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Countermeasures for phantom incoming missiles — photo I made

We were flying over Southern Iraq. British. Flying low to avoid ground fire. Sensors apparently detected missile launch and popped the countermeasures. This happened a great deal. There was no missile this time to my knowledge. Pilots told me sensors often spoofed on things like sunshine glints off water.

I wondered if some enemy were spoofing our birds to test our sensors. Imagine — before an enemy fires real missiles, enemy shoots a laser to spark our sensors to discharge and waste our defenses.

These countermeasures nearly hit the farmers. Look closely and see a farmer. They probably thought we shot at them.

When you invade a country in this manner, you have a shelf life. Best thing to do in a case like this is take coordinates and go back and make sure everyone is okay, and also pay for any damages. And apologize. British were pretty good at that.

Boy could I tell some stories — with photos — such as the sniper angry for us chopping down his trees to make fields of fire, and insulting him for not paying enough for his trees. This was British. In Afghanistan. Not just anywhere in Afghanistan. But near Sangin.

This literally was THE most dangerous area in Afghanistan. You saw all that Restrepo stuff and all that? You should have been with the British and me. Journalists did not want to go out there. So the British asked me and I got on the next bird. You know I will go anywhere our Soldiers or the British go.

I was angry when they made me leave early. I was told they were afraid I was going to get killed and it would look bad for the war. What a bunch of pansies!

I know how sniper Pashtun felt. US Army stole my work and insulted me in public AFTER THEY STOLE IT. It’s been sixteen years and I am still shooting ink bullets.

Never misuse your position of power. Never cancel someone who will cancel back. British canceled his trees, paid a pittance, and he was going to settle the score. He would talk about it on his radio!

Mr. Sniper shot at us every day. Big-assed rifle. I think it was SVD.

We were listening to him chat on walkie-talky. Americans surely would have killed him when he kept keying the mic, but British don’t have as much cool gear. I think the Germans in World War II would have DF’d (direction find) him, but Brits just weren’t nailing him.

British kept trying to countersnipe. Always staking him out.

But he was good. We all respected him. He was very brave. He would take on shot and vanish.

This was pretty much daily as I recall. AK-47 bullets SNAP when they pass by, but rifle was much bigger. Those bullets passed very close with a BANG! Don’t matter if you are wearing your helmet if that gets you. It’s gonna go through your helmet, smash your head, and break your neck.

He had gone all the way to Pakistan to buy the rifle, if my memory is right. Look up Sangin and Pakistan on Google Earth and see how far he went just to buy a rifle due to the tree insult.

Experienced military people can intuit how under resourced we were when the same sniper could go at us for weeks or more on an almost daily basis, and we don’t get him despite have snipers and spotters waiting. Mortar crews were in the pits.

Mr. Pashtun sniper knew we had better rifles, great snipers, and we had Javelin missiles.

And Afghans had by now figured out how lethal the Javs are.

Using thermals, the Javs were far more sensitive, and accurate, and could far outrange any of his shots. I saw maybe a hundred Jav shots in combat. Very serious weapon. Especially for countersniper.

And the British snipers were up there with CLUs (Command Launch Units) for the Javs, scanning for him. So they were reading with Javs, and sniper rifles. Very hard to avoid the CLUs but Pashtun Sniper was doing it. Dude was a Ninja. Got to respect his courage, patience, and tactical skill. Shit! We know his frequency! He talks on it and we scan when he jumps. Just call him up and say we will pay you, you freaking Pashtun psycho.

Come collect your money and we will pay you to teach my snipers your superior sniping tactics. I would have had that guy in camp having tea working out how much I’m gonna pay him to teach me how he does this. Pashtun are practical. He would do it. Especially if you honestly respect him. And the price is right.

I was very surprised we had not killed him. Or him us. He was barely missing. But many Pashtun literally need glasses. No kidding. Mere glasses corrective surgery are a massive sensor advantage for us. You have no idea…unless you were a Soldier (or Marine…I never forget you), and there. They just can’t see squat.

Maybe Mr. Pashtun Sniper had sussed out the thermal-crossover periods when sunrise and sunset would make temperature differential make the CLU a little blind. When the background temperature is about same as body temperature, people get lost in the thermal noise until it either heats up, and we are cooler, or it cools down, and we are hotter.

I said to the British Commander why don’t you just apologize and pay the idiot before he kills one of us. The Commander was frustrated. That’s what he wanted to do. But he was working in a rigid environment in a flexible world.

British even knew his name and where he lived, as I recall. They knew exactly what this was all about. No mystery at all. A simple business dispute. We were spending billions per week on the war, but would not cough up a happy amount for some trees.

What the hell is wrong here? We chopped down his trees! He’s a farmer. He’s Pashtun. He’s not gonna stop. He wants some blood. Or his universe will be wobbly.

I’m Scott-Irish culture. Pashtun and Scott-Irish are like the same thing only Pashtun are more brown. I got along great with Pashtun after I figured out they are pretty much like a lot of people I know.

He’s gonna keep shooting until:

1) You pay him and apologize — then he will say thank you and have tea and be best friend
2) He kills at least one Soldier to make it even
3) You kill him

Just pay him!

You know why they didn’t pay him?

‘Cause the idiots in LONDON — very far away from this Pashtun guy with a sniper rifle — had some schedule book from which to derive prices. They paid such and such for cows, chickens, corn, trees, etc.

A book that did not take anthropological realities such as PASHTUN/Scott-Irish into account. Honor cultures who will walk 10,000 miles to get revenge. And when it’s over, have tea with you.

British finally used sex dolls as sniper bait. Dressed them up in uniforms. Helmet and all. I made photos.

Then I had to move to another base and helicopter got me. This LZ was always hot. Or at least lukewarm. There never was as safe time to land or take off from there, even if you got Apache on orbit for landings.

It’s a wonder we didn’t get ventilated by that sniper.

As I recall, about the time I landed back at Camp Bastion from the remote and tiny base, a British Soldier was shot in the head and killed. (Am pretty sure this is what happened. Would have to check.)

And with a death, one can imagine the trees were paid for not by a little money, but by a life.


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Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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