Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Panjwai

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kid-in-panjwaiDeadly Panjwai in Kandahar Province

27 February 2011
Filed from Tarin Kot, Urozgan Province

Panjwai has been one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.  Much Canadian, American, and Afghan blood has soaked into this ground.

Read more: Panjwai

Tennessee in Afghanistan

37 Comments

tn-in-kandaharAnyone missing this car?

23 February 2011

The weather in Kandahar was cool and bright all day.  I travelled around Kandahar City with people from the Central Asia Development Group (owned by a close friend) and we visited eight cash for work projects.  This is a very interesting story that I started researching in 2010.  More on that in a serious dispatch, later.

Have been seeing Afghan, American, and Canadian forces around town but only in passing as they rumble by.  During my first day back did not see any fighting.  More interesting was this Toyota Corolla with a Tennessee license tag and the Buddhist reference that “MY OTHER VEHICLE IS THE MAHAYANA.”

If you are missing this car, I saw where it went.

Thumbs Up in Afghanistan

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thumbs-up-img_7711

22 February 2011

Arrived back in Kandahar today and immediately set off into the wilds.  Am not with troops at this time, but later will see about embedding.

While driving in Kandahar City today, we passed by some American troops doing “route clearance.”  They were looking for bombs.  Their work is extremely dangerous but they keep rolling.  Often they find bombs only after they get hit.  The “bird cage” around the vehicle is to counter RPGs.  Insofar as I can tell, the US government has done cheetah flips to make sure our troops have the right gear for this risky job.

While we drove past the American unit, a friend gave them a thumbs up and nearly got in the way of my shot!

Return to Afghanistan

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Day by Day

17 February 2011

All is looking good for my return to Afghanistan within one week.  The more researched photo-dispatches will be published here.  For daily updates that will not make it to main dispatches, please sign up for my Facebook.

Your support is crucial for my work in Afghanistan.  Thank you.

General Petraeus: Unfounded rumors

24 Comments

16 February 2011

Just got this email from Geoff Morrell, Press Secretary for Secretary Robert Gates:

"Despite some sensational speculation by one of the London papers, I can assure you General Petraeus is not quitting as ISAF commander, but nor does he plan to stay in Afghanistan forever. Obviously he will rotate out at some point, but that point has not yet been determined and it will not occur anytime soon. Until then, he will continue to ably lead our coalition forces in Afghanistan."

River of Tears: Snapshots from the Edge of a War

27 Comments

River of Tears

Snapshots from the Edge of a War

Salween River: Burma on the left, Thailand on the right.

14 Feburary 2011

The Salween River forms a border between Thailand and Burma.  “Rambo” fictionally crossed this jungle current in the movie Rambo IV.  But there is nothing fictional about the war, or the bombs that often fly from Burma into Thailand, or the land mines scattered across the hidden countryside.

Read more: River of Tears: Snapshots from the Edge of a War

Sangin Then, and Now

13 Comments

2 February 2011

During the summer of 2009, the British were fighting hard for Sangin.  They were always outnumbered by Taliban and terrain.  Casualties were high.

Today, US Marines are paying in blood for the very same ground because, in part, they gave up a miniscule speck of Afghanistan, and then paid to retake it.  But by other reports, Marines also are fighting very aggressively and seem to be destabilizing the Taliban in that crucial area.

There is much to be learned by first reading my dispatch from summer of 2009: “Bad Medicine on Pharmacy Road,” and then watching the current BBC documentary: “The Battle for Bomb Alley.”

The tiny stretch that was then called “Pharmacy Road” is now called “Bomb Alley,” though it was just as deadly in 2009.

By reading my dispatch closely, and then focusing on the BBC documentary, you’ll notice familiar sights in this tiny speck of land, and familiar names.  Little has changed other than that Marines spilled blood regaining what the British had already fought for.  That is a shame.  The good news is that the Marines seem to be winning.

Did Mubarak Flee?

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High USG source just told me Mubarak may have fled.  USG working to confirm.  US evacuation now very high priority.

Egypt Eruption

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I asked General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey for his thoughts on the evolving situation in Egypt:

Egypt is a few steps short of a disaster.  The corrupt, incompetent regime will not survive.

Most likely outcome--- the Generals take charge, announce a reform government, start  the process of responding to the injustice and despair of the common citizen. Then the situation staggers along for some period.

Worst outcome the Generals stand with the same gang that has looted the nation--- probably minus Mubarak. Then there is a possible civil war with the soldiers in many cases siding with the people not their officers. The only organized opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood which could then possibly gain power.

Our central US foreign policy concern is the stability of the Peace Treaty with Israel.  At the end of the day if required--- we would go to war to prevent the annihilation of the Israelis.  This would be a terrible outcome for the entire region.

And--- oh by the way---there is the matter of the Suez Canal and the flow of oil to a Europe with an increasingly ant-Israeli political stance.

We have few good options.  The President and Secretary Clinton are carefully walking the line.  Oddly enough--- only the last Administration with President Bush and Secretary Condi Rice has ever taken a strong reform position with Mubarak.

This one is important.  Egypt is central to peace in the region.  Their people have been ill-used by the Mubarak Regime.  Watch the enlisted soldiers of the Egyptian Army. If they go with the people--- there will be incredible bloodshed.

Barry McCaffrey

For My Thai Friends

11 Comments img_4617c_fullweb

04 January 2011

Was walking by the water.  There were thousands of birds and so I wanted to send this snapshot back to Thailand.  Thai people are welcome in Florida!  Y'all get over here.

Michael


The Jungle Twins

29 Comments

01 January 2011

A Mother’s Watchful Eye

In October 2010, a rare set of elephant twins was born in Thailand, leading to vibrant media interest.· The birth was a happy surprise partly because it had been the second set of twins born in Thailand in 2010.· Many Thais consider this auspicious, and two sets of twins in one year was very welcome news in the Kingdom.· Stranger still, the first set born this year were reportedly the first male twins in world history.· I cannot verify these claims.· In any case, I set off into the jungle to find the second twins -- both are girls -- and their mother.

Read more: The Jungle Twins

Shooting Star

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16 December 2010

Six years ago this week, I was packing for my first trip to Iraq.  Been a long road.

Earlier this week, the annual Geminids meteor shower was a beautiful sight to behold.  Using 4 cameras, I made about 3,600 photos over the Andaman Sea.   Due to computer issues, I’ve been able to review only about 100 images so far.   Several meteors were in the first batch of images.

Please feel free to download this image for personal, one-time use.  Shooting Star.

Also, please buy my new book!


Ripley’s Believe it Or Not

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Helicopter Rotors glowing due to Kopp-Etchells Effect

14 December 2010

Ripley’s Believe it or Not has asked to publish one of my photos in their next book.  This photo was made in Sangin, Afghanistan during the last time I was with British forces.  Sangin is the most dangerous place in the country.  The enemy is good and the fighting is serious.  The area freaks out some people.  Sangin is a courage tester and every mission I half expected would be my last.  Over a hundred British soldiers were killed in the area and now our Marines are well on the way to top that.  Sangin brings no-kidding combat.  Helicopters land on small bases at night without lights.  A few minutes walk from where this photo was made, another helicopter was shot out of the sky apparently with an RPG.  Many nights, when the helicopters land, the rotors glow due to the Kopp-Etchells Effect.

The photographs I made of the Kopp-Etchells Effect at Sangin have been seen in many countries around the world, and soon will be published in Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.  You are welcome to download a copy for a single personal use only.  Please click Kopp-Etchells Photo to download.


American Arrogance

87 Comments

13 December 2010

There have been many comments about American arrogance.  During my travels to 48 United States and over [65] countries -- most of those states and countries multiple times -- some themes have emerged.

There is a pervasive sense in the United States that we are THE best.  I've seen this in four other countries: Canada, France, India, and China. While many Americans think they/we are THE best in the world (whatever THE best might be to the thinkers of those thoughts), significant numbers of Canadians and French will inform you they are superior to Americans (and to Germans and Brits), while Indians and Chinese are superior to all of us.  Oh, and don't forget Israelis who have a tendency to burst out saying they have the "Most moral country in the world!" (They say that with exclamation mark.) Israelis also say, "We have the most moral Army in the world!"  Wasn't so long ago that the Germans were likewise self-convinced.  Today the Germans are convinced they are superior to Austrians who are superior to Germans.  Both are superior to Turks and Americans, while Polish are superior to Russians who are superior to all their neighbors and to Americans.  Czechs are superior to Slovaks.  Many people accuse Koreans of a superiority complex.  Goes on—in fact, this thought could go on for hours. There are many Thais who feel superior to hill tribesmen, Cambodians, and plenty of others, and Chinese who are superior to Tibetans, (but that's redundant because Chinese are superior to everyone). Except Egyptians and Saudis, who both are superior to Indians and Chinese.  And let's not get started on religion—because the Hindus are convinced they are superior to all, and of course Jews have their own thoughts, as do Yezidis, Christians, and let's not forget Muslims, Mormons, and Rastafarians, all of whom are “the chosen people,” like those found in Saudi Arabia.  The first religion, and therefore most superior, is Yezidism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism and only God knows what else.  Muslims look down on Sikhs.  The first people on Earth were Koreans, Africans, Yezidis, and Adam & Eve, though some scientists say we came from monkeys.   Many scientists believe all true science is superior to religions, but apparently this leaves, ironically, anthropology out in the cold, because anthropologists (isn’t that what this is all about?) can’t even make up their minds if they are scientists or not.  Arabs are superior to Persians.  But what exactly is an Arab?  Do you know?  I don’t.  I tried to figure out what an Arab is and got very confused.  In any case, Persians are superior to Arabs, and to Kurds, while Kurds also are superior to Arabs, though Arabs look down on Kurds.  Some Arabs are Sunni Muslims while others are Shia or something else.  Sunni think Shia are dumb.  All Arabs and Persians are superior to Afghans who are superior to Russians and to Pakistanis who in turn are superior to Indians (apparently not realizing that Indians are superior to everyone, except Egyptians, Saudis, and Chinese), while Nepalese are superior to Indians, but again, the Nepalese apparently don't realize the Indians don't care because they will soon surpass China in population! (Which Indians will also say with an exclamation mark.)  Inside Nepal, Brahmans are superior to Sherpas, though pretty girls prefer Gurkhas.  This generation is inferior to that, while writers look down upon photographers and staff are superior to freelance.  Newspapers were superior to bloggers.

Northern Europe is superior to the whole of Southern Europe.   Marines are superior to Soldiers. Oh Lord, I travel too much. Could go on for hours about all the arrogance out there. Just a little more: Aussies are superior to Americans and to Kiwis, while Kiwis are upset when we don't know where they are. Gators are superior to Seminoles, but there is actually truth to this because Seminoles actually are inferior to Gators.  Mammals are superior to reptiles.  And to birds.  And to fish.  Bacteria and viruses are superior to mammals but neither talks about it.

So there.  Top that!

For Thai Readers

1 Comment

03 December 2010

Merry Christmas Thailand!  I see Christmas decorations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  (Though it might be strange for Buddhists.)  I've also seen many Christmas decorations in places like Hanoi, Singapore, and even Jakarta.

Two articles featuring my work are in the October and December editions of the magazine "Guns & Tactics."  (Thai version.)

Please join my Facebook; there are many updates on Facebook.


 


Just got this Email from Office of Secretary Gates

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Q:  WikiLeaks:  Post-WikiLeaks reaction.  What's your sense on whether the information-sharing climate and environment created after 9/11 to encourage greater cooperation and transparency among the intelligence communities and the military led to these three massive data dumps?

And how concerned are you now there may be an overreaction to clamp down on information dispersal because of the disclosures?



A: SEC. GATES:  One of the common themes that I heard from the time I was a senior agency official in the early 1980s in every military engagement we were in was the complaint of the lack of adequate intelligence support.  That began to change with the Gulf War in 1991, but it really has changed dramatically after 9/11.

And clearly the finding that the lack of sharing of information had prevented people from, quote/unquote, "connecting the dots" led to much wider sharing of information, and I would say especially wider sharing of information at the front, so that no one at the front was denied -- in one of the theaters, Afghanistan or Iraq -- was denied any information that might possibly be helpful to them.  Now, obviously, that aperture went too wide.  There's no reason for a young officer at a forward operating post in Afghanistan to get cables having to do with the START negotiations.  And so we've taken a number of mitigating steps in the department.  I directed a number of these things to be undertaken in August.

First, the -- an automated capability to monitor workstations for security purposes.  We've got about 60 percent of this done, mostly in -- mostly stateside.  And I've directed that we accelerate the completion of it.

Second, as I think you know, we've taken steps in CENTCOM in September and now everywhere to direct that all CD and DVD write capability off the network be disabled.  We have -- we have done some other things in terms of two-man policies -- wherever you can move information from a classified system to an unclassified system, to have a two-person policy there.

And then we have some longer-term efforts under way in which we can -- and, first of all, in which we can identify anomalies, sort of like credit card companies do in the use of computer; and then finally, efforts to actually tailor access depending on roles.

But let me say -- let me address the latter part of your question.  This is obviously a massive dump of information.  First of all, I would say unlike the Pentagon Papers, one of the things that is important, I think, in all of these releases, whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq or the releases this week, is the lack of any significant difference between what the U.S. government says publicly and what these things show privately, whereas the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves.

But let me -- let me just offer some perspective as somebody who's been at this a long time.  Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time.  And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases.  And this is a quote from John Adams:  "How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not."

To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel."

When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-'70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress.  Those fears all proved unfounded.

Now, I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on.  I think -- I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.  Many governments -- some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us.  We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation.

So other nations will continue to deal with us.  They will continue to work with us.  We will continue to share sensitive information with one another.

Is this embarrassing?  Yes.  Is it awkward?  Yes.  Consequences for U.S. foreign policy?  I think fairly modest.



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