Michael's Dispatches

Of Concern

231 Comments

Monday, 08 March 2010
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Yesterday, an American involved in the war effort handed me a document. It was an email from a Lieutenant Colonel in the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. His unit is in combat seven days a week. To be clear, I did not get the email from the officer and I have never met him.

The email is about the abysmal, unsafe conditions which some of our most dedicated troops are living in, at a remote base run by the Spanish military in Afghanistan. All deletions [xxx] are by me. I have the entire email. The serious and disturbing allegations are found in the second and third paragraphs.

Please note, that the failure to support permanent US troops at this Spanish base constitutes real negligence about their ultimate safety. And that comes on top of a degree of harassment that is shocking among allies.

The message begins:

Gentlemen,
I just finished spending a couple days with TF [xxx] at [xxx] and visiting all of our sites that we have troopers located at. Great progress continues to be made in the [xxx], but several items need some help ASAP:

[Para 1 deleted]

2) Qal E Naw: The Spanish are not interested in helping in anyway, and are trying to make us decide to leave based on their unacceptable treatment of Americans. Our refuelers [soldiers who refuel helicopters] that are living there have to run out, unroll the hoses, pull security, and roll everything back up. They have asked for gravel along the FLS as it is currently calf deep mud, but the Spanish refuse to make any improvements. They asked for a T barrier (just one) to put at a 45 degree angle outside the fence where the FARP [Forward Arming and Refueling Point; where helicopters land for ammo and gas] has to be set up so they can run for cover in case there is small arms fire, the Spanish say no and refuse to make any improvements. They asked for a small gate where their billets are located so they can access the FARP directly rather than going a half mile loop to get out the gate, but the Spanish said no and refuse to make any improvements. They [sic] guys are living hard (we understand that) but have to do laundry by hand as all of their stuff is stolen if they turn it into the laundry, they discussed this with the Spanish, but they refuse to many any improvements.

USFOR-A needs to energize someone to develop a viable, enduring plan for this FARP that isn’t reliant on the Spanish. This is a key hub for fuel (since we can’t get trucks to [xxx] or [xxx]) so let’s improve this location to better support those guys living out there on the edge by themselves. They refused to allow a Marine detachment that was dropped there to come into the wire or feed them overnight. Our refuelers had to fight the Spanish to bring them in and squeeze them into the two small tents that they have and give them MREs as they [sic] Spanish wouldn’t feed them. Is this how we allow our Coalition partners to treat Americans?

3) BmG: Who ever briefed that they have gravel there has never been there. We arrived during a TIC [fighting] and a MEDEVAC mission. The aircraft have to land/park in a field that has no gravel and then they sink into the ground. They have to be moved everyday to pull them back out of the mud. If we can’t get gravel, how about putting some AM2 matting, stakes and a couple of Red Horse guys on a CH-47 and fly them in to build a couple of pads just big enough to park an individual UH-60 on? We’ve been pushing the gravel issues since last fall and are no closer to a solution. Those guys are living in fighting positions. When it begins to warm up in the next month, that field will be untenable without gravel or AM2 matting. We don’t want to lose MEDEVAC capability there because we couldn’t put in two pads. We did a MEDEVAC [troop(s) wounded] and Hero [troop(s) killed] mission while I was there and the next day as well, let’s not forget that they are on the tip of the spear, we owe them more.

I would like to discuss these Saturday to see what the way ahead is going to be.

ATW!

On that note, the email closes.

So, our soldiers and Marines, living in rough conditions at the far tip of the spear, apparently are being treated with contempt, with all basic support denied, from laundry to the conditions of the field on which our troops do their thankless job. If this report is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, the Spanish are endangering the lives of our warriors by failing to provide basic safety.

To the extent that there is an international dimension to this potential problem, requiring a diplomatic solution, it deserves the immediate attention of our civilian leadership. Our able Secretary of Defense will likely wish to investigate, and bring it up with our Spanish allies for any corrective measures that might be in order. I will personally see that this gets to Secretary Gates. When Secretary Gates gets wind, we can rest easy that proper attention is forthcoming.

Sincerely,
Michael Yon

 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 8 years ago
    Morale must be desperately low among the Spanish to let themselves be embarrassed in front of another nation's military. I'm sure this is happening elsewhere. Is NATO falling apart?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 8 years ago
    It's little anecdotes that remind me that for even all of its faults, the American military is the most capable in the history of human civilization. All borne on the backs of grunts and support personnel, often strictly based on being too proud to fail.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 8 years ago
    It's little anecdotes that remind me that for even all of its faults, the American military is the most capable in the history of human civilization. All borne on the backs of grunts and support personnel, often strictly based on being too proud to fail.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Capt in ANG, Ci · 8 years ago
    To Morale: I have been in theatre for almost a month. I'm writing this from ISAF HQ in Kabul and will very shortly be moving back over to KAIA (Kandahar Airport). I see Macedonians, Italians, Spaniards, British, Australian, US, and a long list of other nations' troops every minute of every waking day. All are positive, professional and not falling apart. Yes, at times we make fun of each other (esp of Italians who love to stop and talk in the middle of doorways), but it's good natured fun.

    That said, I was surprised when I read this. Yes, I haven't been as far "into the woods" as this report comes, but it's not indicative of the NATO efforts I've witnessed firsthand. I briefly jumped over to my Outlook, to see if Gen McChrystal was on there...and then spend the 10 minutes I'd take contemplating if I wanted to jump the chain and let him know...but his name wasn't there. I went back and finished reading the story, and saw Michael mention going to Gates. In my humble opinion, I'd suggest working the chain before going to the top. Give Gen McChrystal, or one of his 3-star Deputy's a chance to rectify this. It might be a simple miscommunication, or a full blown (as implied) dereliction of duty.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Haakon Dahl · 8 years ago
    NATO is not falling apart. Sounds like Spain is, though.

    IIRC, it was Spanish airspace ownership that cost a guy a leg several years ago.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    thad lucken · 8 years ago
    after al queada hit spain they voted in a ally of castro and hugolito, obama knows this. of course the front is where the least news is going to reach us, and its also where they care the least about whats going on. how many democrat congressmen and women from Michigan or Illinois are going to go out that far from an FOB? answer: none.
    youre doing someone's job for them Mike and I appreciate it immensly. This shouldve never been able to happen, let alone be allowed to continue. I really hat PC warfare and NATO cowards tagging along, dragging their feet just so they can say they went to work with dad one day. COME ON HIGHER!! WAKE THE F UP!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael · 8 years ago
    Invade Qal E Naw;
    Cover combat engineers installing requested (at least) improvements;
    Install effectively a base within a base to support this Forward Helo Support Point;
    Bump the number of personal to take into account minimal self securing and support needs;
    Install minimal basic support for any detachment that stages through overnight.
    Bill Spanish HQ for all the extras they're suppose to be suppling but that we have had to install ourselves.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scalyback · 8 years ago
    This is disgraceful behaviour on the part of the Spanish not NATO. I would like to hear their side of this, but if it is true as I suspect will be the case then it is likely to be a decision made by the local commander. If so cannot the US military address this at a suitable level? Then I trust he would soon be an ex commander. If it is more sinister than that and the local commander is following orders, then certainly get the Defence Dept or whoever involved and quickly! Lastly, can I suggest that calling NATO soldiers cowards is both insulting to those troops doing a dangerous job from whatever nation, and arrogance of the worst kind.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jordan · 8 years ago
    thad lucken you are right our congressmen do not know so we should write to them and tell them. I am sure they will listen if you insist that you will vote in the November elections. Hell I just wrote to my states senators and thank you Michael Yon for providing the updates.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scalyback · 8 years ago
    Is this something that the local commander decided upon? If so surely this could be sorted quite easily through the normal chain of command? I would hope that there are no orders within the Spanish chain of command not to co-operate with US forces, but if this is the case then go to the very top if necessary; that sort of behaviour is beyond contempt.
    Finally, although I understand that this is a very emotive item, can I please ask that phrases such as 'NATO cowards' are not used. That is an insult to the many such soldiers fighting bravely alongside the US.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wind Rider · 8 years ago
    I'd recommend using the strategy you used coveirng the Bridge situation last week. Look into what the chain is, and start identifying those responsible for the continuation of this Bravo Sierra. Push the issue. This isn't merely a personnel comfort issue, it sounds like the Spaniards are pig-headedly refusing to do things to facilitated mission accomplishment - their lack of cooperation is plainly degrading mission effectiveness. My picture of Gerge Washington says this boils down to one or two individuals in the position to be D-heads, that are exercising their option. Make it a question of honor for those above them in the chain, and rattle the HELL out of their tinhorn little cages. Turn the volume up to 11 on this one. If the Spanish OIC's can't keep their heads in the game, then those heads need to figuratively roll.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Austin · 8 years ago
    if that was our FOB, there would be lots of dead Spanish soliders... but there is also a chain of command that should be also looking out for those guys as well. They should never have relied primarily on the Spanish
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joe · 8 years ago
    You should see how the Spanish troops are treated at American Bases in the AOR.. LIKE KINGS! They come and go as they please to eat our fast food shacks, shop at our BX, refuel their vehicles and roll back outside the wire. Nice to see they know how to show their friendship with us. Who needs Al Qaeda when you have friends like the spanish?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    StarCMC · 8 years ago
    I hope you all will do the same. This is absolutely ridiculous - we should not be fighting our "allies" while fighting our enemies.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    libertyandvirtue.com · 8 years ago
    Just look at the government of Spain....you have your answer..they are left wing have no respect for the USA, and are only there because they have to participate being a member of NATO and the EU...Spineless ...US should demand NATO resolve the problems, and tell Spain to get off their lazy butts
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Father of a Lifer · 8 years ago
    Field Grade Officers assigned to staff and logistics do a lot of traveling. They have to use air transport from various Nations. That is where the above quote comes from.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    GW CRawford · 8 years ago
    Please don't Obama the rest of NATO. Canadian soldiers are putting in, proportionally, more then the US. I notice the one American posting further up neglects to mention Canadians at all, just lumping us in with 'other nations'

    Excuse me? We are the third largest contingent and one of the few providing actual combat effective soldiers

    It has been said that the best thing to be is America's enemy and the worst her friend - Canada keeps learning that lesson. We get nailed as untrustworthy by the right, as an economic enemy by the left.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jeff · 8 years ago
    when i was there i seen alot crap like that.when your from the USA kissing ass is part of your job
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JDCR52 · 8 years ago
    Situations like this are why we need a commander in chief who is not afraid to do what is right for America, to do what is best for OUR troops, and to say "screw international relations" if it means endangering our troops or interests. It's the whole reason that George Washington I told us to stay out of international conflicts and entanglements back in the 1790's. Other countries care only about themselves, don't give a rat's ass about our troops, and often have conflicting interests against which we have to contend in order to obtain "international agreement or cooperation".
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ThomasPaine2009 · 8 years ago
    The UN ( Usless Nations) are the problem! Not NATO! Saw first hand the "effectiveness" of th UN in Haiti. Doesnt surprise me what is happening at that FOB! The US Troops, KEEP UP THE FIGHT! We SUPPORT YOU!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ThomasPaine2009 · 8 years ago
    Thank you for your support too! Canada has been a PARTNER with the US since this began! I have worked with alot of Canadian Military in the MANY deployments that I have done. ALL OF THEM WERE EXCELENT, PROFESSIONAL SOLDIERS!!!! I would fight side by side with them any day!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Patton · 8 years ago
    Why do you folks whine so much? I've recently returned to the US after spending 2 years "north of the border", and it seems that the favorite national pastime is bitching, usually about some perceived slight or grievous insult from the United States. Get over yourselves!

    I think everyone recognizes and appreciates the contributions of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan, but let's not overdo it, okay? After all, you folks have decided to pack up and leave. Americans, as usual, will be left holding the bag.

    Back on topic, the treatment of American personnel by the Spanish is reprehensible, and heads should roll!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack · 8 years ago
    Great email by the LC. One important thing is missing. The rank and full names of the top Spanish commenders at this location, also which one(s) and date(s) that each of the problems were addressed to includinng their respective response(s). All of the problems can be the result of one idiot. I have a feeling that the email's author who sounds very professional may have already addressed the items I mentioned above but I included them here because the informations are a MUST in order to resolve the problems, prevent future one, and reassert accountability for these type of Spanish officers once and for all. Our heros surely don't need to tolerate this cheap BS.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Willys · 8 years ago
    This is the way Spaniards treat each other and the reason Spain is a failed power. They aren't allies, just recipients of U.S. largess. Spain's only value is its coast lines.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    lance · 8 years ago
    This is absurd! We should give them 48 hours to improve this situation then pull our men out for a day or two in order to allow the Afghani Army to have a little target practice by wiping out the Spanish contingent. This is a war zone, if they don't want to treat it as such we should show them what war is all about and send the so-called "Spanish Soldiers" scrambling like cockroaches out into the desert. Once we get rid of these Spanish wimps we can take the base over and build it correctly. There is a saying that seems to fit the spanish quite well and it's "if you are not part of the answer then you are part of the problem" the Spanish are clearly a part of the problem in this instance and should be treated as such. Do your jobs or be treated like insurgents and you can try and survive on your own in the desert, or have a 2000 lb. bomb dropped on them while they are sleeping. I didn't even know that Spain had a military, I thought that ended with the conquistadors, I guess that was just the last time they had any balls!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan Smith · 8 years ago
    this letter should be posted on the front door of every recruiting office. Every recruit should know the extreme and very real scenario he/she may be volunteering for. It for certain no recruiter will bring something like this to light. Just imagine if our soldiers took these matters into their own hands. A court martial is their only destiny when they'd come home. I'd take the court martial for my guys while paving the runway with spainiards. A court martial is worth the knowledge that I did all I could to bring my boys home safe. The reality of it is Secretary Gates won't loose any sleep over this.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim Gray · 8 years ago
    There is a FOB up north in Afghan, where one countries troops refuse to go outside the wire, while the other countries troops only go out during the day. The good ol USA troops have to carry the burden around the clock. The troops from all these Nato countries are there, but thats about it. I guess just being there fulfills their commitment. We can thank our leaders in country for allowing this to continue..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Senglar · 8 years ago
    As an American living in Spain, I'm disappointed to read this. It has no explanation or justification. The view I receive in Spain of Spanish troops is a very professional one. They have lost blood and treasure. I don't know what can be going wrong. I hope someone higher up reads this and acts accordingly. What angers me most is the theft of laundry. It harks back to the worst stereotypes of the Spanish. I hope to read soon that this situation has been resolved appropriately. I live very close to a mountain range where Spanish troops train for deployment in Afghanistan. One recent Spanish fatality had trained there. They seem to be fine soldiers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jeffrey Billups · 8 years ago
    The comments I would like to leave is I was in Chargcharan for 18 Months working with NATO. Now the time has been years ago but the Canadians were doing and I believe are doing a great job. The location I worked at was remote and we had harder time getting US C-130s in that other NATO aircraft due to bad weather. Many times we are so easy to point the fingers or lump everybody into one pile. I believe I know this location and it is not the best. If the Military at this location is not performing their responsibility than up the chain our oull our soldiers out. Let the Spaniards absorb the fueling responsibility.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ron · 8 years ago
    shoot the bastards..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joe K · 8 years ago
    Easy solution. Fly in the Marines and kill all the MFs and that should end the problem. The Spanish will think twice before they pull this s--t again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Austen · 8 years ago
    This shameful. I have passed this information onto Bill O'Reilly and to the Spanish Embassy in London. A impassive ally is worse than an enemy at least you know what the enemy will do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark · 8 years ago
    I believe SecDef Gates has become compromised and that his efforts will come to naught in this matter. Yes, there will be some admonishment of our NATO Partners, but the Power of the Admin will curtail any true changes. If you have seen the SecDef in recent WH WarRoom sessions and testimony before Congress, it looks like he just swallowed a lit cigarette. I believe it TRULY pains him that he can not do more for the troops. I believe his hands are being tied by the Pols in the WH with strong ties to the Anit-War /Anti Military base. I Believe he stays because he thinks that there will be a much worse advocate for the troops if he steps down and is trying to make the best of a bad situation. We saw the same type of minimalist CENTRAL control strategy in Vietnam. Don't go all out and win, just prolong the fighting and try to get a NEGOTIATED peace out of it. That IS the UN/Global Government Model that this Admin aspires to be. didn't work then, Won't work now!

    PAX,
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TB · 8 years ago
    ISAF HQ is the United Federation of Planets, where resources are abundant, things are safe, and everyone has plenty of free time to get along.

    I've been to plenty of places in the field, and plenty of places in Kabul. Kabul isn't real. It's a bubble.

    Outside the bubble, the behavior of the Italians becomes more than a slight nuisance in a doorway. The Spanish aren't just there for eye candy anymore - unlike KAIA, where the Spanish ladies are my primary reason for visiting.

    In the field, above all else, you stop giving a crap whether people from other NATO countries are likeable or not. All you end up caring about is whether they're good at fighting. And when people can't or won't fight, the whole Model United Nations playgroup falls apart.

    Don't base your opinion of mice on Disneyland.

    PS: BTW, KAIA is Kabul. KAF is Kandahar. Don't end up in the wrong place - especially with the way the KAF authorities will screw with you as a civilian with their tightened BS restrictions.

    Be safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    scalyback · 8 years ago
    I've just read the comments of JDCR52 & Patton above. Quite frankly if these gentlemens views were typical of the those held by the majority of the US people then you don't deserve friends & Allies & you will very soon find yourself without both, and contrary to what you might believe, every country needs them. I don't believe their views are typical, and the British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch & other allies casualties being sustained are not wasted lives. I accept some nations could do more, some much more to pull their weight, but even the Spanish troops do not deserve to be called cowards; maybe their Govt might, but please have some respect for the soldiers of every nation who are in Afghan.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Janice Stroud · 8 years ago
    I fear the writer Dan Smith is more correct than you are Michael that Secy Gates will lose no sleep over this, and working the "chain" as another reader suggests makes me question how everone in the chain could not know of the situation on this FOB. That said I too hope this situation gets resolved and conditions on this base improve for our troops.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Laidig · 8 years ago
    If the situation is so bad that the LtCol who first identified it cannot immediately fix it, then US Army leadership is the major problem, not the Spanish, or NATO, or Gates or Obama. The fact that Michael even has to consider taking action is ridiculous. This is basic leadership.... taking care of the troops. Rather than leak the email, why not confront the officer who wrote it to find out what he had done to fix it? If nothing, then the chain of command needs replacing.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    William Bloom · 8 years ago
    One wonders if this mistreatement of our troops by supposed allies is something sanctioned by the Spanish government or sanctioned by the local base commander. I hope our government has the guts to take this up and get it resolved.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    El Lepero · 8 years ago
    I believe that all problems mentioned are being caused by the local Spanish Commander. He obviously believes that his Socialist Government will approve of his actions. What is needed here is a Senior US Officer on the ground to berate this individual as soon as possible in order to prevent his actions from causing in someone being injured or killed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill · 8 years ago
    Either way this is a bad situation.
    We either have disinformation being released by a man in the field or the Spanish troops are a sorry NATO partner.
    I do believe the man in the field. Lying about something like this would not be in anybodies best interest.
    If our people are being subjected to needless danger, this must stop asap. I dont want to hear about a commission to look into it.
    I expect the US military to take care of its people even if the poliiticians try to impose themselves.
    It's tough enough to engage a commited enemy, it's something else and a disgrace to have to deal with petty BS when lifes are at stake.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    xoxoxoBruce · 8 years ago
    I have reposted this at http://cellar.org/showpost.php?p=639658&postcount=194
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wayne M. · 8 years ago
    Maybe they are pricks because if they are seen aiding our military they fear another attack of thier country. It may be a streatch but it did happen before. If possible we could set up another re-fueling point at another location and possibly we could watch them get overrun.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewat · 8 years ago
    Line them up against a ditch and shoot them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    NF · 8 years ago
    It is definitely ashame that it would take you, Michael (an outsider, in comparison with a LTC in the "system") for this to reach Gates' ears. I appreciate the LTC who is obviously advocating for the troops. But military beauacracy is so stifling! Sounds like this should have been dealt with a long time ago.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nuno · 8 years ago
    I hope this source was double checked because this are very serious accusations...
    If it's true heads must roll.

    Please let's not loose the focus here and forget how's the enemy!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 8 years ago
    This is clearly a U.S. Military COC issue. Tarring all allies with the same brush, even all Spanish troops is just stupid as are the wingnuts who blame Obama. Then you have the chickenhawks who want to kill the Spainards on the base. Way too much shallow thinking here. The COC has failed here. Just fix it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan · 8 years ago
    Just like the French treated us in Sarajevo when my section was in the French Sector!! Sad, very sad.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aticus · 8 years ago
    Back in 2003 and up through 2005 I knew a lot of guys who couldn't wait to get in the fight and many who readily volunteered for second tours. But now, here in 2010 I know a lot more who are looking at preparing retirement papers or looking at just getting out altogether if they haven't reached their retirement point. These aren't guys who are Charlie Sierra, most have done multiple tours, they are just tires of the Bravo Sierra and see Afghanistan as a lost cause. Even people I know there now in what we would consider built-up bases talk about bad living conditions and rarely speak about success or a feeling of accomplishment of what they are doing...more of just trying to get through the tour.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lee Brooks · 8 years ago
    A LTC should be high enough rank to take care of this problem. If the Spanish commander is of higher rank and the LTC gets nowhere with him then he should move it up his (US) chain of command. If that fails you always have the IG. Inspector General to consult with. The LTC should keep the pressure on until something is done. Don't depend on the politicians to do anything intelligent so leave them out of it. The military chain of command will take care of their men and women if they are aware of it. Not doing so means release from command and or a reduction in grade.

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