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A Moment of Opportunity for the New Media

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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.”

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Bloody Border, Messy Politics

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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.

Read more: Bloody Border, Messy Politics

Are You Connected?

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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.

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Brother, Can You Spare an Afghani?

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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.”

William Faulkner

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.

Read more: Brother, Can You Spare an Afghani?

Jurassic Trailer Park

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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.

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The Road to Hell

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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.

Read more: The Road to Hell

Life Before Death

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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.

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Compounds

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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.

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Moment of Truth in Iraq Photography Exhibit

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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.

Michael



Picture Perfect Frame Shops, Inc.                           
4525 South Florida Avenue, Suite 28                       
Lakeland, Fl 33813

(863)-644-9951   

 

Exhibit Hours :
Mon, Tue, Wed , + Fri             9am-6pm
Thur                                           9am-8pm
Sat                                             9am-4pm


Grand Opening on September 25 starting at 9:00 a.m.

Whatzis?

99 Comments

24 September 2008
Jalalabad, Afghanistan


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.

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French and NATO Intentionally Deceiving the Public

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22 September 2008

Afghanistan

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:

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Death in the Corn: Part III of III

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British 2 Para snipers search for the local “sniper” taking potshots at FOB Gibraltar.

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.

Read more: Death in the Corn: Part III of III

Totally Wrong?

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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.

Read more: Totally Wrong?

Secret Report detailing French deaths in Afghanistan

19 Comments 20 September 2008

I was able to carefully read the secret NATO/ISAF report cited in this news story, which does a good job of reporting the facts in the report.   Photographs published in the report showed very accurate fire on vehicles, which supports the claim that the Taliban are becoming more proficient with their small arms fire.  The document also indicated that the Taliban had used armor piercing bullets in the ambush.  The French soldiers were completely unprepared for this level of combat.  Apparently, the survivors were rescued by American forces, including "Green Berets" who were nearby.

Michael

Read more: Secret Report detailing French deaths in Afghanistan

Death in the Corn: Part II of III

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Published: 17 September 2008

The ambush was set, but “Terry” Taliban didn’t step into it. The most successful hunters are not the ones who bag something every time, but the ones who hunt all the time, and 2 Para has been hunting the most dangerous prey. The soldiers of C-co 2 Para are not sure how many they’ve killed in the past five months, but the estimates are around 200, and during the days I spent with them, their average daily kill would put them well over that number.

Moving out of our ambush position, we set off from the ANA (Afghan National Army) compound to “tab” (walk) back to Gib, watching every step. While a soldier with a metal detector swept a skinny path ahead, other soldiers scanned the flanks, simultaneously trying to step in the prints just laid. The soldiers watched not only for ambush and mines and other bombs, but for “dickers.” Dicker is a British term derived from the war in Northern Ireland, where the enemy had a simple but effective system of look-outs to track British patrols and activities.

Read more: Death in the Corn: Part II of III

Death in the Corn: Part I of III

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Published: 15 September 2008
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

FOB Gibraltar: made from an abandoned farmer’s compound.

The soldiers are living like animals at a little rat’s nest called FOB Gibraltar. They call it “Gib.” Named after the lynchpin of British naval dominance in the Mediterranean, this cluster of mud huts in the middle of hostile territory is more like Fort Apache, Afghanistan. The British soldiers from C-Company 2 Para live in ugly conditions, fight just about every day, and morale is the best I have seen probably anywhere.

Read more: Death in the Corn: Part I of III

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