- Published: Wednesday, 03 December 2008 21:04
Published: 01 December 2008
Zabul Province, Afghanistan
(Travel from Iraq to Afghanistan, and needless bureaucratic delays, nearly killed this dispatch. Though many photos were made during the recent journey in Iraq, none are included here. Bureaucracy unrelated to our combat forces continues to steal frontline photos and words from your screen. We seem to have two Armies: One Army of true soldiers moving mountains to win wars, while the other Army does everything possible to break the machine while playing soldier. Though I am with excellent U.S. forces in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, this dispatch describes my final “mission” with outstanding soldiers in Iraq.)
25 November 2008
On November 13th I covered a mission in south Baghdad with soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division. General Petraeus once told me during the height of the fighting, back when violence was the lingua franca and victory was very much in question, that this area was the canary in the mineshaft. In his exact words regarding what Lieutenant Colonel Pat Frank had to deal with in one of the toughest places in Iraq, “SW Baghdad...has every challenge imaginable -- AQI, JAM, micro-fault-lines, good/bad ISF partners, good/bad neighborhood leaders, and Route Irish! It will be the canary in the mineshaft; if they can pull it off, this will be doable....”
24 November 2008
Michael called by satellite phone. He is in a remote area of Afghanistan with US and Afghan forces. Michael reports that his satellite internet gear is non-functional. He has no access to internet. Please see his dispatch in the New York Post today. Michael did mention that morale among US and Afghan forces is high. More Later.
Published: 19 November 2008
Between 2007 and 2008, I got to know a man in South Baghdad whose codename was “Bishop.” This is the short story of his life.
His parents were Kurdish Sunnis. They moved to Baghdad 34 years ago – recently married and excited to make a new life for themselves and create a family. Bishop’s real name was Bashar Akram Ameen; the name given to him when he was born on October 6, 1978 in the Abu Ghraib apartments in Baghdad. Bashar had three sisters and one brother. His schooling included graduating from a Baghdad high school in the class of ’96 and attending the Agriculture College of Baghdad University from 1997 until 2002 when he graduated. America had just set its sights on toppling Saddam.
Shortly after graduating, Bashar began service in the Iraqi Army Reserve, but that lasted only three months, because the U.S. crushed a great part of the Iraqi Army and then officially dissolved the rest. For three months, Bashar was one of those unemployed young men we worried about. He got a job in October of 2003 as a bodyguard for an Iraqi judge. His first job didn’t last long because insurgents assassinated the judge. Feeling lost and a bit frightened, Bashar decided to look for a “safer” job, and began interpreting for, as he called it, “the Sally Port Security Company” in al-Mansour, Baghdad. Insurgents in his neighborhood figured out that he was working for an American company, and on February 21, 2006, as he left his job at 6:00 pm, they started shooting at him in his car, “…but I miraculously survived,” Bashar explained to me, “and that was the reason to leave my job at that company.”
10 November 2008
The Iraq war is over. Barring the unforeseen, the darkest days are behind, though we are still losing soldiers to low-level fighting with enemies that are true “dead-enders.” Last month we lost seven Americans in combat in Iraq. Peace, however, is not upon us. Another thirty or so Iraqis died today in suicide attacks. Nobody suffers more at the hands of Islamic terrorists than other Muslims.
A new President will soon begin to make critical decisions about Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis at home, and countless other matters. While the Iraq war began, then boiled and finally cooled before President-elect Obama will be sworn into office on January 20th, 2009, the Afghanistan-Pakistan spectacle is just getting started. He was always a fierce opponent of our involvement in Iraq. And, as with so many Democrats in the Senate, he argued frequently, during the campaign, that we should have been focused on Afghanistan all along, because it is the real incubator of the international terrorist threat. Timing being everything, our new President will get his wish. Afghanistan now moves to center stage. The conflicts in Afghanistan and between Afghanistan and Pakistan have the simmering potential to overshadow anything we’ve seen in Iraq. Here are a few things I hope he understands:
30 October 2008
Big Media is taking a big hit during this global economic avalanche. As New York Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena noted in the October 23, 2008, paper of record, “The New York Times Company reported a 51.4 percent decline in third-quarter profit on Thursday and swung to a loss on continuing operations as deeper-than-expected expense cuts could not keep pace with falling revenue.”
27 October 2008
Yesterday, U.S. special operations forces struck positions across the Syrian-Iraq order, inside of Syria, apparently killing nine people, most of whom were non-Syrian Arab fighters on their way into Iraq. Of course there is a great cry rising from the Syrians today.
For years, tons of explosives and a long line of foreign terrorists have streamed across the Syrian border into Anbar Province and Nineveh Province, Iraq. I must have spent a total of about nine months in Nineveh, about eight of which were in the capital of Mosul, and another month in Anbar.
02 November 2008
Many esteemed and influential people have been privately debating the question: “Is it Possible to Win the U.S. Presidency by Fraud and Deception?” We already know the answer, don’t we?
Published: 26 October 2008
In a war where information can be more powerful than massed forces, the cellphone is a weapon. Insurgents the world over use cellphones to transmit messages, record photos and videos, and sometimes just to chat. They can record video of an attack, and transmit that video within a minute. U.S. and other technologically adept forces use machines to target cell phones.
This is no secret. Not to the enemy, at least.
I am especially careful not to compromise operational security (OPSEC). There are many photographs and potential dispatches that will never be published here because I do not want to risk jeopardizing our effort. The military forces with which I embed have clear guidelines to protect OPSEC. But war correspondents can learn just as much, or even more, while unembedded, and those times are not covered by guidelines. Still, I am just as cautious while unilateral. Often OPSEC is compromised, not because journalists knowingly publish sensitive information, but because they don’t know what the enemy might learn from the news they share with their audience. Others just don’t care, or publicize sensitive information for one-upmanship or profit.
Published: 22 October 2008
“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
Traveling along the roads of Afghanistan (when there are roads) provides a different perspective on life back home. Folks in the U.S. are worried about the economy, and while I can understand that many are struggling, it’s easy to forget how much we still have. In Afghanistan, and other countries all over the world, there are many people who literally beg for their next meals.
Road from Kabul to Jalalabad
20 October 2008
Afghanistan is like time traveling. Vast expanses of rugged landscape, mostly unadorned by man-made structures, all framed by stories of savagery and conquest, create a picture of forever. A sense that human and geologic changes occur at nearly the same pace. Many of the people remain arguably “pre-historic” in the sense that illiterate people do not chronicle their knowledge and experience into writing or durable art. Moving around the countryside, a man could half expect to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex come stomping over a ridge.
My friend Tim Lynch, a retired infantry officer who has lived four years in Afghanistan, had mentioned there are caves near Jalalabad, and when the sun sinks, bats take flight by the thousands. That sounded fun to watch; I did some caving (amateurs call it “spelunking”) in North Carolina and Tennessee, and was always amazed at the swarms of bats down in the bowels of earth. In Florida, I would sometimes venture onto the campus of the University of Florida, just as the squawking flocks of white ibis were settling into their rookery on Lake Alice. The night shift would come out and tens of thousands of bats would take flight right over my head, then over the lake, while the alligators began their evening hunt.
The Wilds, Afghanistan
Since leaving the British embed, I’ve gone unilateral. I flew back and forth between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, drove around and talked with people down south, then flew up to Kabul. In Kabul, I met Tim Lynch and Shem Klimiuk (a retired USMC and ex-Aussie paratrooper, respectively), and we drove in an unarmored truck east to Jalalabad. The canyon-filled drive would be dangerous even if there was no war, but there is a war – a rapidly growing one — and Tim pointed out burnt spots on the road where ambushes had occurred. I was unarmed, and counting on the military experience of my two guides as well as their combined seven years experience in Afghanistan. In the weeks that I would spend with Tim and Shem, we drove more than a thousand miles up and down Afghan roads without the slightest drama, except that Tim scares me with his driving. If you are rich and want the adventure of a lifetime, contact Tim Lynch. You might die. But if you live, you’ll come back with a new perspective on Afghanistan.
Published: 6 October 2008
From four Provinces, Afghanistan
I left embed with British forces in Kandahar, and flew to Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand Province. Helmand is the biggest opium source of the world today. I write these words from Nangarhar, where bin Laden had made his home.
Some days ago I visited the bazaar at Jalalabad, and took a bunch of colorful photographs and met many friendly people. Walking through Jalalabad, one could almost forget there was a war. But for the most part, this war is today being fought not in the cities, but the villages and small family compounds where most Afghanis live.
Urban counterinsurgency can be incredibly dangerous, yet the population has a common life. City dwellers are dependent on civil services like water, sewage and electricity; they often have specialized roles in complex economies. Their feelings and opinions form a political aggregate which both the democrat and terrorist must heed. These elements of common life give the urban population a center of gravity which can reach a tipping point and shift, either toward the insurgent or the government. In Iraq, most people live in cities or towns. When the center of gravity in certain communities began shifting against Al Qaeda and other groups, the shifts had a profound impact on the war. Also, Iraq, as Afghanistan, has powerful tribes which can behave like “voting blocs.” Often they vote with bullets.
I am very happy to announce the opening of my first photography exhibit. During my travels I have taken thousands of photos, only a small portion of which have been published. Some of these images will be on public view for the first time when Picture Perfect Frame Shop in Lakeland, Florida, hosts the Moment of Truth in Iraq Photo Exhibit. From September 25 to November 8, the gallery will feature forty images which have been specially prepared for this event. All images will be available for purchase, along with copies of my books Moment of Truth in Iraq and Danger Close. The proceeds will help fund my work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although I will be in Afghanistan, I cordially welcome everybody who can make it. If you’re in the Central Florida area, please come see the exhibit. It will really mean a lot to me.
Picture Perfect Frame Shops, Inc.
4525 South Florida Avenue, Suite 28
Lakeland, Fl 33813
Exhibit Hours :
Mon, Tue, Wed , + Fri 9am-6pm
Grand Opening on September 25 starting at 9:00 a.m.
24 September 2008
The shawal kameez is standard wear for Afghan men. Since I plan to spend a great deal of time exploring Afghanistan unembedded, I headed into downtown Jalalabad to pick out the material and get fitted by a local tailor. My Afghan guide and I walked through the markets for nearly two hours. The only western presence we encountered was when two American OH 58 Kiowa helicopters flew high overhead, and I wondered for a moment if I might know the pilots.
22 September 2008
NATO and the French military continue to deny that a secret report exists concerning the loss of ten French soldiers last month in Afghanistan. For the record, I have no intention of publishing any part of the secret report. Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper heavily cited the report, and I merely confirmed that the report does in fact exist, that the newspaper article accurately reflected the contents of the report, and warned that if NATO and the French military maintained their position that the report was either inaccurate or nonexistent, they might find themselves contradicted by its publication. More importantly, the document was handed to me with zero expectation that I would keep it secret. In fact, there seemed to be an expectation that I might publish something, though I did keep it secret, other than to verify the Globe and Mail story.
Below is my original post:
Published: 22 September 2008
Living with British troops of 2 Para at FOB Gibraltar and watching them fight, I witnessed one of the great paradoxes of Afghanistan. The troops are fighting hard and killing the enemy. They are professional and extremely competent. Their morale is high. They are doing a great job. And we are losing the war.
Their troubles with a local sniper demonstrate some of the complexities and frustrations of this war, which the British public don’t even call a “war.” The British soldiers know this is a real war, but the British at home characterize it as a “conflict.” Meanwhile, Americans at home seem to mostly have forgotten about Afghanistan, though luckily they are starting to wake up. Yet it’s obvious here on the ground that this situation could deteriorate into something far worse than we ever saw in Iraq.
21 September 2008
Yesterday (20 September 2008), I linked an article in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail concerning the Taliban ambush of French troops in Afghanistan on August 18. The article was based on a secret report that I have read very carefully. The Globe and Mail article described the contents of the report accurately.