Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Counter IED training in Norway: Day Two

04 September 2012

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Day two of Ground Sign Awareness (GSA) training has just come to a close.  Before I get cracking on tonight’s homework assignment, here comes a quick, unedited dispatch.  Please excuse the roughness.  Time is limited.

Today started with a short written test about yesterday’s lessons and last night’s homework.  After the quiz, there were a few hours of classroom instruction on the elements of sign, and what affects sign, such as weather, time, terrain, and spoor.  Spoor is a Dutch word, and for purposes of our instruction, spoor is caused by animals and bugs.  After that, we headed to the field and began numerous ground exercises.

Read more: Counter IED training in Norway: Day Two

Counter IED Course in Norway: Day One

03 September 2012

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The Norwegian military is conducting CIED (counter-IED) training, and I was lucky to be invited.  The course is run by Pencari LTD.  The instructors are recently retired British Soldiers/Marines that I got to know at the British tracking school in Brunei, on Borneo.

This course will last two weeks, and we just finished Day 1 of training.  Each day after training, I will try to publish something.  This may not always be possible because some training is at night and there will be time demands.  Please also excuse that these brief dispatches will be unedited.  And I am jetlagged and will be tired after training, so please read this at risk.

This class consists of eight students.  All are combat veterans of Afghanistan and/or Iraq, and some have similar experiences elsewhere.  Two students are US Marines.  One is recently retired EOD, and the other is an active duty “Gunny” with six combat tours behind him.  (Five in Iraq, one in Afghanistan.)  The six Norwegians are engineers and between them there is considerable downrange experience.  And so there is not a single beginner in this class, and the instructors are expert trackers and retired military men.

When we came to the base today, a Norwegian officer gave me some ground rules, but they know my work and so the ground rules are to use common sense and if you have a question make sure to ask regarding OPSEC.  And so if we come across anything that is questionable, I will run it past my Norwegian hosts, but in reality there probably will be no security issues because this training is not secret.

This class is not so much about tracking but what they call GSA.  GSA is Ground Sign Awareness.  GSA is essential for becoming an expert tracker, and GSA usually is all that is needed to spot IEDs.  I have had only three weeks of professional tracking training (by the British military, and specifically by these instructors in 2009), and so I am far from expert.  However, after the British tracking school, I was sold on the value of tracking and GSA for saving lives in Afghanistan.  All of the combat veterans that I know who have had tracking or GSA training, are completely sold on the value for saving lives and killing bad guys.

But one thing you learn early on in tracking training is that it is like a martial art, in the sense that there are very many styles and philosophies for tracking.  There are many ways to crack this egg.

The British Army finally is taking tracking (GSA, actually) seriously, as are the Norwegians, Dutch and Danish.  This inexpensive training can save a ton of American lives, but we do not take it seriously.  Actually, the Marines seem to be taking it more earnestly.  To be sure, I think we Americans do not take it seriously in part due to misunderstanding the value, and we think it is some kind of magic art and we prefer things that use batteries instead of simple eyeballs.  And do not forget the part about it being so inexpensive.  This training is dirt cheap, and contractors can’t sell billions of dollars of gizmos.  The fact is, the number one detector of IEDs continues to be the human eye, but our training in this field is pathetic.  It does not cost enough.  Now, if we could market it along with selling bionic eyeballs that take pesky humans out of the equation, Congress might be demanding the military take it.

Today the class started at 0800, and we had a couple hours of classroom work and then went to an indoor sandpit that the Norwegians use for training.  (Winters here are severe, and there is no way to do winter training in the sand outside.)  We then conducted more classroom work and headed out to the field.

The Norwegians brought a small, black moose-tracking dog.  He only weighs about 20 pounds, maximum, and is very energetic.  Maybe I am the first American that moose dog ever met, but he sure was happy to say hello and wanted to play.  Then he started digging a hole for some reason that only moose-dog knows.  In any case, we did not see any moose.  They say there are sometimes bears here, but not often, and that wolves are taking hold.

Among the various topics covered today was detecting when people are walking backwards, as when laying command wire to an IED. Sometimes the instructors would talk for ten minutes about a single track, and then would ask students to explain every detail of what they were seeing.  Flattening, disturbance, regularity, discoloration, transfer, etc.  We practiced a bit on estimating enemy strength.

Rena, Norway is north like Alaska.  And so the sun hangs low in the sky, which can be great for tracking.  Generally speaking, you want to keep the track between you and the sun so that shadows will pop out.  If you walk around a track as a test of the importance of sun position, you might be surprised.  When the sun is to your back the tracks can vanish, but then as you circle the track you might see that sometimes there is no way you can miss it, while other times (unless you are Mr. Expert) there is no way you will see it.  Again, as a general rule, it is best to keep the track between you and the sun.  And if it is noon on the equator, you might want to take a tracking siesta until the sun goes lower.

Well, I need to close down for now.  The instructors are out emplacing IEDs (not real ones, of course), that we will be training with tomorrow, and they left us with a homework assignment that I must study.

Netherlands: Why I Chose the Gun

02 September 2012

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There are elements within the Netherlands that wish to dismantle the Dutch Army.  The Dutch military, as General Petraeus once told me, “Punches above its weight class.”  And it is true.  They perform well in Afghanistan and are a valued friend, and military ally.

That some people wish to dismantle the Dutch Army indicates that they are not sensitive to the realities we live with.  The Netherlands is a serious country.  It leaves a footprint where it walks.  The Netherlands should keep a strong military to guard the foot that makes that valuable and positive influence.  This is serious business.

Those who wish to dismantle the Dutch Army should listen to this wise man.

Apache Apocalypse: Real Faces of War

01 September 2012

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People who are uncomfortable with methodically killing the enemy have no place in combat units.  People who are uncomfortable with the idea of being blown to pieces should not go to war.

This combat video is only a small taste, a whiff, of reality.  Many Americans love to hoot and holler and cheer and celebrate as we kill and dismember the enemies.  The U.S. military itself releases the videos on a common basis, and I have released worse from my own camera.

Read more: Apache Apocalypse: Real Faces of War

North to Norway: Pencari Tracking

27 August 2012

photo2-1000Bomb dog that walked over Bomb in Sangin, Afghanistan (Helmand 2010)

At this rate, 2012 will be the first year since 2004 that I have not stepped into a war.  An invitation came last week to attend a combat tracking course in Norway.   I received a similar invitation several years ago to attend a British military tracking school in Brunei on the island of Borneo.  The British school was excellent.

Read more: North to Norway: Pencari Tracking

Afghanistan: CUT LOSSES

23 August 2012

image001-1000U.S. Rocket Strike, Kandahar Province, 2011

Most people likely wish to hear that everything will turn out right in Afghanistan.  The reality is that it will not end well.  This bastard war will have a thousand fathers and nobody will claim it.

In 2009, I wrote, “If a writer wants to make money, he should avoid truth and tell people what they want to hear.  Yet to win the war, tell the truth.”

Since 2006, at minimum, the AfPak war on the whole has been going down.  Only in 2010 [correction 2011] did I see some flicker of hope for a change of direction.  In my view, that flicker has been snuffed.  And writing truthfully about Afghanistan will never pay the bills, because I have nothing to say that people want to hear.  It is just bad news atop more bad news.

Read more: Afghanistan: CUT LOSSES

War Is Not Necessarily the Cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

20 August 2012

An interesting study of Danish troops and PTSD has been released.  (Link at the bottom.)  An informed group of people was talking about it on a private forum, where I saw this comment from Robert Goldich.  Mr. Goldich is smart and experienced, and so I normally stop to see what he has to say.  I republish his words with permission:

Read more: War Is Not Necessarily the Cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Dishonorable Disclosures

19 August 2012

Many people have alerted me to a copyright violation of my work in this video. Thank you. There is a clear violation. And for that, for starters, I could demand that the video be removed from the Internet until my work is removed. Refusal to do so could have serious consequences. The video has had nearly two million views in three days, and so monetary compensation would be a no-brainer. In particular, I do not allow my work to be used for politics on any side.

There have been some serious OPSEC violations, and this video makes an important point. However, inclusion of my work indicates inclusion of me with people I do not know. (Not to mention that inclusion of my work is illegal).

Read more: Dishonorable Disclosures

Man-tracking Success in Australia

17 August 2012

This is an interesting account of tracking and counter-tracking after an ugly murder in Australia.  It was sent to me by The Scott Donelan Tracking School.  It is very difficult to evade a skilled tracking team -- something I learned at the British tracking school in Brunei, on Borneo Island.  The man they were tracking was using shrewd counter-tracking but they still got him.

Great job:

Background

Jonathon Stenberg is suspected of killing 54-year-old Edward "Ned" Kelly at his home in Broadwater, a small town on the NSW north coast, in what is believed to be a neighbourhood dispute.  It is believed that this occurred on the 21st of June 2012.

Kelly's headless corpse was found in his kitchen, with a hat placed on top of his body. His head has not been found.

Detectives conducted inquiries and identified Stenberg as a suspect in the murder.  Inquiries later suggested that Stenberg had travelled by vehicle into the Northern Territory (NT) and the NT Police were subsequently notified.

On the 26th of June Stenberg was observed by an off-duty Police officer driving his vehicle in the Berry Springs area South of Darwin, NT.  Stenberg drove his vehicle from the main road and onto a dirt track where he made an attempt to camouflage his car.

Members of the NT Tactical Response Group (TRG) arrived at the area a short time later in an armoured Bearcat and located Stenberg’s abandoned vehicle.  A search of the area was conducted which including the use of a tracking dog however Stenberg was unable to be located.  The vehicle was removed from the area and items located within it included a bolt action rifle, solar panels and food supplies.

Further searches were conducted over the following days utilising aircraft and ground searches.  Road blocks were maintained around the 45sq km search area.

Read more: Man-tracking Success in Australia

Soldiers’ Angels Responds

15 August 2012

I asked board members of Soldiers’ Angels who owns the Soldiers’ Angels warehouse in San Antonio.   A Soldiers' Angel said I should ask a board member, and during due diligence I asked Board Member Mark Seavey.

Mr. Seavey just replied:

“Do your own damn research, it's not like a property search wouldn't come up with it.  The easy thing to do would be just to tell you and let you realize for yourself that your barking up yet another misbeggotten tree, but since you claim to have sources so close to SA you must already know.  Keen job on that scoop about the T-shirts though, I was particularly impressed with how you saw through our subterfuge of claiming it on IRS forms.  Any chances of you getting civil answers from me went out the window when you decided to classlessly scare the shit out of my wife with dire predictions of legs being blown off during my embed, which you then said didn't happen, despite it being on the cover of the 24th largest magazine in the US (2.2 million copies.)

“Still waiting on the legal expert who agrees with your assertion that flying over the Taliban constitutes a violation of the GC [Geneva Conventions].  When I get that, I'll send you the landlord's name and number.”

It is telling that Mr. Seavey admits in the second paragraph to his involvement in the MEDEVAC issue.  Soldiers’ Angels previously made a statement that they were not involved, and yet this board member comes out again showing that the opposite is true.

The constant aggressiveness from the Soldiers' Angels leadership is astounding.  Where are the angels and the love?

Please see my Facebook.

Naked Angels: Busted

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14 August 2012

The multi-million dollar charity Soldiers' Angels has funneled donations to a company owned in part by a son of the founder.

The son's name is Brandon Varn.

Mr. Varn and his partner, Brian Harman, founded a t-shirt company in Nevada.  According to public records, their company, "Boodam and the Beav, Inc.," was established in 2008 in Las Vegas.

Read more: Naked Angels: Busted

10 Police Killed: An Update

14 August 2012

Last week it was reported that ten police were killed in Nimroz Province, Afghanistan.  In total, eleven were reported killed, including the assailant.  I got an interesting, single-source report from Afghanistan on this.  Details are a bit shaky but are interesting enough to mention:

It appears that an enemy of some sort, who was from Khashrood, was in negotiations for several days about surrendering after some fighting.  Apparently the negotiations were going by phone.  Eventually the guy turned himself in.  The Afghan Highway Police apparently were too trusting.  The assailant was related to the AHP commander.  He was let into the checkpoint, where there were AKs, PKM machineguns, and grenades.  I was told that he was “untied” and that they trusted him.  He started killing everyone, including his relative, the AHP commander, also from Khashrood.

Mehrab Shot and Killed

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12 August 2012

A sad message came from Afghanistan.  Mehrab, who is known to some readers of my website, has been shot and killed.  I and many others greatly liked Mehrab.  He took good care of us in Jalalabad.  Every time I want to forget about Afghanistan, the names and faces of the good Afghans flood in, and Mehrab was one of them.  Mehrab will be missed by people in many countries.  Rest in peace from Thailand.

This is the sad note:

Ladies and Gentleman,

It is with great regret that I have to report to you some very sad news. This morning I was informed from Jalalabad that the Mehrab (Dr Mehrabudding Sirajuddin) the manager of the Taj was shot and killed by AGE yesterday. It seems it happened just a few hundred meters from his house in Najm-ul-Jihad close to [Jalalabad] city. His funeral is this morning at 0930 and I have passed on our condolences.

As you are all aware Mehrab was pivotal in the Taj and looked after us for a number of years and also went back along way with the UNICA compound in [Jalalabad].

Please pass to anyone who may have known him as he serves as part of our great memories and times in the Taj Jalalabad

MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE

GREEN on BLUE: Insider Attacks Rising

12 August 2012

It will be difficult to keep even a small Special Forces footprint in Afghanistan with these increasingly effective insider attacks.  And we do not hear a word of apology from Karzai.   This whole affair is sad.  Time to bring home our main  battle force:

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Three United States Marines have been shot dead by an Afghan worker on a military base in southern Afghanistan, in a deadly 24 hours for Nato-led forces during which six American soldiers were killed in rogue attacks.

The shooting took place on Friday night in the Garmsir district of Helmand province, where three US special forces soldiers were killed by an Afghan policeman and comrades earlier in the day.

Read more: GREEN on BLUE: Insider Attacks Rising

Accused Scammers: Another Large Veteran's Charity

11 August 2012

Government and private watchdogs are on the heels of another large charity.  The charity Help Hospitalized Veterans is accused of scamming millions.  One of those watchdogs, Charity Navigator, similarly outed Soldiers' Angels with a 1-star financial rating in 2012.

Many reports and statements are unfolding in the media, such as:

"At the same time, it has ranked for more than a decade at the bottom of lists by watchdog groups that rate nonprofit organizations based on their financial management and abilities to use most of their donations toward their causes. CharityWatch says about 35 percent of Help Hospitalized Veterans' funds go toward programs to aid veterans. The recommended standard is about 65 percent."

And...

"According to Charity Navigator, a third of the 50 military veterans charities it evaluates rate poorly and 20 percent either got a zero for their financial management or a "donor advisory" tag, which indicates the organizations are being investigated by authorities.

"That compares to 2 percent for other kinds of charities, said Ken Berger, the president of the Washington-based group that evaluates 5,500 charities."

See more:

http://www.mercurynews.com/

http://www.charitynavigator.org/

Another Bad Week in Afghanistan

10 August 2012

Approximately 13 Coalition members have been killed over the period of a week.  In fact, this sad reality is normal.  There is another report today that three Special Forces Soldiers were murdered by Afghan Security Forces.

Earlier in the week was also a massive suicide bomb.  It could have been much worse.  One source in Afghanistan sent me a photo from just as the attack unfolded.  The mushroom cloud was huge.  Another source mentioned that some of our KIA were leaving Camp Fiaz in Asadabad.  They were heading toward a meeting at the governor’s office and were hit at a choke point that was a bridge.

Read more: Another Bad Week in Afghanistan

Fraud Allegations against Publisher Richard Vigilante

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My previous publisher (I fired him) has been accused of fraud for not delivering large numbers of "Iraq: Inside the Inferno" that customers paid for. We are still having major problems with Vigilante. My apologies. This has been a tragedy for the book. If you paid for a book and did not receive it, please send proof of purchase to Karen Kraft at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and copy to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Vigilante might sue me for saying this. If so, we will make a long series of stories about the case and how it unfolded, and how it unfolds. Should make for an interesting series.

Curiosity Did Not Land on Mars

09 August 2012

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Curiosity did not land on Mars, but in the Dasht-i-Margo (Desert of Death) Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.  This looks amazingly like Afghanistan, including two small IED craters on the left-front.

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