Monday, August 3, 2009
Michael Yon is an author, columnist and war correspondent. Currently in Afghanistan with Riflemen from 2 RIFLES located in Sangin.
The bugs are not bad in this part of Afghanistan. The scorched terrain is biologically boring. Mice and ferret-like creatures dash around in the evenings when sparrows and doves and a few other sorts of birds flutter through the cool air. But even at sunrise, I cannot make out the songs or see in flight more than ten types of birds, one of which is the rooster. There are no wading birds, not here anyway: no kingfishers, no cormorants or ducks.
The dominant hue of land and bird is desert brown. Maybe a bird or two with black feathers, but never one with sharp, primary colors: not even a red wing tip or a white tuft. There are no ornamental birds with glorious plumage or fancy dance, only drab designs, though the lucky ones have short golden legs. There is not a single inspiring song among them.
In the dark of night the bats discreetly flutter about, and in most places even the flies and mosquitoes are not too bothersome in July and August. I’ve not seen a moth bounce off a light, and in fact the few brightly lit bare bulbs draw no crowds. In the river at night, where I sometimes swim in the dark, a flashlight will draw hundreds of small fish, and on shore there are a few toads, or at least toad-looking creatures.
Seldom does one hear frogs or insects calling out from the grasses or trees. I’ve seen no butterflies coming to drink during the day, and down here, in fact, in Sangin, I have yet to see a butterfly. At night there are the jackals, more often heard than seen, yelping and yapping off in the blackness. Sometimes a housecat can be seen slinking about, neither tame nor feral, but something in between…like the people.
By comparison to Florida, mosquitoes in Sangin during this time are practically nonexistent. Some Afghans will say this is the worst part of Afghanistan, practically lifeless, and inhabited mostly by brutish, uneducated people whose lives are made somewhat relevant only by their violence and drug dealing. In fact, it seems that many Afghans care less for the people of Helmand than do the foreigners who come here.
Word came that a British unit from 2 Rifles was in contact with the enemy, and that nine soldiers had been wounded. Two low-flying A-10s had roared over the base — a sure indicator that soldiers were in trouble. The snarling aircraft are meant to cause the enemy to think twice before continuing, which buys our folks a little time to defend or counterattack.
Shortly after they swooped in, the A-10s fired their cannons. During a different firefight last week, one that I could hear from base but was not involved in, an American A-10 swooped in and was cleared hot. The fire support team soldiers explained to me that the A-10 pilot was lined up and preparing to squeeze the trigger when he saw a child emerge from the enemy position and so the pilot flew by with cold barrels.
It was just in this location a few weeks earlier—a little to the right in the photo above—that the Mi-26 helicopter was shot down about 500 meters from the location of the camera. Many soldiers from FOB Jackson responded to the crash and there they found the burning bodies and the two killed Afghan children.
“Mr. Flemming,” an Afghan interpreter here, said he thought the helicopter was going to crash on him but got lucky. Mr. Flemming and the British soldiers said the crash looked like slow motion from a movie, and that the pilot had struggled.
One soldier, a direct witness, told me the crash had occurred about five seconds after being hit, but Mr. Flemming and other British soldiers who also had witnessed the strike, said the pilot had struggled for about ten seconds and that finally the helicopter flipped tail over cockpit and crashed on its nose then onto its back, where it exploded in flames.
Still, the tail rotor which had fallen free had sliced into a house unburned. Each account varied but all agree that it was an RPG strike, and that the charred wreckage, that which was not consumed by flames or carried away by scavengers, is still there.
Read the full dispatch here