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]

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.

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]

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]

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[edit]

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


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]

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; 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 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 and then filed urgent papers, demanding that the federal court in Virginia, under presiding Judge Leonie Brinkema, dismiss Prince's 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.


  • Robert Young Pelton. Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror (Reprint edition (August 28, 2007) ed.). Three Rivers Press. p. 368. ISBN 1-4000-9782-7.
  • Robert Young Pelton. DP Professional Strength (September 1, 2007 ed.). Collins. p. 304. ISBN 0-06-112021-9.
  • Robert Young Pelton. The World's Most Dangerous Places (April 1, 2003 ed.). Collins. p. 1088. ISBN 0-06-001160-2.
  • Robert Young Pelton. The Adventurist, My Life in Dangerous Places (June 19, 2001 ed.). Broadway. p. 268. ISBN 0-7679-0576-8.
  • Robert Young Pelton. Hunter Hammer and Heaven, Journeys to Three World's Gone Mad (January 1, 2002 ed.). The Lyons Press. p. 320. ISBN 1-58574-416-6.
  • Robert Young Pelton. Come Back Alive (June 1, 1999 ed.). Main Street Books. p. 304. ISBN 0-385-49566-8.
  • Robert Young Pelton. Hired Guns (June 28, 2007 ed.). Constable and Robinson. p. 320. ISBN 1-84529-590-0.
  • The Best American Travel Writing
  • Best Adventure and Travel Stories
  • Robert Young Pelton; Mark Bowden; Tracy Kidder; Philip Taubman. Nate Hardcastle; Clint Willis (eds.). American Soldier: Stories of Special Forces from Iraq to Afghanistan (First Edition (October 27, 2002) ed.). Da Capo Press. p. 364. ISBN 1-56025-438-6.
  • Boots on the Ground
  • Robert Young Pelton. Fielding's Hot Spots, Travel in Harm's Way (December 1997 ed.). Fielding Worldwide. p. 256. ISBN 1-56952-166-2.
  • Robert Young Pelton. Fielding's Borneo: The Adventurous Guide to the Island of Borneo Covering Brunei, Kalimantan, Sabah and Sarawak/1995 (Fielding's Borneo) (June 1995 ed.). Fielding Worldwide. p. 704. ISBN 1-56952-026-7.
  • Robert Young Pelton. Three Worlds Gone Mad: Dangerous Journeys through the War Zones of Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific (First edition (December 1, 2003) ed.). The Lyons Press. p. 320. ISBN 1-59228-100-1.

See also[edit]

  • Bounty Hunters – Robert William's documentary for History Channel about high risk bounty hunters. Pelton details his experience in cross border snatch and grabs of wanted fugitives
  • The Child Soldier's New Job — Interviews and footage for a film by Mads Ellesøe about the hiring of child soldiers from Sierra Leone for work in Iraq
  • House of War – explores the Battle of Qali Jangi, produced by Pelton and Paul Yule
  • Iraq: Guns for Hire – a National Geographic Explorer look at life and death inside the gritty world of private security contractors in Iraq, produced by Pelton
  • Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers – a documentary by Robert Greenwald with footage and interviews of Pelton discussing mercenaries and contractors
  • Legion of Brothers — a film by Greg Barker about the 5th Group, Army Special Forces and their work with the Afghans to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11.[72]
  • Shadow Company – A feature-length documentary by Nick Bicanic with footage and interviews of Pelton discussing mercenaries and private security contractors.
  • Time Machine: Child Warriors — a History Channel documentary in which Pelton discusses his experiences in Liberia with the Small Boys Unit and other child soldiers
  • Weapons of Mass DeceptionDanny Schechter's look at the buildup to the Iraq War, features Pelton


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