Longform's Best War Stories of 2011

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Dec. 27 2011 12:54 PM

Longform’s Guide to the Best War Stories of 2011

From Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya, amazing stories from the world’s battlefields.

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Mark Mazzetti and Emily B. Hager • New York Times

The mercenary army funded by an oil-rich sheikdom:

"For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers, Congressional investigators and Justice Department officials he is convinced worked in league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold the company last year, but in April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

“To help fulfill his ambitions, Mr. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, obtained another multimillion-dollar contract to protect a string of planned nuclear power plants and to provide cybersecurity. He hopes to earn billions more, the former employees said, by assembling additional battalions of Latin American troops for the Emiratis and opening a giant complex where his company can train troops for other governments."

Evan Fleischer • Awl

The end of an era:

“There are two veterans of the First World War left in the world. Of all the parts of the world that move on without you, of all the borders beyond the horizon, of all the varying speeds and trajectories and characters and stories colluding together in giant waves of 'now,' 'yet-to-come,' 'once was,' and then it boils down to two. It’s not even the whole hand.


“Nine years ago, there were 700 left alive."

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Michael Paterniti • GQ

The Afghani kid who spent seven years in detention:

“Before entering the room, Montalvo girds himself, does some deep breathing, pushes through the door in full professional command, and comes face-to-face with...a boy. The kid looks almost goofy, shackled there. He seems shy but unstintingly polite, asking after Montalvo, greeting him with a direct, interested gaze. The room is claustrophobic, the eye of a surveillance camera boring down on them. Where Montalvo felt a hardened knot of despair with al-Bahlul, he can't quite square the soft-spoken boy who sits before him. Is this the little shit who left two soldiers to die in the middle of a bazaar thousands of miles from home?

“ 'They keep accusing me of something I didn't do,' the boy says. 'I just want to get home to my mother.' "

Mark Bowden • Vanity Fair

A battle in Afghanistan seen from three perspectives: a dead soldier, his father, and his commander.

“Before the sun finally rose over the peaks that morning, word of what had happened in this isolated valley had raced around the world. Nine Americans had been killed, and 32 members of the platoon—27 Americans and five allied Afghans—had been wounded. The Battle of Wanat was the army’s worst single day in the seven-year Afghan conflict, and it would send out waves of anger and recrimination that would last for years. For nine American families in particular, the pain will last a lifetime.

“The casualties were reported on the radio by one of the returning Apache pilots.

“ 'I have a total of nine K.I.A.,' he said, then added, 'GODDAMMIT!' "

Matthieu Aikins • Atlantic

The 33-year-old Afghani warlord suspected of mass murder:

“Najib and Ahmad complained to me of suffering nerve damage in their wrists from being cuffed for two days, and both said they’d had problems with their kidneys since the electrocutions: Ahmad, who had the more-severe burns, urinated blood for three days afterward. I examined the wounds on Ahmad’s and Najib’s toes—distinct circular burn marks that were still raw and unhealed—and I spoke with a number of their co-workers, who corroborated their claims. I was also given photos of their injuries taken immediately after they were released, and was told their story independently by a source inside the Kandahar police department unhappy with the abuses taking place under Raziq. 'That’s what happened to them, when they were innocent,' this official said. 'Think of what they do to the guilty.' "