Michael's Dispatches

The Bridge

Need Bullets?  The shortest distance between South Carolina and Kandahar is about 7,500 miles.  (As the rocket flies.)

Shah Wali Kot, Afghanistan
11 March 2009

The military axiom that “amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics” has special meaning in Afghanistan. During the Soviet war, though the Bear comprised Afghanistan’s entire northern border, the Afghan resistance was frequently able to block Soviet logistical operations, which were dependent on scant roads, tunnels and corridors. Captured Soviet logistics convoys often supplied the Mujahidin.

Logistics in landlocked Afghanistan are exceptionally tough because the country is a transportation nightmare of impassable mountains, barren deserts, and rugged landscape with only capillary roads and airports.

When we lose a bridge, we can’t just detour twenty miles to the next one, as we might on the plains of Europe.  In Afghanistan, there might not be another route for hundreds of miles. Conversely, Afghan fighters, who have used guerilla warfare tactics for decades—centuries even—lack our tanks, vehicles and massive supply lines, leaving them less dependent on infrastructure.  Most of the guerrillas we face are from the immediate area. Their corn comes from their own stalks; ours comes from other continents.

Cargo lands at Karachi and is trucked into Afghanistan through Spin Boldak and Torkham.

Supplies shipped by sea to the port of Karachi flow through two major arteries into Afghanistan. In the north is Torkham, near the famous Khyber Pass. In the south is Spin Boldak, a border town located between Quetta in Pakistan, and Kandahar in Afghanistan.  Kandahar, with its critical airfield, will be a major locus for the upcoming offensive, making route security crucial to US/NATO plans.

Stryker Brigade Combat Team 5/2 (SBCT) is responsible for security at the Spin Boldak point of entry and has deployed the 8-1 Cavalry squadron to live in and patrol the area.  Just north of Spin Boldak, in the wilds along the border, are known enemy safe havens that were used during the Soviet war.

The Stryker Brigade is also tasked with a Freedom of Movement (FOM) mission that extends from Spin Boldak along Highway 4 past Kandahar Airfield (KAF), which is literally one of the busiest airports in the world.  According to AFCENT, during FY09 there were 184,095 tower movements at KAF, which explains why it’s so loud there.  Highway 4 passes the eastern end of KAF’s single runway. About three miles beyond the runway, Highway 4 crosses over the Tarnak River Bridge, one of a number of crucial chokepoints, on the road north to Kandahar.

Normally, such a bridge would be irrelevant to larger logistics considerations. Yet this sorry little bridge is important to the United States and NATO, both for the sake of logistics, and, these days, strategy.  If the Tarnak River Bridge were to be destroyed before or during the upcoming offensive, that inconvenience would become a genuine impediment to movement of troops and supplies.

Some people think the enemy would not attack the crucial bridges because they need them as much as we do. And, in the ongoing battle for the support of the population, the insurgents know that local villagers need the bridges to move any possible produce to market. Yet, as the war progresses, many people understand that we need the bridges more than the enemy does.

From Highway 4, Stryker FOM missions continue along several areas, mostly along Highway 1 out to Helmand Province.  The task is to the keep the roads open.  Throughout most of Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, slightly away from the main roads, the enemy has almost complete freedom of movement.  Basically, we “own” the highways while they are mostly free to operate in the countryside.  The struggle continues for influence over the inhabitants of the villages, towns and cities.

The KAF runway and Highway 4 are main arteries for the unfolding offensive.  Many of the missions and supplies launch from KAF, north along Highway 4, over Tarnak River Bridge.

Who’s In Charge?

The overall commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan is often called “COMISAF,” or “M4.”  The man behind the letters is General Stanley McChrystal.  General McChrystal’s boss is General David Petraeus at CENTCOM.

Within Afghanistan there are five Regional Commands: RC-West (lead nation Italy); RC-North (Germany); RC-Capital (France); RC-East (United States); and RC-South (UK currently).

In theory, the RCs report directly to Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, an experienced and highly respected commander.  In practice they are a herd of cats, lacking unity of effort.  The reality is that each command reports back to its own leadership—in Rome, Paris, Berlin or wherever.

Down here in RC-South, the current lead nation is the UK.  The British Commander is Major General Nick Carter. Americans, Canadians and others fall under RC-South, which is further broken down into Task Force Helmand (TF-H); TF-Kandahar (TF-K); TF-Uruzgan; TF-Zabul; TF-Fury and TF-Stryker.

The Dutch are lead nation in TF-U. Canadians are lead nation in TF-K. The Tarnak River Bridge falls in the general area of TF-K.

Please stay with me. This matters.

And so it goes like this:

Major General Nick Carter (UK) commands RC-South.

Brigadier General Daniel Menard (Canada) commands Task Force Kandahar.

Under BG Menard’s command are three U.S. Battalions and just over 2,800 Canadian forces.  (U.S. battalions: 1-12 Infantry Reg.; 2-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment; 97th Military Police Battalion). American combat forces comprise a substantial portion of Menard’s force structure, leaving his command and Canadian civilian leadership open to fair scrutiny, just as American leadership is open to Canadian inquiry.  Moreover, while Canada increasingly shies from combat, American units under Canadian command will spill blood under Canadian military leadership that answers to Ottawa.

Kandahar Province is apportioned into battle spaces.  As mentioned, TF-Stryker has responsibilities that include Spin Boldak and FOM on Highway 4 that crosses the Tarnak River Bridge.  TF-Stryker, however, is not responsible for the bridge itself.

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) is responsible for something called the GDA.  The GDA is the Ground Defense Area, and is responsible for security immediately around KAF.  By all accounts, the RAF is doing a fine job.  The GDA includes the area around the Tarnak River Bridge.

TF-K is responsible for Kandahar, but the specific area of the bridge belongs to the RAF.  However, the bridge itself is guarded not by RAF but by ANP (Afghan National Police) mentored by the American 97th MPs.  The 97th is under Canadian command through TF-K.  And so, at the time of the attack, TF-K was responsible for the physical security on the bridge itself, while GDA had responsibility for the land around the bridge.

Which Coalition partner has final responsibility for this strategic bridge?  Is it the RAF who “own” the ground, or TF-K who mentor the ANP guarding the bridge?  If an officer were to say this vital bridge is solely the responsibility of the ANP, his judgment would be deemed unsound.


+1 # Bill Smith 2010-03-11 01:10
BG Hodges had his eye on the damn ball, not on his butt, and that's a Leader. Mission First.

If a certain general is responsible for a strategic bridge that his soldiers depend on, then it's his responsibility to make damned sure who else is responsible for what his mission, his men depend on, and that they know they're responsible for it.

If I'm in charge of hospital operating rooms, I want to know who is responsible for the blood bank, and the pharmacy, and anything else that my surgeons may need right now. And I personally want to know that they personally understand that they are responsible for that blood getting where it needs to go when it needs to get there, in the shape it needs to be in. Menard didn't do this.

To me responsibility is forward looking. Knowing who to blame when they fail you is a distant second best. Making sure you don't have to blame them is much better. Menard didn't.

Conversely, Hodges said, "Me, I'm the guy. I own it." If a guy is willing to take someone else's blame for yesterday, he's probably going to get the job done tomorrow, by getting peoples' eyes back on the ball today -- as he did. Please note, I'm talking about particular generals here; not entire countries.

The problem with having responsibility is you also need the clean lines of power to carry it out. In WWII, Ike was SCAEF. He was the guy. He could sit on Patton, and rein in Montgomery, and make it stick, and they knew it. Because Roosevelt and Churchill knew he had to have that power. Sadly, the lines are considerably blurred today when the RCs and even TFs feel they are under their National Authority as much as, or more than General McChrystal's. And whose fault is that? Not the General's.

And, ain't it funny how now the bridge is back under Menard's command.

Determining responsibility in this thing is like trying to nail jello to a board.
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# Lee B Wainwright 2010-03-11 01:59
To start, thank you for the very detailed background information on the relevancy of the Tarnak Bridge. I have read and accept almost everything you have reported. However, the following quote from the report requires some supporting evidence;

Moreover, while Canada increasingly shies from combat, American units under Canadian command will spill blood under Canadian military leadership that answers to Ottawa.

I find this statement to be inflammatory in that it implies that Canada and thereby its forces is doing a less than acceptable job. Both the Canadian and US governments have indicated that they will be withdrawing from the combat mission. I am not sure about the other allies but I expect the same applies. What we have been told in Canada is that the "combat" mission will end sometime in 2011. Combat troops will continue their operations until that time and another deployment of troops recently trained in the Mojave Desert will arrive in Afghanistan in April or May of this year. There has been no indication that the combat effort has begun to wind down and at the same time there has been no indication that Canada will not take an active role in the post-combat activities.

If you have any substantiated information that the above is not accurate, I would appreciate reading about it.

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# Aaron Leasure 2010-03-11 03:40
Dam good job Michael! You keep their feet to the fire! You have been there. I have been there. Nothing is more upsetting than the death of soldiers for one thing but when it is a result of a failed area of responsibility is makes me sick to my stomach all over again. I have read your dispatches from day one and you should get the top award for what you do! God bless you!
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# harp1034 2010-03-11 03:47
All this very confusing. Who is on first? Appoint one officer to be in charge. Give him whatever he needs. Then tell him you are the MFIC if something goes very wrong your head is on the chopping block.
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# Matt 2010-03-11 03:52
To have such a complicated chain of command and responsibilitie s. It makes accountability and knowing what you should be doing almost impossible. Why is it structured that way?!
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# yz 2010-03-11 03:57
Just repair the god damn bridge and get on with the fight already. Generals are never "wrong", just like the pope.
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# Brian Van 2010-03-11 04:12
Michael- Thanks for the detailed report. Having experienced this system of "command," I can certainly attest to it's shortcomings.

One minor point - Is GEN Petraeus technically GEN McChrystal's boss? I was under the impression that, technically, it was ADM Stavridis (SACEUR)
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# Kit 2010-03-11 04:26
All the quotes below are from the 'dispatch' named 'The Bridge'. I have seperated them out because they are very telling of an attitude, a defensiveness and a lack of respect.

"TF-K Goliath used Canwest for cover"

"This controversy never would have occurred if Brigadier General Daniel Menard had secured the bridge several miles outside the gate from his office. "

"Brigadier General Menard clearly was not the only responsible party for this strategic bridge that his soldiers depend upon. To single out BG Menard was a mistake, despite that he was ultimately responsible for the ANP."

"General Hodges explained a bit about battle spaces.Then he said, squarely, that he, himself was the responsible officer. I didn’t believe him, but did not say so."

" while Canada increasingly shies from combat, American units under Canadian command will spill blood under Canadian military leadership that answers to Ottawa."

This is the logic Yon uses to defend his position:

"TF-K is responsible for Kandahar, but the specific area of the bridge belongs to the RAF. However, the Bridge itself is guarded not by RAF but by ANP (Afghan National Police) mentored by the American 97th MPs. The 97th is under Canadian command through TF-K. And so, at the time of the attack, TF-K was responsible for the physical security on the bridge itself, while GDA had responsibility for the land around the bridge."

"On Wednesday evening Colonel Tunnell called me into his office, pulled out a marker and began to explain matters on the white board. "
"Colonel Tunnell said that TF-K Area of Operations is Kandahar, but the specific area around the bridge had been assigned to GDA (RAF), and that when units such as those from 5/2 conducting route clearance, or 82nd Airborne, drive over the bridge, they enter what’s called an “Ops Box.”

In this case, the Ops Box is a transit zone over the bridge. Transiting units radio up to RC-South “CJOC” saying they are entering the Ops Box, and call when they leave. While GDA is responsible for the ground, TF-K is responsible for the ground around the ground and the ANP on the bridge, while TF-Stryker is responsible for the road but not the bridge or the ground around the bridge."

GDA = British

"Though bombs cannot be stopped, they can be kept off the bridge. This bridge should never have been blown up."

Even though a positive outcome has been made..."A close source conveyed that Task Force Kandahar, under BG Daniel Menard, will henceforth be tasked with the security for Tarnak River Bridge, and that Task Force Stryker and the RAF are not responsible for the bridge."....Mic hael Yon somehow manages to make is sound like a farce, and a mistake.

My take is that GDA is responsible for the bomb making it to the bridge. Yet Yon says this of GDA,

"The British Royal Air Force (RAF) is responsible for something called the GDA. The GDA is the Ground Defense Area, and is responsible for security immediately around KAF. By all accounts, the RAF is doing a fine job. The GDA includes the area around the Tarnak River Bridge."
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# Akmatov 2010-03-11 04:42
This is an example of what journalism is supposed to be. Thank you for the clear information and the integrity to stick with the facts as they become available riather than twisting the facts to fit prior statements.
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# Dan Pence 2010-03-11 05:00
I am sorry that people do not take responsibility for their own actions. Perhaps you are right Michael, and Americans can and should only be commanded by Americans, it would seem that the only parties that are truly interested in winning this war are the Americans and the Brits and sometimes I wonder about the British political will. I am sorry that while "men" argue about who was and was not responsible, putting out stories that serve no other task than CYA, younger, braver, and less politically motivated men are dying. Yet politics continues despite the dying.
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# Scott Dudley 2010-03-11 05:06
Enough of this heel biting. Problem fixed. There's a war on.
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# Gregg 2010-03-11 05:37
Dear Kit, It's quite obvious that you missed the point of the whole article and like to take items out of context. Michael is telling us how things went down at the time of the event and what the general conditions were at that time. Obviously, since there were no checkpoints for the bridge someone failed to do their job to protect a strategic assett. I get the impression that you don't want to have issues resolved when they are found; especially ones that involved protecting assetts and our troups. If you don't like his method of reporting then we invite you to go someplace else.

Keep up the great work Michael. If you hadn't raised the flag on this one many more troops would have been killed in the future.
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# Frank 2010-03-11 05:45

Thanks for drilling down into the rat hole known as 'coalition command structure'. As you know, the complexity of that structure is caused by any number of reasons ... but mostly by 'treaty' or 'foreign policy' decisions made by national government officials (staffers?) far dislocated in both time and geography from the action .. and who will almost never have to deal directly with the consequences (unintended or otherwise) of their decisions. Yet somehow, the men and women on the various headquarters staffs that have to implement that policy cobble together an opeational framework that seems, for the most part, to work.

But I'm not surprised at all in what you discovered; e.g., these sort of unclear / ambiguous areas of responsiblities are everywhere (despite the best efforts of military planners at all echelons to eliminate them) ... not just in Afgahnistan but in any multinational/i nteragency/comb ined operation. They only seem to come to light, however, when something bad happens. And when those bad things happen, lessons are learned. And, as is the case for most military-relate d lessons learned, men and women pay for that lesson with their blood.

Yet, despite all the machinations and intricacies involved in trying to design an organizational command structure that is foolproof and accounts for all contingencies, the honest truth is that it can't be done. Good military leaders know this. Civilians back in DC and other government policy centers don't. Which is why the most fundamental principle of leadership at all levels in the military pertains here; e.g, those in command are ULTIMATELY responsible for the safety and well-being of those men and women under their charge. And so, BG Hodges acknowledgement that he was responsible may have seen 'courageous' to you at the time he said it, but to me .. as a retired 0-6 ... I would have expected nothing less. Accepting responsibilty for the lives of the those under their command is what good commanding officers do.
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# paul conway 2010-03-11 06:22
Mr Yon;
This bridge security issue highlights one of the major problems of counterinsurgen cy warfare. The insurgent has the initiative; he does not need to guard bridges etc, just a few small base camps if that. I have some experience with static security checkpoints. This is a simple mission but it takes alot of troops and a high level of discipline. Checkpoint duty is etremely boring, you have to rotate soldiers frequently to combat complacency. Guarding the Tarnak bridge must take at least a platoon to support a 24 hour mission probably more. I'm sure that US/NATO battalions are nickeled and dimed plenty enough with different taskings. putting US or Canadian troops on the bridge takes them away from other missions. Another problem is that checkpoints on major routes block traffic for miles if you thoroughly check all vehicles which can be piss off the population. Multiple inspection points speed up the process but require more troops. It is presumptious to suggest this from thousands of miles away but a military only bypass bridge would solve the congestion problem but would also tie down take US or NATO troops.
I hope you write about 5/2 Bde's freedom of Movement mission. This is more complicated than it sounds, especially if, as I suspect, the Bde has a bn plus under command to do it.
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# Kit 2010-03-11 06:49
Dear Gregg, there is nothing obvious about missing the point. I GET the point. Does not mean there aren't counterpoints to be made regarding a person's viewpoints and language used to convey them.
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# Patvann 2010-03-11 07:18
This kind of stuff pisses me off. The most important bridge in the country and we have a bunch of Generals f***ing a flat football. (With one marvelous exception)

An armed drone should be over this thing 24/7, and a cordon of American Marines in a 360 config with sniper overwatch. Put ONE mean-ass Colonel in charge, and kill anything not authorized that comes near it, including livestock and Italian officers.
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# Kit 2010-03-11 07:19
>>If you don't like like his method of reporting we invite you to go someplace elseIn apology to BG Menard, I should not have demanded that he be fired so early in the process, despite that my assertion that he was responsible has proven true.>

>>General Hodges explained a bit about battle spaces. Then he said, squarely, that he, himself was the responsible officer. I didn't believe him, but did not say so.
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# Bill Smith 2010-03-11 08:22
Kit, despite denying that you miss points, you persist in doing so. Gen. Hodges clearly was NOT responsible for the security of the bridge. He simply declared that he was to make this controversy go away.

That you can keep raising counter points -- or quoting -- does not make them valid. Give it up. Please.
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# PJ Swenson 2010-03-11 08:32
Like many Americans, I appreciate the support of the Canadian soliders and their leadership, as well as the tough and oftentimes difficult and critical reports from Michael Yon. Hodges took responsibility for the mistake, Yon brought more clarity to the situation, time to move on.
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# Kit 2010-03-11 09:12
Who is Brig.Gen. Hodges? I'll spell it out - he is the most senior US General for RC-South. The Britiish command RC-South, ie, the British have command over Brig. Gen. Hodges.

The British were responsible for GAD who were responsible for who got on the bridge.

Try to follow the story. He didn't declare he wanted it to go away. You give up.
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# Doug Wright 2010-03-11 09:46
Michael, good job of reporting about that bridge.

Your article points out the need for clarity and honestly in reporting, which your article is a great example, and militarily, the need for clarity of command and unity of command.

For whatever reason, it's not really clear now who's responsible for that damned bridge. That's a shame and will kill more good soldiers.
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# Gfr Mike 2010-03-11 10:19
in your opening comment ("who's in charge"), you write:

In practice they are a herd of cats, lacking unity of effort. The reality is that each command reports back to its own leadership—in Rome, Paris, Berlin or wherever.

and two paragraphs earlier:
The man behind the letters is General Stanley McChrystal. General McChrystal’s boss is General David Petraeus at CENTCOM.

it seems that the americans are suffering from the same "calling home" problem as the other ISAF allies. because the boss of McChrystal (in his function as COMISAF) is not Petraeus/CENTCO M, but General Egon Ramms, Commander Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum of NATO.
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# CQMS 2010-03-11 11:12
Armchair generals here. But hey... I suppose that is an apology of sorts, even if it is half assed, and utterly useless. You have a wonderful accounting of the Private soldier's point of view. Don;t let that fact deter you from the fact that you ticked off your allies.
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# Jim 2010-03-11 11:50
A great point from the first comment:
"If a certain general is responsible for a strategic bridge that his soldiers depend on, then it's his responsibility to make damned sure who else is responsible for what his mission, his men depend on, and that they know they're responsible for it."

Yes so Hodges was responsible.... and so was Menard. ...and so was the bureacratic system that prevents establishing clear authority in these situations.

To all the commentors who seem to feel Yon is unfairly targetting an ally, you may want to read his older material. He doesn't hold back on anyone whether its US, UK, Canada or others. Don't take it personally. The noise he made over this issue very likely resulted in a faster and more effective resolution to the root issue. If some general, or a dozen generals, gets bad press in the process, whether fairly or not, it seems a small price to pay for potentially saved lives and successful missions.
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# CitizenSparta 2010-03-11 12:39
CitizenSparta linked to this story. http://citizensparta.blogspot.com/2010/03/bridge-and-whos-in-charge.html#comments
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# Christine Sharrio 2010-03-11 14:14
To work under Hodges must truly be an honor...how can anyone refute his actions? Seriously....To me, he is the epitome of what leading is...

More importantly.... the issue now should be about what we're going to do about bureaucratic complications.. ..today and tomorrow in light of the lessons learned and in light of post incident analysis to ensure the safety of soldier's lives today and in the future...
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# Greyhawk 2010-03-11 17:25
Was early on: "Their corn comes from their own stalks; ours comes from other continents."
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# John Capt in ANG, Civilian in Afghanistan 2010-03-11 20:11
Mike, I think it's a little bit different. CENTCOM is the US ops commander for the region. Meaning, if anything happens within the region, that commander is responsible. Gen McChrystal from all accounts is running Afghanistan his own way and the CENTCOM is not micromanaging Gen M's ops. Does Gen M report up to CENTCOM? Of course. However, the allied commands follow Gen McChrystal __AND__ report back to their own chain. So, although Gen M reports one way, the others have "dual hats." Michael is saying (implying really) that their separate commands may have differing priorities than McChrystal's.

That said, I'm sorta torn. I've got 13-14+ years in, and I sorta think Michael is a victim of his own success. In the beginning, we got dispatches that was an after the fact review of what happened. Now, it's more of a real-time, ops impacting, listing of what's happening. Much of what he reports, I see in NATO classified sitreps. This is where I get uncomfortable. I'm still wrestling with WHY I am uncomfortable with the level of detail and real-time nature of these reports, and more importantly how I'd do it differently or better (after alll any one can point and criticize, it's better to have a solution).
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# Jack E. Hammond 2010-03-12 01:12

Yon made a mistake apologizing. BG Menard is a general and should have realized how important that bridge was which was in his area. Not his area of responsibility but his area. Instead he acted like the USSR trained it generals -- ie worry only about your job and nothing else. For example there have been cases during WW2 of a Russian general seeing a German flank open and not attacking, because he did not have orders to worry about that flank. In WW2 with our forces, if a commander seen his flank or a bridge was not secure that if assaulted or taken would effect the battle, they used what ever spare forces they had (cooks, supply, etc) to do the deed. During the famous Chosin battle in Korea, a small Marine company commander who was ordered to another town, noticed a very important road that went around a mountain and could easily be cut, was wide open to the Chinese taking the hill over looking it. On his own he dug his unit in. That unit took horrible causalities. But if it had not been for that small company, the Chinese would have destroyed not only that US Army composite regiment, but a whole Marine division.

Again, BG Menard was a general who ignored his duty. As the British Royal Navy use to tell young officers. Those brass button (the sign they were an officer) are the curse of god. You can be court martial for what you do and even WHAT YOU DON'T DO and cashiered and even hanged!

Jack E. Hammond

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# Jack E. Hammond 2010-03-12 01:19

Just to clarify. Canada is withdrawing from Afghanistan, because its' ground units soldiers and equipment are just plain worn out. A top Canadian general even stated it would take two years back in Canada to get them back to being ready to deploy if need be. Unlike the US, Canada has a small army. It just does not have the depth like the US military and other worlds military's ground forces which can rotate battalion or brigades in and out of Afghanistan. For the number of soldiers and the size of their ground forces, Canada has taken a pretty big hit in Afghanistan. It is other NATO nations (German being the main one) that let us down in Afghanistan. Not CANADA.

Jack E. Hammond
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# Kit 2010-03-12 04:16
Why was it unreasonable for the British to 'man' the security of the bridge if that was the agreement? Would it not be insulting to suggest they couldn't do the job? Is this the only security breach in all of Afghanistan. Do the British not have enough people there to do the job? That is what you are all suggesting when you believe Menard should have been protecting the bridge. Hodges is responsible. He made a huge mistake either not having enough protocol to protect the bridge or the balls to ask Menard for the help. It's so pathetic how you can't see the story properly. As for the ANP, they are not under Menard's payroll, they don't answer to him or for him. Where does that notion even make sense? All I can say is WOW. No wonder the American people drink the Koolaid.
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# Bill Smith 2010-03-12 08:52
We do not "believe" that Gen. Menard should have been protecting the bridge, we KNOW it was his job to do so, because that is the job he was assigned. It is the job he still has.

Gen. Hodges commands Strykers. Strykers are moving vehicles. They protect moving convoys while they are moving down the road. They are riding shotgun as it were. They do not dismount and set up roadblocks to check approaching vehicles, and then chase after their convoy to catch up after it has passed by. That would be ridiculous.

Do you really not grasp the two very different concepts of protecting a stationary bridge vs. protecting a moving convoy?

Should the Strykers really have opened fire on the car while it was still well away from the convoy, and was only a possible threat? Maybe, in a different war. But in this COIN war we deliberately try very hard not to shoot up what may well be a family trying to get to town. That is why we have -- or are supposed to have -- STATIONARY check points that are supposed to stop such vehicles, or engage them before they can do this kind of damage. That didn't happen, and that is definitely the fault of the commander.

What would you be saying about Gen. Hodges and his Stryker's fire discipline if they HAD riddled a car carrying a family far enough away from the convoy such that it could not damage the convoy -- or the bridge? What? What would you be saying now, Kit?

By trying to shift blame to the British you are agreeing the job needed doing, but wasn't done. Whether they had the men isn't the question. Who was assigned the job is the question, and that person was Gen. Menard. If he didn't have enough men, or enough anything, he should have been hollering to whomever would listen. Did he? No, because he has denied it was his bridge to protect.

By your reasoning, Gen. Hodges' troops should have been lining the many miles of entire route from where they started to the front gate of KAF.

Certainly it is not entirely Gen, Menard's fault, but that bridge WAS his responsibility, and he should have been screaming for what he needed to protect it from the very predictable attack that happened. But, he didn't. Why he didn't we don't know, but he didn't.
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# Scott Dudley 2010-03-12 09:05
Can we move on, please?
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# Actual Canadian 2010-03-12 09:52
Guess what everyone- you weren't there! Perhaps BG Menard was responsible, and he made a mistake. Perhaps he was responsible, and was told otherwise. Perhaps Micheal Yon is wrong about Gen Hodges. The fact is that none of you were there, and for you to say it's "clear" that this or that should have, or did happen is really insulting to the people actually deployed doing the job.

As far as Strykers go, mechanised units set up checkpoints all the time. BG Menard is in charge of US Strykers and Canadian LAV IIIs (stryker with a bradley turret) which sometimes setup checkpoints, and sometimes they don't. Bill Smith, it is rather short sighted of you to dictate the doctrine that any of these Officers should have used.

Hopefully someone will learn from this whole deal and sort this type of thing out, but a bridge being blown up is not so unusual in a war.

Finally, Canada is NOT leaving the "combat" mission in Afghanistan because it's military is too small or worn out. I know, I've been in it for a long time, and have done several tours in Afghanistan. We are leaving the mission because of a lack of POLITICAL will. Period. The size of the military and the resources can easily be fixed by increasing the size of the military and buying/borrowin g new gear. We had an infusion of money several years back, now the government is cutting the Defense budget AGAIN so that we can "balance" the books. It saves their ass. There are plenty of soldiers who want to deploy, and plenty of gear as long as we pay for it. The government (2 successive opposing parties) didn't make a good enough case for the war to the public, so now they have an out when the going is rough. The Canadian Forces still isn't even close to the size it was only 20 years ago.

Don't worry terrorists, you want to bring your garbage to our soil and make it a bigger fight, it will only turn things around and we will actively destroy your ability to fight.
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# Kit 2010-03-12 09:53
No. Brigadier General Ben Hodges is the General for RC South under the British commander Major-General Nick Carter. The command and control of RC South is located at Kandahar Airfield. Nothing to do with Strykers...ever ything to do with GDA. Please google, or do whatever to check your facts.
From Yon's facebook>>Micha el Yon Summary of meeting with Brigadier General Ben Hodges (US deputy commander RC South): The result was unexpected
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# Scott Dudley 2010-03-12 10:31
Clearly TF-K was responsible for the bridge. TF-K is commanded by Menard. Hodges took the bullet (Yon didn't believe him) which is what honourable officers do. Read the email exchange, please.
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# Kit 2010-03-12 10:41
Where is it clear. Just give me one formal statement by someone other than Michael Yon, although you can quote from him. One statement that even hints that he was responsible for the bridge OTHER than for general repairs. Then I will go on my merry way....
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# F 2010-03-12 10:43
Was the target of the attack the bridge or the convoy? If it was the convoy (as it seems) then this is really an issue about force protection and the convoy's situational awareness as it approached a choke point. Though trying to pick that one bomb-laden vehicle out of chaotic traffic is like finding the needle in a haystack when both you and the haystack are moving, and you're trying to peer through bullet-proof glass.
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# Gfr Mike 2010-03-12 12:45
my understanding of the situation is that CENTCOM is responsible for all US-led operations in AfPak. That includes OEF, but not ISAF. because ISAF is a NATO-led operation. So McChrystal as COMISAF should not report to CENTCOM, but via JFC-B up the NATO chain of command. if McChrystal also plays a role in OEF, he'll report to CENTCOM for that, and that's fine.

mainly i wanted to highlight the hypocrisis in michaels statement, that the US is pure in its adherence to the chain of command (in comparison to the other NATO forces that he claims lack unity by reporting back to their countries).
If McChrystal reports to Petraeus/CENTCO M (as michael proudly states in his opening paragraph), he's doing exactly what michael criticizes the other NATO partners for.
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# Junker 2010-03-12 18:33
"Guess what everyone- you weren't there! Perhaps BG Menard was responsible, and he made a mistake. Perhaps he was responsible, and was told otherwise. Perhaps Micheal Yon is wrong about Gen Hodges. The fact is that none of you were there, and for you to say it's "clear" that this or that should have, or did happen is really insulting to the people actually deployed doing the job."

Exactly right and well put.

Imagine if every setback in war saw this much 2nd hand hand ringing? We'd all collapse in dispair. Learn from the mistakes, and correct them. Don't make instant gut reactions and over-reactions, calling for dismissals, etc.

Well spoken also on Canada's withdrawl "Actual Canadian". Our withdrawl has everything to do with political, and by extension, societal, will. The politians and the people are going to bring our involvement to a halt. The Canadian Forces could and would continue the fight if asked to.

- Junker, another actual Canadian who served in Khandahar
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# Kit 2010-03-13 02:46
According to a poll on Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute just out, well over the majority of the Canadian people want the Canadian Forces to be able to contribute to humanitarian and war-fighting missions in the future. More than a third think we are not spending enough, while less than one in five think we are spending too much. Half the people thought that military spending should NOT be cut back to reduce the deficit once our mission in Afghanistan ends next year.

The defense budget is a third higher today than when Harper first came into power....about 20 billion. Remember, our population is 33.3 million.

However, the question is where else do we need to deploy our military and it's investment into it? There is the arctic, there is equipment, there is the inevitable natural disasters, there are other wars in progress that need world attention, or wars on the cusp that look urgent and threatening to world security. Where is our skill, values and most importantly, loss of potential life or permanent wounds the best sacrifice? Please google to read "Is it time to give up on Hamid Karzai?" by Brian Steward of the CBC to help weigh in one of the many Afghanistan considerations.

BTW, good points about what is clear in the blame, ie, nothing is clear. The bridge is, or nearly is, repaired by the Canadian military engineers, and there is a clear contingent now in charge.
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# Michael in Afghanistan 2010-03-13 02:58
Note: According to a US officer today, US funds also are being used to repair the bridge. Not a big deal, just something mentioned in passing.

Going to be a hard year. Much death ahead.
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# Kit 2010-03-13 03:27
Well, that was mentioned in the article posted on Michael's fb - the title being 'Afghan bridge rebuilt in co-ordinated allied effort' by a Canadian paper. But nobody focused on the Seebees contribution, or the fact that it's just as important to focus on what or how things are handled after a setback. It was all about how the article proves the media is in the back pocket of the military in Canada - where that is shown, I'm not sure. I believe the readers need these kinds of stories that show the positives and the reason the people should be behind their military, imho.

As for being mentioned in passing...it is an important point. Shows how they work together. Shows the confidence NATO has for getting the job done.
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# S. 2010-03-13 04:40
The GDA is patrolled by the RAF Regiment, whose entire role is to defend Air assets, people and bases. The GDA is the area that they deem nessecary to suitably defend, in this case, KAF. Primarily aircraft on take off and landing from any MANPAD threat and the base itself from IDF attack. These tasks are what occupies the RAF Regiment squadron in and around that area, (II Squadron atm), they are not there to defend bridges, only the airbase, the aircraft and the people in KAF. To defend the bridge would take up a fair part of their limited manpower from their current task, to it's detriment.

Anyhow, keep up the good work Michael.
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# Kit 2010-03-13 05:27
So why did Captain Adam Weece say to Michael that the Bridge falls within the Ground Defense Area? Or why did Colonel Tunnell say that the specific area around the bridge had been assigned to GDA (RAF)? That area let in the car that reached the bridge. I mean, you can go out as far as you want but then it becomes the fault of the cosmos if you go far enough. Why did RC South claim responsibility. ..because they were responsible. Why, when they entered the OPS Box, did they radio up to RC-South? and then again when they left? OPS Box in the transit zone over the bridge as Colonel Tunnell patiently tried to explain.
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# CQMS 2010-03-13 08:31
Anyone beleiving that the Canadian military, read the Canadian Forces, has any hold at all over the Canadian media, is an ignorant. Simple really.
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# Canuckcowboy 2010-03-13 19:34
" while Canada increasingly shies from combat, ..."

That quote of Michael's really bugs me. Canadian troops have a casualty rate (killed and wounded) in the order of 23% (highest of all NATO countries). A part of this statistic is 4.9% KIA of troops sent to Afghanistan (highest). The American casualty rate is, I believe, somewhere in the order of 14-15%, of which 1.3% KIA of troops sent. A total of 5.7% of the total US military personnel are currently in Afghanistan, for Canada it is 4.4% of total military personnel (as per WSJ feb 24, 2010).

These are sobering and saddening (to say the least) numbers. I don't know why the casualty rates for the Canadians is so high, but I don't believe it is because Canadians are not good soldiers, and I certainly don't believe it demonstrates that we are shying away from combat.
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# Corsair8X 2010-03-13 19:41
I think you were quick to blame because in this matter your mind is made up to the point of sacrificing your objectivity - in this matter.

Maybe everyone should just stay out of your way and you should just do it all yourselves. MY wants everyone to stay but everyone is ineffective. Just go unilateral then and to he'll with it.
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# Kit 2010-03-14 03:58
1. Cpt Adam Weece - Public Affairs Officer, Stryker Brigade Combat Team - see email exchange, "The bridge falls within the GDA" for missions involving security

2. Colonel Tunnell - Commander of the U.S. army's 5th Stryker Brigade - Ops Box explanation - for units driving over the bridge they radio RC-South

3. The Canadian Millitary - Spokesperson Lt.-Col. Danny Fortin = The bridge, "does not fall within Canada's area of responsibility for security"

4. CanWest media - Reporter Matthew Fisher from Kandahar

5 .Brigadier General Hodges - Under command of British Major-General Nick Carter of the RC-South- I am "the responsible officer" PLUS, as noted were in the office as Hodges explained this:

6. A U.S. Naval Officer - witness to this statement

7. A British Officer from Scotland - witness to this statement

All these 7 groups/people conspired to say Menard was not responsible. That's the only explanation here. But Michael, you saw through all of that...it was 'proven true' by your own reasoning, that Menard was responsible, and you did not believe Hodges. You saw the conspiracy. And your cult following Sheeple, who can't piece information together, support that. They jump on board because you provide a bridge to the war for them - a noble thing, a good thing. But a voice can do both good and bad. The thing is, you created the grey area you rally against. You're not a team player, are you? You created the notion as you say, that, 'Canada needs to step out of the way'. And you were right to do so, that conspiracy, right?

Or, or, maybe you can't deal with the fact that the very thing you so vehemently felt/feel about Menard, is true about yourself. Because you will not clear this up by connecting the dots...and the dots say something profound about you. There is a fine line between being a cynic (healthy) and being narrow-minded (dangerous). Your ego, is beyond inflated...you are not a saint, or God, a valid crusader, or any other blasphemous adjective, you are human. What kind, well, I just wonder about what those 7 groups/people think about a man who can't accept their judgement. I mean, it's not like they're there, in the battlefield, like you are. Not like they have the manual, and the specific details of who's got what responsibility, to draw from, like you must have.
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# Scott Dudley 2010-03-14 08:46
I feel sorry for you, little man. Hide behind an alias and pretend you are a tough guy. Yon was not charged with any crime because his actions were considered self-defense. COMS, of course, would leave this tidbit out as he lacks courage to tell the whole truth. Hey, losers like him want the spotlight on their miserable little lives.
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# CaptainMike 2010-03-14 11:20
It is rather obvious that "Kit" and "CQMS" are nothing more than some oddball species of internet troll, It's best to just ignore them.
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# Jack 2010-03-15 07:21
Jack E. Hammond wrote, "Unlike the US, Canada has a small army. It just does not have the depth like the US military and other worlds military's ground forces which can rotate battalion or brigades in and out of Afghanistan. For the number of soldiers and the size of their ground forces, Canada has taken a pretty big hit in Afghanistan. It is other NATO nations (German being the main one) that let us down in Afghanistan. Not CANADA."

Partially true ... Canada's military is very small, but I believe it is much smaller than it should be and can be. Canada neither spends enough to defend itself nor contributes its fair share to its collective defense commitment as a member NATO. Canada spends about 1.1% of GDP on defense, just above half of the 2.0% NATO treaty "mandated" minimum, and less than a quarter of the percentage of GDP the U.S. spends. In essence, Canada, and most other NATO nations freeload on American defense spending, and have for sixty years.

I'm not saying that the U.S. hasn't gained from this arrangement, only that such altruism is not sustainable. Current U.S. budget woes demonstrate that America cannot fund both the level of defense spending needed to meet its military commitments around the world and it's current welfare entitlements … let alone the kind of comprehensive cradle-to-grave welfare regimen, including universal health care, provided by most EU and NATO nations.

The question is, what happens to NATO (and South Korea, Japan, Israel, etc.) when the U.S. inevitably slashes real defense spending? The EU possesses a GDP larger than the U.S., yet spends so little cumulatively on defense that it has proven itself unable even to address issues in their own back yard (e.g., the Balkans mess), until the Americans participate.
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# Kit 2010-03-15 12:51
William Drozdiak, President, the American Council on Germany

Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org
Council on Foreign Relations

March 2, 2010

In criticizing Europe for not paying its share of NATO's costs, Gates said NATO troops don't have enough helicopters, tanks, and other equipment. Is this because of the budget crisis through the world?

It's because in Europe there is no security threat on the horizon, while there was one during the Cold War days, so it's harder to get voters to accept that they need to spend more on defense. Europeans now spend about 1.7 percent on average of their gross domestic product on defense, with the United States spending 4 or 5 percent. But the real problem has been the concern within Europe that continuing the war against the Taliban is not going to bring about a long-term peaceful solution and that European politicians have a hard time convincing their public that fighting on behalf of the regime of President Hamid Karzai--which is widely viewed as corrupt--is a worthy cause.

December 10, 2009
OTTAWA—A new report shows that Canada’s rising National Defence spending is $21.185 billion in 2009-2010, making Canada’s rank 13th highest in the world, and 6th highest among NATO’s 28 members, dollar for dollar. (The 15 countries with the highest spending in the world account for over 81% of the total)
-"Canadian Military Spending 2009" is published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Bill Robinson is a defence analyst and senior adviser of the Rideau Institute.

BTW, for Canada and Nato, it's currently 1.3% of GDP. Still, size wise, the military is small. We only have a population of 33.3 million and so far doesn't look likely we'll be a military nation like North Korea, or Israel, etc.

Still, not that shabby - all things considered for a country that not many country's have a beef with. Canada, is not a permanent member of the UN security council, ie, U.S. France, Uk, Russia and China. Those 5 permanent members have a mandate to be a "Great Power" that can project their military muscle around the globe. The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful body of the United Nations. The Security Council can authorize the deployment of troops from United Nations member countries, mandate cease-fire during conflict, and can impose economic penalties on countries.

So what good is Canada?

The Global Peace Index is an attempt to quantify the difficult-to-de fine value of peace and rank countries based on over 20 indicators using both quantitative data and qualitative scores from a range of sources. The top ranking nations on the global peace index were, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Austria, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Finland, and Slovenia.

Or, there are potentially other strengths:

From Embassy, Canada's Foreign Policy Newspaper By Carl Mayer, March 10th, 2010:

Less than 48 hours after an earthquake devastated Haiti, Canadian soldiers were en route to help provide security, humanitarian aid and other assistance.

The speed of the response—a sharp contrast to previous Canadian military endeavours—did not pass without notice. Their speed and effectiveness in deployment were and are unsurpassed in the world."

In an overview of required capabilities for force projection, Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, the head of the Canadian Navy, as well as the other chiefs of staff, pointed to rapid deployment as one of their preferred policies during a presentation at the Conference of Defence Associations. Vice-Admiral McFadden, who talked optimistically about the idea, said it such deployments are a clear example of "what we do."
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# Matt 2010-03-15 17:35
We're all frustrated over the way the war is progressing, regarless of whether or not you agree with its cause. But (as an American), I don't like this idea of blaming Canada, or any other ally, for one reason in particular: we need to be supporting the troops. I think it's been clearly demonstrated here that Canadian soldiers are exceptional fighters, dedicated to help cleaning up the mess in the middle east. When we start putting targets on each other's backs, however, even if someone in charge is responsible for a tragety that could have been prevented, I can't help but think that it trickles down to the troops under that leadership and affects their morale. So if nothing else, when diagnosing a problem on this scale, care must be taken so that it doesn't seem we are at all degrading the brave men and women who are dying alongside us.
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# Jack 2010-03-16 13:18
Good post by Kit. A key sentence is "It's because in Europe there is no security threat on the horizon, while there was one during the Cold War days, so it's harder to get voters to accept that they need to spend more on defense." If that is the attitude of European populations and governments, NATO should be saluted for its accomplishments , and shut down.

Trouble is, if a security threat arises, it is likely to happen more quickly than an adaquate responding military build-up can be executed, given the long lead times to develop and produce modern weapon systems. This is especially true because governments and populations will stay in denial as long as possible due to constraints on their spending.

The U.S. will face this too once it inevitably cuts its spending sharply. Given Europe's experience, a U.S. spending 2.0% or so of GDP on defense is likely to find itself hard-pressed to defend just it's continental heartland against an aggressor. American defense platforms are rapidly becoming obsolescent, and are not being replaced adaquately by next generation systems. This trend will only become worse as dollars dry up.
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-1 # Deidre 2010-03-21 15:41
Well, boys, it's days late and I've never been deployed, in service, or married to it, but all this back and forth between Kit and others is incredibly tiresome. Kit seems to like insulting Americans. I like Americans. I am an American. I am an American by birth. I love the American military. I do not take kindly to those who think it charming to accuse Americans of drinking the koolaid (a reference, unfortunately, a crazy American leftist/communi st/dictator named Jim Jones). So, Kit, as my dear ole Daddy used to say, "Blow it out your barracks bag."
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# Kit 2010-03-22 05:33
A subtle influence on a highly self-regarding and insular discussion group that deludes them into agreeing to dubious assumptions and plans on the basis that everyone else seemed to think it was a good idea... or at least no one wanted to be the one to speak up in dissent.

It mentally shortcuts past the process of examining risks and alternatives, assuming that of course the others have taken them into due consideration.

- The short and easy definition of Groupthink - longer ones are easy to find.

To blindly follow and support a cause, sports team, religion, protest, political figure, etc. without first looking into it or researching it

-definition of the phrase 'Drinking the kool-aid'

Related to - groupthink.

I think you fall into one of the major symptoms: Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Btw, what's all the love, and 'I am''s got to do with it? and, I didn't coin that phase, nor am I the only one to see Americans drinking the 'kool-aid' (retired US Army officer, W. Patrick Lang, comes to mind - that was the name of the article!) there are literally hundreds, mainly within your own country. Although, I may be the only one to point it out regarding this specific topic to which I specifically was referring the phrase to, that being the topic of 'The Bridge' and the facebook comments.

But thanks for reinforcing my observation.... Pick a flavor.

Read the comments on Army to Army, it's not just here:

>>It also scares me how most, not everyone, but most seem to trust the words of Michael Jon blindly, with any critical consideration. I have seen very few posts here that actually seem to critizise or atleast have a somewhat open view on the matter. Makes me think slightly about a totalitarian state where no other views are accepted.
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# Jack E. Hammond 2010-03-22 18:44

This message is sort of late and I have a feeling I might be the only one to read it even, but I thought someone should post what has happened after that bridge was damaged so bad it could not be used. Below is a link to some photos of the Canadian combat engineers making a temp repair to that bridge. I had to use tinyurl.com to shrink the web address as it is on Militaryphotos. net very long.

Jack E. Hammond


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-1 # DFraser 2010-04-21 04:07
Very silly debate. My Yon was no doubt a very good soldier but his understanding of command relationships in a coalition warfare is limited. Most of the gray area here was created by Mr Yon through a creative use of word smithing which makes him an interesting blogger. Unfortunately, his inability to be detached from his blogging make him a poor source of news reporting. Indeed, his attempt to drive a wedge between coalition partners make him more useful to the Taliban and Bin Laden than to the NATO, Canada or the USA.
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+1 # Richard in Toronto 2010-05-22 14:21
I'm a civilian, never been in the military, but it seems to me that having so many nations with no straightforward command structure is a recipe for this sort of mess. It happened, let's try to learn from it and instead of taking potshots at each other let's support our troops, from whichever country and get on with the war. My view on this is that our soldiers are great, but they are bogged down by bureaucratic infighting. I wish all the best to all of our soldiers in Afghanistan!
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