Michael's Dispatches

YON: The Greatest Afghan War

Published today in:

01 October 2009

By Michael Yon

The Greatest Afghanistan War has deteriorated so noticeably that one can now feel the enemy's growing pulse. Each month it beats steadier, stronger, and in 2010 it will finally be born.

On Sept. 11 in Kandahar, a South African civilian working without security was visibly upset - not at the Taliban but at the police. The 16-year police veteran recounted seeing Afghan police speeding through crowded streets and hitting a bicycle. The rider gymnastically avoided impact while the bicycle was tossed down the road.

The South African, with whom I spent a week in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said the police never slowed down. "That's part of the reason the Taliban are gaining ground," he said. "The police are out there recruiting Taliban."

I have searched for answers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Along with the more strategic questions (for example, should war be pursued?) are those closer to the shop floor: Are we gaining or losing popular support? Is the enemy gaining or losing strength? Is the coalition gaining or losing strength?

The first answer is a common denominator for the rest.

We are losing popular support. Confidence in the Afghan and coalition governments is plummeting. Loss of human terrain is evident. Conditions are building for an avalanche. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the military commander in Afghanistan, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are aware of the rumbling, and so today we are bound by rules of engagement that appear insensible.

We must curb civilian losses at expense to ourselves. I believe the reasoning is sound and will share those increased dangers. Erosion of popular support seems reversible. There still is considerable good will from the Afghan population, but bomb by bomb we can blow it. We have breathing room if we work with wise alacrity. I sense a favorable shift in our operations occurring under Gen. McChrystal.

Enemies are strengthening. Attacks are dramatically increasing in frequency and efficacy. We are being out-governed by tribes and historical social structures. These structures are - and will be for the foreseeable future - the most powerful influence upon and within the political terrain. "Democracy" does not grow on land where most people don't vote. The most remarkable item I saw during the Aug. 20 elections was the machine-gun ambush we walked into.

The coalition is weakening. While the U.S. has gotten serious, the organism called NATO is a jellyfish for which the United States is both sea and prevailing wind. The disappointing effort from many partners is best exemplified by the partners who are pushing hardest: The British are fine examples.

The British landed in Helmand province after someone apparently vouched that Helmand would be safe, and they believed it. Helmand is today the most dangerous province in Afghanistan.

British combat tours are arduous and the troops suffer in countless ways. The soldiers sweat and freeze in the desert filth; British rations are terrible; mail can be weeks late; and they fight constantly. Troops endure high casualties yet they keep fighting. These things are true. Some say the British "lost Helmand," but this is not true. Helmand was a mess before they arrived. British soldiers are strong but their government is pitiful, leading to an average effort in Afghanistan.

Example: The British serve six-month tours, minus two weeks' leave. Travel is not deducted from leave. Troops are so few at Forward Operating Base Inkerman that missions are planned around leave schedules. For leave, a soldier at Inkerman must helicopter to Camp Bastion (the main British military base in Afghanistan) to jet home.

Helicopters are scarce, making flight schedules erratic. As leave approaches, soldiers stop doing missions and wait for a helicopter. The waiting can last a week or more. Then they get home, take two weeks' leave, then transport back to Bastion, where the soldier waits to helicopter back to Inkerman.

When I departed Bastion last month, some soldiers waited three weeks to helicopter back to Inkerman, and were still waiting. That's six to seven lost weeks for a soldier on a six-month tour. After other distractions, British soldiers might net three months of focused work. There is zero time to conduct counterinsurgency, and besides, the British military, despite its war-fighting ability, is not good at counterinsurgency. Without change, London likely will be defeated in Helmand within roughly two years, which brings us to the fall of 2011.

Germans had deployed to one of the safest areas in Afghanistan yet today they are staggered by Taliban punches. Berlin is brittle and apt to quit. Smart money says the Germans crumble from any significant role by 2011.

Canadians will quit in 2011. Canadian soldiers have earned respect, but their NATO-partner government has empowered our enemies by quitting at a crucial moment. This likely will be remembered consciously and subconsciously in future dealings with Ottawa.

Other fine partners, such as the Dutch, who have fought well, plan to downsize right when we need them most. The Dutch need to stay in this fight and increase their efforts. We need them.

The key partner in redirecting Afghanistan should be the Afghan government. Yet Afghan President Hamid Karzai's corrupt narcocracy is widely disrespected by Afghans and increasingly combative with the coalition. We are pouring support into a government that we don't want, and many Afghans resent.

On Aug. 26, I was in Helmand with the British when a bomb exploded in Kandahar, killing at least 41 people and blowing out windows in the room I later rented to write this account. There were bombs and attacks on a daily basis in Kandahar but I only watch from the roof as Afghans kill Afghans. Potential for civil war is great.

In this unprecedented moment, dozens of the world's most notable nations have focused on helping one land, yet Western sympathies for Afghanistan already have peaked.

While an Afghan avalanche is poised, our thoughts are growing cold. This is it. Either we will begin to show progress by the end of 2010 or, piece by piece, the coalition will cleave off and drift away, meaning 2011 will begin the end to significant involvement in Afghanistan.



# mark Tanberg 2009-09-30 20:59
Perfectly said Michael the picture painted with words that I hope will sting the powers that be into righteous action (Lord fix this mess, amen).
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# Colin Perry 2009-09-30 21:31
Your latest dispatch is within the cross hairs of a sniper's rifle on Afghanistan. I don't know how you could have said more with additional verbiage. Pay heed America and Britain...
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# El Diablo 2009-09-30 22:23
When are you going to spend some time with the Stryker Brigade in the south?
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# Louis 2009-09-30 23:39
Or the Useless Nuisance can criticize them for defending themselves against Hamastan.
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# Stu 2009-09-30 23:40

I truly hope someone in the MoD in London takes note of your comments on the British part of this operation...our soldiers are, as you say, being battered in Helmand and yet our government of spin & lies would have us believe that we're "winning the war" against the Taliban. Keep up the excellent work, you are a voice of reason & truth amongst the lies & spin that we here in Britain are being subjected to by our crippled & corrupt government.
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# Phillip Childers 2009-09-30 23:46
My nephew is a medic getting ready to deploy early next year. His brother has just got back from his 3rd tour in Iraq, and hopefully has passed on some of the things he learned over there, like respect for the locals, etc.. Our whole family reads you, Michael, keep up the good work!!
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# Ron 2009-10-01 00:23
Another interesting read

Just a question for Michael Yon: The British effort is obviously vastly under-resourced in Helmand. When you say that the British military is 'not good at counter-insurge ncy', do you mean that if adequate troop numbers and kit were in theatre they would still be struggling? How much of Brit counter-insurge ncy strategy can be judged given the tight resources issue?
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# Von Rock 2009-10-01 00:39
Don't give us this bullshit about winning Micheal. You can't hold a gun to a caveman's head and bring him into the 21st century, and there is no acceptable 21st century solution for this 7th century bullshit. And because of that, we lost the war before we even showed up.
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# Peter in MN 2009-10-01 01:10
tell us what will happen after we leave Afghan. I have zippo confidence that this administration will support the effort. Clinton et al pulled us out of Somalia in 93, and it has been a mess since.
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# Mick 2009-10-01 01:29
What is the truth; what is not? Michael, I try to buy into your latest 'dispatch' and find it
difficult. Inspite of your 'following audience', you are, in the end, media. I do not trust the media. "Fear not your enemy for he can only kill you. Far better you fear the media for they will steal your honor."
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# Tim Perren 2009-10-01 02:29
People don't have to buy in to any story to make it true. I've been reading your dispatches since you were on my humvee in Iraq in 2005, and I've not seen anything you've written have some incredible CNN/Fox spin on it. You called the downward spiral of efforts in Afghanistan a long time before the mainstream flunkies had the guts to do it, or maybe even before they knew about it. I'm glad we have at least one man over there trying to get the real story back here for us to read. Thanks for your hard work.
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# Ron Snyder 2009-10-01 03:24
Former USMC: By your logic, Michael Moore is the same as, say, Victor Davis Hanson? Both are "media" types.

Your logic and reductionism is sad.
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# jc 2009-10-01 04:02
You say as our new General, that we need to stop the bombing, I am confused. You want more of our dearest American Troops, I am confused. I know war, and this is not not or has ever been a war, more of a back yard fight that has cost us too many Americans. If you are going to fight it, take the gloves off and fight the good fight or get out. Our politicians could care less as they are our true enemy.
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# Barbara 2009-10-01 04:21
You predicted the same civil war in Iraq if our country didn't do something quickly and then came the "surge" and VICTORY. While acknowledging that Iraq had many more assets than Afghanistan -- like oil and literacy; do you think a SURGE in Afghanistan would lead to victory ? If the U.S. and British governments listened to you about backing their forces, could we win against the Taliban ? I am acquainted with Special Forces who've been there fighting, and they believe it can be done, if Afghan forces are adequately trained and equipped.
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# Travis 2009-10-01 04:27
Keep writing these stories, the people need to know the truth. You seem to be one of the few reporting it! Keep up the great work!! God bless you!
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# Hank in Alabama 2009-10-01 05:03
I always liked working with the Brits. Most of my experience was with the SAS. They have real grit. I was somewhat taken aback by the comment that the Brits are suffering from terrible field rations. From what I have read over the years they had terrible field rations in WWI and WWII. I don't think their government is as concerned about combat development (research, testing, implementing new and better equipment,etc.) as it relates to the individual soldier as we do. That is very sad indeed.
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# Bill Dillsburg PA 2009-10-01 05:43
Mick former USMC Did you just call Michael Yon the Media?
I haven’t missed a dispatch since Gates of fire, now that was a good read!
Yes Mike has a fallowing but not like the sheep that fallow Rush I’m here for the facts as only a man on the seen can provide. I also respect Mikes take on a given issue his background makes him qualified to add his two cents. In moment of truth he explains how he got involved in these wars; remember the contractors killed and hung from a bridge in Iraq, one was a friend of mikes the real story was not getting home.
Mick may be you should crawl back in your bunker.
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# Claudia in Canuckistan 2009-10-01 06:00
Michael, the old teacher in me can't resist one small quibble with your diction: regarding the current rules of negagement, I suspect you do not mean that they are "insensible" (incapable of feeling, as having been knocked on the head) but "nonsensical" -- a more harshly critical word but right on the money, I'm guessing: irrational, incongruous, frivolous, politically motivated, and completely detached from the reality on the ground. My nephew has voluntarily left his submarine posting and begins training to assist the army with Afghan reconstruction projects, after two tours in Iraq my eldest son will soon begin training to be a FAC on a Pacific MEU, my youngest is training as an NFO for F-15's, and the son of some friends is with the Black Watch in Helmand. Let's just say I spend a lot of time praying -- and wondering how the boomer/hippie generation ever produced such courageous and self-sacrificin g offspring like them, and like YOU! We thank you -- vaya con Dios
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# Capt in ANG 2009-10-01 06:17
One of the things we seem to have forgotten is that experience and maturity are not replaced by zeal and passion. Obama might have the zeal and passion, but no one can say he has the experience. Walter Cronkite had experience and maturity, most on CNN/Fox/Most Other Media do not.

That said, Michael has the experience and maturity to make good "gut" calls. Does he always get it right? Probably not. However, like McChrystal, he's been in the fights, boots on ground, and sweated with his fellow soldier. So if Michael says his gut instinct goes one way, and Gen Mc Chrystal has exceptionally similar comments, then you'd be a fool to dismiss it as "soft, mass media, etc." Just as you don't get 4 stars easily, Michael has built his following with great, and exceptionally accurate accounts of war efforts. Whether I was junior enlisted, or later a junior officer, I knew to listen to Senior NCOs because even if I didn't agree, even if they were disrespectful and abusive, they were passing along words wrought with experience.

I'd have been a fool to not listen.
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# Lewis 2009-10-01 06:44
"Enemies are strengthening. Attacks are dramatically increasing in frequency and efficacy. We are being out-governed by tribes and historical social structures. These structures are - and will be for the foreseeable future - the most powerful influence upon and within the political terrain. "Democracy" does not grow on land where most people don't vote. The most remarkable item I saw during the Aug. 20 elections was the machine-gun ambush we walked into."

Thank you.
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# Jim Delaney 2009-10-01 06:45
Damned if we do and damned if we don't. But, without credible "ally" involvement and the support of the Afghans for their own so-called government, it looks like the harsh outcome is preordained: withdraw to fight the Taliban thugs another day after they've returned to power and put America in their crosshairs once again. Hope there's a better alternative than that. I pity the Afghans caught in the middle--especia lly those poor women who are but chattel to the Taliban slime.
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# Paul b 2009-10-01 07:15
Mick, all media are the same? What idiocy. Guess you read that little ditty somewhere and just had to use it somehow.
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# Glen 2009-10-01 07:19
Great work Michael. Your voice is much needed.

Having read your dispatches and just finished "The Places In Between" by Rory Stewart, I am beginning to see that the U.S. and international community's goals of democracy and nation building are incongruous with the cultural values of the people of Afghanistan. Human rights, international diplomacy, gender equality, education, these things mean nothing to the psychologically and geographically isolated peoples of this region. How can you win hearts and minds when those that you are trying to win over do not want or even understand what you have to offer? How do 21st century nations convert a "nation" that last peaked in the 14th century and has known only ruin, warfare and regionalism for the last 500 years? The answer is: they can't.

The only reason to be in Afghanistan is to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri and I doubt they are there now. Had we prosecuted this war hard, early and consistently instead of focusing our military capital elsewhere, we might have had a chance.

Best of luck and keep reporting while you can.
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# Old Jarhead 2009-10-01 07:24
A history of defeat of foreign invaders going back for centuries? Tribal, religious, and other internecine conflict? A corrupt and uncaring "allied" government? ROE's which endanger our troops? Shortages of all kinds? Our government routinely lying to us about it? We went through all this 40 years and 58,000 lives ago and evidently learned nothing. Thank you, Michael Yon. Your stories have the ring of truth and your analyses are dead on.
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# xoxoxoBruce 2009-10-01 07:26
"I am acquainted with Special Forces who've been there fighting, and they believe it can be done, if Afghan forces are adequately trained and equipped."
Yes, but this will take much longer than it did in Iraq because most Afghans are illiterate, not being able to read instructions or even a map. Plus there is little loyalty to any government, other than local tribes.

Hopefully, Michael's loyal following will pony up enough money to keep him on the point, so we'll all know what's really going on.
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# Neil 2009-10-01 07:43
So how does a forty-year old with a drive to do something, join the fight? Is it from the side lines, badgering our congressman to “do the right thing” or do we put our money where our mouth is and sign up to help out? Too old for the military may be an NGO???
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# Ellie Mae 2009-10-01 07:51
I do not want innocent Afghan civilians killed, however, I do not like the new ROE. The 96 hour rule is insane. The Taliban uses both the ROE's and civilians against us. It's crazy, and no way to win a war. We need to protect our own. I am so very tired of the politics while our boots on the ground suffer. Either give them what they need and let them kick ass or pull out. Let the Taliban have that country, and we can see what happens. It won't be pretty.

It is still mind boggling to me how our Soldiers can be efficiently trained to fight in a very short amount of time and excel, and yet, the troops in foreign lands take years if ever.
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# David M 2009-10-01 08:02
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/01/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.
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# News Shooter 2009-10-01 09:19

Your quote:

" I do not trust the media. 'Fear not your enemy for he can only kill you. Far better you fear the media for they will steal your honor.' "

Why do I think you just look for places to toss in that quote? It takes no intelligence to "steal" a quote, unless it has some relevance. But here I see none, and you present none.
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# Sam Brennan 2009-10-01 09:32
I have scoured your arcticle for a faint tip of the cap to the efforts the Canadian Armed forces, have made in Afghanistan since weeks after 911. How quaint of you to give us two sentances.

My countrymen in Afghanistan, have been dying at 6 times the rate of yours in Iraq, for many years while the bulk of the ground war in Afghanistan was ground by Canadians and British.

It amazes me how you can just brush over the contributions of some Nato member nations in Afghanistan because they did not join the Iraq war.

Here is a suggestion, wean yourself from the brits and ask for a imbed with the Canadian's it might just broaden your horizons.
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# Michael D 2009-10-01 11:24
The British Army is being starved of resources and its moral destroyed, by our unelected and dysfunctional prime minister.

Prime Minister (unelected) Brown, for the sake of our country and our brave allies, give us a chance to elect some real leaders NOW.....

Mr Yon, you are a beacon of truth in a sea of propaganda.
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# Scott Klimczak 2009-10-01 11:37

Perhaps if you'd been paying attention, you'd have noticed the repeated and consistent "Tips o' the Cap"...to Canadians, Brits, Poles, Danes, Lithuanians...n early every professional soldier on the ground, in theater, that Michael has come across over the last few years.
Perhaps you should excoriate your own Government for its limp enthusiasm in prosecuting its commitments. The best tool (professional soldier) suffers much wear and tear - damage to itself and the piece to which it's applied (Afganistan) - when wielded by a poor operator (politicians). Don't think I don't have scorn for our own politicians (they're the real tools), but I'm also not the one lobbing myself at the independent observer....(Mr . Yon, if you haven't followed the analogies to this point).

Michael, I pray the public wakes to the situation, possibilities, and necessities. The politicians read the wind, and if the wind wispers "commit 'till the jobs done right" the poiticians will sing that tune, also.

Scott Klimczak
Woodstock, IL
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# Scott Klimczak 2009-10-01 11:39
I also pray my fortunes leave me flush, so I may spill some your way.
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# Mother of a US Marine in Afghanistan 2009-10-01 11:41
Why don't you spend time with the US Marines and Sodiers in Afghanistan. It seems like you are always talking about how great the other countries military forces are, and I agree they are but I think I'm going to try and find someone who covers what is going on with our own Military in Afghanistan.
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# Vanessa 2009-10-01 13:02
Hi Michael,
I know you need money and I have helped out when I can. It is distressing to always see that you are going to have to quit reporting cause you have no money.

Is there no one out there in the media who will buy your writing for them on a weekly basis so you can have some income?

IF they accept what you write with no changes that does not hurt your independence.
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# Sheryll Sanderson 2009-10-01 13:04
Michael, thank you for your unwavering support and much needed news from Afghanistan. If I recall from one of your recent dispatches you were going to spend some time with our Marines. I have two sons serving in the USMC and they too will be heading over there next year. My biggest concern is that the President will not listen to his advisors and send the troops that General McChrystal is asking for. God Bless you sir. May He shine his Divine Countenance on you, our troops and our allies.
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# Jim 2009-10-01 14:54
In defense of Mick I would say he has not been reading Michael for very long and was probably burned by the media at some point lots of us have.
Back in the olden days, RVN, we got scalped and ambushed by the likes of Dan Rather, Wally Crankcase and that ilk on a regular basis. Jerks would show up suck up and be "one of the guys" and rat you out on the evening news in a heartbeat.
Show some compassion for the Marine. We all know they are not that smart but fight well and have big hearts.

Michael keep reporting the facts and stay safe.
Yes, I do send money on a regular basis and also spend money taking care of the troops. How many of you tightwads do the same?
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# Carl Nogueira 2009-10-01 15:49
"Why don't you spend time with the US Marines and Sodiers in Afghanistan. It seems like you are always talking about how great the other countries military forces are, and I agree they are but I think I'm going to try and find someone who covers what is going on with our own Military in Afghanistan.
Mother of a US Marine in Afghanistan , October 01, 2009 "

Mam, I don't know how much you have read of the recent articles, but he has tried to repeatedly to embed with our troops recently. Furthermore in Iraq, he was constantly embeded with our troops, marines included and has had nothing but good to say about them. Don't jump to conclusions too quickly. Michael has had wonderful things to say about our forces over there. However it is no slight to praise our allies in this fight. They have some of their best kids over there fighting too. Read some of the old articles please, I think you will see what I mean. I know there are quite a few of them by now. God bless your child, I hope he has a safe return.
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# Bobbi Bennett 2009-10-01 17:27
Thank you Michael for going where other journalists fear to tread. My son is stationed in Iraq but is itching to go to Afghanistan and has been notified that his rank and MOS are likely to be needed in the near future. You have no idea how much your reporting means to this Marine Mom. May God Bless you and keep you safe.
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# J. Wilson 2009-10-02 07:04
As you point out in the intro of your article, the Afghan police are loosing popular support in Afghanistan. Villagers continue to charge the police with corruption, brutal tactics, and other nefarious activities. See http://prisonerofjoy.blogspot.com/2009/07/afghan-people-prefer-taliban-over.html and http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/09/25/2695969.htm?section=world.
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# jeff 2009-10-02 08:05
Micheal you spoil awesome work by saying us Brits are poor at counterinsurgen cy, where do you think your country learnt it from, perhaps if you had paid more attention to what we did in Borneo and Malaya, you would not have been defeated in Vietnam, and perhaps if you had not used shock and awe tactics in Iraq, we would have seen and end game there sooner, read Generation Kill, those are not tactics that win over a nation. I think you have lost your way a bit here mate. Your writing is very supportive to the us British troops, but don't bad mouth us, our government is weak and the problem, if you wish to bad mout anyone go to london to see the Prime Minister, his house is fairly easy to find. Keep up the good work but reduce the insults.
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# Brit in CO 2009-10-02 12:20

just FYI, the US did not lose militarily in Vietnam. When the US left in 1972 the Vietcong and the NVA were devastated, particularly after their disastrous tet offensive. The South was ultimately conquered because a very leftwing, democrat controlled congress refused to fund their allies in the south, even as the USSR and China poured men and money into the north which had broken it treaties to end fighting, the result was the successful superpower backed invasion of South Vietnam in 1975.

A similar lack of commitment by the left of Americas political landscape, it seems, may condemn our (Britain, the US and the rest of the coalition) effort in Afghanistan to failure.

Also “shock and awe” preformed very well and contributed relatively smooth initial stages in the liberation of Iraq, i.e. the spectacular 3 week blitzkrieg to Baghdad (despite the lack of an entry through Turkey). Its is probable that an even heavier footprint would have been better because in the attempt to avoid unnecessary death in the Iraqi army the US probably let a lot of Baathist officers live who would later fuel the insurgency
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# Robert Wood 2009-10-02 14:22
Canadians have done a lot of heavy lifting, but have received no support from the rest of NATO, including the US, until now. Thanks for turning up. I think the Brits feel the same. However, the Brits have a government that doesn't give a damn about the soldiers ... oh it's all such a mess, it doesn't bear thinking about. In Canada, the Canadian troops have the full support of the populace and even the mission has 50% support.

Problem is, the mission is being mis-represented to the publ;ic, for a variety of (wrong headed) reasons. It will take a courageous politician in the West to spell out exactly what it is all about. Obambi won't.
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# Rouge elephant 2009-10-02 21:09
Great reading I can understand the many frustrations expressed, please all remember not to shoot the messaging!!

Oh does anyone mind me mentioning that Australia is not in NATO but have had troops in Afghanistan for about 8years? i think. We are "very lucky" having sustained "only a dozen" fatal casualties. Our Commitment might be larger but for reasonable commitments in Timor L, the Solomons and Iraq. I appreciate everyones efforts.

keep safe.
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# Paul 2009-10-03 09:24
We have been making the classic mistake in Afghanistan, We see it as a country in the American/Europe an tradition of a specific geographically defined area with an accountable central government; that is not the case. Afghanistan is a collection of tribal governments, if we treat them with respect, enlist them as partners, and support them in repelling the foreign provocateurs and domestic warlords we will achieve our mutual goals. If we don't we will deservedly suffer the same fate as every other foreign invader to Afghanistan. Afghans want the same thing as everyone else does, to live in peace.
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# Sovereignjim 2009-10-03 13:24
Keep more troops home but use the money saved to pay tribal leaders to kill Taliban. Let the tribal leaders call the shots for heavy bombings. Then tribal leaders are responsible for their civilian damages.l
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# SDelaney 2009-10-04 08:47
I don't usually respond to blogs, but I felt I must reply to this one. Up to just recently,at least, Canada has suffered more casualties than even the US-- based on our population and troop size.

Having said that I am a supporter of this mission (even though I am a "lefty". I believe it is important for us to be there and that would include our combat troops.

But if our country does decide to leave that will be our choice. But I must take exception with your last comment with regards to Canada--"This likely will be remembered consciously and subconsciously in future dealings with Ottawa." Are you saying that we have not spent enough "blood and treasure", that we would be punished if we decided to leave after all that we have done. In the end it does not matter much because Canada never does get the recognition that it deserves from the US anyways.

Lets remember why Afghanistan is in the mess it is in now. It is because the Great George Bush abandon it to fight an unjust war. Which also caused so much of the Western population to become negative on the Afghan mission.

Well, that is my 2 cents for what it's worth.
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# MountainFox8 2009-10-04 13:57
There is much to be appreciated in Paul's comments.

Unfortunately there is little in the way of unconventional in the DoD and so the concepts of Foreign Internal Defence and low level armed diplomacy are not cultivated as appreciated skill sets.

Three years ago I wrote a white paper for PROCEEDINGS in which I suggested that the secret of winning in Afghanistan lay in focusing on 2 distinct centers of gravity; The first is foreign fighter entry denial. Essentially, in much the same fashion that we screwed up early in Iraq, the only way to get inside of the enemy's decision cycle and seize initiative is to deny their principal method of resupply. That means an absolute enforcement of border security to the point of lethal kinetics if people attempt to enter the country through routes other than those officially designated for entry.

The second center of gravity in Afghanistan is the community. As has been pointed out already if the populace feels secure they will vote for greater individual freedom. The only way that they feel secure is if they sense a persistent and robust committment from the US. There is no question that the typical Afghani will trust a US soldier far more than an Afghan. Make no mistake, the world knows that the majority of US troops are decent to civilians and have a high regard for life. But failing a clear understanding of committment for as long as it takes and seeing that committment played out on their TVs, the typical Afghani, like the typical Iraqi has no choice but to side with survival and that will mean remaining compliant with the thugs who will remain when US will falters.

PROCEEDINGS did not feel that this was cogent enough to publish.

Winning in Afghanistan is not complicated. It is simply a matter of a coherent and long term investment in protecting the civilian populace and that means a big presence among the Afghanis and a denial of access by the bad guys.

It will not be the Afghanis or Taliban that defeat us in the end. Rather it will be a corrupt US political cycle that fails to understand the basic elements of what any group of decent people want and a system that continues to support a technocracy at the expense of basic expertise in human relations. Until this is rectified we can continue to count on failures in our expeditionary efforts.

Has anyone taken a gander at Somalia lately?

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# Mother of a US Marine in Afghanistan 2009-10-04 16:10
Thank you for pointing out to me the earlier articles by Mchael, you'll have to excuse me this is my son's first tour and I pour over everything that I can that is written about what the Marines are doing now, because of course most of the time my son can't tell us where he is, What I should have said is that I wish I could find someone who covers some of the missions I know my son was involved in (after the fact )as well as Michael covers the places and military personell that he covers. Thank you for pointing out to me my mistake. I t's not that I don't pray for all the military, it's just that of course no one is covering what the US Marines are doing as well as Michael has been covering the British Forces. I Love all the forces from all countries. God Bless them all. May they all come home safe to their families that love them, and thank you for your well wishes for my son.
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# Clinger 2009-10-04 17:53
Former USMC That you quote Mark Twain implies an education not influenced by the current PC educational mindset and your confidence in the media is well founded. I do not find Yon to be of that current media biased mindset and inclined to make personal judgments few in the media can make. As America has been identified as evil by this administration and the PC left crowd and the Euro dudes our indiscretions have no comparisons to the millenniums of colonialist mindset in European history. Thus Afghanistan while it is a difficult tactical theater and the grave yard of nations buried I believe primarily because of their past occupational proclivity and subjugation mindsets is not one the US is similarly inclined. I just have never seen that overwhelming egregious activity in US troops.
"Fear not your enemy for he can only kill you. Far better you fear the media for they will steal your honor."
A source disusing the inclination of the Euro mindset..
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# RangerMom 2009-10-05 01:22
God Bless You and your work Michael. While our son is over there, you're bringing the stories and the pictures to us. I want them all to come home safely.
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# Russ 2009-10-05 08:15
Canada is not leaving. Canada is rotating out of Kandahar and into a less combative role. The Canadian government warned NATO that we could only keep this heavy combat engagement up for a limited period of time. NATO responded like the spineless entity it is and refused - REFUSED - to rotate out the Canadian military like was PROMISED in 2003 and again in 2005. Name another country that purchased Hercules planes and new tanks to support the war in Afghanistan? Don't blame Canada for doing EXACTLY what we said we would do. Blame NATO for squandering the opportunity we gave them.
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# Bill 2009-10-05 11:26
Thanks Michael, It's great to see some real time info without a slant either way. I've done both theatres, working with multi-national forces in uniform and as a contractor, and what I get from you has the feel of realism far superior to any other source. The boys are in for a hard run, but they're up to it. From everything I read political positions and agendas are the worst enemy they have right now; the right bosses are in position on the ground, it's time to take the proffesionals advice.
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# The Conservative Poet 2009-10-05 16:41
Part of the problem is that our goals and our strategy in Afghanistan have not been clear from the outset. This is not surprising, because the West in general was not ready for this kind of conflict, and did not expect it. Not only citizens, but many political leaders, were only marginally educated about what goes on "out there". But if many conservatives are turning against the current efforts, it might be partially because of doubts about our overall strategy.

One of the strategic problems is this: who are our enemies and allies, not only in Afghanistan but in the Muslim world in general? If we define fundamentalist sharia law as an enemy, the conclusion is that we are training the army of our enemies against some other enemies, as they both support Sharia law. Another is the means we have and need to do what we choose to do. We more or less 'won' after we routed al-qaida and the Taliban. We could have left then, and used military force again only if more enemies arise (preemptively or not). We didn't, and so this 'war' has lasted longer than WWI and WWII combined.

Direct military force is our strength, and we should use it to our advantage. But long-term counter-insurge ncy means using troops and more than high-tech weapons, it means sustaining long-term casualties, and the having long-term political will to sustain the effort. Are the latter part of our strength or weakness?

If our goal is to create a modern free democracy, we haven't gone about it the right way: a stronger occupation, almost a soft colonization for a willing population, would have been necessary. That means creating a permanent presence and building permanent alliances. If it is done freely, it shouldn't be overly criticized, but we will need to use Machiavelli's principles more than the principles of multiculturalis m. For example, one of Machiavelli's lessons is to understand how much force and damage must be done to obtain victory and peace, and apply it all at once. We haven't done that sufficiently against the Baathists in Iraq, or against the Taliban-support ing tribes in Afghanistan. Another lesson is to enforce peace and order brutally, especially against real criminals, as that will only gather you respect. Failure to do that will mean that you look weak, and lose the respect. Machiavelli teaches that in war it is better to be feared than loved, but one should avoid being despised. Another thing that Machiavelli advises is to defeat the strongest force, and rule using the second/third strongest forces as counter-weighs and you as the deciding factor, setting yourself as the arbiter. Have we done that?

Other things we should learn: do not be overly generous with the foreign leaders, as that will only corrupt them, as does the oil money with middle eastern societies. One of the problems with our 'development' models is that they are often based on more or less socialist philosophy of government development projects. The people of Afghanistan will support us if we develop them and improve their lives, but we seem to be helpless in this area, other than building a few roads and bridges. To improve their lives is to change the rules they live by. We know what the best 'development' model really is, and it is business and capitalism. Have we utilized it? Do we understand what causes and reduces corruption in a government? i.e. if a government official is not in a position of power, he will not demand a bribe. Have we demanded or at least politely asked our new allies to enforce economic freedom, property laws, etc? What about religious freedom, do our 'allies' in Afghanistan or the middle east even grudgingly accept it or not? If not, why are we training them? Would it not be more prudent to rely on our own forces for whatever needs to be done? What kind of government are we creating in Afghanistan?

Our long-term allies must share with us not only interests, but values, respect and trust. Do we trust the people we are training? Do they trust us? Have they proven worthy of our respect? Have we proven worthy of their respect, in the way we have behaved? And finally, how much money would it have taken to at least provide a gun to the head of each christian or animist family in southern Sudan, to stop the continuing genocide, compared to how much we are spending in Afghanistan?
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# Rifleman H 2010-01-09 03:40
You wrote:

"Micheal you spoil awesome work by saying us Brits are poor at counterinsurgen cy, where do you think your country learnt it from, perhaps if you had paid more attention to what we did in Borneo and Malaya, you would not have been defeated in Vietnam"

Drop the arogant BS my friend and stop comparing apples and oranges if you want your comments to be taken seriously. As one British soldier to another I concur that we are NOT perofrming counter insurgency well in Helmand, neither did we do so in Basra. As you rightly identitfy this is primarily due to a shocking lack of resources and tied in with that, the absence of any political understanding or will. However, our senior military leadership have NOT served us well and have been too releuctant to present the Government with strong critical analysis of what we can and cannot physically do with the tools and manpower at our disposal. Also where we have made mistakes at the strategic level it is all too often covered up with bluster and spin, unlike our American cousins who are somewhat more self-critical and able to acknowledge their own mistakes.

If you have served in Afghanistan (I assume you have as you comment with apparent authority) you would be the first man I've come across who expresses disdain for the Yankees, in the absence of our own resources US CAS has kept very many of us alive in difficult circumstances. A little humility goes a long way my friend.

Given the right tools and sufficient numbers we can and do perform at the level our closest alliy would historically expect us to, we CAN do counter insurgency very well indeed. Without them (as we are and will doubtless remain) we are on a slow boat to humiliation and Michael's analysis - painful as it is to admit - is entirely correct.

Here's a thought, stop buggering about in Afghanistan and come and 'liberate' a more civilised land where US soldiers are seen as brothers in arms, not mortal enemies.
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# tim 2010-02-24 09:00
Although I've heard of Michael's name mentioned before in various newspapers I've only just found his website and what a fascinating read it is! As a Briton it heartens me to hear good words said about our soldiers who are fighting in some awful conditions. I just hope that when the history books are written that it is made clear that they were limited in their capabilities by the current government. Hopefully Michael will be the one to write those words. I do hope he intends to publish something that will rival Michael Herr's 'Dispatches' and if he does I'll be one of the first to grab it off Amazon! Keep up the good work and stay safe.
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