I wrote for The Boston Globe about the history of sniping.
Three years ago, I asked an Afghan with ties to the Taliban what he had heard about captured Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He replied that Bergdahl had briefly escaped, then been found hiding in a tree by Kuchi nomads and returned to his captors.
After that, his captors locked him in a dark room, in a cage “for a dog”.
I had no idea if these details were correct – Afghans spin tales, and I had no way to confirm – but preliminary reports suggest that Bergdahl probably did endure punishment worse than anything a court martial might offer.
Hell is an Understatement
Originally appeared in The New Republic.
Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), has never been known for the reliability of its public utilities. Most trash is picked through by scavengers, and the remaining mango pits, scraps of plastic, and rusty bottlecaps pile up on dirt roads or get blown into fetid open sewers. But since December, along a desolate stretch of the Avenue de France, the Red Cross has operated an on-demand, white-gloved sanitation service that, within an hour of being called, will show up to collect human bodies, whether chopped up or left intact.
The Avenue de France marks a divide between two neighborhoods, and the human remains belong to those who have, for one reason or another, strayed too far in the wrong direction. The road itself is devoid of foot traffic—a no-man’s-land where both sides can deposit their victims, so they don’t have to bury them or let them rot within smelling distance in the African sun. North of the line is the Fifth Arrondissement, a neighborhood inhabited almost exclusively by Christians now that its Muslim residents have either been killed or forced into exile. The Muslims who haven’t fled the country live primarily in the Third Arrondissement, just south of the Avenue de France. There, being a Christian is a condition nearly as fatal as being a Muslim is to the north, south, east, or west.
I profiled Charles Robert Jenkins, a US soldier who defected to North Korea, in The Atlantic.
Jonathan “Jack” Idema, the pseudo-mercenary who was jailed after being convicted of operating a private prison in Kabul, died of AIDS in Mexico last week.
For the International Herald Tribune, I visited his semi-abandoned office building in Fayetteville, N.C., and found chains on the doors. Idema’s adjoining apartment, where he allegedly conducted his assignations, had a poster for the Broadway musical Urinetown on the wall and a single cowboy spur rusting in the grass outside.
I reviewed Simon Mann’s memoir, Cry Havoc, for The National.
John Blake Publishing Ltd
Everyone’s favourite kind of coup d’état is the bloodless one: El Presidente is surprised in his pyjamas, or while shopping in London, his trusted military aides turn out to be snakes, and he ends up, along with his loyalists, either under house arrest or in exile – padded at first, then increasingly threadbare as the secret accounts are frozen, one by one. Meanwhile, if you are an average citizen of his beleaguered country, not much changes. The money flows to anyone but you: meet the new Presidente, same as the old Presidente.
Simon Mann, one of the most famous living mercenaries, set out in 2004 to manage what he insisted would be a bloodless coup to topple Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. But the Wonga Coup was so bloodless that it barely got started. Mann chartered a Boeing 727 full of armed men and planned to fly into the capital of Malabo, where an advance team led by the South African mercenary Nick du Toit intended to take over the airport. Mann hoped to install Severo Moto, the leader of a government-in-exile headquartered in Spain, as president, and in return reap millions in oil revenues.
The Bay of Pigs
The cartoonish Bay of Pigs plot falls short in every way
Originally appeared in The Daily.
When Fidel Castro kicked the capitalists out of Cuba in 1959, he created an embittered exiled class only too eager to help his main enemy, the United States of America, oust him as soon as possible. If you want to topple a government, its exiles can be a tempting tool: They have money, spies on the inside and a level of rage so incandescent, you could read a map by it on a moonless night. Unfortunately, as President John F. Kennedy learned 50 years ago today, all that and a few hundred million dollars in military training won’t buy regime change.
The Barbary Pirates
North African pirate states meet the U.S. Navy
Originally appeared in The Daily.
Two U.S. Navy vessels, the Ponce and the Kearsarge, are nearing the Libyan coast, officially to provide humanitarian aid and evacuate straggling Americans. The shores of Tripoli are well known as a historic landing ground for the U.S. Marines. But for the U.S. Navy, the coast is even more hallowed as the site where it came into its own as a fighting force, where it executed one of the most daring raids in naval history and where, for the first time, the young nation’s sailors truly kicked ass.