Michael's Dispatches

A Story From War


Sangin, Afghanistan

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.”

Anthony Lloyd

Anthony Lloyd, the famed British war correspondent and author has seen much in war.  Years ago, when I read his book My War Gone By, I Miss It So, the idea of taking up the pen and going to war had never been in the question.  After reading Anthony’s book it was definitely out of the question.  War correspondence is a horrible profession.  Taking inventory of battlefields, psyches and body parts is an inevitable, recurring theme.  The horrors are too many to remember or attempt to recount, if there were desire.  And there was Anthony, one of the most experienced war correspondents, and he was going to the same British unit that I was embedded with.  Though Anthony’s journey with British 2 Rifles partially coincided with my own, mostly we were at different bases.  From FOB Inkerman or during missions in the area, I could sometimes hear the fighting over at “his” base on FOB Jackson because, for instance, soldiers at Inkerman would fire the Howitzers in support of combat taking place around Jackson.  Or bombs would drop and noises carry, or sometimes the Apaches would be churning up the enemy with rockets and 30mm cannons.  Modern combat can be loud.

As years roll by and more soldiers have done two, three, four or even five long tours, writing about war has changed.  In the early years most of the soldiers and correspondents were green to war and were on equal footing, but these days only a handful of correspondents remain who keep going back and their numbers are diminishing, while the concentration of highly experienced soldiers is increasing.  The increasing and probably irreversible imbalance means that fewer correspondents will share common experiences with current veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and very few writers will possess the experience to render so fundamentally accurately what Anthony Lloyd captures in this story from war.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    Excellent article. I am convinced that the only real reporting comes from those who have tasted combat before. There are warrior correspondents and REMF correspondents. We are fortunate to have Michael and Anthony in the former category.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 12 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/08/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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    james · 12 years ago
    the tactics are letting our troops down and the tactics are dictated by resources; lack of helicopters being the foremost. they solved the problem of road-side bombs in south armagh cutting fatality rates br approx 70%.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Darren Stewart · 12 years ago
    There are not enough troops there. Helicopters are a plaster placed over a huge gaping wound. Mobility does not equate to holding ground. The British area has only 5% of the troops needed to cover the actual area, and thus we need at the very least much larger numbers, much greater resources, much more mobility, and a serious commitment to the actual task.
    Right now, the lies being stated and claimed by Western Governments are abysmal, and the press is guilty of not even coming close to pressing the democratic governments on this. We are not winning this war. We are not developing the country. We are not achiving any single aim, there is no actual plan, there is no viable battle plan, there is no viable peace plan, no viable development plan, and the enemy has a clearer definition of its mission, and its aims than our own side.
    Our troops are some of our finest people, they deserve leadership, resource, and committed support. If the political and international will is not there to both win, then develop, then this is not worth one life, not one troopers wrecked life.
    As it stands at this time, no one is willing to step up, and everyone is saying its someone else's job. Its no one else's job, YOU put our troops, or the troops of your own country there, ITS no one else's job to look after them. If they don't have what they need, and NATO will not supply, then you don't leave them hanging in the wind.
    Right now, its a disaster. NATO is not stopping Al-Quida, or the Taleban. Its a shooting range and a massive propaganda coup, and the lack of leadership is utterly pathetic. This leaves the troops on the ground doing a brilliant job, with not the right equipment, and not nearly enough men to cover what is required. The Military have to tell the governments NOW, and Generals should RESIGN if the governments will not do the right thing.
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    Paul S. · 12 years ago
    Meanwhile, the White House insists the troop level in Afghanistan will not be reduced. Has General McChrystal proposed REDUCING troop strength? John McCain and others need to stop being so damn polite ("This shouldn't be a leisurely process") and hammer home what AQ and the Taliban's objectives are. And what a perceived victory on their part does for their recruitment and funding, not to mention Abu Sayyaf and MILF's in the Philippines, FARC's in South America and all of their other "comrades."
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    bth · 12 years ago
    Michael, great reporting.

    Could you take a guess at how many US troops are needed in Afghanistan? I severely doubtit is just another 45K. There is a rumor that there is a classified report saying 400-500K over 5 years are required. What is your take?

    Also what is the realistic feasibility of 400-500K afghan troops under our pay and training over a similar period?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kurt Olney · 12 years ago
    I left Vietnam in 1971. Some of the men I knew were on their 2nd, rd tours of duty. I fear this war is working its way toward "Vietnam II"
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    Jim Delaney · 12 years ago
    I don't pretend to know what the best strategy is, but Gen. Mc and Gen. P seem to be the best judges of that. Certainly not Obama, a neophyte, and some of the flighty advisors with whom he's surrounded himself. Am afraid that the Admin's priority is domestic socialist transformation, not national security, and certainly NOT a costly war in Afghanistan which will divert politically precious bread-and-circuses resources to the nation's defense. Tonight I heard that part of the wavering Administration's new "strategy" is to differentiate between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, thus opening up the way to Taliban participation in governance. Get those burkas back on, gals. It's a cute political gamesmanship, but regarding the ruthless Taliban as somehow significantly different than their Al Qaeda brethren is delusional. How long would a power-sharing coaltion gov't involving the Taliban last. Just a rhetorical question really. I think we already know the answer. Coalition gov'ts don't last, and the bad guys invariably take over. And then we're back to square one. I can imagine how frustrated our troops there must be. Without a rationally defined and nationally supported mission to guide and to spur them on, it has got to take a toll on morale. So, I hope Obama follows the advice of the Generals in the field. This may ring of cheap jingoism, but I believe there's not a war we can't win anywhere and under any circumstances if we all but have the wisdom, the will and the perseverance to see it through together. Let's get on with it. I salute and thank our troops for their selfless efforts on our behalf. And my special thanks to Michael for his superbly objective and refreshingly candid reporting.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carl · 12 years ago
    Hi Michael,

    Just gave, and I hope others are as well. Can you give us an update on your progress against your fund raising goal? Keep up the brave work and keep safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Evan Cowart · 12 years ago
    This is so frustrating and sad. We have run our troops to death, both the US and GB and probably a few others that are involved. Now we can't even be bothered supporting them and making their sacrifices count.

    I remember this same song and dance with lbj, his greatest moment was when he came on TV in 1968 and said he would not run again. I was at Ton Son Nhut and I cheered, good riddance. One good thing in Vietnam, troops did not spend, pretty much their entire time in a combat zone.
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    AmericanJarhead · 12 years ago
    Does anyone else find it amazing that Obama was bribed with the Nobel Peace Prize? He we are in a serious battle in Afghanistan and He is letting it sit on the back burner, neither properly engaging with our General's nor getting out. He has done nothing for peace or war and has NO achievements whatsoever... Might as well have given it to Neville Chamberlain ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neville_Chamberlain ) whose failed policy really cost the world... Just my two cents. Mr. Yon, keep up the good work and I pray that at least some of the folks in Washington are reading your important dispatches. -AJ
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Annie · 12 years ago
    Did we not know the war was lost when this administration got into the White House? We needed a seasoned President who knew the ways of war during this time of war....but we got a smile, flowery speeches and an ego...albeit an historic ego. He says it cost too much to win this war....to send what the Generals need. I tell you and all who will hear....Obama cost us too much...he cost us our Country, our freedom and our self respect. We have all the money he needs to turn our once great country into a Marxist dictatorship but none to win the war on Islamic terrorism. Yes, we got a dog and pony show when we needed a leader. The Military are like a ship without a rudder....We have no true leader and we are going down. God help our deserted Military men...God help us here at home. I fear there are no civilians who have the backbone to stand up and stop this insanity. We are like dumb sheep. Thanks Mike for reporting the truth to us. We have a real shortage of truth anymore from whatever front...the war in Afghanistan, Iraq or right here at home. Thank you and thank the Military....the last of real Americans, our great Military under siege. They used to shoot traitors....a good custom.
    We love ya Mike
    Annie and Neatie
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mad Mike in NC · 12 years ago
    After reading the article and following your dispatches, your comments and the reader feedback echo's my thoughts. I just keep remembering back to the WAR in Vietnam and Johnson's lame-ass "war council". As others here have said before me, everything that is happening is starting to sound like Vietnam all over again. "King" Obama and his wiz-kids are killing our troops. So if any of the people in the White House read this, know that the longer you waffle, the more US, GB, Dutch, Canadian, French, German, Polish, Austrailian and other countries soldiers will die. And know that your indecision was thier downfall. Their blood in on your hands. The old saying that History repeats itself has always been true, I just never thought I would actually see it happen twice in my lifetime. More if you count Bosnia and Somolia. Godspeed to all the soldiers in theatre and to you Michael. You all are in our prayers here at home. Stupidity like this even causes me, a non-church going man, to pray for all of you a safe return home.
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    Billy · 12 years ago
    I am a service member stationed in Iraq. You do not represent the true American patriot who serves their country. The way the war in Afghanistan has been managed has nothing to do with President Obama's current policies. He inherited a war that had been forgotten about for years while we fought here in Iraq. Your talk is treasonous and God help you if any soldiers or police officers get hurt with the rhetoric you spout. Where were you for the last 8 years while we muddled about in Afghanistan? It is easy to stand on the sidelines and throw stones while we protect your rights at home and abroad. Man up and do something positive instead of inciting hate.

    Micheal, I have been following your blog since the awesome articles you wrote about the Ft Lewis Strykers back several years ago. Please keep up this fantastic reporting. You are one of the true heros of these wars.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    GregR · 12 years ago
    Unfortunately only a soldier in the war or any war can truly understand war. Obviously Michael has this experience and it shows in his writing. Unfortunately most part time correspondents don't have this experience nor does the politician that makes the decissions. If they would only listen to their military leaders this could be a totally different war.
    As a former Marine and combat veteran my heart goes out to each and every one of the soldiers and Marines in this war. They need to know that we at home support their mission and all hope and pray that they return safely even if our politicians are dragging their feet.
    No matter what branch you serve in - Semper Fi!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brit in CO · 12 years ago
    And Obama wants the Taliban to be part of Afghanistans government?

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    Maddy · 12 years ago
    Obama is preparing yet one more bailout that the American people wiill have to pay dearly for, this time with the lives of their fighting men and women in Afghanistan! He is about to BAILOUT on all of our coalition Afghan troops! What a loser. Why can all of us see this situation so clearly and those in power can, or will not?

    Michael, stay the course, maybe your hard nuts reporting will get to someone in power and turn the tide. God's speed! Maddy
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AmericanJarhead · 12 years ago
    Imagine how the Taliban will treat the folks who worked with us in forming the government and military once we run away... Would the murders be in the millions or 'only' in the hundreds of thousands? That's a lot of murder on Obama's hands. We all know that is what will happen. Ignorance cannot be blamed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Glen · 12 years ago
    Thanks again for the reporting Michael.

    There have been numerous comparisons of the war in Afghanistan to Vietnam, some of which are reasonable and others not so. True, we are facing a nebulous mission, fading support at home, an enemy that relies on guerrilla tactics and difficult terrain. But what Afghanistan does lack is any sort of coherence as a nation state or anything akin to the modern economic infrastructure present in Vietnam before, during and after the wars of the mid twentieth century. The United States spent tons of ordinance bombing railways, roads and other supply routes with varying degrees of success during the Vietnam war (Thanh Hoa Bridge anyone?); a practice that is unnecessary in Afghanistan, as Michael points out, because there are hardly any roads. This leads one to ask: what is the Taliban fighting for? What are we fighting for?

    If the Taliban/Al Qaeda/Pakistan militant groups were to "win," what would become of Afghanistan? It is unlikely that Afghanistan is poised to become anything else than what it is now: an isolated backwater of tribalism and poverty dependent on subsistence economics, the opium trade and, possibly, foreign aid. In contrast to Vietnam, which although repressive and occasionally violent towards its own constituents, sought to rebuild the economy and end further hostilities, a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is likely to remain belligerent to Western powers and remain a safe haven for terrorist elements in the years to come.

    If the United States, UK and other allies win in Afghanistan, significant investment and time will be needed to create some semblance of a nation state, a difficult task given Afghanistan's history of tribalism. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure would need to be built from scratch. The opium trade would need to be stifled. Able-bodied men of fighting age would need to be disarmed and somehow employed. A military win in Afghanistan is a commitment to rebuild that country in a boots-on-the-ground fashion that would not have been necessary in Vietnam.

    For the allies, the most satisfying route would be to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar and al Zawahiri. Any nation building thereafter would be icing on the cake. I'm not convinced that the Taliban/Al Qaeda/Pakistani militant groups can be persuaded by anything than the threat of personal assassination, since there are no supply routes or bridges to bomb. If we kill enough from the top down, eventually they will run out of skilled and cunning leaders.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kurt W.G. Matthies · 12 years ago
    From your email: "Weak civilian leadership is sabotaging the war effort. "

    To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it is Deja Vu, over and over and over, everytime we reach a "pinch point" in these Asian wars.

    Yesterday, NPR reported there are approximately 100 Taliban left in Afghanistan, yet, in the same report, they claim that if the coalition walks away, the Taliban might again regain a country from which they can operate freely.

    OK, an ambiguous report from NPR is not news, nor is it the issue here. President Obama has a "menu" of options for increasing troop strength in the region. From what I understand, items on the "menu" range from 10,000 to 40,000 troops.

    Frankly, these numbers seem to few for a real 'seek and destroy' mission.

    If our mission is to damage the Taliban, then perhaps our current menu of options will be effective. But if our mission is to destroy the Taliban outright, then leadership, not politics, is needed at this salient moment in the war.

    As always, Michael -- watch your back and may a guardian angel always be your travel companion.

    -- kwgm
  • This commment is unpublished.
    KellyC · 12 years ago
    How much is a single life worth? Bean counters in comfy chairs in air conditioned offices seem to think that they aren't worth very much, apparently.
    Michael talked about the bomb buy-back program (http://www.michaelyon-online.com/enemy-weapons.htm) that was deemed 'too expensive'. Where's the logic? There's a lot of logic missing these days...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nani Kemp · 12 years ago
    Barack Hussein Obama...mmm...mmm...mmm
  • This commment is unpublished.
    subby · 12 years ago
    As some people have pointed out. 45 000 troops would make no difference in the big scheme of things. If it was 450 000 soldiers then a counterinsurgency would stand a chance. As it is this is all politics, no real solutions.

    Obama is treading water until someone can offer him a strategy to victory that doesn't require half a million troops and trillions of dollars and 15 years. (no political will for such a large military commitment) Or just bailing out of the country and handing it over to the taliban.

    Or maybe people are right and Obama is to soft to wage a decisive war. (he inherited this one remember?)
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    Ashburn · 12 years ago
    Ashburn Daily, the local newspaper here, had a story on the death of Stephan Mace. Spc Mace was killed in the big ambush in Afghanistan last week. According to his father, Spc Mace said that the RoE required the soldiers to see muzzle flashes before they could call in air strikes. Spc Mace and his fellow soldiers knew there were 00 taliban in the next village.
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    Ashburn · 12 years ago
    Michael, Here's the Ashburn Today article: http://www.leesburg2day.com/articles/2009/10/08/news/fp2 mace100809.txt
    It is the circumstances of his son's death that his father finds intolerable, after reading reports that military leaders were surprised by the size of Saturday's insurgent attack. On his recent visit home, Mace told his family his base was attacked virtually every day.

    "Stephan sat on the sofa with me when he was home, telling me there were 00 Taliban fighters in the village next to him, hanging out in the mosques and mingling with civilians. I read in the news that [the military] said they didn't know about the Taliban. It's funny that I knew about it a month ago," Larry Mace said.
    Mace was home on leave last month and shared concerns weeks before about the dangerous position of the outpost. He said there was no electricity or water at the base because attacks from the same artillery forces that overran the post Saturday "got their generator." When his father asked him why they couldn't just "take it out," his son said the soldiers couldn't call an air strike unless they could see the muzzles flash.

    "They knew the location of it, but they couldn't do anything," his father said.
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    Gismo Fly · 12 years ago
    Dear Mike,

    Thanks again for your so readable stories. The pictures too are brilliant and worth those thousand words.

    My concern at the moment is the political attacks being made on private security firms, operating in the war zones, particularly credible and effective ones like Blackwater. We need these guys to do their thing and ease the burden on the troops. To my mind they earn their crust and should be honoured for the job they are doing. We seem to be an incredibly ungrateful bunch of armchair strategists led by rather stupid sections of the media. Is there a civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Is it time we had one now that the nature of fighting a war has changed yet again?

    No, I'm not employed or have shares in Blackwater.

    Thanks & regards
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    wayne rooney · 9 years ago
    I am the best football player in the world
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