Arriving in Iraq on the eve of the U.S. invasion, unaffiliated with any newspaper and hoping to pick up assignments along the way, Ashley Gilbertson was one of the first photojournalists to cover the disintegration of America’s military triumph as looting and score settling convulsed Iraqi cities. Just twenty-five years old at the time, Gilbertson soon landed a contract with the New York Times, and his extraordinary images of life in occupied Iraq and of American troops in action began appearing in the paper regularly. Throughout his work, Gilbertson took great risks to document the risks taken by others, whether dodging sniper fire with American infantry, photographing an Iraqi bomb squad as they diffused IEDs, or following marines into the cauldron of urban combat.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” gathers the best of Gilbertson’s photographs, chronicling America’s early battles in Iraq, the initial occupation of Baghdad, the insurgency that erupted shortly afterward, the dramatic battle to overtake Falluja, and ultimately, the country’s first national elections. No Western photojournalist has done as much sustained work in occupied Iraq as Gilbertson, and this wide-ranging treatment of the war from the viewpoint of a photographer is the first of its kind. Accompanying each section of the book is a personal account of Gilbertson’s experiences covering the conflict. Throughout, he conveys the exhilaration and terror of photographing war, as well as the challenges of photojournalism in our age of embedded reporting. But ultimately, and just as importantly, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” tells the story of Gilbertson’s own journey from hard-drinking bravado to the grave realism of a scarred survivor. Here he struggles with guilt over the death of a marine escort, tells candidly of his own experience with post-traumatic stress, and grapples with the reality that Iraq—despite the sacrifice in Iraqi and American lives—has descended into a civil war with no end in sight.
A searing account of the American experience in Iraq, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is sure to become one of the classic war photography books of our time.