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Last Man Standing


IMG_9386a-1000-webMan on left makes a threat against Andy’s life while Afghan soldier listens.

The guy on the left threatens that Andy could be killed if contracting is not handled a certain way.  Everyone dismisses him.  But who knows?  One thing is certain: people frequently die in my dispatches—including this one—so it sounds plausible.  I asked the guy in the middle where he got the Aussie camo and he said he interprets for the Australians.  “Are the Aussies good to work with?”  Yes, he said, he likes them.  “Are they any good?  Do the Australians do good work?”  He answered that the Aussies are great and do very good work.

IMG_9398a-1000-webAndy on the left.

Andy, our courageous Brit, brushes off the death threats and keeps on rolling; meanwhile, the angry tribesman finally quiets down for a few moments.  I say to Matt Goldthwaite, “If Andy can last three months out here with all these people bothering him, while living like this, he deserves a Medal of Honor.” Matt agreed.

These stressful and somewhat surreal conditions are the Twilight Zone of Afghanistan contracting.  Those who succeed in completing their projects are helping to create the necessary conditions for normal access—and peace.


The security detachment used red ribbons mitigate fratricide.  In Iraq, local insurgents who temporarily turned to our side against al Qaeda used to do the same, though one day they did not wear their ribbons and came speeding by us during a nearby firefight and our guys shot them dead while I happened to be making a video. Our guys killed two or three, as I recall.  Case of mistaken identity fair and square.

image051-webRed trace is our route from the Trackstick and uploaded to Google Earth.

Afghanistan is loaded with “green zones”—the little green veins along riverbeds where land is fertile and most people live.  Notice the sharp line between the desert and the green. Terrain in green zones (as in Arghandab) often looks mild from the sky, but the micro-terrain can be a punishing obstacle course and the moment you take the easy way—BOOM.


While Andy was enduring death threats, I walked around to talk with any Afghan who could speak English.  A man reported that the police had just dumped the body of a Taliban who had been killed in the firefight last night.  Often this is how Afghan authorities return bodies so the family can recover them for proper Islamic burial.  Last year, an Afghan official told me they had beheaded or slit the throat of a guy they’d caught during a failed suicide attack (ironically helping him succeed in ending his life), and the police dumped his body out in front of the district center at Shah Wali Kot.  And now another dead Taliban apparently had been deposited for pickup in Chora.

“Let’s go see,” I said.  Matt, Leonard and Kris loaded up along with security in different vehicles and we drove the short distance to “the steeple.”

Boys and men were gathered so close to the body that it evoked a vision of vultures picking over a corpse.  But that’s not what was happening.  Some of the men were paying respects while others seemed to be gawking.  A local Afghan said the dead Taliban had come from a nearby village, but that most are trained in Pakistan.  The atmosphere was even grimmer here with the dumped body than it had been at the unhappy work project.

Across Afghanistan, men are mostly happy to have their photos taken. But tension continued to mount here.  The air had that electricity you often feel just before life reaches an exclamation mark.

Our small security detachment was no match for this crowd, but that didn’t matter.  The security walked out and said something, and the pond of men and boys spread back into a semi-circle, leaving the body there alone, and dead.

IMG_9430a-1000-webNot going to be the last man standing.

The following images show the mood exactly as I felt it.  In 14 seconds, my camera captured 19 photos.  Please click through: Dead Taliban Panorama

We pulled back and got into the trucks.


Within seconds, the crowd had huddled back around so closely that their feet must have been touching the corpse, and we drove away.

[Postscript: Just before I forwarded this dispatch for publication on 05 April, an IED detonated about 2km before the bridge leading into Chora.  The target may have been CADG, or another crew building the road to Chora.  This is breaking information and those details remain unclear.  Two Afghans were badly wounded.  Both had skull fractures and blast wounds to their back and legs.  One had spinal fluid leaking from his ears.  Both apparently were evacuated to the Coalition military facility at Tarin Kot (one definitely was evacuated there).  The police are holding at least one suspect for interrogation.  Nothing follows.]

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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