Those are not flares or artificial lighting or a Photoshop job. And it's not a teleporting sequence from a sci-fi movie either. It's the Kopps-Etchells Effect. This is how it happens, according to Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger:

Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as materials of dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust. It occurs on the ground as well, but you don't usually see it as much unless the aircraft is landing or taking off. The most common time is when fuel is being pumped. When large tankers are being fueled they must be grounded to prevent static electricity from discharging and creating explosions.


Originally, this effect didn't have any name, but the always awesome Michael Yon—former US Army, now war photographer—found one: The Kopps-Etchells effect. He named it after American Corporal Benjamin Kopp and British Corporal Joseph Etchells, two soldiers killed in action in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, where these pictures were taken.

Etchell's last wish was to be cremated and launched over his childhood favorite park inside a firework. It seems like a fitting name for a beautiful effect in the middle of such an ugly war. [Michael Yon]