Last summer when I spent two weeks at Combat Outpost Lakokhel in Zhari District, a few soldiers there swore they had seen a mountain lion-sized cat stalking around their guard towers at night. While I believed they thought they had seen such an animal, I privately felt they were probably seeing a big, sneaky stray dog.
Now I am embedded with soldiers at Combat Outpost Sangsar, just a couple miles from Lakokhel, and the sightings persist. Last night the patrol I was out with spotted two of the cats circling them in the dusty gloom, using their thermal imagers. I don't have high-tech equipment like that so I couldn't see them firsthand.
One of the soldiers managed to capture a few photos of the cats on his imager, and I in turn photographed its eyepiece. The thermal images, while a bit indistinct, appear to show two adult Caracals walking 40 meters from an American infantry squad.
The cats followed us for several hours, always keeping their distance but occasionally uttering a low growl, casting a shadow of dread over the dark fields. As we passed a farm compound a lonely hound howled at the column of soldiers, likely unaware of the great cats slinking through the shadows who could easily make a meal of him.
Despite soldiers' hyperbolic reports that the cats are "seven feet long and around 300 pounds," Caracals weigh about 40 pounds. Unless there is also a Siberian Tiger on the loose.