Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Warthog

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All photos in this dispatch made on March 1, 2010, at Kandahar Airfield.

Kandahar, Afghanistan
23 March 2010

The mission required crossing a bridge that had been blown up a couple hours earlier by a suicide car bomber.  The attacker hit a convoy from the 82nd Airborne, killing American soldier Ian Gelig.  Now with a hole in the bridge and recovery operations underway, our mission was cancelled.  So I called the Air Force to see if they were busy.  Yes, it turns out, the Air Force is busy every day, but Captain Kristen Duncan took me down to the ramp where the A-10 “Warthogs” are parked.

Read more: Warthog

Army to Army

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American Colonel Writes to Spanish Colonel

15 March 2010
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Responding to a document first published here on 08 March, U.S. Army Colonel Robert J. Ulses writes to Spanish Army Colonel Jesus De Miguel Sebastian.

The letter from Colonel Ulses contradicts the previous memo by a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel.

Read more: Army to Army

Man Dogs

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Kandahar, Afghanistan
15 March 2010

In David Galula’s 1964 book, Counterinsurgency Warfare, THEORY AND PRACTICE, he states:

“The ideal situation for the insurgent would be a large, land-locked country, shaped like a blunt-tipped star, with jungle-covered mountains along the borders and scattered swamps along the plains, in a temperate zone with a large and dispersed rural population and a primitive economy.”

Mr. Galula described Afghanistan almost perfectly.  Instead of jungle-covered mountains are some of the most extreme folds on Planet Earth: The “abode of snow,” the Himalaya.  Afghan elevations dwarf Mount Rainier, and make the great Colorado Rockies look like the Pygmy Snow Hills. Meanwhile, down in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, Galula’s “swamps” are the “Green Zones,” where most of the current fighting occurs.

Read more: Man Dogs

The Bridge

64 Comments

Need Bullets?  The shortest distance between South Carolina and Kandahar is about 7,500 miles.  (As the rocket flies.)

Shah Wali Kot, Afghanistan
11 March 2009

The military axiom that “amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics” has special meaning in Afghanistan. During the Soviet war, though the Bear comprised Afghanistan’s entire northern border, the Afghan resistance was frequently able to block Soviet logistical operations, which were dependent on scant roads, tunnels and corridors. Captured Soviet logistics convoys often supplied the Mujahidin.

Logistics in landlocked Afghanistan are exceptionally tough because the country is a transportation nightmare of impassable mountains, barren deserts, and rugged landscape with only capillary roads and airports.

Read more: The Bridge

Of Concern

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Monday, 08 March 2010
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Yesterday, an American involved in the war effort handed me a document. It was an email from a Lieutenant Colonel in the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. His unit is in combat seven days a week. To be clear, I did not get the email from the officer and I have never met him.

The email is about the abysmal, unsafe conditions which some of our most dedicated troops are living in, at a remote base run by the Spanish military in Afghanistan. All deletions [xxx] are by me. I have the entire email. The serious and disturbing allegations are found in the second and third paragraphs.

Read more: Of Concern

From Canada: A Thank You to U.S. Service Members

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U.S. Air Force Nurse, Lucy Lehker, comforts an 'unknown' Canadian soldier after he was badly wounded in Afghanistan.

Dear Michael Yon,

Today we were sent your story of February 14, 2010. The “unknown” Canadian is our son Danny.  He is a 23-year-old soldier from Vancouver, Canada.

Your photographs were extraordinary and have impacted so many people here in Canada. There has been an outpouring of affection for the Americans who helped Danny in his moment of need.  For that, we thank you for recording these acts of kindness into history.

Danny's injuries were the result of an explosion on February 12, 2010. Four Canadian soldiers were injured and tragically one Canadian soldier was killed.  Within 20 minutes of the explosion, Danny was airlifted by helicopter to Kandahar.  Upon arrival he received emergency surgery that saved his life and prepared him for the flight to Bagram that you were on.

After landing in Bagram, Danny was again airlifted by a US transport aircraft to the US Army run Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.  There he underwent additional surgery that closed up his wounds.  Once stabilized, the Canadian government dispatched a Challenger jet to bring him home. This afternoon in Vancouver, the shrapnel that did all the damage to him was finally removed.  Danny is now recovering in hospital.

This was Danny's second tour of duty in Afghanistan and his platoon on this tour has had heavy causalities and injuries.  Physically, Danny will overcome his injuries. He also has the support of his family, his friends and his community to deal with the emotional side of this war.  Our hearts go out to those families who have had the loss of a soldier or who have had to deal with greater injuries.

Danny and his whole family are very grateful, and are actually overwhelmed, by the support he received while in US care. The Canadian military have also been wonderful.  It is our intention to personally thank everyone who worked so hard to save Danny's life. We have already made contact with Major Deborah "Lucy" Lehker to thank her.

Sincerely,

Jim & Holly

Full Story:

Valentine's Day Weekend, Afghanistan

Whispers

 

Whispers

63 Comments

Flight Medics prepare the aircraft to receive patients.

Around Afghanistan
22 February 2010

“Johnny Boy” Captain John Holland was walking out to the aircraft just as I arrived at the flight line.

Captain Holland asked, “Are you ready?”

“Yes Sir.”

The Marjah offensive—billed as the biggest US/NATO/Afghan assault on the Taliban ever—had begun.  With it, the attention of nearly all the reporters covering Afghanistan is focused on Marjah.  Yet fighting continues across the country, in provinces with names unfamiliar to most people.  Men and women are wounded.  Some die.  Some are saved by dedicated medical crews, and by the pilots who fly into combat to ferry wounded to some of the best trauma facilities in the world, right here in Afghanistan.  This story is about the people who care for our troops, wounded correspondents, and many other people, day in, day out.

Read more: Whispers

Adam Ray

100 Comments

18 February 2010
Kandahar, Afghanistan

On Feb. 9th, in a field near a road, an Afghan soldier squatted to relieve himself.  He picked the wrong spot. A bomb exploded, blowing off a leg, and he died.  Captain John Weatherly, Commander of Charlie Company of the 4-23 Infantry at FOB Price in Helmand Province, mentioned that in passing as he described the series of events that led to the death of Specialist – now Sergeant – Adam Ray, a vigorous 23 year old, born in Tampa, Florida.  The bomb the Afghan stumbled upon was near the IED that struck Adam.

Without the thousands of culverts underneath, the roads of Afghanistan would be flooded and washed away during the snow melts and rains.  In safe countries, drivers pay as little attention to culverts as we would to telephone poles.  As a practical matter they are invisible to us.

In the war zone that is Afghanistan, life and limb depend on noticing normally mundane things like culverts.  They are a favorite hiding spot for the Taliban to plant bombs intended to kill Americans driving the roads.  Hundreds, even thousands of pounds of explosives can be stuffed inside, launching our vehicles into the sky, flipping them over and over, sometimes killing all.  And so, in some areas, soldiers on missions must stop dozens of times to check culverts for explosives.  Since we do this every day in front of thousands of Afghans, they know our patterns.  In addition to planting bombs in culverts, they plant mines and other bombs near culverts, to get men who stop to check.

Read more: Adam Ray

Patterns

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Arghandab, Afghanistan

Written: 19 December 2009
Published: 15 February 2010

This is a story of warfighting and technology, and what life is like on the ground for our troops, as they do their best in war.

Last night a soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division was killed.  The attack occurred just hours before the 82nd was to relieve 1-17th Infantry from duties in portions of the Arghandab River Valley near Kandahar.

Earlier that morning, soldiers from 1st Platoon, B-company (1-17th) had taken me on a short, easy mission out to a micro-base called “Brick 1.”  The Platoon leader was 1st Lieutenant Ryan Fadden, while SFC Dimico was the platoon sergeant.  The platoon was ready.  Despite the filthy environment, weapons were clean, the gear was sorted and the men were in good spirits and a business-like frame of mind.  They seemed confident.  It looked like Lieutenant Fadden and SFC Dimico were on their jobs.  The battalion had lost 21 men KIA during the first several months of combat—the Brigade lost 31.  An article was about to be published in the Army Times which might lead one to believe that the 1-17th is not combat-ready.  The author, Sean Naylor, is as highly respected as he is experienced, and so his words are taken seriously.  Yet during my first week, despite serious stresses in some places, the men seemed ready.

Read more: Patterns

SEVEN

50 Comments

Left seat Pilot Thomas Sonne; Right seat: Major Bill Tice.

Kandahar, Afghanistan
10 February 2010

American forces are stationed at bases far and wide around Afghanistan.  Some bases are like towns, such as Camp Bastion, Kandahar Airfield, and Bagram Airfield.  But mostly they are small, often occupied by only a handful of troops.

Logistics into Afghanistan is a nightmare, and it only gets worse after you cross the border from the North or from Pakistan. By comparison, Iraq “logs” was like a run to a convenience store down the road.  Afghan logs are more like driving from Miami to Seattle for grocery shopping, and then driving the groceries back to Miami while under threat of attack.  Not a speck of exaggeration in that statement.  Enemy logs interdiction was a large constituent of the Soviet defeat, despite that the Soviet Union comprised the entire northern border of Afghanistan.  When the Soviet hammer tried to crack the Afghan rock, the hammer shattered.  The Soviets can easily put people in space and keep them there, but they couldn’t handle backdoor logistics during their Afghan war.  It’s easier to keep people in space than to supply our war here.

Read more: SEVEN

Special Delivery

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Kandahar, Afghanistan
08 February 2010

American troops are spread widely across Afghanistan.  Some are remote and accessibility is difficult.  In 2008, I was with six soldiers in Zabul Province who didn’t even get mail for three months.  They had no email.  They were on the moon.  Six courageous men, in the middle of nowhere, and their nearest backup was a small Special Forces team about five hours away.  Resupply to these small outposts is crucial, difficult, and would require major effort by ground.  Enter the United States Air Force.

Read more: Special Delivery

Entrega Especial

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Translation by J. Dale

Kandahar, Afganistán
8 de Febrero, 2010

Tropas Estadounidenses estan desplegadas extensamente a través de Afganistán. Ciertas zonas son remotas y la accesibilidad es difícil. En el 2008, yo estuve con seis soldados en la Provincia de Zabul que ni siquiera recibieron correo por tres meses. No tenian correo electrónico. Ellos estaban en la Luna. Seis hombres valientes, en el medio de la nada, y su relevo más cercano era un pequeño equipo de Fuerzas Especiales a cinco horas de camino. El reabastecer para estos pequeños campos aislados es crucial, difícil, y requerie un tremendo esfuerzo por tierra. Aquí es donde entra a la escena la Fuerza Aérea de los Estados Unidos.

Read more: Entrega Especial

Spitting Cobra

87 Comments

15 January 2010

Cobra Battery at FOB Frontenac
Arghandab, Afghanistan

Artillery is called “The King of Battle.”  When it comes to the delivery of force, probably nothing outside of nuclear weapons can outmatch the sustained delivery of extreme brutality.  Cannons also can deliver small atomic weapons.

Read more: Spitting Cobra

Canadian Cover Up?

61 Comments

04 January 2010

(Unfortunately, this news comes as I wait to board a flight from Hong Kong to the United States.  It must be written quickly and without editing.)

A reporter at Canwest News Service emailed Saturday asking for information on the four Canadian soldiers and the journalist who were killed on December 30 in Afghanistan.  I supplied a portion of the unpublicized information, and the reporter emailed Sunday that the Canadian military is “trying to suppress our telling of your information.”

The reporter also wrote, “While the Canadian military confirmed to me much of the information you provided, they are trying to prevent us from publishing it, saying it would breach our agency's embedding agreement.”

There is nothing classified or sensitive about the information supplied to Canwest.  This smells of a classic cover-up that has nothing to do with winning or losing the war, but more likely something to do with saving embarrassment.

Read more: Canadian Cover Up?

Into Thine Hand I Commit My Spirit

128 Comments

Arghandab, Afghanistan
New Year's Eve, 2009

On this small base surrounded by a mixture of enemy and friendly territory, a memorial has been erected just next to the Chapel.  Inside the tepee are 21 photos of 21 soldiers killed during the first months of a year-long tour of duty.  The fallen will belong forever to the honor rolls of the 1-17th Infantry Battalion, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and they will join the sacred list of names of those who have given their lives in service of the United States of America.

Read more: Into Thine Hand I Commit My Spirit

Christmas message from General Petraeus

11 Comments

24 December 2009

Many people know that General Petraeus is one of finest Americans ever minted.  To me, General Petraeus is a strategic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  If General Petraeus didn't show up, we likely would have flown our Iraq efforts into a mountain.  We now have a solid chance for success in Afghanistan.

I emailed asking for General Petraeus to say something to our folks for Christmas.  General Petraeus responded with this excellent message:

Read more: Christmas message from General Petraeus

General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey Cancels Trip to Cuba

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Published: 22 December 2009
By Barry McCaffrey (General Ret.)

Dr Wayne Smith
Center for International Policy 22 December 2009
1717 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC. 20036

Wayne,

Just got in last night to read the Reuters reports that Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced President Obama at the Copenhagen Conference as an  "imperial and arrogant  liar" in the most vile and personal terms imaginable.

The Foreign Minister could not have borrowed talking points from Cuba's worst enemies to more effectively harm the country's future economic and political  interests.

The AP wires also note Raul Castro mentioned Cuba's recent "war games" to prepare for US invasion. What a laughable assertion of an external US military threat.

Read more: General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey Cancels Trip to Cuba

Brian Williams to the Troops

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22 December 2009
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Brian Williams from NBC emailed to me something for the troops.  Brian is a Great American.

I was in Afghanistan about two months ago, and as usual the best part of the trip were the Americans in uniform who we met along the way.  I think about all of you every day.  I tell my civilian friends about you, and about what I've seen.  They all know that you are the people I admire most.  We toasted all of those deployed overseas at our Thanksgiving table, and we will on Christmas Day and on New Year's Eve.  I appreciate your service, and we appreciate our freedom.

We owe you all a staggering debt.

For now, Happy Holidays and the blessings of the season to you all.

 

Brian Williams

 

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