Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Some Photos and Captions


22 July 2009
Filed from Sangin, Afghanistan

(This dispatch is from Ghor Province, though I am now with British forces down south.)

Lithuanian soldier on Swedish C-130 from Kabul to Kandahar and finally to Chaghcharan.   On his left are Filipino workers.  Filipinos are like birds; the only place that an American has stepped that a Filipino hasn’t is the moon.  Yesterday was a special anniversary for space travel: man first landed on the moon.  I watched the launch from our family boat when I was five years-old.  Apollo 11 was bright, and loud.  Many people think that the Russians also walked on the moon, but this is untrue.

Read more: Some Photos and Captions

One Giant Leap


20 July 2009

Yesterday, a helicopter crashed on base at Kandahar Airfield, killing sixteen.  Later that night we had a minor rocket attack which caused me to roll out of bed onto the floor, while this morning, I got up to the great pleasure of watching Neil Armstrong on the BBC, talking about this historic anniversary, when man first stepped on the moon.  I remember that launch as it roared so brightly into space.  It remains perhaps the most spectacular day in the history of man.   Every worthy endeavor comes with a cost.

Around the same time Mr. Armstrong was speaking this morning, roars from war jets rumbled through base as they rushed down the nearby runway.  A British Tornado lifted off but did not get far before it crashed and burned. The two crew members successfully escaped and are recovering from ejection trauma.  The cause of the Mi-26 crash last Tuesday that killed five is unclear, but a military source mentioned that the helicopter was shot down by an RPG.  At least six aircraft—two jets and four helicopters—have gone down this month.  Two Americans were lost in a jet crash.

Read more: One Giant Leap

Sangow Bar Village


Sangow Bar Village

Some Notes and Photos

16 July 2009
Ghor Province, Afghanistan

On a per capita basis, Afghanistan is becoming more dangerous for British and American troops than Iraq ever was.  For those who fought in places like Anbar, Basra, Baghdad, Diyala and Nineveh, that’s saying a whole lot.  On a per capita basis, there are strong indications that Afghanistan will prove more deadly than Iraq during 2006-2007.  One can only imagine how many days and nights Secretary Robert Gates and his advisors must have agonized over troop levels here.  On the one hand, we have a fraction of the troops we need, but on the other, increasing troop levels increases hostility toward us.  Secretary Gates has made it clear to me that his biggest concern is that we will lose the goodwill of the people and they will turn against us.  This happens to be my own biggest concern.  The agony is in knowing we need more medicine and the medicine can be highly toxic here.  Many people have complained that the new restrictions on air strikes will hurt us, but from my boots, General McChrystal (the new boss here) has fulfilled the intent of his boss, and that the decision, though tough, was wise; if we lose the widespread assent of the Afghan people, it’s all over but for the bleeding.

Today our chances are not good, but there remains a real chance to succeed.  Those chances improve dramatically when we take a no-kidding inventory of the situation and refine our goals to align with reality.

Read more: Sangow Bar Village

Searching for Kuchi & Finding Lizards


Lithuanian Soldiers Prepare Humvees under the glow of the Milky Way

13 July 2009
Ghor Province, Afghanistan

The wake-up alarm sounded at 0345, and by 0430 the Lithuanian soldiers were ready to roll.  The Lithuanians had always arrived early, prepared for action before every mission, but this time we relied on an Afghan guide.  The first part of the mission was to find the Kuchi.  Normally, Lithuanian soldiers perform a reconnaissance before a mission, but they decided to skip the recon to find the Kuchi nomads because, well, they are nomads.  Even if the recon were to locate the camel caravan in a specific location, the Kuchis would likely have moved by the time we got there.  So we were relying on the local guide who had a cell phone number for the Kuchis.  He was 21 minutes late and held up the mission by 27 minutes.  One guy holding up about three dozen soldiers and a mission should be flogged.

The base at Chaghcharan sits at nearly 7,500 feet above sea level, so at night the Milky Way hovers in magnificence above the clean, dry air.  But come morning, the stars fade as the sun rises with blinding vengeance.

As we rolled to find the Kuchi nomads and their camels, the six vehicle convoy kicked up “moon dust,” which reflected the bright sun, causing instant blindness as if driving through white clouds.  The convoy had to space out, else the vehicles would be driving dangerously close through the arid fog of dust.  As we passed villages made of stone, mud, and straw, the white smoke from their cooking fires hung low, just above the villages, lightly blanketing their dwellings, as farmers were already heading to the fields.  The Afghans are a hard-working lot.  The cruel mountains must have killed off the lazy ones a long time ago.

Read more: Searching for Kuchi & Finding Lizards

Lithuanians on the Moon: Lithuanian Translation

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08 July 2009

For Lithuanian speakers, please see:

Lietuviai mėnulyje
tardamas šiuos žodžius

2009 m. liepos 1 d.

Čagčaranas, Goro provincija, Afganistanas

Lietuvis vyr. leitenantas Marius Varna palydėjo mane aplink nedidelę stovyklą ir prieš mus atsivėrė didžiulė Afganistano erdvė. Platybės, dulkės ir gniuždantis rudos spalvos pojūtis, beveik nėra gaivinančios žalumos, tik dangaus mėlynė ir spiginanti ryški saulė. Matyti vos keletas skurdžių medžių. Vienas kalnas atrodo žalsvas, tarsi jį kas būtų iš toli apipurškęs dažais. Ltn.Varna paaiškino, kad žolė ten pasirodė po prieš keletą savaičių nulijusio lietaus. 

The Village


Some of the Navy folks talked about bringing out a veterinarian.

08 July 2009

(Filed from Afghanistan)

The fight in the southern Philippines varies in intensity and technique.  Commanders in the AFP (Armed Forces Philippines) will say that the fight consists of about 80% carrot and 20% stick.  The relationship between U.S. and AFP forces seems good but there are differences of opinion.  Our folks fully understand the 80% part, but on the 20% we often know the whereabouts of the enemy and would like to see faster action.  Nevertheless, my gut instinct after having a tour about the place is that progress is being made.  A guerrilla commander told me that he had been fighting since 1976, but came out of the jungles with 34 fighters on 20 April this year.  Publicly it’s called a “surrender,” but on the ground it seemed more like a mutual agreement to stop fighting and do something constructive.

Read more: The Village

Philippines: Some Notes, Thoughts, and Observations


06 June 2009
Filed From Chaghcharan, Afghanistan


Until recently, Afghanistan was called “The Forgotten War.” The dramatic domestic, regional, and international politics of the Iraq war largely eclipsed the fact that our people were fighting just as hard in Afghanistan. Although we’re paying attention to AfPak now, off the radar screen an important and related fight has been unfolding in the Philippines.

Read more: Philippines: Some Notes, Thoughts, and Observations

Lithuanians on the Moon


Lithuanians on the Moon

Speaking the Language

Mohammad Jan Kendewalli points to ‘nearby’ villages.

01 July 2009
Chaghcharan, Ghor Province, Afghanistan

Lithuanian Lieutenant Marius Varna walked me around the perimeter of the small camp and we scanned the massive desolation of Afghanistan.  The expanses, the dust, and the overwhelming sensation of brown and near-absence of refreshing green, under blue skies and squinting-bright sun.  Only a handful of scrubby trees to be seen.   One mountain wore a tint of green, as if it had been spray-painted from too far.  Varna said it had sprouted after a rain a few weeks ago.

Read more: Lithuanians on the Moon

Lithuanians in Afghanistan


29 June 2009
Chaghcharan, Ghor Province

Kabul has changed.  In recent years the roads were often clogged with military convoys, filling the town with aggravations and dangers often caused by the mere presence of large numbers of soldiers in proximity to the dusty beehive called Kabul.  Yesterday, in a drive around the city, the only obvious presence was that of the ANA and ANP (Afghan National Army and Police).  The few U.S. or other soldiers who could be seen were driving in armored civilian SUVs.

Read more: Lithuanians in Afghanistan

Sean Pillai interviews Jeff Mellinger

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27 June 2009
Kabul, Afghanistan

The clearest sign that I am back in Afghanistan is that the electricity is out again.  Other than that, the day is bright, shiny and cool in Kabul.

While reading/listening through the morning news, this excellent interview with Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger popped up.  The interview was conducted by Sean Pillai.

CSM Mellinger has spent about 37 years in the United States Army.  He was the single most knowledgeable soldier I ever met when it comes to the ground war in Iraq.  He's a walking encyclopedia who spent more time on those hot, dangerous streets than most grunts.   CSM Mellinger gained immense respect from the combat troops.  He only had two bosses in Iraq.  The first was General Casey, and the second was General Petraeus, Jeff Mellinger didn't like office life.  He liked to walk the line.

The electricity is back on, so this message can now get back to you.


The Road to Hell: Part II


27 June 2009

With so many contractors, journalists, and even tourists floating around Afghanistan, some are bound to be kidnapped.  The recent escape by David Rohde provides a happy conclusion, though these things often end up with a bullet in the head, or a head sawed off for all to see.  Kidnappings are so common in Afghanistan that most barely make the news.

The New York Times and big media outlets are being blamed for suppressing the story and thereby giving special treatment to one of their own.  It’s clear that they did give special treatment to one of their own.  In fact, when police lose an officer, they also put special emphasis on the crime, and when soldiers lose one of their own, they also put special emphasis on rescue.  Iraqi soldiers who helped us locate American soldiers were sometimes upset that we barely lifted a finger when their own were captured and brutally tortured.  That the New York Times gave special treatment to one of its own is a fact.  That the U.S. military does the same is a fact.  Maybe it’s human nature.

Read more: The Road to Hell: Part II

Michael Jackson


News of Mr. Jackson's death is sweeping around the world.  Having worked for Mr. Jackson at his Neverland Ranch, I had the feeling that he was a hostage to his success.  Finally, the King of Pop will find peace that he might never have gotten in life.

Very Respectfully,

Michael Yon

David Rohde Escapes


21 June 2009

The excellent reporter David Rohde has escaped his kidnappers.  My latest word on Mr. Rohde came on about June 1 during a trip with Secretary Gates, when a very well placed source told me in Singapore that the Pentagon had no word on the whereabouts or condition of David Rohde.  I first heard about the escape this morning subsequent an interview request to me from the Washington Post.

Read more: David Rohde Escapes

The Iranian Time Bomb

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20 June 2009

Nearly two years ago, I read the book "The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction," by Michael Ledeen.  In light of today's events in Iran, Mr. Ledeen's words are proving accurate.  This is especially so in regard to internal instability.  Mr. Ledeen himself is a lightning rod for controversy but I will say this: he's a smart man whom I've spent many hours talking with on many occasions.  His eldest son served two tours as a Marine in Anbar Province, Iraq.  His daughter spends more time downrange than most soldiers.  Mr. Ledeen's words are often controversial, but he's true blue American and always worth listening to.

Read more: The Iranian Time Bomb

Southern Philippines


17 June 2009

Small teams of American troops are spread across many locations in the southern Philippines.  Each team works side-by-side with Filipino counterparts.  The jobs vary.  Navy SEALs and Special Boat Teams often support the AFP (Armed Forces Philippines) on actual operations.   I have been briefed on some of these operations -- though without the physical access one gets in Iraq or Afghanistan.  One truism of embedding: the more they are fighting, the closer the writer is welcome to get, right up into the middle.

Read more: Southern Philippines

Green Beret Loses Race and Wins a Battle


First published: 10 June 2009
Mindanao Island, Philippines

After one week of close access to some key players in this conflict, I can make one certain statement: This is a complex war. As for the complexity of the human terrain, the Philippines is the “Afghanistan of the Sea.” There are great differences, of course. The Republic of the Philippines is a functioning democracy with a professional military and it’s not bordering Pakistan and Iran, yet the human terrain here is far more complex than that of Iraq or even Afghanistan. Physical terrain shapes human terrain. Afghanistan has deserts, mountains and valleys, while this place has the sea, thousands of islands, and mountains and valleys. Physical barriers create separate languages and cultures.

Read more: Green Beret Loses Race and Wins a Battle



05 June 2009

This is the nicest war I’ve ever been to. Outside Magazine seems to think the same:

Read more: Jolo

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