Robert Young Pelton

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Robert Young Pelton
Born (1955-07-25) July 25, 1955 (age 64)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Pen nameRYP
OccupationJournalist, author, filmmaker
ChildrenTwin daughters

Robert Young Pelton (born July 25, 1955, in Edmonton, Alberta) is a Canadian-American author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. Pelton's work usually consists of conflict reporting and interviews with military and political figures in war zones. His career is notable because of the number of conflict zones from which he has reported and the breadth of important figures he has interviewed. [1] His reputation is built on his history of entering forbidden, deadly, and violent places. [2]

Edmonton Provincial capital city in Alberta, Canada

Edmonton is the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta. Edmonton is on the North Saskatchewan River and is the centre of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, which is surrounded by Alberta's central region. The city anchors the north end of what Statistics Canada defines as the "Calgary–Edmonton Corridor".

Alberta Province of Canada

Alberta is a province of Canada. With an estimated population of 4,067,175 as of 2016 census, it is Canada's fourth most populous province and the most populous of Canada's three prairie provinces. Its area is about 660,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi). Alberta and its neighbour Saskatchewan were districts of the Northwest Territories until they were established as provinces on September 1, 1905. The premier is Jason Kenney as of April 30, 2019.


Pelton has been present at conflicts such as the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi in Afghanistan, the Battle of Grozny (1999-2000) [3] in Chechnya, the rebel campaign to take Monrovia in Liberia, and the siege on Villa Somalia in Mogadishu, and has been with ground forces in about 40 other conflicts.

Battle of Qala-i-Jangi

The Battle of Qala-i-Jangi was a prisoner-of-war camp uprising that took place between November 25 and December 1, 2001, in northern Afghanistan, following the armed intervention by United States-led coalition forces to overthrow the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which had been harboring al-Qaeda operatives.

Chechnya First-level administrative division of Russia

Chechnya, officially the Chechen Republic, is a federal subject of Russia.

Monrovia City in Montserrado, Liberia

Monrovia is the capital city of the West African country of Liberia. Located on the Atlantic Coast at Cape Mesurado, Monrovia had a population of 1,010,970 as of the 2008 census. With 29% of the total population of Liberia, Monrovia is the country's most populous city.

He spent time with the Taliban and the Northern Alliance [4] pre 9/11, the CIA during the hunt for Bin Laden [5] [6] and also with both insurgents and Blackwater security contractors during the war in Iraq [7] [8] [9]

Taliban Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan

The Taliban or Taleban, who refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization in Afghanistan currently waging war within that country. Since 2016, the Taliban's leader is Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.

Northern Alliance

The Afghan Northern Alliance, officially known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, was a united military front that came to formation in late 1996 after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) took over Kabul. The United Front was assembled by key leaders of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, particularly president Burhanuddin Rabbani and former Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud. Initially it included mostly Tajiks but by 2000, leaders of other ethnic groups had joined the Northern Alliance. This included Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdul Qadir, Asif Mohseni and others.

Iraq Republic in Western Asia

Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country's 37 million citizens are Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

Pelton's regularly published survival and political guide The World's Most Dangerous Places , provides practical and survival information for people who work and travel in high-risk zones, and is a New York Times bestseller. [10] With the book's bestseller status, Pelton became an expert on work and travel in "high-risk" environments and he routinely provides survival advice on high-risk regions and political "analysis" of the conflicts he has visited. He was also host of the Discovery Travel Channel series entitled Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places from 1998 to 2003. Now residing in Los Angeles, Pelton currently writes books, and produces documentaries on conflict-related subjects and documentaries. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]

<i>The Worlds Most Dangerous Places</i> book by Robert Young Pelton

The World's Most Dangerous Places is handbook of survival tactics for high-risk regions first published in 1994, written by National Geographic Adventure columnist Robert Young Pelton and his contributors. The fifth edition was published in 2003.

Travel Channel American traveling channel

Travel Channel is an American pay television channel that is owned by Discovery, Inc., which had previously owned the channel from 1997 to 2007. The channel is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, United States.

Pelton is also a frequent television and magazine interview subject, appearing as a raconteur of his various adventures and safety tips on venues as diverse as Oprah, Conan O'Brien, CNN, Fox, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and others. Pelton is a regular commentator on Fox News, Coast to Coast, and other in-depth programs, providing insight and background on breaking news.

Early life

Pelton was born July 25, 1955, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At age 10, he attended Saint John's Cathedral Boys' School in Selkirk, Manitoba.

Saint John's Cathedral Boys' School (SJCBS) was a school that was located in Selkirk, Manitoba. It was founded in the early 1960s by Ted Byfield and Frank Wiens. The two started an Anglican lay order called the Company of the Cross, claimed to be based on a reading of some of C.S. Lewis's writings. The Company of the Cross was under the authority of the resident bishop in Winnipeg, officially called the Diocese of Rupert's Land. The teachers were paid $1.00 per day and provided room and board. Two other schools, Saint John's School of Alberta and Saint John's School of Ontario were founded on the same ideas in later years. Arduous row-boat trips, later replaced by canoes, and snowshoeing and dog-sledding were part of the outdoor education program. The school's founders believed that boys should be pushed to what they might believe is their breaking points, and this would "build character". The school was seen by many as a way to help troubled boys, usually from 11 to 14 years of age. Its primary focus was challenging boys from every social stratum to work together in order to grow morally, physically, intellectually and spiritually in the tradition of Victorian "muscular Christianity".


At age 17, Pelton began in the Toronto mailroom of the ad agency BBDO before being promoted to copywriter. [16] He then worked for various multimedia companies that did product launches, which led to him working for Apple Inc., where he worked on the Lisa and later the Macintosh launch. [17] [18] His first break as a writer came in 1991, when he reported on the Camel Trophy, an annual competition by Land Rover across difficult terrain in Africa. Pelton competed for the U.S. team and published his account in Soldier of Fortune . [16] [19]

BBDO is a worldwide advertising agency network, with its headquarters in New York City. The agency began in 1891 with George Batten's Batten Company, and later in 1928, through a merger of BDO and Batten Co. the agency became Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn. BBDO Worldwide has been named the "Most Awarded Agency Network in the World" by The Gunn Report for six consecutive years beginning 2005. It has won "Network of the Year" at the Cannes Lions five times. With more than 15,000 employees in 289 offices in 80 countries, it is the largest of three global networks of agencies in Omnicom's portfolio. BBDO was named Global Agency of the Year by Adweek in 2011. It has also been named Agency of the Year in 2005 by Adweek, Advertising Age, and Campaign. In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed January 10 as BBDO day in recognition of the strength of its advertising, as well as its contributions to New York City.

Apple Inc. Technology company; developer of consumer electronics and multimedia platforms

Apple Inc. is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California, that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, and online services. It is considered one of the Big Four tech companies along with Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Macintosh Family of personal computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc.

The Macintosh is a family of personal computers designed, manufactured and sold by Apple Inc. since January 1984.

In 1993, Pelton purchased the name to the Fielding's Travel Guide from William Morrow and Company and published some traditional guides [20] that were refocused toward younger, independent travelers. [21]

Pelton licensed databased travel content to companies such as Microsoft and IBM, selling his businesses to turn full-time to conflict coverage in the mid 1990s.[ citation needed ] He began with a two-book deal from Random House (The Adventurist and Come Back Alive), a television series from Discovery called Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places, and a major web event with ABC News called Dangerous Places.[ citation needed ] Pelton created the concept of "solo" or "solo journalist". [22] someone who provides text, video, photos, and audio from remote regions without support.

He founded the website Dangerous Magazine at which he published his own and other writers' articles about adventure travel. [23]

In January 2003, Pelton was on assignment for National Geographic Adventure in the Darién Gap when two 22-year-old travelers and he were abducted by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. The trio was held in the jungle for 10 days before being released. [24] [25] [26] [27]

Pelton contributed to National Geographic Adventure as both a contributing editor and a columnist from January 2001 to 2007.[ citation needed ] In December 2007, he released an article on Blackwater Worldwide.[ citation needed ] He was involved in negotiations with the President of Equatorial Guinea regarding the early release of coup plotters Simon Mann and Nick du Toit, who had worked for Executive Outcomes in the mid-1990s.[ citation needed ] The story was documented in the May 2008 Men's Journal article "How to Stage a Coup".[ citation needed ]

In 2006, Pelton teamed up with Eason Jordan, former head of international news for CNN, and several others to launch Iraq Slogger, a clearinghouse of news and information coming out of Iraq during the Iraq War. The site was intended to aggregate articles by both foreign correspondents and Iraqi journalists, as well as nonprofessionals. [28] [29] [30] According to Pelton, the site had insufficient income and ceased operations in 2009. [31]

In December 2008, Pelton travelled the Horn of Africa with both pirates and an antipiracy crew researching the piracy and antipiracy industry.[ citation needed ] In January 2009, Pelton resumed immersion-style coverage by going inside the U.S. Army's controversial Human Terrain System. [32] Around that time, he also spent a year as an advisor to NATO's Afghanistan commander. [33]

In 2008, Pelton and Jordan founded AfPax Insider, a newsgathering and research service in Afghanistan and Pakistan modeled on Iraq Slogger. The venture provided free content on its website and was partially funded by the U.S. military. [30] [34] Controversy arose when a Defense Department official who was operating an unauthorized spy ring [35] allegedly diverted funds that were intended to pay AfPax. [30] [36] [31] According to Jordan, the venture never had a "full-fledged launch" into offering a premium subscription service to private clients, and due to insufficient funding, remained a free website [36] until it became inactive in August 2009. [31]

Somalia Report

In 2011, Pelton created Somalia Report. With assistance from around 140 locals and western editors, Pelton provided ground coverage of al Shabaab, pirates, governments, contractors, intelligence groups, and regular people on a 24/7 information website.

Migrant Report

In June 2015, Pelton started publishing the Migrant Report to track the movement of refugees and migrants. [37] [38] The venture was sponsored by a non-profit organization in Malta. [37] and provided in depth coverage from Libya, Myanmar and Bangladesh.


The World's Most Dangerous Places

Pelton's first major writing project was his self-published guide to conflict The World's Most Dangerous Places . [39] At over 1,000 pages, the book was written in the style of a travel guide, with a humorous tone. The first edition was written in 1993 and it currently is in its fifth edition from Harper Resource.[ citation needed ]

The Adventurist

The Adventurist is Pelton's autobiography that covers his childhood and an assortment of later travel experiences around the world up until 1999. [40] [41]

Come Back Alive

A real-world survival guide, it is written in a humorous style.

Hunter, Hammer and Heaven, Three Worlds Gone Mad

A 2002 book on Pelton's journey into three wars in three tiny countries Chechnya, Sierra Leone and Bougainville, which were examples of a jihad against the Russians, a mercenary war for resources, and an ecowar to preserve a native lifestyle.[ citation needed ]

Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror

Pelton has written about contemporary private military contractors (Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror), as well as his experiences with US Special Forces in the opening weeks in the War on Terror. [42] [43] [44] [45] Of Licensed to Kill, one reviewer summarized: "His is a journalistic story-quilt of characters engaged as private security contractors and mercenaries in a variety of settings from Afghanistan to Equatorial Guinea.... The pages turn... because Pelton's stories are intrinsically interesting." [46] The book was reviewed by author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger ("An incredible look into the murky and virtually impenetrable world of private military contractors . . . Pelton may well have seen the future.") and terrorism expert Peter Bergen ("A rollicking read that takes the reader inside the murky world of military contractors—from the craggy passes of the Afghan-Pakistan border, to the extreme danger of Baghdad's airport road, to the diamond fields of Africa. Licensed to Kill is not only a great travelogue, [but] it also has some important things to say about the brave new world of privatized violence").


Raven, Pelton's only novel, is a fictionalized account of his early life interwoven with experiences in the Pacific Northwest.[ citation needed ]

Civilian Warriors

In July 2013, Pelton stated in an interview with Spy Talk's Jeff Stein that Erik Prince had come to him to fix a ghostwritten autobiography that Prince had been unsuccessfully trying to publish since February 2008 with Regnery and again in 2010 with Simon & Schuster. According to the interview, Pelton not only rewrote Prince's book, hired a fact checker to remove numerous plagiarized passages from the previous writers and dissuaded Prince from self-publishing getting Prince a US$1 million advance from Adrian Zackheim at Penguin Publishing. According to the Washington Post, Prince tried to block Pelton's ownership and copyright by suing Pelton in Federal court, initially alleging Pelton had stolen his book but then and then filed urgent papers demanding that the federal court in Virginia under presiding Judge Leonie Brinkema dismiss Prince's own case before it was brought to a jury trial. Pelton then sued Prince in Loudon County with a court case scheduled for December 2017.


In late 2001, Pelton began writing feature stories for National Geographic Adventure and then continued writing a column until 2009 entitled, "Pelton's World" for National Geographic Adventure. His feature stories for National Geographic covered his journeys into Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia.

Pelton has been profiled in numerous magazines including The World's Most Dangerous Friend by Tim Cahill in Men's Journal covering topics such as Blackwater, the U.S. military Human Terrain System, South African mercenaries, and American military volunteers in rebel-held Burma. He also has written about his time with Somali pirates and maritime antipiracy security teams for Bloomberg Businessweek and security contractors in Iraq for Popular Mechanics .

Saving South Sudan

In May 2014, Vice magazine released a multimedia event which featured Robert Young Pelton traveling with photographer Tim Freccia and with a former Lost Boy, Machot Lap Thiep, to South Sudan at the height of the fighting. It was the first time in Vice's 21-year history that a single author and single photographer created an entire issue on one topic. The 130-page, 50,000-word article was also released online and in conjunction with a three-part, 40-minute documentary. [47] [48] A documentary film entitled Saving South Sudan accompanied the article. [47] [49]

Graphic novels

Artist Billy Tucci illustrated and wrote a 64-page illustrated novel entitled Roll Hard based on one of Pelton's chapters in Licensed to Kill. The book documents the true story of a team of Bblackwater misfits who must travel up and down the most dangerous road in Iraq. Pelton rode every mission with the team for a month, which routinely came under attack. After Pelton left the team, they were hit by an IED with one fatality and a number wounded. Wired Magazine described it as "At a time when comics are still dominated by busty babes, zombies and superheroes wearing tights, Pelton and Tucci's gritty, journalistic portrayal of America's fighters-for-hire is a profound departure."

Publishers Weekly described the book: "While that's a prime setup for endless scenes of action-movie carnage, the narrative instead focuses on the men as professionals and what makes them put their lives on the line for a daily payout around $600. It's that spotlight on the humanity of the contractors that makes this an engaging read, and artist Tucci (Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion) turns in understated, realistic artwork that is among the finest of his career. While the role of contractors in the Iraq conflict is controversial, this gives it a human face."


One of the cornerstones of Pelton's quests has been to track down, meet with, and interview some of the world's most dangerous and wanted men.

A partial list of Pelton's interviews:

Interviews of Robert Young Pelton

Pelton's experience in over three dozen conflicts and independent point of view has made him a sought after and prescient commentator on conflict, the media and key historical events.

Rebel, Jihadi and Insurgent Groups

In order to gain access, Pelton has spent an unusual amount of time living with, traveling with and documenting some of the world's best known insurgent groups. Some of the groups Pelton has lived with and interviewed include, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the LURD in Liberia, MILF in the Southern Philippines, Bougainville Revolutionary Army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army in Southern Sudan, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the FARC and AUC in Colombia, the Chechen rebels and the Karen National Liberation Army, the Karen National Union and the Free Burma Rangers in Burma [62] His access and interviews initially were to create The World's Most Dangerous Places. His unusual and death-defying efforts to get this access soon then morphed into his TV series and then into a series of other books and film projects.

Pelton has shown how he gets access and world exclusive interviews in his TV series The World's Most Dangerous Places for the Discovery Channel, investigating and reporting from the inside the drug business in Colombia and Peru, the mafia in Georgia and Turkey, and bounty hunting in Mexico.

Television series

Pelton executive produced and hosted seven one-hour specials for Discovery (these aired on The Travel Channel which at the time was owned by Discovery Communications) from 1998 until 2003. According to the site The World's Most Dangerous Places (which has video clips and a timeline), this was the line up of Pelton's series:

1) "The Crescent and the Cross" [63] – first footage of a new communist rebel group on the island of Negros (New People's Army), the MILF, pirates, a Crucifixion and Pelton tracks down the most wanted man in the Philippines, the man who killed Special Forces legend Nick Rowe

2) "The Lion of the Panjshir" – Pelton enters Afghanistan to find Ahmed Shah Massoud and then he enters the war on both sides. First with the Northern Alliance and then the feared Taliban [64]

3) "Home of the Brave" – A journey through America on a motorcycle to find rebels, revolutionaries and militias. Pelton visits with country & western singer Willie Nelson, Native American activist Russell Means, motorcycle icon Peter Fonda and finds an American jihadi Aukai Collins [65] who trained in terrorist training camps run by Osama bin Laden

4) "Inside Afghanistan" – In his first post 9/11 show Pelton re-enters Afghanistan, [66] this time he is only outside witness to war with a Special Forces team that fights on horseback with a brutal warlord, General Rashid Dostum. He is in the battle of Qali Jangi and finds an American jihadi named John Walker Lindh, introducing the world to the first American al Qaeda member ever interviewed on the battlefield

5) "Inside Liberia" – Pelton enters a little-known war in which he is surrounded by armed child soldiers in a brutal fight to the death. The rag tag LURD rebels and Pelton's group is surrounded by the violent forces of Charles Taylor. Pelton becomes close to the Small Boys Unit, a group of child soldiers, and we meet "Survival", a 5-year-old gun-toting killer who befriends Pelton.

6) "Inside Colombia" – Pelton is the first outside to interview and meets with the leaders Manuel Marulanda, Raúl Reyes, Mono Jojoy, Alfonso Cano of the deadly left wing FARC rebel group. Barely escaping being kidnapped by Mono Jojoy at a drunken party, Pelton then switches sides and searches for the right wing AUC death squads. While waiting he provides a rare inside view on the cocaine trade from growing to picking to processing the final product

7) "Kidnapped" – Pelton intended to be back from vacation to film a show about 9/11 in America but was kidnapped. His footage of the brutal kidnap is interwoven with previous trips to Grozny, Chechnya where he interviews a captured Russian spy Aleksey Galkin, then to Uganda, where a bomb explodes under the table where Pelton had been sitting an hour earlier. [39] [17] Pelton then spends a long bloody night in Kampala, Uganda at other bomb sites trying to save shattered victims before heading to meet the SPLA in Southern Sudan and finally Peru in which Pelton's journey inside the drug war is cut short when he is hit and seriously injured by a car while riding his motorcycle on a mountain road

Although the WMDP series under Discovery's Steve Cheskin was renewed for another 8 shows, Pelton's series of specials was cancelled by Discovery after Pelton left for Iraq.


Pelton produced "House of War" with award-winning documentary director Paul Yule to document the largest and most bloody battle in Operation Enduring Freedom, the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi.

Pelton went to Iraq to cover the war for ABC Investigative and then led a search for a find of chemical tipped rockets for CBS's 60 Minutes . Pelton eventually chose to stay along the Syrian border with insurgents and later document evidence of mass graves around the country, traveling in a red Bentley previously owned by Uday Hussein.

Pelton would return to Iraq in late 2004 to live with a Blackwater USA security team running Route Irish in Baghdad while researching his book Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror.

National Geographic TV hired Pelton to go inside the world of private security contractors for the film Iraq: Guns For Hire.

His documentary for Vice was the first time the White Army had been filmed in combat and the first interview with Riek Machar and his wife after they fled to the bush. The film was part of a web event that was released with an entire issue on South Sudan and Pelton's trip published by Vice.

Pelton continues to be featured in a number of upcoming documentaries on a diverse variety of subjects that range from mercenaries, child soldiers, Private military company and conflict. They are a diverse selection including "Iraq for Sale" by Robert Greenwald, Shadow Company by Nick Bicanic, "Weapons of Mass Deception" by Danny Schechter, "Children at War" and "Bounty Hunting" by Bobby Williams as well as news documentaries and interviews by Al Jazeera, CNN, Dan Rather and many others. He currently is directing and editing a 90-minute film shot at sea focusing on the rescue of migrants at sea by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station.

Joseph Kony expedition

In 2013, Pelton launched a crowd funded campaign to raise money for an expedition to locate Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, [67] [68] [69] [70] but the effort failed after only about $10,000 was raised. [71]

Migrant Offshore Aid Station

As of 2014, Pelton has been a strategic advisor to Christopher and Regina Catrambone, the founders of the Search and Rescue NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station or MOAS. In addition to advising the charity, Pelton arranged feature profile articles in Sunday Times, New York Times, Time, The Guardian, Bloomberg Businessweek, Outside and global TV coverage on board the Phoenix and Responder. Pelton also provided on the ground research on migrant conditions in camps, prisons along with in depth interviews with smugglers and mapped human trafficking networks in Libya, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand and Europe.


See also

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