Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches



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



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


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


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:


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.

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