Chapter no 77


THE NEXT DAYOR PERHAPS the day after, our convoy was joined by three journalists. I was ordered to take them into the battlefield, give them a tour—with an explicit understanding that the news embargo was still in


I was in a Spartan, up front of the convoy, the journalists stowed inside. They kept popping up, nagging me. They wanted to get out, take some photos, get some film. But it wasn’t safe. The Americans were still clearing the area.

I was standing in the turret when one journalist tapped my leg, asked yet again for permission to get out.

I sighed: OK. But be careful of mines. And stay close.

They all piled out of the Spartan, started setting up their camera.

Moments later, the guys ahead of us came under attack. Rounds went sizzling over our heads.

The journalists froze, looked at me, helpless.

Don’t just stand there! Get back in!

I didn’t want them there in the first place, but I especially didn’t want anything happening to them on my watch. I didn’t want any journalist’s life on my ledger. I couldn’t handle the irony.

Was it hours later, or days, that we learned the Americans had dropped a Hellfire missile on the nearest village? There were many injured. A boy was brought out of the village, up the ridge, in a wheelbarrow, his legs hanging over the side. They were ripped to pieces.

Two men were pushing the barrow, straight towards us. I couldn’t tell who they were to the boy. Family? Friends? When they reached us, they weren’t able to explain. None spoke English. But the boy was in a shit state, that was clear, and I watched as our medics quickly began treating him.

One terp (interpreter) tried to calm the boy, while also trying to learn the facts from his escorts.

How did this happen? Americans.

I was edging closer, but I was stopped by a sergeant on his sixth tour. No, boss, you don’t wanna see thisYou’ll never be able to get it out of your head if you do.

I backed off.

Minutes later, a whistle, then a zip. A huge explosion behind us. I felt it in my brain.

I looked around. Everyone was on their stomachs. Except me, and two others.

Where did that come from?

A few of our guys pointed into the distance. They were desperate to return fire, and asked me for permission.


But the Taliban who fired were already gone. We’d missed our chance.

We waited for the adrenaline to fade, for the ringing in our ears to stop. It took a long time. I remember one of our guys whispering over and over: Fuck me that was close.

We tried for hours to piece it all together, what happened. Some of us believed the Americans wounded that boy; others felt that the boy had been a pawn in a classic Taliban feint. The wheelbarrow thing had been a little charade designed to keep us on the hill, distracted, immobile, so the Taliban could fix our position. The enemy had messed up that boy in the barrow, then used him as bait.

Why did the boy and the men go along with it? Because if they didn’t, they’d be killed.

Along with everyone they loved.

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