Reporter's Notebook: Operation Mountain Lion, Part II

Greg Palkot
I woke up after a relaxing sleep of about two hours with my Marine hosts. It was a cold and damp two hours. I under-packed for this jaunt through the mountains with the military. My pack was previously too full with 16 liters of water for each day — which you're supposed to carry — along with the TV gear, etc. I had decided I'd go a bit dry in our hunt for the terrorists — and at least lose a few pounds off my bag.

I ate some sort of breakfast from our MRE. I think it was Cheez Whiz on dry wheat bread. I looked up from our mountaintop post and realized how high we had climbed, and how spectacular Kunar province was, filled with snow-peaked mountains and deep, narrow gorges. If Usama bin Laden was really here (as some people say he has been in the past), there wasn't a snowball's chance in heck of finding the guy.

This huge wild wilderness makes yanking Saddam out of a Tikrit-area spider hole look like a piece of cake.

After some soothingly relaxing early-morning minutes viewing the landscape ("…you're sure, Lieutenant, we can't stay and look a few moments more?"), it was off hiking again. This time downhill. Now we would put cameraman Pierre's axiom to the test. Hiking downhill with 100 pounds on your back is actually harder than hiking up.

As one veteran 20-year-old Marine confided to me, "Going up you use your muscles; going down you use your bones."

About an hour into our trek, the embargo on us reporting on the mission was over. Unfortunately, I was trying to extricate my way around a gravel-strewn stream bed. So there I was, trying to keep up, as the D.O. Platoon of the 1-3 Marines marched on to the first terror stronghold, while I juggled a Thuraya phone to break the news to early-morning FOX viewers. No easy feat.

Well, I needn't have worried about that pace. By midday, our marching was being being slowed down by some ominous radio messages our interpreters were listening to. They were apparently being relayed between insurgents who sounded like they were tracking our progress.

Due to embedment rules, I can't give you the exact details for the rebels' repartee, but they went generally like this: "Here come the Americans — Looks like there are (number) of them. We number (number). Let's wait until the boss comes before we make our move." Were these folks telling the truth? Or were they just doing their own version of terror disinformation?

Lt. DeSantis had no idea. But he couldn't take chances and go charging forward, and he also couldn't follow his Afghan interpreters' wishes: "Don't go forward." We had to get near the next objective town by nightfall — which we did, making it by sunset just a half mile short. I got the chance to knock out a few quick live shots. And, I thought, after a long day of arduous marching — time to take a break.


Lt. DeSantis' plan was to move closer to the town under the cover of night. Meaning, down a sheer slope, with our heavy packs, with no moonlight to guide the way. I suggested to the lieutenant that a sprained ankle from his embedded correspondent might slow things down a tad. He had no truck with that.

So off we went, down into a dark hole. You have to hand it to these young Marines. All I had to do was avoid twisting my leg and balance my video phone on my back while getting beeper messages from New York on my hip. These guys had to make sure we didn't get shot into ribbons by sniper insurgents.

Which possibly almost happened for the second time that day. Half way down the slope, members of the platoon started hearing voices on the side and rear of our movement. The thinking was that insurgents had started massing to attack our flank. So half of our platoon went forward, while the other half doubled around to the rear to try and surprise the rebels.

That was done, but again, the terror fish slipped off the line. The folks tracking us must have caught on to the plan and nipped away.

Which left cameraman Pierre and myself having to find a place to sleep where the unit ended up for the evening. Perched on the side of an 80-degree-angle slope, I propped myself against a tree and backpacks. That seemed to give me some assurance that I would not roll over in a fitful sleep and catapult down the gully. The problem arose when cameraman Pierre laid out his sleeping bag (above mine) he would roll on top of me at every dream shift.

Well I suppose we made out better than another Marine, who managed to lose his flak jacket and helmet down the ravine about 100 feet, forcing him go searching for them in the middle of the night.

Needless to say, it was another not-so-restful night for myself and my Marine companions. But hey, who needs sleep when the bad guys are out there?


Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.