Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Left of Bang


14 July 2011


A few years ago, a British officer said to me they want to get as far left of bang as possible.  The farther left of bang, the better.  Right of bang is a crater and a memorial service.

A main goal in staying left of bang is to disrupt enemy bomb-making cells.  In the early days of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, if a bomb blew up our people, we would be apt to arrest every male in the village old enough to sport pubic hair.  We paid for that with more blood and may or may not have gotten the right guys.  It was as if we were dealing with a thousand mysterious unibombers.  In America, if a bomb hit the local National Guard headquarters and the Guard responded by flooding out and arresting the entire neighborhood, the Guard could be assured that any positive or neutral feelings would be toxified to the point where previously friendly eyes would become enemy spies.  The formula is simple and works every time.

Read more: Left of Bang

Rule of Law


150215-web1000pxPartners in Law

13 July 2011
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Most Afghans hate warlords.  Most Afghans hate the Taliban.  When the warlords ruled Afghanistan it was lawless, and so many people welcomed the Taliban who beat back the warlords and installed crude justice.  Soon, the Taliban, staggered by their new power, became the new pariah.

After 9/11 the Taliban were beaten back.  This left another justice-vacuum.  We let the vacuum stand because we were not serious about Afghanistan and so we ran off to Iraq.  We finally became serious about Afghanistan in about 2009/2010.  This gave the Taliban and their shadow government most of a decade to regenerate.  Today, they run their own courts, and since 2006 I have heard countless stories from Afghans that they would prefer to have a government (most would, anyway), but they will take the Taliban over a vacuum.  They may hate warlords, but they hate Taliban less.

Read more: Rule of Law

IJC: Change of Command


And a Few Thoughts

ISAF Joint Command Official Change of Command Ceremony

KABUL, Afghanistan (July 9) – Media are invited to attend the change of command ceremony when Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez will welcome Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti as the new commander of ISAF Joint Command (IJC).

WHO:        Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti and other coalition and Afghan leaders

WHERE:      North KAIA, ISAF Joint Command, International Kabul Airport, Abby Gate
            Military side of the Khawja Rawash International Airport)

WHEN:       Monday, July 11
Gate opens to media arrival at 7 am
            Gate closes to media at 8 am
            Ceremony starts at 9 am

briefing-pano-testIJC in Kabul

11 July 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan
(Published from Dubai)

IJC stands for ISAF Joint Command, while ISAF stands for International Security Assistance Force.  And so with just three letters, you can say the 53 letters and spaces of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, which in turn symbolizes the more than forty countries assisting in Afghanistan.  They all seemed to have someone in the IJC.

On the day that I made the above image, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was coming to give a talk and say goodbye.  Secretary Gates did a great job.  In the IJC this day, the shift on duty was told to clear off all classified material so that there would be no issues with the cameras.  Secretary Gates walked in and gave his farewell talk, shook hands with a couple hundred people and then flew off in the 747-like jet that was waiting nearby.  As of this publishing, he’s retired.

Read more: IJC: Change of Command

Low Metal Content


Bomb Tricks and Techniques in Afghanistan


08 July 2011

The enemy sees our people use metal detectors every day.  Last time I was with the British, hardly a step was taken without waving the divining rod over the ground.  You try to step into the step of the troop in front of you, and there are times when you don’t even take a single step off that hairline, intermittent path unless you are in a firefight.  But even on paths that are “cleared,” if only by a metal detector and then only the precise footsteps you are trying to match—which dangerously refocuses your attention—that is not enough.  Expertly trained dogs won’t do it.  They are highly useful in equally highly constrained ways.  Dogs will walk right over a bomb and must be kept cool like a tuna sandwich or, at best, they won’t work.  Their attention span in the heat wanders like that of a puppy.  In the heat of southern Afghanistan, dogs don’t look for bombs; they seek shade and water and quickly become a liability.

Read more: Low Metal Content

The Snapper


Bomb Tricks and Techniques in Afghanistan


07 July 2011

CIVCAS (civilian casualties) are a huge problem for our side and for the enemy.  The enemy causes far more CIVCAS but as outsiders our mistakes have a more toxic psychological effect.  We won’t have to wait long for the next report of the Taliban accidentally, or purposefully, blowing up civilians.  It will probably happen today and tomorrow.

Read more: The Snapper

235 Troops Reenlist


04 July 2011

General David Petraeus reenlists 235 troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan

On the 4th of July, General David Petraeus reenlists 235 troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Lahu Skin Disease


4 July 2011
Kandahar, Afghanistan


An email came from Audra Morgan, an American friend in northern Thailand.  Audra writes:

"The Lahu tribe has a repeating genetic flaw that causes skin with no melanin and no oil ducks.  These kids live very painful, short lives.  They are burned by light instantly and most often die of skin cancer in their early 20s.  One of our kids is suffering with this  He has a kind heart and never complains about his pain.

I asked if I could take a picture of him and he said yes but there was so much pain and embarrassment in his eyes, I didn't want to aim the camera at his face.

His face looks like his hands.

We took him back to the village to see his familylast year.  They thought he had an evil spirit and basically shut him up in a bamboo hut for 14 years.  He has 8 siblings.  When we walked up to the family hut I saw his youngest sister, about 2 years old.  She was holding her fingers apart.  (This condition hurts when skin touches skin.)  The skin was already peeling off her little eye-lids.

It's possible we will get her this year.  She stands a chance at a semi-normal life if we can get her early enough.

This is what I love/hate about my job.  It's the kind of work that rips your heart out and also makes it worth waking up in the morning."

Cheering for Mass Murder


(a quick, unedited message from Kabul)

2011-06-28-144532-Web1000pxHotel Under Fire

29 June 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan

There is heavy security around Kabul.  A “ring of steel,” as they call it, which is under Afghan authority.  I’ve been driving around Kabul for several weeks and have never seen a foreign guard, and seldom see US or other forces on the roads.   I’ve been walking around town, shopping in shops and eating in restaurants.  All day yesterday and today I was out in the city with no weapon and no troops.   I wear Western clothes and sunglasses and seldom get an extra look while driving around in various sorts of taxis and private cars.  Expats are out past midnight at the few local restaurants that sell alcohol.  This is not Baghdad.  Fighting there was nearly constant and often sustained.  If this were Baghdad, I’d have been dead the first day.  Any ideas that Kabul is falling are remarkably wrong.  There are, however, some dangers and occasional suicide attacks that are nakedly designed to get press.

Read more: Cheering for Mass Murder

Message From Secretary Gates


29 June 2011

The message below is going out this morning to all US military personnel, active and reserve, around the world:


Read more: Message From Secretary Gates

Afghanistan is making undeniable progress, but it could all unravel


19 June 2011

It's time to make big decisions. These decisions will have a huge impact on the future of Afghanistan. The biggest question at hand: How many troops will we keep here and for how long?

The answer to that question must not be dreamed up in political strategy sessions or in focus groups. Buzzwords and abstractions won't do.

This is about real people — our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, our allies — and the people of Afghanistan. It's their lives that hang in the balance, and our judgment must respect the challenge they face and the progress they have made.

Let's begin with a few facts. For the strategy we used, we never had enough troops in Afghanistan to defeat our enemies and stand up a civil society. It can be argued that today, we still do not have enough.

Read more: Afghanistan is making undeniable progress, but it could all unravel

Rest in Peace our Brothers


09 June 2011

Today, a couple of messages came in from Air Force Combat Search and Rescue personnel.  The first message, reprinted below, caused me to stop and read it a couple of times.  It is important to note that these Air Force personnel are part of the teams that get our warriors off the battlefields and into the trauma centers in under one hour, on average.  In fact, last week the average was less than 40 minutes from call to hospital.  That is incredible.  Such dedication is not without cost.  Rest in Peace our Brothers.

The message below came in today:

On this day exactly one year ago this happen.

6/9/2010 - Air Force Combat Search and Rescue call sign Pedro 66 and Pedro 67 launched from Bastion Afghanistan in southern Afghanistan on their 3rd alert scramble of the day. Pedro 66/67 arrived on scene to recover the critically injured British Marine. The two Black Hawks immediately came under enemy fire resulting in a critically damaged tail rotor on Pedro 66. Still airborne the crew of Pedro 66 attempted to fly the hobbled bird away from ground forces to ensure no other Marines would be injured. After clearing the Landing Zone and civilian houses the aircraft became uncontrollable and Pedro 66 crashed. Pedro 67 was able to save 3 Airmen immediately along with the injured Marine. Tragically 4 Airmen perished that day: 1st LT Joel Gentz, and SSgt David Smith from the 58th and 66th Rescue Squadrons at Nellis AFB, NV and TSgt Michael Flores, and Senior Airman Benjamin White from the 48th Rescue Squadron Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. Capt. David A. Wisniewski (Aircraft Commander) also from the 66th RQS at Nellis would never wake from his coma and died 23 days later. 2 survivors Capt. Anthony Simone and MSgt Christopher Aguilera are still in recovery. Capt. Simone will never be the same due to his injuries and is with family and friends in Chicago, Illinois. MSgt Aguilera is continuing to get better and is working his way back to flying status.


Biogas Comes to Afghanistan


08 Jun 2011

Thanks to a Gurkha Soldier, biogas has come to Afghanistan.  In a nutshell, during a British Army tracking school in Borneo, a Gurkha named Lalit convinced me to research biogas for Afghanistan.  More accurately, Lalit kind of bugged me into it.  I travelled to Afghanistan, Nepal (twice), Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos while researching the biogas.  I travelled to all the right places, met with all the right people, and read stacks of literature.  I then wrote two major dispatches about biogas.  General Petraeus read the articles and adopted biogas for Afghanistan.  I talked with General Petraeus about this in his office a couple days ago.  General Petraeus is fully behind it.  All this thanks to Lalit, who just kept bugging me in Borneo.  And now, I am back in Afghanistan and researching Lalit's biogas project before heading out with combat forces. 

Please read the first biogas dispatch published last year, all inspired by Lalit, that caused General Petraeus to bring biogas to Afghanistan.

(By the way, I contacted Lalit's commander to please pass the word to Lalit.  The commander is on it.)

Memorial Day - 2011


ben-and-elaina-morton-jwh-editBen and Elaina

29 May 2011

Ben Morton answered America’s call from Kansas.  He joined the Army and served in Korea, then reenlisted and served as an infantry Sergeant in Mosul, Iraq.  On the night of 22 May 2005, intelligence was received that high value targets were in a certain large house.  Ben’s recon platoon moved in.  Sergeant Ben Morton led the way up the stairs, and in the ensuing firefight Ben was shot and mortally wounded.  Ben died from blood loss just near the spot where he had been hit. 

It was two nights after the first year wedding anniversary for Ben Morton and Elaina Salinas.  Elaina got word even while flowers and cards poured in, many of them from Ben.  He had ordered flowers each day for the entire month.  The Mortons were a couple deeply in love.  The course of their romance had been like something from a novel and now this.  Even after his funeral, the flowers and cards continued to arrive from Ben.  With Ben’s loss, and his love still pouring in, Elaina was inconsolable, so heartbroken that nobody from either side of the family could reach her.  Their love had been so deep that even their families had fused into one.  Together they searched for answers.  Some nights, Elaina would take Ben’s sleeping bag to the cemetery near the small church on the windswept Kansas plains.  She would weep beside Ben’s grave until she fell asleep even while his family would ask her to come home.  But even when she would come home, she cried all night in Ben’s bedroom until she would finally go quiet. 

One day, Elaina drove to a special place beside a lake where she and Ben had spent much time.  Elaina was alone when she took a small tree branch and traced in the sand by the lake, “I Love You Ben Morton, R.I.P.”  She traced a heart around the words and then joined her love forever. 

Rest In Peace Ben and Elaina.  Many people miss you.

Embed Approval


23 May 2011

The US military in Afghanistan has approved my return with US forces.  Embed should start roughly 02 June with no particular end date in mind.  The plan is to start down South, head to Kabul, then elsewhere.  There will be much fighting this summer.  The Taliban appear to be taking a terrible beating.

Of note: rumors were spread last year that I had been barred from embed for OPSEC violations.  I have never been barred from embed.  Not for OPSEC or for any reason whatsoever.   No military has ever accused me of OPSEC violations.  The accusers have been discredited.  For example, some within the milblog community spread the rumor that I had been disembedded from Canadian forces for security violations.  I’ve never embedded with Canadian forces.

Bottom line: I should be back in Afghanistan in about 10 days.

Loaded Gun


16 May 2011

Iraq 2005

Combat was relentless in the surrounding city.  Explosions rumbled in from the neighborhoods and washed over base, which was itself under frequent attack by rockets and mortars.  Four days before Christmas, soldiers were having lunch on the heavily guarded Forward Operating Base (FOB) Marez when a jihadist walked into the dining facility.  His vest detonated, killing 14 soldiers, 4 US contractors, and 4 Iraqis, and wounding about 80.  Casualties were rushed from the tangle to the hospital at FOB Diamondback, where the follow-on attack began.  The enemy rained indirect fire trying to hit the triage at the Combat Support Hospital.

Read more: Loaded Gun

Last Will of Osama bin Laden


Last Will
Osama bin Laden

In the name of Allah the merciful the forgiver,

[This is the] Will of a poor man to his god in the highest, Osama bin Mohammad bin Ladin,

Thanks be to Allah, and peace and prayers over the messenger of Allah, his family and all his companions. We implore his justice and guidance and call on him for assistance from our evil and ill deeds. He whom Allah guides, none can lead astray and he whom Allah leads astray, has no guide. And I testify that there is no god be he alone, ascribe no partners to him and I testify that Mohammad is his slave and messenger. We beg him in the highest to accept us in martyrdom along with the righteous of his worshipers and to perish us as Muslims.

Allah had commanded us that in case death approached to leave a will for both parents, relatives and all Muslims […] and whatever saddens them, saddens me and Allah attests to what I am saying.

Read more: Last Will of Osama bin Laden

From the White House: New INFOSEC Guidelines


05 May 2011

President Obama campaigned on a platform of Government transparency.  To his credit, he has taken steps in that direction, such as lifting the ban on photographing flagged draped coffins returning from the wars.  Again, to his credit, he made it clear that Americans should not be shielded from the horrors of war.  Paradoxically, yesterday, he banned the release of photos of the body of Osama bin Laden. 

Read more: From the White House: New INFOSEC Guidelines

Death of a Terrorist


02 May 2011

Our people have hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden.  Thank you to all the military and other good people who tracked him down to his own sanctuary.  We can only hope that the materials captured at his hiding place will lead to more terrorists, and that they will meet similar ends.

Today I received a message from the office of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Secretary Gates is enormously proud of everyone involved in making yesterday’s operation a success.  It was an extraordinary achievement.”  It certainly was.  America is today extremely proud of our secret warriors and the considerable organizations that facilitate their work.

Read more: Death of a Terrorist

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