That night, I was talking on the phone with a wounded Special Forces veteran living in Bangkok, who has a love for Thailand and so pays close attention to the goings-on. For the last couple months, his advice and predictions had been accurate. Each day he had encouraged me to talk with Seh Daeng, the rogue General, who had joined the Red Shirt camp. After some homework and finally reaching the point where I was ready to ask for a meeting, BANG, Seh Daeng was shot in the head somewhere down the road. The General later died. Later I would ask Prime Minister Abhisit who shot Seh Daeng, and he said he didn’t know.
Meanwhile, I was telling people that Brigadier General Daniel Menard and General Stanley McChrystal both needed to be fired from Afghanistan, which was causing my own bad press. Busy days and nights. People were saying I had seen too much combat in the wars and had gone loony for saying two respected generals should be fired. (Soon they were both fired.)
Several friends had warned me about staying at Dusit Thani. While on the phone with the old Special Forces soldier from my 9th Floor room Dusit Thani hotel, there had been much shooting outside and BOOM. “What the fxxx was that!?” my friend said over the phone. Whooom whoooom whom whoooom whoooom whooom whom whooooom whom whooom. “What the fxxx was THAT?” he said again on the phone. The boom obviously was an explosion, while the whoooom whooom was new to me even after thousands of previous explosions in the wars. It was loud in real life, but you know how things can be even louder on the telephone. “No idea what the whooom whooom was bro! But I think the BOOM probably was 40mm grenade.” I thought it must have hit down in the parking lot. (Actually, it detonated three floors above me and the whoooom whooomm was metal siding hurtling downwards.)
My room was dark and I peered through a crack in a curtain with two fingers while talking to my friend on the cell with the right hand.
The hotel alarm sounded so I called the front desk and someone said to get to the basement, and so I made a quick Facebook entry and headed down the fire escape.
Journalists crowded in the basement and some were kitted up.
Amazing how fast the news travels.
I thought this girl had been hit by a grenade (or something) but later learned she had only passed out from fear and was okay.
The hotel staff was professional and calm. They were part of the solution, not the problem, and were looking out after guests even at the expense of their own safety.
I sneaked back up the staircase to my room and three men came looking, ducking low while entering my room with their own key, but they let me stay with no problems. Fear was painted over their faces.
The grenade strike at Dusit Thani hotel. The closed the hotel the next morning and I was the last to check out.
On 19 May, combat and clearing operations were underway. Journalists were keeping the Army honest and taking their chances. Who was keeping the journalists honest? [Photos in this dispatch are not in chronological or geographical order, but are thematically arranged.]
Clusters of permissive soldiers might make you feel safe, but in fact they are the target of the guys with the grenade launchers and there had been death and casualties. There is a misconception about combat reporting done in Iraq and Afghanistan: many people think it’s safer to be with troops. This is untrue. It’s safer to go unilateral. The journalists were mostly hanging close to the troops but I got back.
There were many dramatic moments and many others like this.