Dispatches From Iraq: Hunting Al Qaeda, Part I of III

Michael Yon is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.


Writing these words from downtown Baqouba at a place called Combat Outpost White Castle, I am surrounded by soldiers from Alpha Company 1-12 Cav who are preparing for combat.

Tomorrow, [July 15] they will clear a dangerous palm grove that abuts the Diyala River, a place where just last night approximately 7 suspected enemy were killed by American forces. Among the dead apparently were several members of Tonto’s family.

But before tomorrow’s mission, there is today’s mission, which includes linking up with 1920 Revolution Brigades (1920s) to swap information. Open enemies of the Coalition until recently, the 1920s are proficient fighters who have joined the Coalition to destroy Al Qaeda.

At the conclusion of that meeting, our destination will be a potato chip-and-juice factory, and a manager who wants to talk about jump-starting the business.

Click here to read the full dispatch.

Before our Bradley’s roll, a 20-year-old U.S. soldier from Kiev, Ukraine, sees my camera and begins telling me about a Russian journalist who had come here some months ago. Unlike me, Dmitry Chebotayev was a true war correspondent experienced at covering conflicts. The soldiers told me that Dmitry was good; they liked him.

The soldier was Stanislav Mykhaylichenko. Stanislav’s father had fought in Afghanistan, but never talked to his son about it.

Stanislav’s mother left his father in Kiev, where he lives today, taking her two children with her to New York. Stanislav was in Manhattan with his mom and sister when the jets crashed into the World Trade Center towers.

Although he was only 14, Stanislav said he knew that military service was in his future. He joined the American Army and has been fighting in Baqouba for about 11 months.

He’s 20 now; but like many young veterans he seems twice that. It’s almost like talking with a 40-year-old man, although glimpses of Stanislav’s youth shine through at the oddest moments, like when he mentioned he’ll soon be 21 and allowed to drink.

Stanislav told me about Dmitry, and how they’d conversed in Russian for hours. He said Dmitry had covered Chechnya, Baghdad and other places, and like many people, thought those fights prepared him to manage the danger in Baqouba, where the enemy was as good or better than any in Iraq.

Dmitry had been looking for action and despite the warnings of this seasoned 20-year-old soldier to be careful looking for action here in Baqouba, Dmitry pushed on. There was genuine sadness in his voice when Stanislav related how he received news the next day that the Stryker carrying Dmitry into the action he craved had been obliterated by a gigantic bomb in Baqouba. Dmitry and the soldiers were killed.

No journalist who comes to this war with the intention of seriously covering it over the long term can also realistically hold any expectation of returning home unscathed. It’s that dangerous here.

It’s particularly dangerous for journalists because the media, in the hands of a ruthless enemy, is a powerful weapon system. Al Qaeda’s ability to manage and exploit media resources — theirs and ours — magnifies its impact.

Although clearly not the only terrorist group in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been singularly effective in achieving its goal of fomenting civil war, especially in places like Diyala province and its capital Baqouba, which began this year as one of the deadliest battlegrounds in Iraq.

Journalists like Dmitry who ply their trade often pay the ultimate price to observe and report the truth of this place.

Our people are at war.

Click here to go to Michael Yon's Web site.


Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com.