Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Tracking Update

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25 April 2009
Brunei, Borneo Island

This quick email from Borneo is an update about the combat tracking course conducted by the British military.

Tracking is a lost art in the British and U.S. militaries.  Even among the most highly trained forces, you’ll seldom come across anyone who can honestly track a man or interpret signs.  Many times in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve seen combat forces come up on signs of the enemy – and our folks do set to work analyzing ever smidgen they can find – but only in a single case did I see soldiers who started tracking on a very subtle trail that was less than obvious.  Not surprisingly, those soldiers were “good old boys” from the 278th Tennessee National Guard.  Where those soldiers learned tracking I do not know.  Presumably they got it from growing up in the boondocks, and they probably got it from their granddaddies.  We didn’t get any enemies that day, but the 278th soldiers definitely were able get on what I thought was the right trail, and they tracked quite a distance (after a bomb exploded).  They weren’t playing around.  More recently, I was with some American soldiers in Afghanistan and there was a very minor shootout wherein nobody got hurt.  At least two Taliban were seen going over a hill after the bullets were swapped.  Our boys closed the gap as fast as they could and tried to get them, but we never picked up their trail and the enemy escaped.  I believe that the British and Gurkha trackers I am seeing in this school in Borneo might well have picked up that trail, and nailed the Taliban that day.

Read more: Tracking Update

On Track

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Borneo Island

25 April 2009

The plan was to be back in Afghanistan by now.  Yet there are issues beyond my control that have kept me in a holding pattern.  And so I came down to Borneo to keep reading up on Afghanistan while practicing photography.

Borneo, which straddles the equator, is home to incredible amounts of wildlife.  I greatly enjoy bird photography which – believe it or not – I find is technically far more difficult than combat photography.  Like writing, photography is not a skill that can be put in the closet and pulled out when needed.  You’ve got to practice.  This is especially true for combat because the photographer must think fast while bullets are snapping around, and so the camera work needs to be instinctive.  Writing about combat is actually very easy.  On the subject of writing, this message is just a quick email that I’ve sent to my webmaster to publish for you.  The only editing it will get is a spell check, so I ask forgiveness.

Read more: On Track

Torture is Wrong

107 Comments

24 April 2009

From Borneo

The British Army runs various jungle training courses in the friendly country of Brunei, on Borneo Island.  I am with a British Army Gurkha battalion and am going through 21 days of combat tracking training at one of the best tracking schools in the world.  Most of the students and all of the instructors are combat veterans.  Very good group to be with. There are Dutch, British and Gurkha students.  This course is about combat, so it’s doggone clear that the Dutch are serious about fighting in Afghanistan.  Nobody would need this course unless they were planning on tracking down bad guys.  (Part of the training deals with preparation for Afghanistan.)  Obviously the Brits/Gurkhas are serious about Afghanistan, so no more needs to be said on that.

We are very busy with the tracking training, so I've got just short periods at a time to write.  It's refreshingly hot and humid in Borneo.  Sweat is the scent of the day.  Last couple of days was all jungle time and had one good overnight in the jungle so far.  The jungle is very nice here, not like some jungles I’ve seen.  Only a few mosquitoes, for instance, but some other jungles are like mosquito farms.

Read more: Torture is Wrong

Rifle and Pistol Club

13 Comments 19 April 2009

Brunei, Borneo Island

Monday morning I plan to visit some natives in a jungle in Borneo.  They still hunt using blowguns and poison darts, I’m told.  And their ancestors were headhunters.   The Iban are said to be very friendly these days, but make no mistake: Borneo is wild country.

Read more: Rifle and Pistol Club

Achilles' Heels

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15 April 2009
From Kuala Lumpur

Violence has dramatically declined in Bangkok.  Touch wood that tensions continue to abate.  Only time will reveal.

The effort in AfPak has more than one Achilles' Heel.  Pakistan supply routes are definitely a weakness.  Please see this story in CSM:
 

NATO, US seek alternatives to Pakistan supply routes
By Anand Gopal / Correspondent
04.12.09

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Militants attacked a supply depot Sunday in Pakistan that serves Western forces in Afghanistan, increasing the pressure for US and NATO officials to find alternatives to their beleaguered supply lines.

In a predawn raid in the northwestern city of Peshawar, scores of Pakistani Taliban guerrillas torched trucks stationed at the supply terminal. The assault is the latest in a series that have targeted the Western supply convoys that run through Pakistan to replenish forces fighting in Afghanistan.


Perfect Valor

2 Comments

14 April 2009

On May 16, 2009, Citizens United Productions will premiere “Perfect Valor” at the GI Film Festival in Washington DC.

Peabody Award winning Producer, David C. Taylor and noted contemporary author and military historian, Richard S. Lowry, (Marines in the Garden of Eden) have worked tirelessly with the talented production staff to create a compelling tribute to all the men and women who served in Iraq.

Read more: Perfect Valor

Thailand Cracking?

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Posted from Malaysia
13 April 2009

[This dispatch is in the "RUBS" format.  (Rough, Unedited and Barely Spell checked.)  I can convey much more information and more timely by occasionally bursting out via stream of consciousness.]

Back in October 2008, I emailed Dana Lewis, an interesting journalist who was traveling between Afghanistan, Dubai and Moscow:

"This is odd in Thailand.  Nobody is saying much about it, but there is a vague chance, I think, they could go to war.  Emotions running very high.  On the surface, if you were a traveler, all would look fine.  But I know a lot of Thai people and for years they never brought up politics.  I was out with some bankers on Saturday, and the politics came up.  I was out with a very high ranking policeman yesterday, and politics was coming up even though I was with his family.  Would be sad to see this place start to falter."

Read more: Thailand Cracking?

War Council

3 Comments

10 April 2009

General Raymond Odierno undoubtedly has greater understanding of the current state of the Iraq war than anyone in uniform or out.  I am one citizen who will wholeheartedly support President Obama on Iraq so long as he acts on the expert council of General Odierno.  We can fumble Iraq.  Listening to Odierno is absolutely crucial to avert that disaster.

Read more: War Council

Mis-link

2 Comments

10 April 2009

A reader correctly pointed out that I mis-linked a story.  In fact, we seem to have swapped links during the editing process.  Going into our 5th year, this appears to be the first time this has happened, and we greatly appreciate that a reader pointed out the error in the dispatch titled: Classic

There were no actual misquotes or misrepresentations, just an address incorrectly hyperlinked to a related story.  Still, that is too much, and the reader feedback is greatly appreciated.

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Thailand Unrest

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Spot Report

10 April 2009
(1615 Thailand time)

Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

The growing unrest in Thailand is difficult to decipher.  When I attended peace rallies (that turned violent) in the United States, I never had the feeling that the United States was about to erupt in violence.  Underlying stability was obvious.  Here in Thailand, there also seems to be widespread basic stability, but this is more difficult to estimate.

I do know that national bank offices were practicing yesterday for possible emergencies today.  They were preparing for emergencies such as arson, robbery/looting.  Yesterday, Thursday, the banks were still deciding whether to open today.  Today the banks are open and I walked into a branch just a short distance from protesters in Chiang Mai.  There were many customers and all seemed normal.

Read more: Thailand Unrest

More Photos for You

32 Comments

09 April 2009

Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

This morning some monks performed a ritual under a tree near my door.  I did not want to intrude upon their tranquility with a camera, so I modestly enjoyed the moment, knowing that in just a few days I would walk into another, very different land.

In Laos, a few days ago, I awoke before sunrise to photograph monks collecting morning alms in Luang Prabang.  Perhaps a hundred monks from the local temples collected alms from the people.  After the transaction the monks and the people dispersed into the cool morning.  In the great book of days, people were busy writing the pages of their lives.

Read more: More Photos for You

A Photo for You

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Luang Prabang, Laos
07 April 2009

The sun had already set when I settled the bill at l’Elephant and walked up the darkening street away from the Mekong.  This small town with French ambiance and Asian culture is calming, very calming compared to the wars.
 
The night was cool and quiet and there were no mosquitoes.  No sounds of birds although I saw a few sparrows.  During my last trip to Laos, I ate baked swallows along with beetle soup.  People eat practically everything in Laos.  Fresh bats can be bought in a local market, and live frogs whose legs have been broken.  Without refrigeration, they keep the frogs alive so the meat will not spoil, and break their legs to prevent escape.

Read more: A Photo for You

Classic

6 Comments

07 April 2009

War correspondent Matt Sanchez emailed saying he authored this FOX story.

Mr. Sanchez also wrote:

"You're looking at this from a rational, dispassionate, journalistic point of view--that's a mistake.  I wrote that article on Mexico and I had one side calling me a traitor (Sanchez denouncing Mexico) another side claiming I was slandering gun dealers and insisting I was a New York liberal.  You just can't win in this one.  Stick to the facts."

Read more: Classic

American Guns and Mexicans

85 Comments

06 April 2009

It would appear that the Mexico situation carries enough emotional potential – in North America – to dwarf anything we saw on Iraq.  Afghanistan is more like a martial metronome, or a software program that’s running in the background; we only notice when it crashes.

Read more: American Guns and Mexicans

Taliban Beating Girl

18 Comments

05 April 2009
Luang Prabang, Laos

A concerned reader passed this along.  Gateway Pundit posted commentary and a video link of Taliban savages flogging a girl in public.  I recommend viewing this disturbing video.  While watching, one can only dream of a bunch of U.S. Marines bursting in to confront these savages man to man.  Please watch the video on Gateway Pundit -- Where Hope Finally Made a Comeback -- and spread the link far and wide.


Dear Mexico: Stop Whining

7 Comments

03 April 2009

Speaking not as a writer, but only as an American citizen, there are a few “irritants” as one learns more about the AmMex drug/criminal war.  Firstly, there seems little doubt that many guns are coming from the United States.  And so on this issue, the United States seems to be taking most of the blame.  Okay, got it, though the main points remain in dispute at this time.  Yet when we switch the subject to drugs, suddenly the United States is also to blame because we are the big user.

Read more: Dear Mexico: Stop Whining

Black Market

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03 April 2009

I’m heading to Laos in a few hours and so comms likely will be tenuous.  Meanwhile, the war continues to unfold.  A reader sent the following story about the black market of war supplies in Pakistan.  I saw the same in Iraq.  Up in the Kurdish region, there are vibrant markets selling, for instance, AN PVS-14 night vision gear.  The same kind that most of the soldiers and I use in combat.  American uniforms are sold, and most anything else imaginable.  I recall seeing similar items, only Russian, being sold in Polish markets during the early 90s.  I bought a Russian night vision device.  It was terrible compared to ours.  There are also vibrant black markets outside of U.S. military bases in the United States.  This is not the end of the world.  Just another “thing.”

Read more: Black Market

Wife Rape

13 Comments

03 April 2009
 
The "law" is a fascinating topic.  When I was young, I read many dozens of books written by lawyers.  When the vignette linked below landed on my desk, it conjured memories of stories about American trials wherein wives accused husbands of rape.  Yet often the courts did not recognize that it was legally possible for a husband to rape his wife.  This was America.

Read more: Wife Rape

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