Published: Wednesday, 21 October 2009 03:32
21 October 2009
In 2008, I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal preparing for a return to Afghanistan. A message came from a British officer suggesting to end the trip and get to Afghanistan. Something was up, and I didn’t bother to ask what. Days of walking were needed to reach the nearest road. After several flights, I landed in Kandahar and eventually Helmand Province at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008. During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure. And then the British kicked me out of the embed, for reasons still unclear, giving me time to look further into the Kajaki electrification failure.
Read more: Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark
Published: Monday, 19 October 2009 00:03
18 October 2009
By Michael Yon
The inbox was peppered with hyperlinks to Dexter Filkins’ story in the New York Times, Stanley McChrystal’s Long War. One message came from Kathryn Lopez at National Review, asking if I had seen the article and for any thoughts.
It should be said that I respect the work of Dexter Filkins. Mr. Filkins is a seasoned war correspondent whose characterizations of Iraq ring true, while Stanley McChrystal’s Long War resonates with my ongoing experiences in Afghanistan. Despite the great length of the article, the few points that did not resonate were more trivialities for discussion than disagreements. Mr. Filkins did a fine job.
Read more: Adopt-a-stan
Published: Wednesday, 14 October 2009 03:30
[This dispatch was written by me in December 2008 in southern Afghanistan. It was never published though I recently found it in the unpublished archives. The photos came from the same period.]
Published: from Nepal on 14 October 2009
On May 25, 1961, the President of the United States of America said:
“Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”
Read more: Afghan Lunacy
Published: Monday, 12 October 2009 13:42
A Remembrance During Time of War
Kandahar City, Afghanistan
Slowly, surely, the city is being strangled. Signaling the depth of our commitment, security forces are thinner in Kandahar than the Himalayan air. During the days and evenings, there were the sounds of occasional bombs—some caused by suicide attackers, and others by firefights. The windows in my room had been blown out recently and now were replaced. We came here to kill our enemies, but today we want to make a country from scratch.
Read more: MARKET GARDEN
Published: Thursday, 08 October 2009 03:38
Published: 08 October 2009
“In April this year it became 2 Rifles’ dubious fortune to be sent to Sangin on a six-month tour. By mid-August their battle group, a composite force from various units built around a core of several hundred riflemen and fusiliers, had the worst casualties of any British brigade sent to Helmand, with just over 100 soldiers killed or wounded: a fifth of their total patrol troops. The trend suggested that by the time the battle group’s tour ends this month as many as one in four of these infantrymen will have been slain or injured, a figure that compares with British infantry casualty ratios in Europe during the later stages of the Second World War.”
Read more: A Story From War
Published: Friday, 02 October 2009 14:01
Official News Blog of the UK Ministry of Defence
« Defence News: 1 October 2009 | Main | Defence Diary: 2 October 2009 »
Thursday, 01 October 2009
Nick Gurr: Reply to Michael Yon
Last week Michael posted a highly critical piece on the ending of his embed with Task Force Helmand (TFH). This attracted a large number of posts from outraged readers supportive of Michael. I undertook to investigate what had happened. I have now done so.
I know that some readers will not be sympathetic to the MOD's position on a matter such as this. But I would be grateful if you would hear me out. It is clear that there has been a (to quote Michael) "Texas-sized" misunderstanding here, made worse by various other factors, and I apologise for any part that MOD has played in that. But there are a few important points that I would like to make:
Michael's embed is the longest of any person this year by quite some way. Most embeds are for between one and two weeks. And demand for embeds with TFH always exceeds our capacity to supply. I wish that were not the case. But it is. Despite this, we have facilitated 136 media visits to TFH since January this year. On average there were about three people per visit, which means that some 400 media people have visited TFH over the first nine months of this year.
Michael's embed ended because the media ops team needed to assist a number of visits by other journalists, including a package from Northern Ireland regional newspapers (home ground for 19 Brigade), reporters from The Times and Independent, a BBC TV crew, a documentary team and a team from PA. Capacity is limited. I can understand that this may have looked different to Michael. But it was the reason that the embed ended when it did.
Hence the Defence Secretary's reply to Anne Winterton.
Last, and most importantly, while we take a number of factors into account in deciding who to embed and when (when an individual was last embedded, when his/her organisation was, readership), a demand for positive coverage is not among them. We believe that the efforts of our forces in theatre will speak for themselves. Of course we hope for balance - and by and large we get that. We have certainly never had an issue with Michael's reporting.
Clearly something appears to have gone seriously wrong in this case. But everyone in theatre is working under huge pressure which will sometimes generate friction and, as I said, I am sorry if Michael felt he was not being treated as he should be. I am assured that the media ops team in theatre worked hard to support him. It is a shame that the experience should have ended on a sour note.
I hope Michael will find the time to drop in for a chat about how we go forward from here when he is next in London.
Posted at 01:16 PM in From the Director
Published: Thursday, 01 October 2009 06:33
Published today in:
01 October 2009
By Michael Yon
The Greatest Afghanistan War has deteriorated so noticeably that one can now feel the enemy's growing pulse. Each month it beats steadier, stronger, and in 2010 it will finally be born.
On Sept. 11 in Kandahar, a South African civilian working without security was visibly upset - not at the Taliban but at the police. The 16-year police veteran recounted seeing Afghan police speeding through crowded streets and hitting a bicycle. The rider gymnastically avoided impact while the bicycle was tossed down the road.
The South African, with whom I spent a week in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said the police never slowed down. "That's part of the reason the Taliban are gaining ground," he said. "The police are out there recruiting Taliban."
I have searched for answers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Along with the more strategic questions (for example, should war be pursued?) are those closer to the shop floor: Are we gaining or losing popular support? Is the enemy gaining or losing strength? Is the coalition gaining or losing strength?
Read more: YON: The Greatest Afghan War
Published: Sunday, 27 September 2009 03:17
05 October 2009
In July, British soldiers and I boarded a CH-47 helicopter at Camp Bastion for the flight to FOB Jackson at Sangin where fighting is brutal. The helicopter was so stuffed with men, gear and supplies that the cargo was not even strapped down. We steadied the long stack with our hands and prayed that the pilots not begin flying violent evasive maneuvers. The tail gunner partially lifted the ramp to prevent bundles from tumbling into the skies, and that was it for securing the bundles. Just a week before, a giant MI-26 helicopter was shot down on final approach to this same landing zone. All aboard died in flames, as did two children on the ground.
Read more: Two Firefights: One Video
Published: Friday, 25 September 2009 04:51
By Michael Yon
25 September 2009
The surprise discontinuation of my embedment from the British Army left my schedule in a train wreck. Until that decisive moment, I am told, that my embed with the British Army had lasted longer than anyone else’s; other than Ross Kemp’s. I’ve also been told that I’ve spent more time with the British Army in Iraq than any correspondent. So it’s fair to say, we have good history together.
In the last 12 months, I’ve embedded with the British Army in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, then over to the jungles of Brunei to attend a man-tracking school, and again back in Afghanistan. During that time, I’ve also been with U.S. forces in Iraq, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. I’ve accompanied the Lithuanians in Afghanistan and also been downrange for months without any troops or official assignment.
This dispatch, and many others, should have been about soldiers at war. But it’s not. This dispatch is being written in downtown Kandahar City and I have not seen a soldier in days. The Taliban is slowing winning this city. There have been many bombings and shootings since I arrived in disguise.
Read more: Bullshit Bob
Published: Thursday, 24 September 2009 02:25
America in Danger: Important Courtroom Battles
Published: 24 September 2009
Dear Mr. Yon:
It is my pleasure to forward to you the attached copy of the amicus curiae brief which we filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on behalf of the Special Operations community on Monday evening.
Read more: Maqaleh v. Gates Amicus Brief
Published: Tuesday, 22 September 2009 13:43
Published: 22 September 2009
Please click here to view the entire pdf from Fredrick and Kimberly Kagan.
Published: Monday, 14 September 2009 02:45
14 September 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
With the war increasing, Air Force Pararescue has been crisscrossing the skies picking up casualties.
Read more: Pedros
Published: Tuesday, 08 September 2009 03:35
08 September 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
Just before the mission, soldiers form up near the memorial for our fallen.
Read more: Eight Years After 9/11
Published: Sunday, 06 September 2009 13:19
6 September 2009
This story was published in the New York Daily News on 6 September 2009.
By Michael Yon
Helmand, Afghanistan - The West is losing this war. This has been obvious for more than three years. Less obvious is that in 2009, we are down to the wire. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and others will soon recommend to President Obama the latest treatment for a dying patient.
Meanwhile, allies and Americans are asking themselves why we are here. Some are saying that Al Qaeda is still here or is waiting in the wings to return to its home. Yet Afghanistan was never Al Qaeda's permanent home to begin with. Al Qaeda was just renting a little space here, just as it was renting space in places like Germany and Florida.
Read more: New Afghan war: Frontline correspondent says fight has morphed – but we still can't afford to lose
Published: Monday, 31 August 2009 04:48
31 August 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
The historical Afghan elections scheduled for 20 August were days away. While the west mostly continued to vote for Afghanistan, the big question was, “Will Afghanistan vote for itself?”
The latest media wave splashed into the main voting centers in places like Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Lashkar Gah. The larger cities only account for perhaps 20% of the Afghan population. Whereas the easy and obvious stories are in the cities, a crucial and larger dimension—the other 80%—would unfold in the boonies. Most Afghans would have no chance to vote.
Read more: Precision Voting
Published: Thursday, 27 August 2009 03:44
27 August 2009
My embed with British forces has ended. Will be out with U.S. forces for the foreseeable future. After that, will strike out alone into the wilds of Afghanistan. There are two more stories in the pipeline about the British soldiers I was with, who were in a couple of firefights. The bullets got pretty close. The events are worth recounting. Unsure if I will be able to complete those dispatches due to the time wasted with the sudden ending of my embed. Am attempting to publish at least one. The soldiers deserve both, but time is cruel when its wasted.
Read more: The Kopp-Etchells Effect, Part II
Published: Monday, 24 August 2009 16:06
The British Ministry of Defence canceled my embed after today's dispatch. Please Read "Bad Medicine".
Next Stop U.S. Forces.
Read more: Important Update
Published: Sunday, 23 August 2009 18:49
On Pharmacy Road
24 August 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
The British soldiers of 2 Rifles had a mission: clear and hold Pharmacy Road.
FOB Jackson is currently home to Battlegroup headquarters for 2 Rifles. The area around the river is called the “Green Zone,” but just as appropriately could be called the Opium Zone. During season, the area is covered with colorful poppies, whose 2009 products are probably showing up by now on the streets in Europe. European money flows back here and buys fertilizer in the Sangin Market, which can be used to make bombs, produce more opium, get more money and make more bombs and grow more opium and make more money and bombs and grow more opium. Sangin is at once an ATM and weapons bazaar for the enemy. Nearly all fatalities in this unit have been caused by fertilizer bombs. The decision to mostly ignore the drug dealers has been a strategic blunder.
This mission was about tactical exigencies created by the strategic realities. Though FOB Jackson is small enough to walk from one end to another in a few minutes, it is the main base in Sangin, with smaller patrol bases spread around the Sangin area of operations. Two of those bases are Patrol Base (PB) Tangiers and PB Wishtan. Tangiers is an Afghan National Army (ANA) PB often used by 2 Rifles, while PB Wishtan is manned by C Coy of 2 Rifles. (“Coy” is British for “Company.”)
Read more: Bad Medicine
Published: Thursday, 20 August 2009 17:06
20 August 2009
This dispatch has been dictated by satellite phone due to communications difficulties. My satellite gear has failed on election day. I do not know how well the elections turned out in other parts of Afghanistan. Here in North Helmand Province, near Sangin, I am told that less than 300 people voted. In this area the day was marked by serious fighting. Apache attack helicopters were firing their cannons throughout the day. The howitzers fired many times. The mortars were firing. Various bases were attacked. On the mission I accompanied the snipers were firing. We got into a firefight, and the soldier beside me had his antenna shot off. I would not characterize this as a failure of the elections, it was a local setback. We saw the same in Iraq in early 2005, where some people boycotted the elections. The situation here is not good, but this is only one area of Afghanistan. I do not know what happened elsewhere.
Published: Wednesday, 19 August 2009 01:59
19 August 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
A gunshot ripped through the darkness and a young British soldier fell dying on FOB Jackson. I was just nearby talking on the satellite phone and saw the commotion. The soldier was taken to the medical tent and a helicopter lifted him to the excellent trauma center at Camp Bastion. That he made it to Camp Bastion alive dramatically improved his chances. But his life teetered and was in danger of slipping away. Making matters worse, the British medical system back in the United Kingdom did not possess the specialized gear needed to save his life. Americans had the right gear in Germany, and so the British soldier was put into the American system.
British officers in his unit, 2 Rifles, wanted to track their man every step of the way, and to ensure that his family was informed and supported in this time of high stress. Yet having their soldier suddenly in the American system caused a temporary glitch in communications with folks in Germany. The British leadership in Sangin could have worked through the glitch within some hours, but that would have been hours wasted, and they wanted to know the status of their soldier now. So a British officer in Sangin – thinking creatively –asked if I knew any shortcuts to open communications. The right people were only an email away: Soldiers Angels. And so within about two minutes, these fingers typed an email with this subject heading: CALLING ALL ANGELS.
Read more: Do Americans Care about British Soldiers?