Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Brian Williams to the Troops

37 Comments

22 December 2009
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Brian Williams from NBC emailed to me something for the troops.  Brian is a Great American.

I was in Afghanistan about two months ago, and as usual the best part of the trip were the Americans in uniform who we met along the way.  I think about all of you every day.  I tell my civilian friends about you, and about what I've seen.  They all know that you are the people I admire most.  We toasted all of those deployed overseas at our Thanksgiving table, and we will on Christmas Day and on New Year's Eve.  I appreciate your service, and we appreciate our freedom.

We owe you all a staggering debt.

For now, Happy Holidays and the blessings of the season to you all.

 

Brian Williams

 

As Christmas Approaches

31 Comments

20 December 2009
Arghandab, Afghanistan

As Christmas approaches, many people are thinking about the troops, who in turn are thinking about loved ones at home.  Cards and letters are tacked up on many walls.  The favorites are from the little kids, with questions like, "How do you go to the bathroom?"  "Can you eat dinner?"  "Does it hurt to get shooted?"  It goes on.

I emailed to Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger, asking if he had any words for the troops this Christmas.  Jeff came right back with this awesome letter:

Michael,

As you make your rounds over there, please to remind them that we know they are there and appreciate their performing their duty in such a magnificent manner.

Jeff

Then CSM Mellinger writes:

I awoke this Saturday morning at PT time (0430), and looked at my surroundings.  The worst winter storm in DC for a number of years had arrived in force.  Snow, and lots of it.  Roads are closed, planes are grounded, and people are huddled comfortably inside their homes or foolishly out trying to learn how to drive in snow.

Read more: As Christmas Approaches

Arghandab & The Battle for Kandahar

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13 December 2009
Kandahar, Afghanistan

People are confused about the war.  The situation is difficult to resolve even for those who are here.  For most of us, the conflict remains out of focus, lacking reference of almost any sort.  Vertigo leaves us seeking orientation from places like Vietnam—where most of us never have been.  So sad are our motley pundits-cum-navigators that those who have never have been to Afghanistan or Vietnam shamelessly use one to reference the other.  We saw this in Iraq.

The most we can do is pay attention, study hard, and try to bring something into focus that is always rolling, yawing, and seemingly changing course randomly, in more dimensions than even astronauts must consider.  All while gauging dozens of factors, such as Afghan Opinion, Coalition Will, Enemy Will and Capacity, Resources, Regional Actors (and, of course, the Thoroughly Unexpected).  Nobody will ever understand all these dynamic factors and track them at once and through time.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that a tiger doesn’t need to completely understand the jungle to survive, navigate, and then dominate.  It is not necessary to know every anthropological and historical nuance of the people here.  If that were the case, our Coalition of over forty nations would not exist.   More important is to realize that they are humans like us.  They get hungry, happy, sad, and angry; they make friends and enemies (to the Nth degree); they are neither supermen nor vermin.  They’re just people.

But it always helps to know as much as you can.  This will take much time, many dispatches, and hard, dangerous work.  Let’s get started.

Read more: Arghandab & The Battle for Kandahar

First December Report From Afghanistan

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Now BayNews9 story.

Local man reports on troop morale in Afghanistan
Sunday, December 6, 2009

(Bay News 9) -- For the past five years Winter Haven native and former Green Beret Michael Yon has been covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as an independent journalist.

A couple of days ago Bay News 9 spoke with him on a Skype connection to Afghanistan.

Yon has been reporting for years that the U.S. risked losing the war there.

Read more: First December Report From Afghanistan

FYI: Paperwork for Afghanistan Media Embed

12 Comments

17 November 2009

There has been much curiosity about the procedures involved during the embed process.  The process is constantly changing, and is different for Iraq than for Afghanistan.  A Philippines embed is different still, and requires embassy approval because, am told, the State department is worried about what one might say.  In Afghanistan, the process with the British and Lithuanians also varies.  The process can be dramatically different for powerful media outlets, who often come in on "junkets."  In Iraq, in 2005, saw CNN have two helicopters dedicated to it for a day in Diyala Province.  (I went with them.)

Read more: FYI: Paperwork for Afghanistan Media Embed

Hostages

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Michael Yon
16 November 2009

When New York Times journalist David Rohde was kidnapped last year in Afghanistan, the company engaged in a painstaking effort to squash the story. They succeeded in persuading major media who learned of the kidnapping to keep quiet. The cover-up was so good that a New York Times reporter I spoke with in December 2008, while she and I joined Secretary Gates on a trip through Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq and back to the United States, had not heard about the David Rohde kidnapping.

The New York Times openly agrees that publishing such articles increases the peril to the lives of hostages, yet it published details about a British couple being held hostage in Somalia, and thus increased the value of the hostages to the kidnappers.

Some months after Mr. Rohde’s kidnapping started leaking, I published a generic blurb about the case, but made sure none of the information was new.

Read more: Hostages

Japanese Aid to Afghanistan II

1 Comment

12 November 2009

I asked General David Petraeus, General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, about the Japanese decisions on Afghanistan.  (The Japanese plan to recall their refueling capacity but to add $5 billion dollars in development aid over five years.)  All three responded.  This from Geoff Morrell, who is the spokesman for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"We welcome Japan's additional contribution and its continued partnership in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Answers from Generals Petraeus and McCaffrey are here.

 

Japanese Aid to Afghanistan

17 Comments

Published: 12 November 2009
By Michael Yon

Kathmandu, Nepal — The Japanese are pulling naval assets from the fight in Afghanistan, but they are adding assets in another category. I asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who has not responded), Gen. David Petraeus, and Gen. (ret.) Barry McCaffrey to comment on this report:

Japan plans additional $5 billion for Afghanistan
By JAY ALABASTER (AP)

TOKYO — Japan on Tuesday announced $5 billion in fresh aid to Afghanistan even as it plans to bring home refueling ships supporting U.S.-led forces there. The pledge comes just days before President Barack Obama arrives in Tokyo for talks that are sure to focus on the countries' military alliance.

The announcement appears to be a way for Japan, which is barred from sending troops for combat by its pacifist constitution, to show support for Afghanistan's reconstruction while Obama reviews his options for a new strategy in the conflict.

Read more: Japanese Aid to Afghanistan

Ambush of the Common Sort

11 Comments

08 November 2009

Got a ping today about an attack on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul.  It's a dangerous road and I don't like to drive it.  The source has always been reliable, so I pinged Tim Lynch (who often is on that road), and Tim just sent these pics and a quick narrative.  (Unedited, and my post also coming via Blackberry.)  Tim writes:

The ambush happened around 0845 or so on the west side of the Duranta Tunnel.  Steve and I rolled out to look - the fuel convoy had security escorts from Compass security and they plus some ANP are who you see up in the ridges.  Three tankers were burning and three more were shot up and leaking fuel all over the place.  There was a section of OH-58's up and after about 20 minutes of figuring out who was who on the ground they started in on the bad guys with rockets and mini gun.

Read more: Ambush of the Common Sort

Smithsonian Air&Space on Kopp-Etchells Effect

10 Comments

November 04, 2009

Helo Halo

Luminous halos twirled above a Boeing CH-47 Chinook on a recent night around 11:30 p.m. local time at Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as helicopters ferried casualties and supplies in and out of the base. The photographer was independent journalist Michael Yon, a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who has covered Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines with a camera. Helicopter pilots don't have a name for the effect, but one explained to Yon, "Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as...dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case, titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust." Yon says, however, that a researcher studying helicopter brownout emailed him to say that scientists are not 100 percent sure what causes the effect. Depending on the viewing angle, it creates dazzling little galaxies. An even longer exposure reveals stars and another aircraft marked by a string of lights at upper left of center; Yon suspects this aircraft was a Predator or Reaper UAV, which, unlike manned military aircraft, fly with their lights on in the Afghan night to avoid collisions. Yon, who made these shots with a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50 mm lens at an ISO of 800, claims that the night was far darker than his sensitive camera conveys, as evidenced by the green chemlights on the ground to guide the pilots. He was moved to create a name, the Kopp-Etchells Effect, for the rotor phenomenon to honor a pair of fallen soldiers, U.S. Army Corporal Benjamin Kopp and British Army Corporal Joseph Etchells, who died one day apart in July after fierce fighting in Helmand (Kopp had been evacuated to the U.S. before he died). "The tent in the foreground is a medical tent," says Yon, "so that casualties can be kept in a tent until the last minute. A substantial number of British casualties in Helmand have been lifted off of this exact spot...because this is probably either the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, or nearly the most dangerous."

 

Colors

34 Comments

A military watchdog gets it wrong on the debate over camouflage.
By Michael Yon

Some things are not as they seem. Many people, for instance, seem to think Stars & Stripes is a military lapdog, but this is untrue. If Washington had a yearbook, Stars & Stripes might be voted “most apt to slam the military.” Stars & Stripes is a watchdog.

Drew Brown is a Stars & Stripes writer with much battlefield experience. Drew’s stories on Iraq have always rung true, as have his stories on Afghanistan. However, his recent story from Afghanistan about Stryker camouflage left room for respectful disagreement, or perhaps a “context adjustment.” One might suspect that the editorial process changed the tone.

Read more: Colors

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark

39 Comments

Anybody seen a better future around here?

21 October 2009

In 2008, I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal preparing for a return to Afghanistan. A message came from a British officer suggesting to end the trip and get to Afghanistan. Something was up, and I didn’t bother to ask what. Days of walking were needed to reach the nearest road. After several flights, I landed in Kandahar and eventually Helmand Province at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008.  During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure. And then the British kicked me out of the embed, for reasons still unclear, giving me time to look further into the Kajaki electrification failure.

Read more: Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark

Adopt-a-stan

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Lithuanians bring supplies to district hospital at Chaghcharan.

18 October 2009
By Michael Yon

The inbox was peppered with hyperlinks to Dexter Filkins’ story in the New York Times, Stanley McChrystal’s Long War.  One message came from Kathryn Lopez at National Review, asking if I had seen the article and for any thoughts.

It should be said that I respect the work of Dexter Filkins.  Mr. Filkins is a seasoned war correspondent whose characterizations of Iraq ring true, while Stanley McChrystal’s Long War resonates with my ongoing experiences in Afghanistan.  Despite the great length of the article, the few points that did not resonate were more trivialities for discussion than disagreements.  Mr. Filkins did a fine job.

Read more: Adopt-a-stan

Afghan Lunacy

33 Comments

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[This dispatch was written by me in December 2008 in southern Afghanistan. It was never published though I recently found it in the unpublished archives. The photos came from the same period.]

Published: from Nepal on 14 October 2009

On May 25, 1961, the President of the United States of America said:

“Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”

Read more: Afghan Lunacy

MARKET GARDEN

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Market Garden

A Remembrance During Time of War

Published: 12 October 2009 from Nargarkot, Nepal

 

Kandahar City, Afghanistan

Slowly, surely, the city is being strangled.  Signaling the depth of our commitment, security forces are thinner in Kandahar than the Himalayan air.  During the days and evenings, there were the sounds of occasional bombs—some caused by suicide attackers, and others by firefights.  The windows in my room had been blown out recently and now were replaced.  We came here to kill our enemies, but today we want to make a country from scratch.

Read more: MARKET GARDEN

A Story From War

29 Comments

Sangin, Afghanistan

Published: 08 October 2009

“In April this year it became 2 Rifles’ dubious fortune to be sent to Sangin on a six-month tour. By mid-August their battle group, a composite force from various units built around a core of several hundred riflemen and fusiliers, had the worst casualties of any British brigade sent to Helmand, with just over 100 soldiers killed or wounded: a fifth of their total patrol troops. The trend suggested that by the time the battle group’s tour ends this month as many as one in four of these infantrymen will have been slain or injured, a figure that compares with British infantry casualty ratios in Europe during the later stages of the Second World War.”

Anthony Lloyd

Read more: A Story From War

Nick Gurr: Reply to Michael Yon

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Official News Blog of the UK Ministry of Defence

« Defence News: 1 October 2009 | Main  | Defence Diary: 2 October 2009 »

Thursday, 01 October 2009

Nick Gurr: Reply to Michael Yon

Last week Michael posted a highly critical piece on the ending of his embed with Task Force Helmand (TFH). This attracted a large number of posts from outraged readers supportive of Michael. I undertook to investigate what had happened. I have now done so.

I know that some readers will not be sympathetic to the MOD's position on a matter such as this. But I would be grateful if you would hear me out. It is clear that there has been a (to quote Michael) "Texas-sized" misunderstanding here, made worse by various other factors, and I apologise for any part that MOD has played in that. But there are a few important points that I would like to make:

Michael's embed is the longest of any person this year by quite some way. Most embeds are for between one and two weeks. And demand for embeds with TFH always exceeds our capacity to supply. I wish that were not the case. But it is. Despite this, we have facilitated 136 media visits to TFH since January this year. On average there were about three people per visit, which means that some 400 media people have visited TFH over the first nine months of this year.

Michael's embed ended because the media ops team needed to assist a number of visits by other journalists, including a package from Northern Ireland regional newspapers (home ground for 19 Brigade), reporters from The Times and Independent, a BBC TV crew, a documentary team and a team from PA. Capacity is limited. I can understand that this may have looked different to Michael. But it was the reason that the embed ended when it did.

Hence the Defence Secretary's reply to Anne Winterton.

Last, and most importantly, while we take a number of factors into account in deciding who to embed and when (when an individual was last embedded, when his/her organisation was, readership), a demand for positive coverage is not among them. We believe that the efforts of our forces in theatre will speak for themselves. Of course we hope for balance - and by and large we get that. We have certainly never had an issue with Michael's reporting.

Clearly something appears to have gone seriously wrong in this case. But everyone in theatre is working under huge pressure which will sometimes generate friction and, as I said, I am sorry if Michael felt he was not being treated as he should be. I am assured that the media ops team in theatre worked hard to support him. It is a shame that the experience should have ended on a sour note.

I hope Michael will find the time to drop in for a chat about how we go forward from here when he is next in London.

Posted at 01:16 PM in From the Director

 

 

 

YON: The Greatest Afghan War

56 Comments

Published today in:


01 October 2009

By Michael Yon

The Greatest Afghanistan War has deteriorated so noticeably that one can now feel the enemy's growing pulse. Each month it beats steadier, stronger, and in 2010 it will finally be born.

On Sept. 11 in Kandahar, a South African civilian working without security was visibly upset - not at the Taliban but at the police. The 16-year police veteran recounted seeing Afghan police speeding through crowded streets and hitting a bicycle. The rider gymnastically avoided impact while the bicycle was tossed down the road.

The South African, with whom I spent a week in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said the police never slowed down. "That's part of the reason the Taliban are gaining ground," he said. "The police are out there recruiting Taliban."

I have searched for answers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Along with the more strategic questions (for example, should war be pursued?) are those closer to the shop floor: Are we gaining or losing popular support? Is the enemy gaining or losing strength? Is the coalition gaining or losing strength?

Read more: YON: The Greatest Afghan War

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