Michael Yon, an independent journalist and former Green Beret, is in Afghanistan reporting on the war against Al Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.
SANGIN, Afghanistan — Daily dramas unfolded, including the bangs, booms and small-arms fire that punctuated the times. At 1800, I was preparing to go to orders with 1 Platoon, A Company of 2 Rifles, when shots from a large-caliber rifle began cracking low over base.
I passed by sniper Kris Griffith, and said, “Hey Kris, why don’t you grab your rifle and go shoot that guy?” Kris replied that two other sniper teams were on it. “He’s close,” I said, and Kris answered, “About 600 meters.” Then we went our separate ways.
Orders were given and then the soldiers performed final checks on their gear and tried to fall to sleep in the sweltering evening heat. Some nights I would go to sleep using the sleeping bag as a pillow, only to wake up with it drenched in sweat.
The alarm was set for 0213 hours, but at 0211 I sat up and turned it off before it could wake the soldiers who were not going on the mission. I had nineteen minutes to pull on my boots, body armor, and small rucksack, before I had to get to breakfast, engage in final conversations, and then show up for the mission at 0310....
The conditions were “red illume,” meaning there was less than 10 millilux of ambient light and it was too dark for most helicopters to fly, even while using night vision gear. It was plenty dark.
Soldiers and section leaders did “final check” after “final check” of their gear, and talked quietly among themselves while last-minute updates came over the radio.
In red illume, the soldiers used dim red lights that were harder for the enemy to see. Red light also preserved our night vision. By showing up a half-hour before departure and sitting quietly, our eyes and senses had time to adjust and tune in to the battlefield. The battlefield was a thirty-second walk away.
Some soldiers smoked cigarettes before stepping out into the wild zone. Most were quiet. There was little talking during the last ten minutes....
By 0357 hrs, some shops were already open, including this shoe store. The Taliban in this area did not seem to wear running shoes as did some of the enemy groups elsewhere in Afghanistan. Here, the enemy mostly wore sandals or went barefoot. (Many often ran right out of their sandals, especially during combat.)
Shops on this very street sold fertilizer used to make bombs. They might as well have sold dynamite. (The fertilizer also happened to be good for growing opium.) The bombs regularly blow the limbs off troops around Afghanistan. Soldiers may lose their legs, or their legs and an arm and their eyesight, or worse. But what can we do, really? Gasoline, like fertilizer, can be an incredible weapon.
Are we to ban gasoline and attack gas shipments while trying to build a country from scratch? We talk about weapons flowing in from Pakistan, while in reality most of the casualties in this area come from bombs made from fertilizer sold in the open markets.
We talk about Pakistani Taliban flowing in, while the local ANA Commander, Colonel Wadood, tells me that some of the fighters are Tajiks from places like Ghor Province. Tajiks generally hate the Taliban but they come to make money, he says.
The crux of the mission was a raid, but the task of our section was to provide security and fire support for the raiders. If the enemy were to try to hit our guys during the raid, our job was to kill the enemy, and so our objective was a farmhouse that overlooked the target.
British soldiers moved into an occupied farmhouse as the man willingly opened the gate to let us in. Several cute children were sleeping under the stars. The soldiers were so quiet the kids were not disturbed. I thought to myself, “What would the kids think if they woke up and saw the soldiers?”
About fifteen minutes later, one of the children woke up, and his voice could be heard through the silence of the night. The man with the turban stepped over and spoke quietly to the child who immediately zonked out again, as if it were all part of a dream.