greater Toronto Area.

“Why did we expend so much blood and treasure in such a small area?  Because it is the birthplace of the Taliban, and the area where they have the most support.”

The Canadians are gone from the area described above.  Canada came late (in force), and left early.   If they had stayed, neither 4-4 Cav nor I would be here as witness this night in Zhari.

2011-08-20-145046-1000An enemy position burning after hits from a 60mm mortar.

The Battlespace

On the afternoon of 20 August, I was with Lieutenant Colonel Mike Katona, the 4-4 Cav Commander.  He had been visiting various outposts which were fighting intermittently over the past couple days.  Around sunset, we headed back to a compound where we had left gear with some Soldiers. The firefights around us were slowing down, possibly because the enemy who had not been killed this day were heading for dinner, or maybe digging graves.  The enemy’s custom is to bury their dead the same day they die (or are killed), but that is not always convenient or possible for them.

Sometimes when you walk on the battlefields, it’s like an IMAX movie.  Surround sound with surround action.  The drum rolls of machine guns, the popping of small arms, thumps from grenades, karummphs from mortars, crackling radio calls, the helicopters zoooom low just over your head and fire at the enemy while jets roar in the twilight high above.  Sometimes an A-10 rolls in for a strafing run, or an Apache fires its cannon or Hellfire missiles.  Sometimes a Predator or Reaper, piloted all the way back in Nevada, will shoot a missile.

This war has gone on for so long--and there is so much experience on both sides of the fighting--that it’s become bizarrely normal.  The only thing abnormal about this war is that it has become normal.

We play by dumb rules.  For example, we are not allowed to shoot at known enemy during the heat of battle when they are collecting their wounded.  These enemy are the same men that do not hesitate to shoot at our helicopters emblazoned with Red Crosses when they are being loaded with wounded.  Some people outside the war zone talk about the Geneva Conventions, which are as relevant here as are the laws of Bolivia.  People love to say, “According to the Geneva Conventions (as if they’ve read them), blah blah blah…”

2011-08-20-145419-1000Soldiers collapsing security from rooftops. They move quickly to avoid being hit while silhouetted.

Back to Operation Pyrite Pike – the exfiltration

The photographs in this dispatch were made during Operation Pyrite Pike on 20 August.

At the end of the mission, near the middle of the night, the plan was to exfiltrate by helicopters.  The enemy has some good shooters in our area.  A common term for these shooters is “snipers.”  The term sniper is loaded, however, among US combat troops.  The US military idea of a sniper is that of a highly skilled, highly trained person who can do great damage with an otherwise puny rifle.  And so the meaning of the term “sniper” varies dramatically depending on the writer and the audience.  In Zhari the enemy has some good shooters, and they do some damage, but these “snipers” are not world class.  They are not Marine Snipers.  Nevertheless, it’s best not to be silhouetted on a rooftop.  And so in situations like the one in the photograph above, our people move quickly as they move positions.

2011-08-20-160920-1000After nightfall, there was far to go to reach our helicopter landing zone. Soldiers take a knee as the path is “cleared” before them.

“Cleared paths”

We already had been in the middle of Taliban country a couple of days, having roared in late at night by helicopters.  By now, the enemy had time to seed the landing area with more bombs.  Many of the Taliban are local farmers and are good at planting things.  As we filed out, Soldiers in front of us “cleared” the path, but “cleared” deserves the same quotations as “sniper.”  Despite the best efforts to “clear” a path, troops often are blown up far down the file.  You might be number three or number ten in the file and suddenly—BOOM—it’s over.  You may have a broken leg, be a triple amputee, or dead.  [Just yesterday, on 11 September during another mission, an Afghan Soldier far in front of me was about number 20 in line and he stepped on a weak IED, which mostly failed to work.]

The “cleared” path is narrow.  Even with night vision gear, you can’t see the footsteps where others have walked before you, and besides that you need to keep scanning around for other ambushes.  A path is never really and truly cleared until it’s behind you.  Far enough behind you that a Soldier behind you who gets blown up won’t take you with him.  An inch off the ant trail is 100% uncleared, and the ant trail itself is only vaguely cleared. The ambushes often are designed so that a man far up front triggers many bombs back down the path.  At night we have to close our interval or risk getting split. This increases the chances of IEDs hitting more than one Soldier.  There is no grey area.  It’s all a bloody battlefield.  It’s never cleared.

2011-08-20-163434-1000Soldiers carry heavy gear and many fall here and there in the shifting landscape. On the right of the photograph, an Infrared chemlight is glowing in the weeds. It’s invisible to the naked eye, but bright to our night vision gear and to my specially adapted camera.

Note: another break in writing.

It’s now 09 September and I’m writing from a cot in a tent at a tiny base in the middle of Taliban country.  This small base, called Hadji Rammudin II (HRII) and is only a couple miles from the larger base called FOB Pasab where many of the Soldiers from Task Force Spartan live.  Every operation and firefight here is happening within just a few miles of FOB Pasab.

Soldiers at HRII talk about an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) sergeant they greatly respected.  I had recently written about him in regard to another battle.  He just lost part of both his legs while clearing an IED.  Apparently, he cleared one IED but a second got him. The enemy may have deliberately targeted him, as it’s well known how important and special EOD troops are to us.  The troops at HRII said this sergeant helped them clear many dangers.  Days before the operation where he lost his legs, the EOD Soldier had been working in the area where Specialist Ian Stauffer stepped on the IED that broke his ankle. The difference between this tent and Taliban country is less than a rifle shot.  It’s less than shouting distance.

2011-08-20-163619-1000The four small lights in the center is actually one blinking IR strobe called a firefly. Sometimes we turn on fireflies so the aircraft can see us. The bright light in the sky is Infrared illumination fired from a distant cannon. It can be seen with the naked eye but it does not light up the ground much. But with our night vision monoculars, it’s very bright and even casts shadows.


In this area, this year, the multi-layered enemy has sent or brought “Punjabi Cells” from Pakistan. The Punjabi Cells are believed to be from Pakistan, and are better trained than normal local Taliban.  The Punjabi Cells are known to track us and mimic our movements, anticipate our moves and circle ahead to set ambushes.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Roger · 10 years ago
    Intermittent writing or not, OUTSTANDING report. Thank you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Royal · 10 years ago
    Reading this takes my mind back to'0 when one of my nephews deployed to Afghanistan with the 10th Mtn. He saw alot of action then, came home safe. This has been a long war, to bad the Canadians cut and ran so we have to spill our blood to finish the job. God bless all of our troops, most of you are young enough that this war is a majority of your living memory. Keep up the work Micheal, we need the truth on what is happening.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leanne · 10 years ago
    Could you please tell the WM6 we're thinking of him and sending our love. Thank you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 10 years ago
    Put the pinheads in Ottawa in there place didjya ;-)

    I have one question about all this night gear that tries to make our troops invisible at night. What happens if these "farmers" get this technology and start using against us, as any modern army would?

    Another point, careful using the acronym "IDF" when referring to munitions and such as to many of us that means "Israeli Defense Forces" :-*

    Which if we had those guys fighting with us, the war would be over in "six days", as they don't give a damn about the stupid useless Geneva Conventions or any other such politically correct crappola

    Belated happy "Patriot Day" Mike and keep up the great reporting, you are our only source for on the spot facts and honest reporting 8)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John - Capt in ANG · 10 years ago
    You're going to have a tough time ordering La Blatts beer north of the lower 48 :-) with your Canadian commentary. I'd phrase it like the Saturday Night Live skit about a decade ago, Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, "Instead of saying I ran away like a scared rabbit. Maybe it was like an angry rabbit, who was going to fight in another fight, away from the first fight."

    Great stuff. I'm waiting for my air bridge in to Kabul, just biding my time for now. Take care. I'll be looking up the FOBs you are at and "keeping an eye from the sky" on ya soon.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 10 years ago
    Great Pics and writing. But nothing like my experiences long ago and far away. We couldn't see fifty feet at any time, day or night and we didn't have the magic of Night Vision Gear. We had to depend on our silence of movement and our ears and nose to detect our enemy. Fighting on their ground, with them knowing it was like fighting blindfolded.

    There was no going back to a base, our base was where we burrowed in at night. Our supply was by our air brothers that brought it out and dropped it to us. Our fights were within fifty feet most of the time or a hundred yards other times. The night belonged to the enemy most of the time. But we made them pay for it.

    But we did it anyway and we did win. Not every battle or firefight but enough that we destroyed the enemy.

    I will never forgive the politicians and liberals for just quiting. Neither will several million Vietnamese and American Vets.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Andy · 9 years ago
      Paul Galanti, American POW, was told by his captors at the Hanoi Hilton: "The Viet Cong didn't think they had to win the war on the battlefield," the ex-POW said, "because thanks to these protesters they were going to win it on the streets of San Francisco and Washington."
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Frederick · 9 years ago
      Our current Vice President helped lead the congressional effort to cut off all aid to South Vietnam after the withdrawl of our combat troops. Being an ally of the US with liberals in charge is very dangerous territory. On this anniversary of 9-11 I am left wondering what on earth have we gained in the last 11 years? We have given up all the gains made in Iraq, we have, for all practical purposes surrendered in Afghanistan, Syria is in the process of falling to radical jihadists, Egypt is now being run by the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran is nuking up, and we have not dealt with Pakistan. It all looks very bleak!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Max Doner · 10 years ago
    I am sure the Canadian soldiers were plenty brave - they just had crappy leadership from above. Good soldiers with bad leaders are made to look bad, when no doubt they were brave men.

    I am from the USA.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Holly Kemp · 10 years ago
    Michael-Thank You So Much for keeping us informed. Sometimes it is hard to read whats posted as it is our LOVED ONES there fighting. I Pray daily God be with you ALL and Protect you ALL till you can return home...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MAUREEN · 10 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken · 10 years ago
    The Canadian forces in Kandahar have fought well for a very long time. They have simply exhausted their capability wage war 6000 miles from home. Remember they have about the same population as California, they have a bit more socialism then here in the US, and they don’t print money like it is going out of style. Also the entire Canadian Army is only 2 brigades. In Comparison the US Army has 46 Combat Brigades, and that doesn’t include the marines.
    At last count 157 Canadian soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan, which is a significant number compared to the 19,500 active duty troops in there Army. They like us feel that NATO member nations have not committed enough troops to the combat zones. They have chosen to protest this by pulling out of combat and going in to a training mission to help us (US) guy get out in 2014, like we are planning.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JB · 10 years ago
    1.IDF= Indirect fire. YOU are reading a war journal, not a Da#n political commentary. In war IDF is indirect fire. If you scream "IDF incoming over a radio" Not a single solitary soul on this planet. Not even you, sir, is going so shouts "SWEET the Israelis are here to give us some R&R"
    2. Canadian Forces are great, he never mentioned them Sucking, he mentioned their idiot leaders using their mouthpiece, the media, to twist the reality into the perception which the pinheads in Ottawa want to be the new reality.
    . He never says what he is using to take photos. Plus I'm guessing this journal is NOT the #1 search when your local madrassa is training, the next set of 12-18 year olds to go get killed for the Imams personal beliefs.
    Not to be an A$$ here but FFS if you haven't been in war or close enough to touch it, then don't CORRECT someone who is there. His A$$ and people he cares about is on the line, by telling them how to kill him and his
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JB · 10 years ago
    His A$$ and people he cares about is on the line. He isnt going to risk telling them how to kill him and his.

    Should read: Not even you sir, its going TO SHOUT.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 10 years ago
    And you don't to be such a total jerk.

    I guess you have never heard of joking around and leg pulling.

    I have been commenting here since Mike first got stated so FO!

    BTW your anti-semite propensities stick out like flare on a moonless night!

    The Israelis would have had this over and done with in the first month pinhead!

    They don't have spineless political leaders who worry about what the MGMSM thinks of them!

    Notice how they take care of people who attack them, SEARCH & DESTROY with maximum prejudice!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    a&n · 9 years ago
    Thanks Mike....on this day of remembering.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    okiquit · 9 years ago
    "Notice how they (Israelis) take care of people who attack them, SEARCH & DESTROY with maximum prejudice!!!"

    Tommy you must have been in a coma in 2006 when the Israelis got their butts kicked in south Lebanon by Hezbollah. They probably killed more civilians than enemy fighters and finally withdrew without achieving their strategic objectives.

    So much for the infallible IDF.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Harley · 3 years ago
    Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
    I'm trying to find out if its a problem on my end or
    if it's the blog. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    my blog: Sex for Smart People: http://sexforsmartpeople.com
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ferne · 3 years ago
    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence
    on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something informative to

    Feel free to surf to my website ... Sex for Smart People: http://sexforsmartpeople.com

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