Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

New Britches

29 Comments

pants-3-1000

07 September 2011
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

American troops have been losing their britches in combat.  Until now, I’ve never seen so many troops exposing their hardware in battle.  Many warriors go “commando” into the fighting, meaning that in the name of hygiene, comfort, or perhaps in honor of the skirted-Hoplites and the kilted-Scots, they wear no boxers or briefs.  This creates a twist to the venerable question: Boxers, Briefs, or Commando?  The previous question is difficult to answer without controversy or even a fistfight.  However, in Afghanistan, what is known and supported by my own photographic evidence is that troopers have begun wearing knickers as backups for inconveniently breached stitches in their britches.

Read more: New Britches

The Elusive Kandahar Cougar & Murphy’s Laws of Combat

43 Comments

2011-09-01-093316-1000aSergeant TJ Vowell insists he's seen the mysterious big cats of Kandahar many times. Recently, Sergeant Vowell got shot. 

06 September 2011
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan

4-4 Cav, Bravo Troop, 2nd Platoon 2nd Squad

There is much talk about “jaguars” or “cougars” among the troops here.  At least a dozen American Soldiers claim they have seen gigantic cats in these flatlands.  “Gigantic” being defined as roughly the size of a German Shepherd.  During a mission, I asked about these mysterious big cats.  Several US Soldiers insisted—completely insisted—they were eyewitnesses.  The Afghan soldiers chuckled, saying their American counterparts were hallucinating.  The Americans remained adamant.  The inevitable follow-up questions came.  “How do you know what a cougar even looks like?  Have you ever seen one before?”  An Afghan commander said to a particularly persistent American, “You saw a sheep.

Read more: The Elusive Kandahar Cougar & Murphy’s Laws of Combat

Censoring Afghanistan

58 Comments

Censorship

04 September 2011
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

A message came today that a certain General has told me to unpublish "Battlefield Forensics."  “Battlefield Forensics” was first published on 18 August 2011.

This dispatch violates no policies.  It has cleared all OPSEC hurdles.  Again today an officer told me there are no OPSEC issues with any of my dispatches.  OPSEC refers to Operational Security.

Unless the General contacts me directly with justifiable cause, Battlefield Forensics will stay. It would be sad to end this way an embed that began at invitation of General Petraeus.  It would most likely be my final embed with the US Army.  The good news is that I will finish with both legs.

If the military decides to end my embed, as it did last year, the Army will not end my coverage of the war.  They will merely lose the opportunity to be seen through my lens and heard through my pen.  I will no longer have the opportunity to tell their side of the war.

There will be backlash against me.  There always is.  Typically they will wait until later to put some distance between events.

Please read Battlefield Forensics.

Mosquitoes

12 Comments

IR-Helicopter-144827cc1000Afghan Soldier caught by infrared flash with specially modified camera.

31 August 2011
Afghanistan

IR-Helicopter-213731cc1000

A Soldier sleeps in a body bag to keep off the bugs.

Read more: Mosquitoes

We Need Better Pants

73 Comments

Pants-2-1000

30 August 2011
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan

Rip, rend and slash are all in a day’s work here.  Yet I have never seen so many troops with so many pairs of pants that are ready to fall off.

Read more: We Need Better Pants

The Art, Science, and Carpentry of Explosives

36 Comments

2011-08-17-083045-1000Blocks of M112 C-4 prepared for mission beside roll of M456 detonation cord and accessories.

29 August 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan, 4-4Cav

There is much to know about explosives.  A wealth of art, science, and carpentry has developed around uncountable blasting concoctions.  Explosives range from highly sophisticated scientific “achievements,” such as neutron bombs, to crude mechanical devices that any teenager can build, such as the relatively harmless bottle bombs that undoubtedly are exploding in backyards and vacant lots around America today.  In Afghanistan, the principle enemy weapon is the IED: Improvised Explosive Device.  Just an hour ago, on 26 August, a bomb detonated nearby, hitting our Afghan Army allies.  The charge weighed perhaps 250lbs and was hidden in a culvert under a road that our Soldiers drive over routinely.  A command wire was attached, and when Afghan soldiers drove by, it was detonated.  Three men were wounded and a fourth was killed.  Earlier this week, US troops nearby suffered loss of limbs from similar bombs, and loss of American lives is on average a daily occurrence.

Read more: The Art, Science, and Carpentry of Explosives

Edvard Munch in the Marijuana Patch

16 Comments

2011-08-18-161959-Web-1000My heavily armed tent mates hours before the mission.

24 August 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan, 4-4Cav

We live in tents.  Nice tents with air conditioning.  But not now; the electricity and air conditioning are out again and I’m sweating in a boiling tent to write this quickly before the laptop battery dies.  Please excuse this dispatch if it’s rough.  Batteries only last so long.  The local mess hall is a tent.  There are washers and dryers in a tent.  There is the medical tent and comms tent, and supply.  Is their electricity out?  Headquarters has a wooden building.  There are tent showers with water so hot that the shower tents are like a sauna.  The water nearly burns you.   All of this sure beats what I often get in the Himalaya.  On base, the outhouses may seem rough to passersby, but they are like five-star accommodation compared to conditions during some of the missions, when troops are forced to use a collective corner in some compound that is already used by an Afghan family.  In one compound, the family used a scythe for toilet paper for their feet.  When the kids pooped in the corner, they came out with poop on their bare feet. They used the scythe to scrape off the people-puddy, and then the kids were ready to play the high-five game we taught them, slapping high-five with little hands whose only washing occurs accidentally while they collect water from the deep wells.

On the night of the latest mission, the Soldiers had checked their gear over and over, and they were prepared to head into combat.

Read more: Edvard Munch in the Marijuana Patch

Tracer Burnout

29 Comments

2011-08-19-031847-3cc-1000A Female Engagement Team (FET) at work in an Afghan compound. The notions that women should not, cannot, or do not go into combat, all are invalid. They should, they can, and they do. And here we need them.

22 August 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan, 4-4Cav

Operation Pyrite Pike

The helicopters landed in Taliban country after midnight.  This was not a community outreach moment.  Commanders expected serious resistance and casualties were likely.  In broad strokes, the two-day mission amounted to a “shaping operation.”  Task Force Spartan is successfully using such missions to build outposts in the various hearts of Taliban-controlled areas.  Most of these areas have never been tamed, largely due to insufficient troop commitments early in this war.

We landed in the darkness and the helicopters roared away into the night.  We stayed low in the marijuana field for a few minutes, until silence settled in our heads, and then we began to move out to the objective.  Using night vision gear, we scraped and stumbled and climbed through farmers’ fields.  Sometimes we needed ladders to scale walls and there were some falls in the night, but nobody was hurt this time.

Read more: Tracer Burnout

Battlefield Forensics

35 Comments

2011-07-19-125516-2The Later meeting

18 August 2011
Task Force Spartan, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

During a planning session at a sand table, numerous firefights broke out.  We were at safe distance but close enough to hear heavy volumes of machine gun, AK-47 and RPGs.  The enemy had hit three targets simultaneously.  The closest was a small police outpost over a mile away.  We were hearing the sounds of six people dying.

The attack on the closest police station was unfolding something like this: A small enemy element, probably just a couple or a few Taliban, attacked from vineyards to the south to draw police to the south Hesco wall.  Meanwhile, an assault element consisting of three fighters was trying to penetrate through the front Hesco entrance to the north.  The police did not seem to take the bait.  The three enemy approaching from the road to the north were using a motor-tricycle, which are common here.  The driver was dressed in civvies while the men in back wore chest racks with ammo.  Their weapons were hidden under straw in the tricycle bed.

Read more: Battlefield Forensics

JTAC: Joint Terminal Attack Controller

34 Comments

2011-07-30-001207-3-1000

17 August 2011

4-4Cav in Combat
Operation Flintlock

We made it off the helicopter landing zone with no fighting. The enemy was not afraid of us, but they must have been taken by surprise.

Two Air Force JTACs were along for the mission, as they nearly always are in deliberate attacks that might involve air power.  In short, the JTACs are skilled technicians who often see significant amounts of combat because many JTACs stay busy bouncing around from unit to unit, from one combat operation to the next.  And so rest assured, if the nightly news is reporting about a serious Army operation, JTACs probably were there.

Read more: JTAC: Joint Terminal Attack Controller

Body Bags & Speedballs

27 Comments


2011-07-31-110938-1000Body bag drag

16 August 2011
Zhary District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

The enemy is easily resupplied.  His arteries for food and water are shorter than snake legs.   He can buy or steal much of what he needs to fight.    We don’t steal food or materials from locals, so we must plan for constant resupply.

Day and night, around Afghanistan, supplies go out via ground convoys, fixed-wing aircraft, and parachute. This dispatch, however, is about “speedballs” delivered by helicopter.

Read more: Body Bags & Speedballs

War Dogs & Veloci-Chickens in Afghanistan

17 Comments

b2011-07-30-141111-1000Task Force Spartan Pushing Deeper into Taliban Country. A canine team at rest.

15 August 2011
Zhary District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

War Puppies

Friday morning I was out for a run on base and must have seen five working dogs and their handlers.  The two dogs you will see in these dispatch photos were part of a serious combat mission two weeks ago, but I did not see them Friday morning.

The military working dogs in the U.S. armed services are about the happiest dogs anywhere on the planet.  They are loved and coddled by Soldiers far from their families.  It is fair to say that military dogs are treated better than helicopter pilots, and possibly as well as jet pilots (though not Marine jet pilots, who sometimes are treated like dogs).

Read more: War Dogs & Veloci-Chickens in Afghanistan

Infiltration: Operation Flintlock Part II

21 Comments

2011-07-28-152910-2-10004-4Cav Soldiers stuffed into CH-47 helicopter during mission.

August 11, 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

The plan was bold and dangerous.  The troops were to fly by CH-47 helicopters to the insertion point.  There would be no moonlight.  Illumination was predicted to be 1%.  Flying with night vision goggles and no lights, the pilots were to put wheels down at exactly 0300 in the middle of a field near targeted areas of interest.

The landing zone (LZ) was in a dangerous area with the specific number surrounding enemy fighters unknown.  Just a day before, the enemy had fired an RPG at a Kiowa Warrior helicopter near the LZ, but missed.  The pilots often can identify an RPG that misses: unlike in the movies, RPGs make no trail.  If it misses a target it normally self-destructs.  When the RPG explodes in the air, it leaves a small donut shaped cloud, and a small “smoke stick.”  The smoke stick is created after the warhead explodes leaving smoke, and the spent rocket motor continues to fly through the smoke, dragging smoke with it.  The pilot can look at the smoke stick and guess the firing point.  On the other hand, if a pilot sees a smoke trail coming her way, it’s a surface-to-air missile and a bad day is unfolding.

Read more: Infiltration: Operation Flintlock Part II

Ambush this Morning

31 Comments

09 August 2011
Zhary District, Kandahar, Afghanistan

(A quick, unedited dispatch.)

At 0630 this morning, the Commander of 4-4Cav and I met for a morning run.  Lieutenant Colonel Mike Katona is on his fifth combat tour.   After the run, I decided to finish a dispatch and publish today, and therefore had to skip today’s mission with LTC Katona.

As the day unfolded, radio traffic came in that LTC Katona’s mission, consisting of four MRAPs, was in a serious and well organized ambush.  The Commander’s vehicle was immediately disabled from an 82mm strike to the engine, which scorched the Commander’s boots.  The gunner was knocked unconscious and fell down from the hatch.  The gunner quickly recovered and joined battle.  Katona spilled out of the MRAP and began firing at the enemy.

The other three MRAPs all were hit, for a total of four destroyed MRAPs.  The enemy used a combination of small arms, RPGs, and 82mm.  One RPG hit a windshield but did not penetrate, but the 82mm were devastating.  All or most of the troops were wounded, but all are MINOR.  The fight raged for about twenty minutes.

Read more: Ambush this Morning

Operation Flintlock: Some Notes

27 Comments

2011-07-29-193145-1000Planning Operation Flintlock at FOB Pasab, formerly FOB Wilson.

09 August 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

The ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches.  For us, the Iraq war has essentially come and gone between 2003 and 2008, though we continue to lose troops there.  Here in Afghanistan, the war marches on.

In Afghanistan, if destroying our enemies and replacing the vacuum with a creaky government was the goal, we waited until 2009 or 2010 to get serious.  The positive pivot in the Afghanistan war occurred in 2010 after General Petraeus took command.  Today, progress can be seen, though the tide will likely begin to recede with our troops in 2012.

Task Force Spartan, the largest Brigade in Afghanistan, has been tasked to penetrate the heart of the original Taliban country where Mullah Omar, the long-recognized leader of the Taliban, was born and raised.  Amazingly, the Zhari District and surrounds, such as Panjwai, have not been tamed after all these years.  One could understand this situation if it were deep in the hidden parts of the rugged Hindu Kush, where even helicopters and UAVs pant in the thin air, but from where I write these words, in Zhari District, no mountains can be seen.  The altitude is low, there are no jungles to hide in, no sea of humanity in which to blend and swim in the sparse farming villages.  The few rugged hills on the periphery, where practically nobody lives, provide advantage for us, not the enemy.

Read more: Operation Flintlock: Some Notes

Men at War: Come Home with Your Shield, or On It

50 Comments

2011-07-31-070544-1000During the mission

08 August 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

The men here can be seen saluting senior officers, while saying, “Sir, with your shield or on it.”  This is the mantra of Task Force Spartan.

On the morning of 30 July, members of 4-4Cav boarded CH-47 helicopters and at 0300 landed in the middle of a Taliban stronghold.  Over the next 48 hours, there were at least 27 firefights.  The number taken for confirmed enemy killed was eleven, though likely the actual number was considerably higher.  During the first day, one of our Soldiers was shot in the face and badly wounded.  His buddies say that had he not then played dead, the enemy surely would have killed him.  His buddies, braving close and accurate machinegun fire, managed to rescue the wounded Soldier from a roof.  A Blackhawk MEDEVAC took him away as we watched from a few hundred meters distance.

Read more: Men at War: Come Home with Your Shield, or On It

Onward

85 Comments

2011-07-28-152910-2-1000aOperation Flintlock

06 August 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

A tragic loss of dozens of Americans and Afghan partners has occurred.  Apparently their helicopter was shot down during a raid.  The investigation is underway.

Read more: Onward

The Texan Who Would Be King

23 Comments

2011-07-29-223407-full-size

02 August 2011

Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
With 4-4CAV, Task Force Spartan, Regional Command South

You meet the most interesting people in war.

War draws a “Who’s Who” of national leadership and central figures from the President on down.  “Everyone who is anyone” is somehow involved.  The higher leadership funnels down by gravity to the conflict.  And there another funnel is created, only this one is like a funnel cloud, a tornado, that rips through the young generation serving.  It also lifts many of these younger members into the clouds, to heights they never would have reached without military service, especially in war.  Many young people who are serving now will go on to do big things as they leap over boundaries that no longer exist in their minds or in reality.  They’ve faced death again and again and again.  Day in and day out, their responsibilities are routinely matters of life and death, success and failure.  Their decisions, good or bad, have national implications.  After this kind of responsibility, what else is there?

Read more: The Texan Who Would Be King

More Flak from Military Public Affairs

53 Comments

29 July 2011
 
Over the past seven years, there has been a long string of issues flowing from military public affairs officers.  Most of the PAs have been professional, but on balance the experience has been extremely negative.  This is the opposite of what I've experienced with combat units, wherein the experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.

The latest meddling from Public Affairs began yesterday after I published photos supplied to me by the Army.  The images show a young Afghan boy who stepped on a bomb.  Apparently the Taliban made the boy step on the bomb which blew off part of his right leg.  Our people at Task Force Spartan took him in for treatment.  Distant busybodies in Public Affairs, who can’t seem to stand it when the military gets positive press, wanted the story taken down.  (After FOX, Instapundit, and others ran the story.)  They cited paragraph 21 of the embed ground rules.  Perhaps they did not imagine that I would review paragraph 21.  The paragraph is unrelated.  The ground rules are published below.

Read more: More Flak from Military Public Affairs

Taliban Attacking More Children

35 Comments

26 July 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

Over the past several days there have been news stories here in Afghanistan about the Taliban strangling an 8-year-old boy.   The reports say that his father refused to turn over a police vehicle to the enemy, and so they murdered his son.  Late last night, a courageous Afghan journalist named Mustafa Kazemi emailed an image of the boy that Mustafa said had been murdered.  Afghans are enraged.  They hate this behavior as much as we do.  The boy appears to have had his eyes gouged out before being strangled to death.  This image is graphic. (please scroll down)

And so last night I walked to the Headquarters of 4-4CAV here in Zhari District, the most active district in Afghanistan at this time.  I asked what was going on tonight.  A noncommissioned officer filled me in on the day’s events.  We had been in a minor ambush resulting in a slight injury and a damaged MRAP, so I knew about that one.  But then he explained about a boy whom he said the Taliban forced to step on an IED just down the road from here.  Apparently, according to Afghans, the Taliban may have been testing a new bomb made from a soda bottle.  The boy’s name is Jalil, and our people estimate that Jalil is 6 to 8-years-old.  Jalil was picking grapes with his brother when the Taliban, according to reporting, told the boy to step on the bomb.  It blew off his right leg below the knee, leaving hamburger on the stump, and fractured his femur.  Afghans brought Jalil to the nearby American base called COP Kolk, where 4-4CAV Soldiers treated him.  A helicopter took Jalil and his father to Kandahar Airfield for advanced treatment.

I asked the Taliban spokesman for his take on this, and he emailed back that “It is enemy propaganda.”  The evidence is against him.

I asked the Army to declassify the storyboard, and so they cleaned off some coordinates and other unimportant trivia, and here it is:

PDF

Reader support is crucial to this mission. Weekly or monthly recurring ‘subscription’ based support is the best, though all are greatly appreciated.  Recurring and one-time gifts are available through PayPal or Authorize.net.

supp

supp

Venmo1

To support using Venmo, send to:
@Yon-Michael

My BitCoin QR Code

Use the QR code for BitCoin apps:

189

Or click the link below to help support the next dispatch with bitcoins:

subscribe