Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Soldier did Not Commit Suicide

17 Comments

mark-farah-1000Major Mark Bieger with Farah. (Mosul, Iraq, May 2005.)

27 September 2012

Through time, numerous people have asked me if Mark Bieger committed suicide a couple of years after this photograph was made. The answer is NO.

At first, I dismissed the rumor because it seemed random and small. Yet apparently many people believe this. Another person just asked. The answer remains absolutely not. I talked with Mark’s wife early in the year.  He is doing fine, as expected.

Read more: Soldier did Not Commit Suicide

America’s Dumbest War, Ever

46 Comments

26 September 2012

police-1000Afghan Police in Zhari District, 2011.

Yesterday a concerned father forwarded to me a letter from his son in Afghanistan. I confirmed authenticity, and republish with permission:

Dad,

I am fed up. I cannot believe the lack of attention the recent changes in this war is receiving by the media or the country. I think I saw one thing on CNN about the following subject, but I had to dig extensively to find it. The purpose of this letter is to let you know of the garbage that our soldiers are going through right now. With this knowledge, I hope that you take action by writing your congressmen.

Read more: America’s Dumbest War, Ever

Armed Medics in Bloody Combat

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l-ed-wooden-and-stauffer-1000Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan (2011)

25 September 2012

Much controversy continues to swirl around the fact that our “Dustoff” MEDEVAC helicopters fly unarmed into combat.  They wear the Red Crosses, alerting the enemy that they are unarmed.  Note that this Afghan medic is armed, and wearing a Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Please see these links on the issue:

Medevac Links

Stuck in the Mud

41 Comments

24 September 2012

2011-09-23-0001-1000Chazray Clark was blown up in September 2011. His buddies posted his image on the door, and on the wall of our tent. Nearly everyone in the tent had been wounded at least once.

Before Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton was blown up and killed in Afghanistan, he wrote to U.S. Representative Bill Young about incompetent leadership and meaningless risk-taking in this hollow war.  Matthew was on his third Afghan tour.

The Soldier’s words are emblematic of the realities and frustrations of a war that many Americans do not realize is still on.  The veteran wrote, “As a Brigade, we are averaging at a minimum an amputee a day from our soldiers because we are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives.”

Read more: Stuck in the Mud

Red Air: One Year Later

8 Comments

19 September 2012

Last Friday night, 14 September, I was asleep and had a strange dream.  I was walking and a car stopped in front of me so that I could not pass.  I looked inside and it was Chazray Clark.  I said, “hey, Chazray.”  Chazray said, “let’s go.”

So we were talking, and I said to him, “you got killed by that bomb.” Chazray said something like, “keep up the fight.”  What a strange dream.  I woke up ready to fight.

Chazray was killed last September 18th during combat operations in Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.  The mission began with an air assault that was unopposed on the landing zone.

Read more: Red Air: One Year Later

Afghanistan: When the Moon Sets, Watch Out

26 Comments

18 September 2012

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Last Friday night, the moon phase left Afghanistan in near total darkness.  Even with clear skies, the enemy knew that at the brightest moment, the moon would only appear as an irrelevant orange sliver.  Such times are called “red illumination,” or “red illum.”  Planning calendars in Afghanistan highlight periods of red illum because they hamper aviation.

Even though this is the year 2012, and the Curiosity Rover is beaming images from Mars more than four decades after astronauts first trod on the lunar surface, the moon phase remains important when planning operations.  The moment that the nighttime attack on Camp Bastion was reported, the moon phase could have been safely guessed without looking up.

Read more: Afghanistan: When the Moon Sets, Watch Out

John Giduck Defamation Lawsuit

1 Comment

18 September 2012

John Giduck has been accused by various people of puffing up his military and experience resume.  He has responded with a defamation lawsuit that names a long list of defendants and John Does.  The lawsuit:

giduck-v-socnet-14-september-2012-1

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Killing Prince Harry: Could the Taliban do it?

29 Comments

3673-1000Base in Southern Afghanistan

17 September 2012

Afghan forces are infested with Taliban suicide killers. Two more “green-on-blue” attacks have occurred in the last few days, killing six more troops.

Days ago, the Taliban executed an audacious attack on Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan where Prince Harry is stationed.  Under darkness without moon, at least fifteen attackers breached the wire, killed two U.S. Marines, and wounded numerous other people. 

They badly damaged two jets and destroyed six more Harriers with a reported price tag of about $30 million each.  The Harriers are no longer produced.  This is not the way our force should be downsized.  This loss is reportedly affecting ground operations.

The enemy also destroyed or damaged other facilities.  In addition to lives lost, the total destruction could easily tally $200 million.

Read more: Killing Prince Harry: Could the Taliban do it?

Important from Afghanistan

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Two sources report similarly:

"ALL OPERATIONS ARE CURRENTLY SUSPENDED. A 3 STAR MUST APPROVE ANY ACTIONS.  ADDITIONALLY, ALL ISAF FORCES ARE TO SEPARATE FROM THEIR AFGHAN COUNTERPARTS."

END

Ground Sign Awareness: What is this about?

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IMG 4840-1000Emplacing "IED" at night. It was dark but the sensitive camera got the moment.

08 September 2012

The first week of Ground Sign Awareness (GSA) training with the Norwegian Army is finished.  One more week to go.  We are not actually learning combat tracking, but GSA.  GSA is like the alphabet needed for the language of combat tracking.  For the most part, good GSA and other military tactics will catch most bombs that are hidden in Afghanistan.

This must be stressed: most bombs are NOT caught by dogs or billion-dollar gizmos.  Most bombs are caught because some 19 year-old Soldier says to himself, “If I were going to kill me, I would do it right here.”  And he looks, and spots the bomb, or more likely he spots something that does not feel right, so he calls back and someone is sent up and finds it.  We know that most bombs are emplaced at night.  It is very difficult to dig in a bomb at night, then lay out the trigger and wire (some are just pressure plates), and not leave obvious ground sign.

Read more: Ground Sign Awareness: What is this about?

Norway Training Day 4

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06 September 2012

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This morning brought frost to the windshield for the first time this week.  Day by day, winter is creeping in and we can feel it.    Yesterday I was unable to publish because we trained late into the night, and started again early today.  And so please excuse the unedited dispatches, written quickly with some fatigue.  (And I have homework to do.)

In tracking, the word “sign” means any change in the natural state of the environment due to man, beast or machine.  Spoor is a Dutch word that is used in our training course to mean animal sign.  And so, when you see the word spoor, it might be moose tracks, or waste, or basically anything done by an animal or insect.  There is a lot of moose spoor out there, and we are seeing spoor from deer and other creatures.

Read more: Norway Training Day 4

Counter IED training in Norway: Day Two

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04 September 2012

IMGL4543-1000

Day two of Ground Sign Awareness (GSA) training has just come to a close.  Before I get cracking on tonight’s homework assignment, here comes a quick, unedited dispatch.  Please excuse the roughness.  Time is limited.

Today started with a short written test about yesterday’s lessons and last night’s homework.  After the quiz, there were a few hours of classroom instruction on the elements of sign, and what affects sign, such as weather, time, terrain, and spoor.  Spoor is a Dutch word, and for purposes of our instruction, spoor is caused by animals and bugs.  After that, we headed to the field and began numerous ground exercises.

Read more: Counter IED training in Norway: Day Two

Counter IED Course in Norway: Day One

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03 September 2012

image001-1000a

The Norwegian military is conducting CIED (counter-IED) training, and I was lucky to be invited.  The course is run by Pencari LTD.  The instructors are recently retired British Soldiers/Marines that I got to know at the British tracking school in Brunei, on Borneo.

This course will last two weeks, and we just finished Day 1 of training.  Each day after training, I will try to publish something.  This may not always be possible because some training is at night and there will be time demands.  Please also excuse that these brief dispatches will be unedited.  And I am jetlagged and will be tired after training, so please read this at risk.

This class consists of eight students.  All are combat veterans of Afghanistan and/or Iraq, and some have similar experiences elsewhere.  Two students are US Marines.  One is recently retired EOD, and the other is an active duty “Gunny” with six combat tours behind him.  (Five in Iraq, one in Afghanistan.)  The six Norwegians are engineers and between them there is considerable downrange experience.  And so there is not a single beginner in this class, and the instructors are expert trackers and retired military men.

When we came to the base today, a Norwegian officer gave me some ground rules, but they know my work and so the ground rules are to use common sense and if you have a question make sure to ask regarding OPSEC.  And so if we come across anything that is questionable, I will run it past my Norwegian hosts, but in reality there probably will be no security issues because this training is not secret.

This class is not so much about tracking but what they call GSA.  GSA is Ground Sign Awareness.  GSA is essential for becoming an expert tracker, and GSA usually is all that is needed to spot IEDs.  I have had only three weeks of professional tracking training (by the British military, and specifically by these instructors in 2009), and so I am far from expert.  However, after the British tracking school, I was sold on the value of tracking and GSA for saving lives in Afghanistan.  All of the combat veterans that I know who have had tracking or GSA training, are completely sold on the value for saving lives and killing bad guys.

But one thing you learn early on in tracking training is that it is like a martial art, in the sense that there are very many styles and philosophies for tracking.  There are many ways to crack this egg.

The British Army finally is taking tracking (GSA, actually) seriously, as are the Norwegians, Dutch and Danish.  This inexpensive training can save a ton of American lives, but we do not take it seriously.  Actually, the Marines seem to be taking it more earnestly.  To be sure, I think we Americans do not take it seriously in part due to misunderstanding the value, and we think it is some kind of magic art and we prefer things that use batteries instead of simple eyeballs.  And do not forget the part about it being so inexpensive.  This training is dirt cheap, and contractors can’t sell billions of dollars of gizmos.  The fact is, the number one detector of IEDs continues to be the human eye, but our training in this field is pathetic.  It does not cost enough.  Now, if we could market it along with selling bionic eyeballs that take pesky humans out of the equation, Congress might be demanding the military take it.

Today the class started at 0800, and we had a couple hours of classroom work and then went to an indoor sandpit that the Norwegians use for training.  (Winters here are severe, and there is no way to do winter training in the sand outside.)  We then conducted more classroom work and headed out to the field.

The Norwegians brought a small, black moose-tracking dog.  He only weighs about 20 pounds, maximum, and is very energetic.  Maybe I am the first American that moose dog ever met, but he sure was happy to say hello and wanted to play.  Then he started digging a hole for some reason that only moose-dog knows.  In any case, we did not see any moose.  They say there are sometimes bears here, but not often, and that wolves are taking hold.

Among the various topics covered today was detecting when people are walking backwards, as when laying command wire to an IED. Sometimes the instructors would talk for ten minutes about a single track, and then would ask students to explain every detail of what they were seeing.  Flattening, disturbance, regularity, discoloration, transfer, etc.  We practiced a bit on estimating enemy strength.

Rena, Norway is north like Alaska.  And so the sun hangs low in the sky, which can be great for tracking.  Generally speaking, you want to keep the track between you and the sun so that shadows will pop out.  If you walk around a track as a test of the importance of sun position, you might be surprised.  When the sun is to your back the tracks can vanish, but then as you circle the track you might see that sometimes there is no way you can miss it, while other times (unless you are Mr. Expert) there is no way you will see it.  Again, as a general rule, it is best to keep the track between you and the sun.  And if it is noon on the equator, you might want to take a tracking siesta until the sun goes lower.

Well, I need to close down for now.  The instructors are out emplacing IEDs (not real ones, of course), that we will be training with tomorrow, and they left us with a homework assignment that I must study.

Netherlands: Why I Chose the Gun

10 Comments

02 September 2012

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There are elements within the Netherlands that wish to dismantle the Dutch Army.  The Dutch military, as General Petraeus once told me, “Punches above its weight class.”  And it is true.  They perform well in Afghanistan and are a valued friend, and military ally.

That some people wish to dismantle the Dutch Army indicates that they are not sensitive to the realities we live with.  The Netherlands is a serious country.  It leaves a footprint where it walks.  The Netherlands should keep a strong military to guard the foot that makes that valuable and positive influence.  This is serious business.

Those who wish to dismantle the Dutch Army should listen to this wise man.

Apache Apocalypse: Real Faces of War

26 Comments

01 September 2012

photo-1000http://www.liveleak.com/ll_embed?f=f213b73d647e

People who are uncomfortable with methodically killing the enemy have no place in combat units.  People who are uncomfortable with the idea of being blown to pieces should not go to war.

This combat video is only a small taste, a whiff, of reality.  Many Americans love to hoot and holler and cheer and celebrate as we kill and dismember the enemies.  The U.S. military itself releases the videos on a common basis, and I have released worse from my own camera.

Read more: Apache Apocalypse: Real Faces of War

North to Norway: Pencari Tracking

2 Comments

27 August 2012

photo2-1000Bomb dog that walked over Bomb in Sangin, Afghanistan (Helmand 2010)

At this rate, 2012 will be the first year since 2004 that I have not stepped into a war.  An invitation came last week to attend a combat tracking course in Norway.   I received a similar invitation several years ago to attend a British military tracking school in Brunei on the island of Borneo.  The British school was excellent.

Read more: North to Norway: Pencari Tracking

Afghanistan: CUT LOSSES

35 Comments

23 August 2012

image001-1000U.S. Rocket Strike, Kandahar Province, 2011

Most people likely wish to hear that everything will turn out right in Afghanistan.  The reality is that it will not end well.  This bastard war will have a thousand fathers and nobody will claim it.

In 2009, I wrote, “If a writer wants to make money, he should avoid truth and tell people what they want to hear.  Yet to win the war, tell the truth.”

Since 2006, at minimum, the AfPak war on the whole has been going down.  Only in 2010 [correction 2011] did I see some flicker of hope for a change of direction.  In my view, that flicker has been snuffed.  And writing truthfully about Afghanistan will never pay the bills, because I have nothing to say that people want to hear.  It is just bad news atop more bad news.

Read more: Afghanistan: CUT LOSSES

War Is Not Necessarily the Cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

16 Comments

20 August 2012

An interesting study of Danish troops and PTSD has been released.  (Link at the bottom.)  An informed group of people was talking about it on a private forum, where I saw this comment from Robert Goldich.  Mr. Goldich is smart and experienced, and so I normally stop to see what he has to say.  I republish his words with permission:

Read more: War Is Not Necessarily the Cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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