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Two Firefights: One Video

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July 2009, Sangin, Afghanistan.

05 October 2009

In July, British soldiers and I boarded a CH-47 helicopter at Camp Bastion for the flight to FOB Jackson at Sangin where fighting is brutal.  The helicopter was so stuffed with men, gear and supplies that the cargo was not even strapped down.  We steadied the long stack with our hands and prayed that the pilots not begin flying violent evasive maneuvers.  The tail gunner partially lifted the ramp to prevent bundles from tumbling into the skies, and that was it for securing the bundles.  Just a week before, a giant MI-26 helicopter was shot down on final approach to this same landing zone.  All aboard died in flames, as did two children on the ground.

Read more: Two Firefights: One Video

Bullshit Bob

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By Michael Yon
25 September 2009

The surprise discontinuation of my embedment from the British Army left my schedule in a train wreck.  Until that decisive moment, I am told, that my embed with the British Army had lasted longer than anyone else’s; other than Ross Kemp’s.  I’ve also been told that I’ve spent more time with the British Army in Iraq than any correspondent.  So it’s fair to say, we have good history together.

In the last 12 months, I’ve embedded with the British Army in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, then over to the jungles of Brunei to attend a man-tracking school, and again back in Afghanistan.  During that time, I’ve also been with U.S. forces in Iraq, the Philippines, and Afghanistan.  I’ve accompanied the Lithuanians in Afghanistan and also been downrange for months without any troops or official assignment.

This dispatch, and many others, should have been about soldiers at war. But it’s not.  This dispatch is being written in downtown Kandahar City and I have not seen a soldier in days.  The Taliban is slowing winning this city.  There have been many bombings and shootings since I arrived in disguise.

Read more: Bullshit Bob

Maqaleh v. Gates Amicus Brief

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America in Danger: Important Courtroom Battles

Published: 24 September 2009

Dear Mr. Yon:

It is my pleasure to forward to you the attached copy of the amicus curiae brief which we filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on behalf of the Special Operations community on Monday evening.

Read more: Maqaleh v. Gates Amicus Brief

Pedros

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14 September 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

With the war increasing, Air Force Pararescue has been crisscrossing the skies picking up casualties.

Read more: Pedros

New Afghan war: Frontline correspondent says fight has morphed – but we still can't afford to lose

70 Comments

6 September 2009

This story was published in the New York Daily News on 6 September 2009.

Photo: Jacobson/AP

By Michael Yon

Helmand, Afghanistan - The West is losing this war. This has been obvious for more than three years. Less obvious is that in 2009, we are down to the wire. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and others will soon recommend to President Obama the latest treatment for a dying patient.

Meanwhile, allies and Americans are asking themselves why we are here. Some are saying that Al Qaeda is still here or is waiting in the wings to return to its home. Yet Afghanistan was never Al Qaeda's permanent home to begin with. Al Qaeda was just renting a little space here, just as it was renting space in places like Germany and Florida.

Read more: New Afghan war: Frontline correspondent says fight has morphed – but we still can't afford to lose

Precision Voting

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31 August 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

The historical Afghan elections scheduled for 20 August were days away.   While the west mostly continued to vote for Afghanistan, the big question was, “Will Afghanistan vote for itself?”

The latest media wave splashed into the main voting centers in places like Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Lashkar Gah.  The larger cities only account for perhaps 20% of the Afghan population.  Whereas the easy and obvious stories are in the cities, a crucial and larger dimension—the other 80%—would unfold in the boonies.  Most Afghans would have no chance to vote.

Read more: Precision Voting

The Kopp-Etchells Effect, Part II

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27 August 2009

My embed with British forces has ended.  Will be out with U.S. forces for the foreseeable future.  After that, will strike out alone into the wilds of Afghanistan.  There are two more stories in the pipeline about the British soldiers I was with, who were in a couple of firefights.  The bullets got pretty close.  The events are worth recounting.  Unsure if I will be able to complete those dispatches due to the time wasted with the sudden ending of my embed.  Am attempting to publish at least one.  The soldiers deserve both, but time is cruel when its wasted.

Read more: The Kopp-Etchells Effect, Part II

Bad Medicine

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On Pharmacy Road

Captain Henry Coltart on Pharmacy Road

24 August 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

The British soldiers of 2 Rifles had a mission:  clear and hold Pharmacy Road.

FOB Jackson is currently home to Battlegroup headquarters for 2 Rifles.  The area around the river is called the “Green Zone,” but just as appropriately could be called the Opium Zone.  During season, the area is covered with colorful poppies, whose 2009 products are probably showing up by now on the streets in Europe.  European money flows back here and buys fertilizer in the Sangin Market, which can be used to make bombs, produce more opium, get more money and make more bombs and grow more opium and make more money and bombs and grow more opium.  Sangin is at once an ATM and weapons bazaar for the enemy.  Nearly all fatalities in this unit have been caused by fertilizer bombs.  The decision to mostly ignore the drug dealers has been a strategic blunder.

This mission was about tactical exigencies created by the strategic realities.  Though FOB Jackson is small enough to walk from one end to another in a few minutes, it is the main base in Sangin, with smaller patrol bases spread around the Sangin area of operations.  Two of those bases are Patrol Base (PB) Tangiers and PB Wishtan.  Tangiers is an Afghan National Army (ANA) PB often used by 2 Rifles, while PB Wishtan is manned by C Coy of 2 Rifles.  (“Coy” is British for “Company.”)

Read more: Bad Medicine

Afghanistan Elections Spot Report

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20 August 2009

This dispatch has been dictated by satellite phone due to communications difficulties.  My satellite gear has failed on election day.  I do not know how well the elections turned out in other parts of Afghanistan.  Here in North Helmand Province, near Sangin, I am told that less than 300 people voted.  In this area the day was marked by serious fighting.  Apache attack helicopters were firing their cannons throughout the day.  The howitzers fired many times.  The mortars were firing.  Various bases were attacked.  On the mission I accompanied the snipers were firing.  We got into a firefight, and the soldier beside me had his antenna shot off.  I would not characterize this as a failure of the elections, it was a local setback.  We saw the same in Iraq in early 2005, where some people boycotted the elections.  The situation here is not good, but this is only one area of Afghanistan.  I do not know what happened elsewhere.

Michael

 


Do Americans Care about British Soldiers?

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19 August 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

A gunshot ripped through the darkness and a young British soldier fell dying on FOB Jackson.  I was just nearby talking on the satellite phone and saw the commotion.  The soldier was taken to the medical tent and a helicopter lifted him to the excellent trauma center at Camp Bastion.  That he made it to Camp Bastion alive dramatically improved his chances.  But his life teetered and was in danger of slipping away.  Making matters worse, the British medical system back in the United Kingdom did not possess the specialized gear needed to save his life.  Americans had the right gear in Germany, and so the British soldier was put into the American system.

British officers in his unit, 2 Rifles, wanted to track their man every step of the way, and to ensure that his family was informed and supported in this time of high stress.  Yet having their soldier suddenly in the American system caused a temporary glitch in communications with folks in Germany.  The British leadership in Sangin could have worked through the glitch within some hours, but that would have been hours wasted, and they wanted to know the status of their soldier now.  So a British officer in Sangin – thinking creatively –asked if I knew any shortcuts to open communications.  The right people were only an email away: Soldiers Angels.  And so within about two minutes, these fingers typed an email with this subject heading: CALLING ALL ANGELS.

Read more: Do Americans Care about British Soldiers?

The Kopp-Etchells Effect

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17 August 2009
Sangin, Afghanistan

The roads are so littered with enemy bombs that nearly all transport and resupply to this base occurs by helicopter.  The pilots roar through the darkness, swoop into small bases nestled in the saddle of enemy territory, and quickly rumble off into the night.

A witness must spend only a short time in the darkness to know we are at war. Flares arc into the night, or mortar illumination rounds drift and swing under parachutes, orange and eerily in the distance, casting long, flickering but sharply defined shadows.  The worst that can happen is that you will be caught in an open field, covered by nothing and concealed only by darkness, when the illumination suddenly bathes you in light.  Best is to stay low and freeze and prepare to fire, or in the case of a writer, to stay low and freeze and prepare to watch the firing.

Explosions from unknown causes rumble through the cool nights while above drifts the Milky Way, punctuated by more shooting stars than one can remember.  The Afghanistan nights will grant a wish to wish upon a shooting star.  And while waiting for the next meteor, the eyes are likely to catch tracer bullets.

Read more: The Kopp-Etchells Effect

Stars & Stripes

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13 August 2009

Reporting from Afghanistan: Not your typical job

Posted August 12th, 2009 by Leo Shane in Stripes Central

Back in 2006 I spent six weeks traveling around Afghanistan with various U.S. Army units and reporting on what troops were dealing with in the "forgotten" war. Filing stories and calling my editors was always a tricky prospect, even without any of the heavy fighting that reporters there now are seeing.

So it's humbling to me to listen to this live interview with Michael Yon from his latest travels into Afghanistan, this time with British troops.

Yon has already made a name for himself with his freelance work in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and his latest work has given an up-close view of the tension and danger in Afghanistan right now. But this interview may top all that.

At just about the 7:30 mark, you can start to hear gunfire in the background as he talks with Military.com's Ward Carroll about recent violence in the area. A few minutes later, he pauses for a minute to get to a safer location as machine gun fire intensifies and a rocket whizzes overhead.

Read more: Stars & Stripes

No Young Soldiers

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10 August 2009
Sangin, Afghanistan

Daily dramas unfolded, including the bangs, booms and small-arms fire that punctuated the times.  At 1800, I was preparing to go to orders with 1 Platoon, A Company of 2 Rifles, when shots from a large-caliber rifle began cracking low over base.  I passed by sniper, Kris Griffith, and said, “Hey Kris, why don’t you grab your rifle and go shoot that guy?”  Kris replied that two other sniper teams were on it.  “He’s close,” I said, and Kris answered, “About 600 meters.” Then we went our separate ways.

Orders were given and then the soldiers performed final checks on their gear and tried to fall to sleep in the sweltering evening heat.  Some nights I would go to sleep using the sleeping bag as a pillow, only to wake up with it drenched in sweat.

Read more: No Young Soldiers

Pixie Dust

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Thursday night, 06 August 2009
Afghanistan

I made this photo last night in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.  This Landing Zone is very dangerous.  A few weeks ago, another helicopter was coming into this LZ and was shot down at the last minute, killing all passengers and crew.  Two children on the ground also were killed.  The sparks coming off the rotors occur when the helicopters land in hot, dusty conditions.  The landing itself occurs in a dangerous "brownout."  Brownout danger is compounded by the sparks which light up the dust and can confuse pilots who are wearing extremely sensitive nightvision goggles.

Michael


Common Scenes & Common Thoughts

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Common Scenes & Common Thoughts

from

Common Days & Nights

 

A helicopter roars into FOB Jackson in Sangin, Afghanistan.  Medical tents are just next to the Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) so casualties can be quickly loaded.

05 August 2009

The helicopter pilot wearing night vision goggles roared in so fast it looked as though he were crashing.  The four green Cylums (Americans call them Chemlights) mark the HLS.  While the helicopter is above the dust cloud, it melts into the dark, but as it approaches the HLS, dust swirls high, setting the stage for an amazing light show.  The Chinook descends through the dry dust and the rotors glitter brightly, creating an eerie glow as if sparklers are attached to the rotors, which in reality appeared brighter to the eye than in the photo below.  If the helicopter were not so loud, the millions of static discharges might be heard crackling and popping.

Read more: Common Scenes & Common Thoughts

Resurrection

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Spraying for bugs on FOB Jackson, Sangin.

03 August 2009
Sangin, Afghanistan

The bugs are not bad in this part of Afghanistan.  The scorched terrain is biologically boring.  Mice and ferret-like creatures dash around in the evenings when sparrows and doves and a few other sorts of birds flutter through the cool air.  But even at sunrise, I cannot make out the songs or see in flight more than ten types of birds, one of which is the rooster.  There are no wading birds, not here anyway: no kingfishers, no cormorants or ducks.  The dominant hue of land and bird is desert brown.  Maybe a bird or two with black feathers, but never one with sharp, primary colors: not even a red wing tip or a white tuft.  There are no ornamental birds with glorious plumage or fancy dance, only drab designs, though the lucky ones have short golden legs.  There is not a single inspiring song among them.

Read more: Resurrection

Night Into Day

57 Comments

Sangin, Helmand Province
Afghanistan

Finding the Enemy

29 July 2009

Orders are given before every operation.  The orders filter down through various unit levels involved, until each platoon finally recieves its specific mission.  The concept for this mission came down from the 2 Rifles Battlegroup (battalion) to the  companies, including elements of the Afghan National Army and their British counterparts from the Welsh Guard, and down to each 2 Rifles platoon involved.  So for any mission there might be literally dozens (or more) orders and rehearsals until each man and woman knows the perceived enemy situaton, their specific tasks, and much more.  While soldiers here at FOB Jackson received orders, undoubtedly pilots and others, stationed far away, perhaps on an aircraft carrier or even farther afield, were finalizing related plans.

Read more: Night Into Day

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