Michael's Dispatches

The Panjway 16

15 March 2012

The New York Daily News asked for an op-ed on the mass murder in Afghanistan.  I invested several hours writing and they took it as is. As per normal, they changed the title.  Practically every publication does this to suit their specific readership, and that’s fine.  But on my website we can stick with the original title,

“The Panjway 16.”

image-1000Are some in the American forces buckling under the pressure of war?

The mass murder in Afghanistan was predictable. Twice in the past three weeks, I published that it was coming. Why was I able to write this with sad confidence? I’ve spent more time with combat troops in these wars than any other writer: about four years in total in country, and three with combat troops.

About 200 coalition members have been killed or wounded from insider attacks. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is tantamount to being Taliban and has not bothered to apologize. Instead, Karzai whips up anti-U.S. fervor at every opportunity. Twice, Karzai has threatened to leave politics and join the Taliban.

Even our most disciplined troops — not the few problem troops — have lost all idealism. They have not lost heart for the fight. Mostly, they just don’t care. They fight because they are ordered to fight, but they have eyes wide open. The halfhearted surge and sudden drawdown leave little room for success.

We face a discipline collapse. The bulk of our force is solid — then there’s a small fraction, probably a sliver of a percent, who might be crushed by the pressure.

On Feb. 24, I published:

“As the prevalence of insider attacks rises, and we lose more troops to Afghan troops going berserk and murdering our people, it’s likely just a matter of time before a U.S. troop or troops turn the table and intentionally slaughter Afghan forces.

“That could lead to a meltdown. We are at risk of losing control of more than some people might imagine. There is only so much that U.S. forces will put up with before fringe U.S. combat troops start taking matters into their own hands. Believe me.”

The next day, I published, “If things keep going this way, my expectation is that it’s a matter of time before discipline breaks and the gun turns.”

I’ve seen a few men on our side precariously close to the edge. In fact, my official embed status was ended by the Army in August 2011 after I wrote about issues with three soldiers.

I was accused of saying there were issues because I was disembedded. Yet the written trail and chronology is clear: I publicized discipline problems, then the Army circled the wagons and I was shown the door.

I published that a master sergeant stationed in Kandahar was homicidal after he strongly hinted at murder on his website. For years, he had been writing about his mental issues — yet the Army sent him to Afghanistan. Between hate-filled rants about gays and so on, he would write about his mental illness. In January of this year, he turned himself in to a clinic in Kandahar for mental issues.

Why was this guy armed and in Afghanistan in the first place? (He had nothing to do with the 16 murders.)

The 16 murder victims, including women and small children, are Pashtun. Pashtuns live by a code called Pashtunwali, which they take as seriously as the Koran. Pashtunwali includes “nanawatai” (asylum), “badal” (justice/revenge), “tureh” (bravery, specifically protecting women, children and property) and “namus” (honor of women).

Pashtunwali commitment to “badal” makes the Hatfields and McCoys look like a schoolyard fight. Nor is this just a Pashtun thing. There is an annual bloodfest between the Hazaras and Kuchis. That feud should be cranking up again with spring.

Afghan feuds are famously persistent. Badal carries through the generations like DNA. A grandson not born today might take revenge for events decades before his birth. He may kill someone who also was not born at that time.

Panjwai district, the scene of the crime, had been one of the most dangerous districts in Afghanistan. Panjwai saw major battles involving Canadian, U.S., U.K., Dutch and Afghan forces. Many hundreds of enemy were estimated killed, and we took substantial casualties.

Progress was happening there. In early 2011, I drove there from Kandahar city without the military. The mood of the locals was tense. The journey was unsafe, but the fact that we entered what had previously been a Taliban-owned district, and returned safely, was demonstrative.

Yet in one furious night of murder, a single U.S. soldier (apparently) has wiped Panjwai progress off the map.

Karzai is Pashtun. He said, “This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians, and cannot be forgiven.”

Afghans will seek revenge and they will have it. This will lead to yet greater possibilities of another mass murder from our side. We are considering holding the trial in Afghanistan. Pashtuns don’t care about our justice system. They don’t even care about the Afghan government; they want blood for blood. We are being drawn into a feud.


+2 # InevitableColin 2012-03-15 14:55
The asymmetry in the US relationship with Afghanistan is stunning; which is perhaps why the mainstream press is unable to find any outrage for the Afghan murders of US troops. Since the US is set on handling the present situation in the western way, from here on out the matter will likely only get worse. The middle eastern way (which you may observe in Syria) is massive repression of the population until order is restored. I don't see the US murdering thousands of civilians to restore order so I suggest no apologies, no local trial, and a fast retreat.
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+3 # UnfortunateLarry 2012-03-15 14:58
This entire episode has been so unfortunate. I am not questioning the motives or outcome. Our soldier that has been implicated in these events is just another victim in this battle against the ongoing insurgency. Whether true or not, this was his 4th tour. Having not been there myself, I cannot imagine the horrors he has seen and gone through while trying to maintain his composure. If in fact he had a traumatic brain injury before and was sent back to duty, I have to admire his resolve by sticking with his unit. My thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, and the rest of our brothers and sisters who serve in this horrendous part of the world.
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# InevitableColin 2012-03-15 14:59
The asymmetry in the US relationship with Afghanistan is stunning; which is perhaps why the mainstream press is unable to find any outrage for the Afghan murders of US troops.
Since the US is set on handling the present situation in the western way, from here on out the matter will likely only get worse. The middle eastern way (which you may observe in Syria) is massive repression of the population until order is restored. I don't see the US murdering thousands of civilians to restore order so I suggest no apologies, no local trial, and a fast retreat.
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# RE: The Panjway 16Arif Ahmed Khan 2012-03-15 15:02
The Future of America Is Now In Hands Of Tyrants And Mobs
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+1 # RE: The Panjway 16Hell_Is_Like_Newark 2012-03-15 15:19
The Afghans are not worth saving. Time to go home. Isolate the country and save our military for preventive strikes against offensive capabilities or punitive raids.
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+5 # RE: The Panjway 16Frank 2012-03-15 15:20
"Karzai is Pashtun. He said, “This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians, and cannot be forgiven.” This is typical of every third world country. We are now supporting a war that is really ethnic cleansing. Time to leave maybe someone should have a street corner talk with Karzai the freakin thug.
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+8 # Vets, I'm CuriousCJ 2012-03-15 15:24
I am old enough to remember Vietnam, but the level of reporting then was virtually non-existent when compared to now. I do know that troops sent there echoed that pointless/helpl ess feeling, and am wondering how many of them turned guns. If any Vietnam vet wishes to enlighten me, please do so.

I fully understand this incident, no I don't comprehend it, but I understand it. I'm not in country, I'm not wondering if every day will bring my death, I'm not fighting a hard-to-see enemy, so I'm not going to judge the men and women who are.

I know this soldier has major issues, and I pray he gets the help he needs.

Godspeed to all our brave soldiers, worldwide.
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# Vietban Verses AfganFelix 2012-03-16 19:18
In Vietnam, we had good relations with the people, they however had no choice but to sied with who ever was at their door at the time. We fought against the Viet Cong and the the NVA. both loyal to thge north. There ws a division. If we were allowed we could have ended the war in the 1969 after we kiced the MVA buts in late 1968. I say we get the hell out of Afgan and let thme wipe thenselves out. Soon there will be a turmoil due to the lack of food and staples. We cannot support anyone there. bring the troophome and don't give them anything.
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+1 # RE: The Panjway 16Rudy 2012-03-15 15:40
The glaring stupidity of our foreign policy failures and specifically the lack of real leadership in all aspects of our govenment leads one to effectively surmise that our options are zero and that the middle east and AFPAK are truly fubar and an unmitigated bloodbath of a disaster... Come quickly, Lord Jesus and save us from ourselves.
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+2 # Reality BitesMike K. 2012-03-15 15:54
Poem: Reality Bites,
This is the reality after 10 yrs of standing up to an enemy that punched you in the face so long ago while you had your hands in your pockets. Now your hands are free to do harm and the enemy runs but you continue the chase with cheers of payback and freedom. Only now the cheers are distant and your enemy hears none of it. To stand and fight is one thing but to chase this battle will only lead to another rabbit hole where a snake might hide and bite you.
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+12 # PashtunwaliAC 2012-03-15 18:46
It's important to mention Pashtunwali is what kept former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell alive. The villagers who took care of him did so by defying the Taliban. Their code is serious and goes both ways; in and against our favor.
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+3 # Leadership?Bronco46 2012-03-15 19:05
Our leadership (the President and the State Department) are not looking out for the troops. This President gives lip service to the military; but is more worried about what the muslims, and the rest of the world thinks about us. In the mean time they're leaving out guys exposed.
They're doing to these guys the same kinds of things they did to us in VietNam. obama is pulling a Johnson and trying to run a war from Washington. And he and Hillary don't know what they're doing.
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-4 # RE: The Panjway 16Ann Golden 2012-03-15 20:08
If Obama believes agreements exist that prevent the immediate exit of troops he's psychologically unfit for his job.

If a group of troops act in their own defense against clearcut murder attempts, or retaliate against murderers, and other troops are ordered to stop them... what happens?

We cannot stand by and let our Gov't put our troops in that position. What can we do NOW???
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+5 # RE: The Panjway 16Cornelia Langridge 2012-03-15 23:05
This sad situation was predictable a very long time ago. Who can tell us why we are in Afghanistan? We are not there to win. We are not there for any apparent reason other than to get killed. These wonderful guys, so well trained and so dedicated and patriotic, would heroically and faithfully give their lives for their country, but their country is not at stake in Afghanistan. WE SHOULD BE OUT OF THERE.
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-2 # RE: The Panjway 16GK 2012-03-17 19:13
Speak for yourself Michael. I've been a fan of yours for quite some time, but for you to say, "Even our most disciplined troops — not the few problem troops — have lost all idealism. They have not lost heart for the fight. Mostly, they just don’t care." To make broad generalizations like that is not reporting the truth. Afghanistan is not worth leaving in haste as you propose. Leave, yes, but lets have a planned end-state and do it under our own terms, not because of an issue of bad press.
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+2 # Forgone conclusionJohn_G 2012-03-17 22:06
The country is likely heading for a civil war anyway. Haqqani and Gulbudin Hekmatyar have prospered under our occupation (see ISAF website for info on yearly record breaking opium production country wide) and have recruited and had the time and money to arm themselves well. There's no guarantee that they are going to lay down and let the Taliban reassume control. I don't count any resistance from the Karzai gov't, I would expect it to fold in less than 72 hours, and I'm pretty sure he's got a nest feathered in France already.
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-1 # Behavior of SoldierHeath 2012-03-18 20:45
Watching Fox tv news and they were talking about a U.S. soldier accused of massacring 16 Arab civilians as they slept. I can understand the stress of living on the edge of life and death each & every day for the soldiers. There is no excuse for the shooting of an innocent family as they slept. Also when a man volunteers or is drafted into the military then the man is to be in a state of war readiness at all times, in both peacetime & wartime. The man knew his risks as a soldier. PTSD or not, there was no excuse for it. There are millions of our troops stretched thin and they do not do what that man did and he was brought to the brig in Kansas. Soldiers are supposed to serve with professional honor during their military service. I feel bad for our good soldiers who no doubt are going through a hellish experience because of one man's actions on the battlefield. With that said, let's hope the next U.S. President allows & arms our U.S. Troops to take the fight to the enemy. Karzai needs to be gotten rid of as he is playing both sides of the fence. To openly side with the Tablian means he does not care about his own country or why we are there. Michael Yon is simply speaking the truth and let's win this war on our terms.
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# Understandable why ..,Heath 2012-03-19 00:40
All he had to do was play cards with his army buddies & get some sleep and be on patrol the next day and have shoot-outs with the bad guys. That bad guy still had the right to be at home with his wife and children. A U.S. soldier's actions need to be clear-cut as much possible. I know some situations may be sticky but this certainly was not it. No excuse for mowing down women & children even though the bad guy may have been there during the daytime. He still had the right to be at home with his family. The bad guy was not on patrol where the good guy could meet across the battlefield and the good guy could take down a legitimate target during wartime.
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-2 # RE: The Panjway 16Heath 2012-03-22 16:58
According to the UCMJ :


It is almost certain Robert Bales will face the death penalty.

I refuse to use his rank title of staff sergeant in the same sentence.

Bales knew better than to touch women and children , let alone kill them in an act of murder.

Using deadly force means you are to act with common-sense & clear-cut actions as much possible during wartime.

He does not deserve the title " U.S. Army " or to be called by his rank. He is a disgrace to the proud uniform millions past, present and future who wear the uniform.
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+4 # RE: RE: The Panjway 16Frank 2012-03-23 13:18
Ssgt Bales is an American citizen. He has the right to due process. He is INNOCENT until proven guilty of a crime. All any of us had heard is what the media decided to tell us. We don't know the facts except that 17 Afghans were shot and killed. We don't know why Ssgt Bales left his base. We don't know if he shot any of those people. What we know is what the media has reported. The rest is purely speculation. Is it possible that Sgt Bales went into that village for some yet to be reveled reason. Is it possible that he had a relationship with one of the women in the village and went to see her. Maybe he got a care package in the mail and went to bring something to one of the people in that village. Maybe the Taliban that were in that village earlier in the day discovered him in bed with one of the women and decided to frame him and murdered 17 people. Until the FACTS come out maybe we should all keep an open mind and pray for all of our troops that are in harms way fighting to protect our freedom.
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# Hope so ...Heath 2012-03-23 15:21
Hi Frank, I really hope this is the case, that the tablian set him up. It is un-thinkable to think one of our soldiers are doing this. Of course soldier atrocities are nothing new. Our soldiers have served with professional military honor throughout U.S.A. history.
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+1 # 1 sidedWYODon 2012-03-23 17:05
Notice when Major Hassani or what ever his worthless name was, murdered (19?) military personel, It was hushed up by our muslim president and his liberal media . What ever happened to him ? He should of been put before a military firing squad and publically televised. Now when one of our own does the same thing it's sensationalized and the trial and charges done with in a matter of days. The kissing of muslim ass by our marxist muslim president is disgusting and a disgrace to this country as is he.
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+1 # Good story ...Heath 2012-04-01 18:20
Hi Michael Yon, thought this was a good story. My condolences to the family.

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