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Continuous coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It's not just the Taliban stalking US troops in Afghanistan

Big cats have been following US troops, adding yet another potential danger.
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Two adult Caracals walking 40 meters from an American infantry squad. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

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.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/dispatches-afpak/big-cats-stalk-troops-rural-kandahar-province