Michael's Dispatches

Panjway, Afghanistan: Amphitheater of War


Untitled-1000For a larger view please click on image or one of the links below.

23 March 2012

This panorama was made in the general area where the Panjway 17 massacre unfolded.  The view is over the Arghandab River Valley, a place that Canadian and many US forces know well.  The Arghandab can be an interesting place to watch war; there are many vantage points such as this that allow you to witness much fighting.  Sometimes you are in the middle.  The area can be an interactive combat amphitheater.

Panjway Panorama Link: http://gigapan.org/gigapans/101311

I made the 27 photos in this pano in a handheld mode while tagging along with members of the Central Asia Development Group (CADG) who were implementing a water project. We were without troops.  CADG operates freely in some of the most hostile areas of Afghanistan where troops would not go without significant force. This is one of those places.

Much serious fighting has happened within ear and eye-shot of this panorama. This is, quite literally, the birthplace of the Taliban. There is little doubt that Mullah Omar once bathed in this water.

This image is interactive.  By searching, you can see security barriers and cell phone towers. The Taliban forces many cell towers to shut down at night. Taliban likes cell phones, but we use them for targeting. Of course the enemy knows this and want them off at night.  Blackberries and iPhones work here.

If our goal were simply to wipe out the enemy without regard for human costs, US forces could do that in an hour or two.  But we've tried counterinsurgency (COIN), which remains a work in progress a decade later. Today we are negotiating with the Taliban.

The Taliban will inherit this land.  Panjway, where these images were made, is the birthplace of the Taliban and it's still theirs.  As you can see, the terrain is not rough.  We simply never applied enough pressure to break their will, and they didn’t quit.

Progress has definitely been made: COIN is working, but we waited too long.  The Afghan war is a classic case of too little, too late.  This area of Afghanistan will remain Taliban country, but we will have made roads and other projects to help get crops such as opium to market.  After aid dries up, they’ll probably let the roads fall into disrepair and keep plodding along.

Again, this image is interactive. If you see something of interest, please make a "snapshot" with a description. Snapshot button is on lower left.

(The GoogleEarth geolocation is approximate. The "two" motorcycles on the right are actually one guy. He moved between images.)

Panjway Panorama Link: http://gigapan.org/gigapans/101311


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Zach · 9 years ago
    Why is she in uniform and why is she chillen with my old unit!?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kris Singleton · 9 years ago
    Two points.
    1. Your awesome image contradicts my frequently stated "truth": No photo can ever even approach comparing with the wonder we take in through our eyes. I like!
    2. Zooming in on the scoreboard (far off in the left third), are my eyes playing tricks on me or does the score read: USA 17, Taliban 0?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Victoria · 9 years ago
    Wonderful photography Michael. (why is there always one poster who thinks they're superior? i.e. Royer).

    Those are rough mountains to be fighting in, as I was thinking of Marcus Luttrell. Thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul · 9 years ago
    Do a search on "Randall Todd Royer" to learn about our little jihadi. Another home-grown member of a Virginia terrorist network. If he was sentenced to 20 years in 2004, is he posting to Mr. Yon's site from a prison computer?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark T · 9 years ago
    I love these Gigapans. It always impresses me how far you can zoom in. As for Randall, he just clearly makes evident why we need to stop trying to appease these people, they don't want peace, they thrive on death, mayhem, and absolute control.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    dms · 9 years ago
    The UK is at war, while at the same time filling the government, state, security and military with islamists and islamics. This is done supposedly in the name of fairness, or multiculturalism. You could cycle back in time and imagine the UK in 19 7-1945 having a law that stated that Germans, Italians and Japanese must not be treated unfairly, and embed them through the same structures.
    In the US, its alliance with, oh where to start... Saudi Arabia, a deep source of islamic imperialist ideology and funding across the globe, while fighting against them on the field is a special new kind of lunacy. Shall we add in paying funds into Pakistan which then pauys directly into forces trying to kill and mail allied troops? Who exactly are we in the west fighting?
    Bluntly - Randall Todd Royer - Its ok you don't respect my Western freedom loving culture. I don't respect your 7th century murderous, enslaving, savage, backward idiocy in return. The problem here is too many idiots in the west do, and until islamics get enough victories and score enough death they won't either. No American Or British Or Allied soldier should be dying on the field. They are all worth a hundred million Randall Todd Royer and his scumbag ilk. Until severe changes happen at home, and a true realisation of what the enemy is, where it sources its strength and funding from, and an end to sympathy for Islamic fundamentalist nazi level ideology, none of our boys or girls should be left in harms way.

    Islam does not deserve respect or shelter in our society. Its time and those who would wrongly respect or shelter it has to end.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ToivoS · 9 years ago
    Folks should be too disturbed by Randall Todd Royer's comments. He is most likely some American play-acting as an Islamist. I have read a number of genuine jihadist statements, translated from Arabic into English, and I have some sense what they are trying to say. Royer is a native English speaker. Not only that but his expressions of foreign syntax sound like grade B Hollywood movie dialogues (for English audiences) coming from the 'to be feared' foreign horde.

    Wherever this may have come from it is designed to instill hatred of Islamic culture into American hearts.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Eyles · 9 years ago
    I hope we have the sense to destroy all the opium poppy fields before we leave.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike St John · 9 years ago
    Good for Mike - you got to spend some time with your good friend Steve @ CADG
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon Author · 9 years ago

    Steve was not there on that trip. He's certainly been to more of Afghanistan than just about anyone. At one point, had offices in 20 provinces. He's expert there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 9 years ago
    Dear Michael,

    Twice, once when Afghanistan started and then Iraq, some people who had some contact with President Bush basically warned him in both conflicts he had a very narrow window that was fast closing, and begged him to read A. Horne's famous A SAVAGE WAR IN PEACE on the Algerian-French War between 1954-62 which stated over and over how the French threw away a window they had to gain Algerian support but instead believed the right military tactics, weapons and training would succeed. And the French Army did win the military part of that war. At last Bernard Lewis got Bush to read that important book, instead of those self help books on religion. But by then it was to late. The window had slammed shut to never be opened again.

    Finally, I wonder how man people who have strong opinions on Afghanistan and claim that those that oppose there views state they don't respect a freedom loving culture or something along those lines have read Horne's book. They remind me of what was reported to have been said by Truman's father: When a man wraps himself in the flag with a bible in one hand guard the smoke-house. But instead it should also state, that if someone wraps themselves in the flag, with a bible in one hand yelling "FREEDOM" over guard your smoke house and lock up you daughters. When the famous war reporter T. Ricks who wrote FIASCO was in Iraq he made a side trip to Jordan to check on a report he heard about the training of Iraqi policemen by an American private contractor who had political connection. He came to that camp and all the recruits were in a large hall being "trained" by this contractor who new no Arabic, about Islam or the culture. His training method was to have the recruits stand at attention and yell over and over as loud as they could in English: FREEDOM! FREEDOM!! FREEDOM!!! I will bet when the Iranian intelligence found out, the Saudis and the Jordanian King they thought it was a mistake. Surely.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon Author · 9 years ago
    You make some of the most interesting comments and typically very thought provoking.

    Was sitting here studying on Afghanistan and happened to be thinking something along the lines of your email. After more than a decade of involvement, we are dragging around more and more mental luggage between parties. For instance, I got a message from Kabul about 5 minutes ago about two more Coalition just killed in another Green on Blue. (Not to mention the Panjway 17 massacre on 11 March.) Most Afghans seem to want us to stay, but this fish is getting old.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    dms · 9 years ago
    Two more British heroes pass from this world. Send there by the scum that the british troops have worked tirelessly to help.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Folsom · 9 years ago
    A fascinating panorama, especially as details such as Black Hawks, birds, the Areostat come into view. What is the airborne object just right of center above the island of trees? Looks like a an RQ-170 in a shallow dive slightly aft, or something similar. Would seem to be way too low for an operational profile for this type of UAV. Probably just an illusion.

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