Michael's Dispatches

Resurrection

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Spraying for bugs on FOB Jackson, Sangin.

03 August 2009
Sangin, Afghanistan

The bugs are not bad in this part of Afghanistan.  The scorched terrain is biologically boring.  Mice and ferret-like creatures dash around in the evenings when sparrows and doves and a few other sorts of birds flutter through the cool air.  But even at sunrise, I cannot make out the songs or see in flight more than ten types of birds, one of which is the rooster.  There are no wading birds, not here anyway: no kingfishers, no cormorants or ducks.  The dominant hue of land and bird is desert brown.  Maybe a bird or two with black feathers, but never one with sharp, primary colors: not even a red wing tip or a white tuft.  There are no ornamental birds with glorious plumage or fancy dance, only drab designs, though the lucky ones have short golden legs.  There is not a single inspiring song among them.

In the dark of night the bats discreetly flutter about, and in most places even the flies and mosquitoes are not too bothersome in July and August.  I’ve not seen a moth bounce off a light, and in fact the few brightly lit bare bulbs draw no crowds.  In the river at night, where I sometimes swim in the dark, a flashlight will draw hundreds of small fish, and on shore there are a few toads, or at least toad-looking creatures.  Seldom does one hear frogs or insects calling out from the grasses or trees.  I’ve seen no butterflies coming to drink during the day, and down here, in fact, in Sangin, I have yet to see a butterfly.  At night there are the jackals, more often heard than seen, yelping and yapping off in the blackness.  Sometimes a housecat can be seen slinking about, neither tame nor feral, but something in between…like the people.

By comparison to Florida, mosquitoes in Sangin during this time are practically nonexistent.  Some Afghans will say this is the worst part of Afghanistan, practically lifeless, and inhabited mostly by brutish, uneducated people whose lives are made somewhat relevant only by their violence and drug dealing.  In fact, it seems that many Afghans care less for the people of Helmand than do the foreigners who come here.

Word came that a British unit from 2 Rifles was in contact with the enemy, and that nine soldiers had been wounded.  Two low-flying A-10s had roared over the base—a sure indicator that soldiers were in trouble.  The snarling aircraft are meant to cause the enemy to think twice before continuing, which buys our folks a little time to defend or counterattack.  Shortly after they swooped in, the A-10s fired their cannons.  During a different firefight last week, one that I could hear from base but was not involved in, an American A-10 swooped in and was cleared hot.  The fire support team soldiers explained to me that the A-10 pilot was lined up and preparing to squeeze the trigger when he saw a child emerge from the enemy position and so the pilot flew by with cold barrels.

It was just in this location a few weeks earlier—a little to the right in the photo above—that the Mi-26 helicopter was shot down about 500 meters from the location of the camera.  Many soldiers from FOB Jackson responded to the crash and there they found the burning bodies and the two killed Afghan children.  “Mr. Flemming,” an Afghan interpreter here, said he thought the helicopter was going to crash on him but got lucky.  Mr. Flemming and the British soldiers said the crash looked like slow motion from a movie, and that the pilot had struggled.  One soldier, a direct witness, told me the crash had occurred about five seconds after being hit, but Mr. Flemming and other British soldiers who also had witnessed the strike, said the pilot had struggled for about ten seconds and that finally the helicopter flipped tail over cockpit and crashed on its nose then onto its back, where it exploded in flames. Still, the tail rotor which had fallen free had sliced into a house unburned.  Each account varied but all agree that it was an RPG strike, and that the charred wreckage, that which was not consumed by flames or carried away by scavengers, is still there.

The enemy has the ground advantage, but Apaches, A-10s and other aircraft are crucial platforms, without which we would be far too outnumbered by man and terrain (mostly terrain) to be effective.  UAVs are incredible tools and we need all we can get.  We won’t complain about the IEDs, and the Taliban should not complain about the Apaches, A-10s and Predators.

I was up on a watch post with a soldier from Ghana while we waited for soldiers who have been fighting to return to base.  The war is serious here; earlier in the day, another soldier from 2 Rifles had been killed upriver at Kajaki.  Though morale in the U.K. seems to be slipping, I see no evidence of low morale among the soldiers, though there are increasing grumbles that they don’t get mail from loved ones due to helicopter shortages.  Helicopters are one of our great advantages against myriad disadvantages, yet our combat forces are shortchanged by penny-wise, pound-foolish governments.  The helicopter shortages are adversely affecting our op tempo.

While the soldier and I talked on the roof, waiting for the wounded to return, something detonated.  He said that none of our guys were in that area, but he radioed information about the explosion and wondered if the ANA or ANP had been hit.  Turns out, it was just another of a countless string of seemingly random explosions for which we never know the cause.  Maybe it was some goofball Taliban accidentally blowing himself up, or maybe a dog hit a tripwire, or maybe a cow stepped on a pressure plate.  A British soldier told me yesterday that they had been in a fight a few days back, and apparently some Taliban made a mistake because something exploded – it wasn’t from us – and the soldiers saw a leg or two flying through the air.  There have only been four suicide bombers in Sangin, according to the soldiers, but the fad is growing.

A couple minutes after the explosion in the photo above, an Apache flew over to take a look but like so many times, it’s just a mushroom with no known cause.  A few days ago, in this area, another RPG was fired at a British helicopter and missed.  The area within these photos contains more IEDs than perhaps anywhere else in Afghanistan.  The British managed to locate one of the worst places in the country and proceeded to build bases all around.

The cloud drifts away and we forget about it.

Curious Afghans came to the roof.  Some people – including Afghans – say that Afghans hate the British, but I don’t see that here.  Seems like the people here don’t like anyone in particular, including the British, Americans, and the Afghans from other parts of Afghanistan, and the Pakistanis, and the Iranians.  But that’s only in some places.  In other parts of Afghanistan, we are warmly welcomed.  Other Afghans see this as an extension of previous British wars, apparently having missed the point that we were minding our own business on 9/11.  Many of us seem to share with the Afghans an equal empathy: we care for their plight as much as they care about the attacks in the United Kingdom, United States, Indonesia, the Philippines...keep listing.  Most combat soldiers are pragmatic.  Nobody should carry the burden of illusion about why we are here.  Despite that the Afghans can be a very likable lot, this is not a mercy mission.  We owe nothing to the Afghans, especially not to those who continue to harbor murderers.

The Operational Military Liaison Team (OMLT) going on tonight’s mission: Major Guy Stone; Lance Sergeant (a Guards’ Corporal) Paul Ratcliffe; Lance Corporal Jason Crabb (back); and Lance Bombardier Grant on the machine gun on the WMIK Land Rover.

Sangin is an active battlefield. To describe missions with other than vague details would present danger to these soldiers and to the next rotation. This is not like the sweep from Kuwait into Iraq, wherein the previous week’s missions were tantamount to ancient history. Here in Sangin it’s a daily brawl over the same terrain and sentiments, morning and night.


The next Afghan elections are scheduled for 20 August 2009, so the Commander’s intent for the mission on 28-29 July:

“Disrupt insurgent activity across Sangin in order to create sufficient security for elections.”

This OMLT consists mostly of short soldiers in 3 Company from the Welsh Guards.  They are short because the tall soldiers are sent to the Prince of Wales Company, while the short ones, called “Little Iron Men,” are sent to 3 Company. Tonight, the Little Iron Men would accompany the ANA.

Coalition nations have largely wasted nearly eight years in developing the Afghan Security Forces, and so today we are left outnumbered as much by terrain as by foe.  American special operations forces, for instance, spent more than a half-decade on the greatest manhunt in recent memory.  Today we have little to show for the Great Manhunt other than bumper crops of opium and an increasingly powerful array of enemies.  The press had focused on Iraq while handing out hugs and lollipops on Afghanistan, leaving governments free to operate with practically zero critical outside auditing.  Surely it was the war of their dreams.  They fumbled it.  When I reported with twelve dispatches during 2006 that we were losing the Afghanistan war, the United States government denied my return to Iraq.  Today, in mid-2009, there are no Afghan Army forces in Ghor Province to the north of Helmand.  Here in the 4-km2 Sangin district of Helmand, 100 ANP are authorized but only about 36 are available.  This, after nearly eight years, is typical across the country.

Instead of peace, tonight’s intelligence-driven mission was to unfold in an area of Sangin that the British call Wishtan, a most brutal corner of today’s war.  Wishtan is particularly perilous because of the people and their dwellings and the maze of passages and alleys and doglegs and canalizations between the compounds.  Routes are predictable and bombs are easy to hide in the walls or in the ground, and the channels created by the walls contain the men and the blasts.  During firefights there is little room to maneuver.  Wishtan is a big series of fatal funnels, or in the words of British Army Captain Alexander Spry, “Wishtan is like something from a Freddy Krueger movie.”  Captain Spry believes that Wishtan is almost certainly the most dangerous place in Afghanistan.

The OMLT was to link up with Afghan soldiers under the command of Colonel Wadood, a Tajik from Kapisa Province, whose goals are simply stated.  Colonel Wadood told me all the problems will be solved by killing the Taliban and going home.

Captain Andy White came from the Australian Army into the British Army to fight in Afghanistan.

Jason Crabb will drive the second WMIK Land Rover: the vehicles are mostly unarmored and so avoiding bombs is especially important, though of course we are canalized by the roads and so avoiding bombs is a function of securing the roads, which can only be done in a limited fashion for short distances.  Our movement is severely restricted by countless bombs.

Departure is scheduled for1900 hours.  Coincidentally, just before we depart, there is a ceremony for a 2 Rifles soldier just killed up at Kajaki, and so the soldiers stood at attention and then we loaded up.

We drove down the bumpy road to Patrol Base Tangiers, which was only about a seven-minute journey through a market where an ANA soldier had been shot in the arm last week, and there were plenty of other dramas of note.  We passed by the spot near the gate where a suicide bomber had blown himself up in March, leaving behind only his legs and some scattered parts that were collected and dutifully photographed.

Along the way I could not see out of the WMIK, and so just closed my eyes and hoped that if we hit a bomb it would be big and fast.  The final dispatch would not be written by me.  BAP!, we hit a bump and my helmet cracked into the turret overhead. A few seconds later, as my heart rate began to approach normality again, we came into FOB Tangiers, where we would wait.  Our part of the mission was “relatively” safe: if the British soldiers and ANA conducting raids were to be blown up or got into a serious fight, we would come for the casualties.  That would be the dangerous part.  Despite the extreme danger, the OMLT soldiers and the ANA exuded confidence and were ready to go within a couple of minutes.  The British soldiers praise the courage of their Afghan Army counterparts, and the respect is mutual.

Patrol Base Tangiers, in Sangin.

ANA collect for evening prayers as the cries come from distant loudspeakers and another hot day melts into night.

Patrol Base Tangiers is situated in ramshackle accommodations in a bombed-out compound.  ANA use a British 'Mozzie net' as a window.


Major Guy Stone, the OMLT Commander here, disappears into the rubble and emerges with a filthy mattress unfit for a goat, and says to me, you are the guest and this is yours for the night.  Major Stone drags the stained mattress through the dust and drops it against the barrier, which radiates heat like an oven that has just been switched off.  The British soldiers never seem to complain about discomfort or filth.  In fact, Major Stone was serious that as a guest, I was getting special treatment; the OMLT soldiers were going to sleep in the hot dirt on their sleeping pads, and so it would have been embarrassing for me to accept the disgusting mattress.  Instead, I asked the ANA Commander, Colonel Wadood, to let me sleep on the tiny patch of grass planted by the ANA.  An Afghan soldier took the mattress for his bed.

Darkness has settled, but while I make a satellite phone call, the camera gathers light from the kitchen where Afghans prepare our dinner.  Wake-up is scheduled for 0300, though the actual raids should begin at about 0400.

The grass where we enjoy Afghan dinner with Afghan soldiers.   Some of us will rest here under the stars while awaiting the mission.

Just before dinner, Colonel Wadood, Commander of 2nd Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205 Hero Corps, consults a map with Sergeant Satar and Captain Nadari.

Dinner was served to a half dozen Afghan soldiers, five British and the interpreter, Mr. Flemming, who sat to my right while Colonel Wadood was to my left.  Major Guy Stone wisely retired for some sleep so that if we had serious combat in the morning, he would be better prepared for quick decisions.

The conversation with Colonel Wadood and the Afghan soldiers ranged over the war in space and time.  As with our dinner the night before, Colonel Wadood clarified that his view of success is two-dimensional: kill the Taliban and the war is over.  Of course, the Taliban is one of many enemies here.  This was my second dinner with Wadood wherein he seemed uninterested in development and related all problems to the Taliban and drug lords.  ‘Kill them.  There will be peace.’

Colonel Wadood’s 2IC, Maj Zelgai, who recently spent nearly two weeks in the United Kingdom, stayed the night at the home of Major Guy Stone, telling Major Stone’s wife not to worry, as he would take care of her husband.  And one might suspect that Colonel Wadood and the ANA mean just that; no British soldier I have spoken with questions the courage and ferocity of Wadood or his men.  American soldiers will further confirm that Afghan soldiers are ready to fight.  There are exceptions – bad units wherein the Afghans often prefer to smoke dope than to fight – and there are other impressively negative narratives. But again, many of the units, such as Wadood’s, earn praise.

The dinner conversation meandered from one interesting vignette to another, with British soldiers explaining, for instance, how they were “mugged” by mobs of Afghan boys.  The boys appear from the market and rush in, stealing anything they can grab, including one soldier’s wallet (why did he carry a wallet?), and a hand grenade pin from a live grenade.  Luckily, the soldiers keep the grenade spoons secured, or the soldier would have been killed along with the kids.  The soldiers and Mr. Flemming, the interpreter, talked about the Mi-26 that had been shot down and the burning bodies and the heat and how they thought one of the children who had burned to death was not a girl, but a boy as first assumed.

Over dinner, at 2015 hours, there was a distant explosion, sounding like an RPG, which nobody bothered remarking about, because it would be like bringing up something as common as a mosquito or a fly.  I said that President Karzai’s brother has a restaurant in America, and the ANA soldiers laughed, saying that President Karzai himself had been a restaurant owner, until we made him President, and they joked not to bring any more restaurant owners to become Presidents.  Still, they agreed that Karzai is a good President.  Two of the soldiers are from Jalalabad and one had been a Mujahadeen fighter, while Colonel Wadood had fought on the Russian side, and so they laughed that they had been enemies, yet now they fight the Taliban.

At 2115 we heard what sounded like a jet, but I was unsure, and then BOOM!, a large explosion.  At 2125, there came word via radio: five Taliban had been killed by a Hellfire launched from a Reaper prowling invisibly in the dark skies.  About five minutes later, the Apaches were overhead and then came four thumping bursts from the 30mm turrets.   No flame or tracer could be seen, just darkness and thumping and the sounds of the Apaches, also prowling invisibly in the ink above.  Four minutes later a pen flare arced just outside our perimeter, and at 2140, there were two very loud explosions approximately one second apart.  We were told later that the second explosion was from an enemy bomb that detonated after our bomb had hit it and killed some men.  I say in English, “Someone is not happy tonight,” and Colonel Wadood and the Afghan Sergeant Major, who speaks English, both burst into laughter, “Yes, yes…someone not happy tonight.” Seconds later, there were two more bursts from the Apache 30mm. We are later told that the Apaches were chasing squirters.  Our radioman called back to the JOC (Joint Operations Center), and they said, “the aircraft are attacking people who are laying IEDs.”

Word comes a little later that the Taliban are saying we bombed people who were eating watermelon in a field.  The Afghans responded by telling us this was a lie, because they know how careful the British and Americans are with their fires, and they also knew that Afghans do not sit in fields around here this late at night eating watermelon.

I’ve witnessed too many missions (several in the last week) wherein British or Americans refused to fire because they could not positively spot a weapon, despite it being flagrantly obvious that we were tracking actual enemies.  It’s very frustrating for me at times because I want to say to an American or British commander…Take the shot!  This is too obvious!  But that is not the place of a writer.  The strategic wisdom behind the Rules of Engagement can be difficult to contest, though tactically, those same ROE can be fantastically frustrating.  Tactically, the restrictive ROE endanger our troops every day, but strategically there is no doubt that strong ROE save the lives of even more.

I needed to place another satellite phone call to a friend regarding replacement of some camera gear that was stolen in Kabul.  While we were talking at 2151 hrs, the Apaches began firing again.  The attack sounded like nine or so distinct bursts of 30mm, though I was unsure.

There was time for possibly four hours of sleep before heading into hell, just a few minutes away.  Sleep would not come, so I watched the big screen of the Milky Way for a couple of hours as it drifted from left to right across the sky.  During this interim, I saw nearly twenty meteors slit the vast black screen, like a white-hot torch, sometimes leaving a trace.  And I wondered how many people might die in the coming few hours.

As the earth continued to revolve around our tiny star and lie seemingly insignificant within the billions of lights overhead, a rooster crowed at 0215 as a couple of gunshots rang in the distance.  Finally, there came sleep.  And as if time had slipped by unnoticed, Major Stone woke me at 0400 and I packed immediately, in case there were combat.

As indigo seeped from east to west, with gradient hues of lighter blue, closely followed by yellow, the British soldiers were all ready to go, as were the ANA. We waited as the sun rose over the horizon, and with it the temperature.

Staff Sergeant Ben Worthington waits for a call.  If our people get hit, we will be there in minutes.

Time elapsed and nothing happened.  The raids turned up very little, and so I walked inside the building to talk with Colonel Wadood and eat breakfast with the ANA.

Boots at Patrol Base Tangiers in Sangin.

Mr. Flemming the interpreter came with me to breakfast with the ANA, as the British soldiers stayed by the vehicles outside, ready to crank and roll.  Over a breakfast on the floor of bread, yogurt, jam and tea, the ANA intelligence officer said that he feels the morale of the Taliban in Sangin is slipping.  They lost another seven nearby last night, and another five upriver at Kajaki, making twelve enemy killed in a single night and we did not get a scratch.  We talked about the world and a little about America, and I asked if they knew that Michael Jackson had died. Four Afghan soldiers said yes, they knew, they saw it on television, and one said “we are sorry to hear this.” Colonel Wadood said somberly that Michael Jackson was “a good artist” and another ANA soldier said “I never know if he was male or female” and everyone laughed.  I asked if they liked to watch wrestling, and yes, they love wrestling “competitions,” which they said are televised every night from Kabul.

I asked Colonel Wadood what he thinks about a British idea to negotiate with the Taliban and he said it was a good idea so long as everything is open and nothing is hidden, and he said, “War has exhausted the people of Afghanistan.”  (They don’t seem exhausted to me.)  And then he launched into something about President Obama, saying the whole world has positive views of Obama and “almost all people of entire world have bad memories of Bush and family.” Later I said to a British officer, just wait until I report the words about Bush and Obama, and watch the daggers come out, and the British officer said something like, “Yes, but you are free not to report it and they will be angry that you did.”  As Colonel Wadood spoke of the Taliban and Obama and Bush, a curious coincidence flowed into the dusty room from the shortwave, as Secretary Clinton’s voice could be heard in a sound bite, and she was talking about talking with the Taliban.

I asked Colonel Wadood if the people of Afghanistan understand Democracy and he said yes, but not the people of Helmand, who “understand only Swordocracy,” and everyone laughed.  And then spontaneously, Colonel Wadood said, “We have the best Democracy with Islam.  Our religion is one of brotherhood and oneness.  Our religion is about equality, no status.”  He said these things, and more.  Colonel Wadood continued, pausing long enough for me to write, “Women have the right to education, to have a job, to be a candidate in elections.”  Colonel Wadood paused, and continued, “If we applied these things it is the perfect democracy and perfect religion.  Killing people is forbidden.  Drug trafficking is forbidden.  Cruelty and brutality is forbidden.  Attacks that Taliban execute are all against Islam and Sharia.  The best Muslim never harms anyone with his eyes, his tongue or with his hands.  He should only be useful not harmful.  We cannot kill infidels without reason.  But if they invade our honor, our religion, our land or our pride, we can kill them.  Same condition applies to Muslim too.  If he does these things we can kill him.”

After breakfast: Sergeant Mohammed and Captain Nadari stay in the conversation.

Colonel Wadood said that “Muslims in their deed, character and ethics should make the best example, and this does not just apply to Muslims but all humanity.”  He said, “people should have fair and good relations with people around the world.”

I asked the Colonel about the Sangin economy, and he answered that first they need a paved road, with actual tarmac, and the road should link to Kajaki, then Musa Qa’lah.  But then comes the crux, the crux according to Colonel Wadood: “We cannot build the roads until we destroy the drug lords and drug factories.”  The drug lords depend on ignorance and so they do not let girls and boys go to school, and the Taliban, at least in the beginning, were their enforcers. (In fact, on 30 July I went on a mission with Gurkhas in the British Army, and we walked to a school that the Taliban had blown up and which the British were constructing.)

“They need ignorance,” said Colonel Wadood, in reference to both drug lords and  the Taliban.  “The government failed to provide opportunity, so the drug lords provided their ‘opportunity,’ but they needed security.  So they hired the old Taliban to fight while the drug lords carried on with their business.  Pakistan noted that this was in their vested interest, so they started to support the Taliban.”  Colonel Wadood called this “The second rising of the Taliban,” and I’ll just call it the Resurrection.

We watched the Resurrection blossom with each passing season and, essentially, insofar as tangible outcome is concerned, did nothing at best.  At worst, we aided the drug dealers by doing little or nothing while building infrastructure that aided them.  I made photos in Urozgan Province in 2006, of road construction paid for by us, and those roads were going straight through fields of poppy.  In 2006, poppy was growing within a slingshot range of the Provincial “Reconstruction” Team in Lashkar Gah, and in 2009 it grows abundantly around Sangin.  This year’s opium harvest is already on the way to market and the corn that replaced much of the poppy is not yet tall enough to hide in.

I asked Colonel Wadood how many big drug dealers there are currently in Sangin.  He said there are 10 or 12, and added that “A month ago, Taliban commanders south of Sangin nearly ran out of ammunition, and so the drug dealer [whose name Wadood gave me but the British asked that I not print] donated almost 5 million Pakistani Rupees to three Taliban commanders to purchase more weapons and supplies.  Those Taliban commanders are [M1], [M2], and [M3].”

I asked how long we should stay.  Colonel Wadood answered that we should stay until Pakistan interference is cut off, but in the current atmosphere we need to help with engineers, reconstruction and mineral extraction.  “After 30 years, we are backwards.”  (Before, over two dinners, Wadood talked only of killing Taliban, but over breakfast he talked about development.)  “We are hopeful that Pakistan influence will soon be cut because we don’t want to lose Afghans or Coalition because everyone has family.”  I asked what the Afghans think of India and Wadood answered by saying the relationship is good, and so I asked about Iran and he said they are the same as Pakistan but Pakistan is the first priority.  I asked how long the war will last and Colonel Wadood said he did not know, but that he has been fighting for 30 years and hasn’t been absent a single day.

 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Blackwater · 9 years ago
    Ignorant brainwashed muslim fools. They're so stupid they think the root cause of all their problems is that they don't have enough barbaric dogmatic backwards violent islam in their lives. When the exact opposite is clearly true. And the world has definitely gone completely mad when you can't even escape the worship of a creepy pop idol pedophile and a total failure like Barack Hussein Obama in freaking Sangin, Afghanistan. Maybe they like him because they think he's a muslim moron like them. That country is hopeless if more ANA officers are like him. When he was describing his operational plans in the region to "kill taliban and then problems go away" it must have been like listening to a cave man. Hopefully scieintists can invent a shot that boosts IQ soon of the world is in real trouble...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve Waterman · 9 years ago
    I have seen several documents referring to the 'world takeover' by the radical muslims. I have been wondering who will do the construction, build the machines and computers, and perform medical research for the good of all when this madness of Sharia rule becomes the rule of the land. I hope this madness doesn't catch on and good people everywhere do what is necessary to stamp out this evil.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wadeusaf · 9 years ago
    Thanks Michael, for another insightful bit of commentary. Interesting bit about the worlds perception of Obama v Bush. However that is a known perception, even if it is difficult to understand from a global war perspective than the relatively local opinion you quote. The ANA colonel shared some interesting insight, about his view of Islam as well as of Afghanistan politics. His view that Pakistan is a priority, was stated as a matter of fact, while he gives no indication of his opinion of why (Is the supply chain problem an unspoken, understood issue or is it a matter of the Pakistani interference in Afghanistan's internal issues? State over Tribe?)

    So is the involvement in the opium trade the reason for the Al Qaeda and by extension the Taliban and 9/11, or is the Taliban the reason for the opium trade because of Al Qaeda and 9/11. There is a symbiotic attachment there that must be broken before development will be effective I think, otherwise smart men like the colonel there will be tempted to take over the trade in the vacuum left after the Taliban are killed. What ultimately would the difference be between how he would rule and how the Taliban operates?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    amgrunt · 9 years ago
    Michael, Your frustration with the "rules of Engagement" flashed me back to 1967 when I was a young Marine in Viet Nam. Somethings never change, regardless of the passage of time. Please pass on to those brave souls around you our appreciation for the sacrifices they
    make on a daily basis.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 9 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/03/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

    http://www.thunderrun.us/2009/08/from-front-08032009.html
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Toxicseagull · 9 years ago
    "They're so stupid they think the root cause of all their problems is that they don't have enough barbaric dogmatic backwards violent islam in their lives."
    if you actually read what he said he opposed the dogmatic and violent version of islam that the taliban preach. so where did you get that view from?

    "a total failure like Barack Hussein Obama"
    heh still fixated on a incredibly common name hey? you reckon if it was Joe things would be better? get a grip. sounds to me like you just have a problem with other cultures.

    "Hopefully scieintists can invent a shot that boosts IQ soon"
    we could bring the average up if you volunteered for the trial runs.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 9 years ago
    Your conversations with Col Wadood, ring bells in conversations we had with local hamlet chiefs in VN. It was confusing in that even side by side providences had differing views about what was going on and how to handle things or bring peace to their areas. Quite a few said the same thing...kill them all ( the VC) and things will be OK.

    Time goes on, but human nature, profit and politics remain the same.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solomon2 · 9 years ago
    "We cannot kill infidels without reason. But if they invade our honor, our religion, our land or our pride, we can kill them. "

    So if I accidentally step on a Muslim's foot and he says "Ow!", or if I can prove that what he has said is a lie, he has the right to kill me because I've injured his pride. My tax dollars at work. Oh joy.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Zeno Davatz · 9 years ago
    Another great report of outstanding Fotos of outstanding men and women doing their job in outstanding fashion. I hope the government of Britain pays them more respect and increases their budget.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    dan · 9 years ago
    Obviously the best method to try next is to find and kill all the drug lords and anyone noteworthy in their organization, along with a little drug-supply-infrastructure terror-bombing. We seem to have tried everything else, and all of these other methods are described with sneers and rolls of the eyes and clumsy historical analogies, so why don't we just f-ing kill the drug lords - and then, when they pop up again, kill them too? If, as you point out Michael, even "building infrastructure" is used against us - well then, why don't we just obliterate those for whom everything is and will always be a weapon? That's a rhetorical question.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aunt of 3 ANG · 9 years ago
    I am a huge Pres Bush fan. Pres Bush had more heart and soul than Obama has in his little toe. Pres Bush has some spine and he wasn't interested in popular opinion but what he felt was right for our nation. The USA was minding its own business before those MUSLIMS hit the twin towers and killed thousands of innocent people. (Incidentally if not for that we would never have been in those muslim countries fighting for them) If being a muslim is so great why is Afghanistan and Iraq in the condition it is in? Actually I didn't care about people being muslim in their own nation (outside of the USA) etc but it became important as i read about all the courageous young men and women who have died at the hands of muslims. Then they can't even come on out and fight in the open but hide behind some scarf and slither around at night planting things that will kill people. Those in Iraq had all kinds of courage after the chugged down a bottle of pills. I don't see anything that is honorable about that or peaceful for that matter.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mad Dog · 9 years ago
    Well, the Col. had a lot of good things to say, despite what some have commented above. First, he sees a lot of relationships that help to foster the present situation and he is correct in many ways. The whole scenario about keeping the people stupid is so true and not just in Afghanistan. This is a tried and true method in many 3rd world countries, especially in regards to girls. One of the ways to break the circle of poverty is to empower women. It is being done in places like Pondicherry in India, by providing education in computer usage and building solar powered links to the Internet. This gives poor farmers links to info needed to survive and thrive a bit....weather, market prices, government programs, etc., but they have to go through the women to get it. Muslim women have suffered for far too long and it is part of this ignorance campaign, one of the reasons we see Taliban activity against schools, especially girls schools. They are a threat to their survival. The Col was right on.
    Great article Mike, another fine insight with compassion and frankness.
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    Jeff · 9 years ago
    I was in Sangin DC with the British almost 2 years ago. It was an honor to work with them. I did several missions with them throughout Helmand, never once did I doubt their abilities, see a lack of morale, or have any reason to not trust them with my life.
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    trevor · 9 years ago
    The first pic, shades of The Evening Before the Deluge by J.W.M. Turner.
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    Donna · 9 years ago
    Michael, please let the Brits know we here in Dallas Texas appreciate their love of freedom and stand firmly in support of them. This video was made for British Troops arriving at DFW then on to Ft. Hood for some training. We treated them as our own!
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    sms · 9 years ago
    Toxicseagull opines to Blackwater as if he's educated. Obviously he has no pragmatic experience with this culture. Having worked with this culture since the first Gulf war, I can attest to the validity of Blackwater's comments--as harsh as they may sound--they are to the point and right on. This culture has been 'dishonest' and untrustworthy for thousands of years. 2009 is no different. Obama's very immature campaign rhetoric has further ingrained the US in Afghanistan. For those of us who have fought in Afghanistan, we'll tell you that Bush's primary reason for choosing to fight in Iraq is because fighting in Afghanistan is too hard--takes too many troops. This is military strategy 101. Now Obama is engulfed into his own anti-Iraq rhetoric which has now turned into his requirement to live up to his campaign promise. A strategy that will ultimately fail. Having worked for GEN McCrystal, I predicted he will be demanding more troops by years end--that demand is already taking shape. We'll need 3-5 times more troops to successfully operate in Afghanistan than we did in Iraq. This is a huge mistake. Thus, Toxicseagull can pretend to rise above BW's comments but the comments stand as relevant.
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    scott Dudley · 9 years ago
    "Bush's primary reason for choosing to fight in Iraq is because fighting in Afghanistan is too hard--takes too many troops. This is military strategy 101."
    No, this is insane, kick the cat, chicken-hawkery. "We can't beat the afghans but we HAVE to attack somebody. Oh look, there is Iraq just over there"


    "This culture has been 'dishonest' and untrustworthy"
    As opposed to OUR "honest and trustworthy culture"?

    Since we don't have 3-5 times the troops it took in Iraq (talking Soviet troop levels) and will never have, we are only holding our own at a great cost in blood. In a few weeks, there will be "elections". Then several more months of bloody fighting. We should be developing an exit strategy. It's simple. We brought the extra troops in to assist the democratic principles of an election. That completed, we have already achieved our stated goals of a) elininating Al Qaeda from Afghanistan and ensure the taliban are not training terrorists to attack us on our soil (NEVER a plan of theirs). Mid-winter seems a good time to bail.
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    Toxicseagull · 9 years ago
    "we'll tell you that Bush's primary reason for choosing to fight in Iraq is because fighting in Afghanistan is too hard--takes too many troops."
    so thats why he committed thousands of troops there in the first place? The US has been fighting for 7 years in Afghanistan before Obama took the stage, it is Bush is the one that ingrained the US in Afghanistan, whether you believe it to be right or wrong. lets not deny history. why did Bush not withdraw US forces in the 7 year period when he went into Afghanistan if your proclamation is true? why did he in fact increase numbers just like obama is doing?

    i presume you supported the surge in iraq? why then do you oppose a surge in Afghanistan when McCrystal wants it? is it simply because it is a democrat president now? (presuming you have no issue with McCrystal in charge or his understanding of the theatre)

    "This culture has been 'dishonest' and untrustworthy for thousands of years"
    which culture? all arabs as BW says? that would go at odds to our collaboration in GW1, with Britain and the US's dealings with countries like oman and Saudi for decades, never mind individual experiences even documented by Mr Yon here on this very webpage.
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    Toxicseagull · 9 years ago
    "The USA was minding its own business before those MUSLIMS hit the twin towers and killed thousands of innocent people."
    well it wasnt. the US has been a global power for 50 years, it does not gain this status from sitting at home. this does not condone the attacks but the US has not being "minding its own business". its impossible for any nation on earth now-a-days to, let alone the biggest military and economic power in the world.

    "If being a muslim is so great why is Afghanistan and Iraq in the condition it is in?"
    there are plenty of christian countries that are in a bad state as well. the fact that its muslim isnt particularly the cause of the conditions, simply that the wrong people got into power, or other countries or people took it apon themselves to intervene (russia, the US, Britain, afghani republicans, sikhs etc)

    "as i read about all the courageous young men and women who have died at the hands of muslims"
    courageous men and women die in the hands of every group on the planet and are put there by politicians the world over.

    "I don't see anything that is honorable about that or peaceful for that matter."
    that was the Col's Point. they are not and thus should be destroyed.
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    Eric S. · 9 years ago
    When you can, please have your web and store people make the top photo here available for sale -- it's terrific.

    Also, I believe that Karzai's brother and family have three U.S. restaurants (Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco) -- and I think the NYT reported that the brother has leveraged that (or PI) into a business empire back in Afghanistan now, too.
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    a father · 9 years ago
    It seems to me that the afghan comments about how a good muslim should behave gives a great deal of hope and you are right the ana is generally respected, just not enough of them and their attitude is not carried over to the anp/

    I do not think morale in Britain is an issue, the issue in Britain is that most people are angry at the Uk Govt. for not supporting our boys and girls fully in fighting this war, in fact for not considering it a war. The public anger seems to be seeping through as some members of the govt are saying the right things but then politicos are good at saying one thing and doing another. The public supports our armed forces to an extent not seen for many years as the press has highlighted the fact that we are at war. With a total of 191 dead and the annual number of fatalities and casualties rising every year ( at 55 we have already passed last years 51 fatalities ) our forces deserve and need the full support of the country.

    keep reporting
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    Pleuris · 9 years ago
    Every Forum or Blog I visited where the two presidents are mentioned, somehow everyone it's fire and water. Get a grip and remember this; a lot of U.S. people voted Obama would you call them all stupid? I don't think so.
    Every country, beliefs and culture or for all that matter has it's flaws and really stupid traditions. Look at your own before you judge others.

    Michael great article! keep up the good work.
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    nphuqu2 · 9 years ago
    This is by far some of the finest war reporting I have read in years. Please keep this up.
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    jic · 9 years ago
    "a lot of U.S. people voted Obama would you call them all stupid? I don't think so. "

    Stupid? No.

    Misguided? Yes.
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    Gismo Fly · 9 years ago
    I think I love Dallas.

    Father of a British soldier.
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    Noel Herbert · 9 years ago
    Great piece of reporting My son is the driver in the picture (Lance Sergeant Paul Ratcliffe ) it is the first time we have read anything first hand about what they are doing out there makes me very proud of all of them out there thank you Noel
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    J.B. · 9 years ago
    I flew A-10s in Afghanistan a couple years ago; dropped a few bombs/30mm shells in Sagin and Musa Qal'eh. Many of the pilots flying there now are friends of mine. I know those boys are good at providing top cover; hope it's working. Best wishes to all the troops on the ground there. God speed
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    MID · 9 years ago
    "Ignorant brainwashed muslim fools. They're so stupid they think the root cause of all their problems is that they don't have enough barbaric dogmatic backwards violent islam in their lives"

    Considering the vast majority...VAST majority of Muslims are peaceful, tolerant people I'm thinking the "ignorant" one here is you. Is there a problem? Heck yes, but YOU are the one who is succumbing to media hype by believing ALL Muslims are destructive and violent.
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    Matt · 9 years ago
    Thank you so much for continuing your work, Michael! I love reading your blog and REALLY, genuinely appreciate everything you do for the military men and women in the US and around the world.
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    Matt · 9 years ago
    ""a lot of U.S. people voted Obama would you call them all stupid? I don't think so. "

    Barely 50% of the popular vote went to Obama. Barely. I would certainly call people who think "I'm not going to have to worry about putting gas in my car, I'm not going to have to worry about my mortgage..." stupid, yes.

    We're living in a debt culture where deferment of responsibility is commonplace. The plague of "debt and credit" has wholeheartedly spread into our government...and now we have a President and Congress who both AGREE we should just up the debt to solve our problems.

    Let me ask you this - Do you pay off your car by taking out a second loan on your house? Do you pay off one credit card by opening another credit card? That's what Big Brother is doing right now....and you're letting them, placing the bill on your kids and grandkids. Nice legacy.
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    U.S. Marine · 9 years ago
    You, sir, are endangering the lives of all those men you live with. You post mission times, locations, departure times, commanders intents, vehicle capabilities and weaknesses. You confirm the Talibs IEDs are effective and are affecting operations. You speak about ROE's and how Helos impact op-tempo. You post pictures of the vehicles which shows their weapons systems and you even basically included a typical mission loadplan with one of your pics.

    Have you ever heard of Operational Security? It means loose lips, sink ships. Ever heard that one? Your intel can get people killed.

    You do realize that the Talib have internet right? You page is a fantastic source of intel for your enemy. You are facilitating their ability to kill you. How does that make you feel? What about the men with whom you live? If you truly cared about those men and less about your career/popularity you should be more wise in what you put out there on the internet.

    I want to like you site and your writing but my conscience will not let me. If you were with an American unit I would report you. You are yet another example of why the military doesn't or perhaps cannot trust the media.

    God bless and stay cool. I would say stay safe but you obviously don't care about that.

    -Staff Sergeant of Marines
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    Chad · 9 years ago
    If you think you can fix it, then come over here and make a difference. Right now, you sound very similar to the words you wrote. You sound completely ignorant of the ground truth. Quit complaining and come over here and do something about it. Since you have it all figured out. They do what they are taught, come teach them something different.

    One other thing. How do you think an ANA commander could sound so conventional, with the kill them all attitude? It's because educated, kill them all conventional western generals have taught him to think that way.

    Once again, I invite you with all your wisdom and experience dealing with the many sub-cultures of Afghanistan to come over here and fix everything.
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    Scott Dudley · 9 years ago
    Clearly, Mr. Yon's posts occur post-mission. Talibs already know vehicle weps and vulnerabilities, duh? Thank god for the marines. They are the blunt force that scares the hell out of our foes. Clearly, this one was never paid to think. Oh well.
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    Sarge · 9 years ago
    Michael, your writing only gets better over the years. Profound and insightful work. Thank you
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    American Citizen · 9 years ago
    Michael,

    Thanks for your great photos and dispatches! You are a patriot! Keep safe. Wish we had more $$$$ to support your mission!
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    Dom Hyde · 9 years ago
    Not-quite-a-Gunny, I understand your concern for our troops security, but your intel is in a sh1t state. Mr Yon is an ex-Green Beret, and as such undoubtedly has more understanding of OPSEC in his big toe than you have learned in your entire tenure. Don't you think the Taliban observers on the ground know exactly what we armed armed with? Don't you think that predictable patrol routes (forced upon us by the terrain and/or unimaginative commanders) are common knowledge to our enemies? Don't you realise that 8 years of war have taught the Taleban all about our "mission times, locations, departure times, commanders intents, vehicle capabilities and weaknesses"?

    If the Taleban do have such easy access to the internet as you imply, and if their language skills are up to the job, then surely the first place they will look for information is places like Strategy Page, Defence Daily, Jane's, etc. where the info is clear and concise, rather than reading through paragraph after paragraph of opinion and prose?

    Don't worry about Mr Yon - our boys have worse things to worry about than someone who challenges the ignorance of folks back home and tells it like it is!
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    Ken Almas · 9 years ago
    Just a comment on the blatant hostility of "Mr. Blackwater".

    Having strong beliefs is one thing. Combining them with disdain, overt hatred, and aggression as your comments seem to suggest you harbor only reinforces the notion by others inside and outside the United States that we are not worthy of the power that we now possess. To be perfectly honest, your comments seem to place you on equal footing with some of the ignorant brutish humans that we fight against in Helmand province.

    Col. Wadood can hardly be faulted for his beliefs. He at least he has a healthy sense of right and wrong, and if his religion helped him attain that moral compass why wouldn't it deserve his praise? His disgust and anger also seem to be better directed at the root cause of the problems in Afghanistan, rather than blindly lashing out at others while spewing political party propoganda. Personally, I respect that.

    You should wise up Blackwater. Islam isn't the enemy. Afghanis aren't the enemy either. Pure ignorance and the evil people who use it to their advantage are the enemy. Unfortunately, some of those people need a bullet or a Hellfire to "persuade" them.
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    A good man · 9 years ago
    ... and always has. They already did attack us on our own soil and were planing to do it again!!! so explain how attacking us "was never one of their objectives"
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    Leyla · 7 years ago
    As always great photos.........
    There seems to be so much at the core here.
    As a woman........I see photos of great men going into battle to fight an enemy that is elusive and indifferent to their welfare. Human life pays a toll especially when you see the photos of the men who have died....it breaks the heart.
    How do we end this........how many more lives?
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    The Radio Jihad Netw · 7 years ago
    Col. Wadood's views on Islam were fascinating and have relevance here in America. Wadood said,"Attacks that Taliban execute are all against Islam and Sharia. The best Muslim never harms anyone with his eyes, his tongue or with his hands. He should only be useful not harmful. We cannot kill infidels without reason."But if they invade our honor, our religion, our land or our pride, we can kill them. Same condition applies to Muslim too. If he does these things we can kill him.” Last Quote,"Colonel Wadood said that “Muslims in their deed, character and ethics should make the best example, and this does not just apply to Muslims but all humanity.” He said, “people should have fair and good relations with people around the world.”

    Col. Wadood is fighting and killing his Muslim brothers side by side with the infidel. Wadood is invading the honor, religion, land, and pride of his fellow Afghanis and according to the Col's words describing political Islam his Muslim Brothers have the same right to kill him. It began with the Ridda (Apostate) wars when Muhammed died and continues today.

    Invading the honor, religion, and land is the key quote. You criticize Political Islam, Shariah Islamia, or Muhammad you violate a Muslims honor and religion - In Shariah that is Blasphemy which carries a death sentence that any Muslim can carry out and not fear retribution as it is a Muslims duty and honor to carry out the punishment in the name of Allah.

    Back in America there is a devout Islamic reformer named Dr. Zuhdi Jasser. Jasser is shunned by his fellow Muslims at CAIR, ISNA, MSA, etc... and is not the go to guy for our government. The "mainstream" Muslims in America for the most part view Jasser as an apostate and blasphemer - greatly hindering his effectiveness for reform of Political Islam in America.

    Point: Jasser and Wadood are cut from the same cloth. Yet each are not accepted by the mainstream Muslim leadership. We are fighting to win the hearts and minds of people who know exactly who they are and what Political Islam and Shariah teaches. Allah's Law are superior to man made laws without exception. The Islamist world view is Dar al-Harb (House of War) and Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) you are in one or the other. Representative Republics like ours need not apply.

    God bless America and God bless our Troops. America Akbar
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    Tim · 7 years ago
    If that final line doesn't catch your heart up in your throat, you shouldn't be reading this sort of thing:

    "...I asked how long the war will last and Colonel Wadood said he did not know, but that he has been fighting for 30 years and hasn’t been absent a single day."

    He defends his faith, his family, and his country in a manner which reflects the highest credit upon himself and the Afghan army. I pray that he has the contentment of knowing safety and peace in his own place before death.
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    Sandman · 7 years ago
    When shoukld we be getting our books?
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    b · 7 years ago
    @toxicseagull "if you actually read what he said he opposed the dogmatic and violent version of islam that the taliban preach."

    Wrong. Actually, if you go back and closely read what he said, and maybe learn a little bit about Islam on the side, you will see that it is clear he is referring to equality among Muslims only (infidels are dhimmi in Muslim-controlled lands). The brotherhood and oneness he refers to are the Umma and the Dar al Islam. This doublespeak is so obvious it amazes me that more people haven't caught on by now. Just look at his expansive definition of what warrants killing infidels--he's not preaching nonviolence, man. There are moderate Muslims, yes, but their moderation exists in opposition to the dogma of al Islam. Wake up, face the reality, and cast down the book of comforting fairy tales that help you sleep at night.
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    Matt · 7 years ago
    Why not destroy them both?
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  • This commment is unpublished.
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