Michael's Dispatches

Afghanistan: The War Grows


Published: 08 December 2008
Zabul Province, Afghanistan

While Americans sleep tight in their beds, this time of year U.S. soldiers sit shivering through the frigid, crystal clear nights at remote outposts in places most of us have never heard of and will never see.  Often they head out into the enveloping darkness, to hunt down and destroy terrorists, who continue to kill innocent Afghans, Americans, Aussies, Balinese, Brits, Indians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Spanish….in short, anyone who opposes their violent tyranny.  Their greatest weapons are ignorance and terror.  Witness the latest unprovoked attack on our friends in India.

These enemies have no wish to reconcile with their fellow countrymen, or compromise in any way that would diminish their control of the lives of the ordinary Afghans who don't share their feral vision of life.  They throw acid in the faces of little girls whose only crime is that they go to school.  So we must continue to send our toughest men to confront them eye to eye, while performing the difficult balancing act of not alienating those who intend us no harm.  This is particularly difficult in Afghanistan, a proud nation with a deep tradition of antipathy toward outsiders -- even those who are here to help, though I am finding many Afghans clearly do not want us to leave.

The hard work is especially difficult when our troops are spread perilously thin. Over the last nearly two weeks I’ve spent time with teams whose nearest ground support is too far away, and too small anyway, to help them when they get into serious trouble, which happens all the time.  Some of these groups are too far out for helicopters to reach within any reasonable amount of time, and so their only choice often is “CAS,” or Close Air Support: Jets with bombs.  Sadly, despite the extreme precautions I have seen our people taking in Iraq and now Afghanistan, we are bound to make some mistakes, which the enemy exploits to full potential.  In fact, there are reports that I believe credible that the enemy is actively trying to bait us into bombing innocent people.  Such is the savagery of the Taliban and associated armed opposition groups (AOGs).  

Few Afghans can tell the difference in uniform or equipment between Germans, Americans, Brits or Estonians or any of the other dozens of nations here. And similarities in vehicles and equipment can cause confusion among U.S. and Canadian forces, themselves.  So we can't really expect illiterate, Afghan civilians to tell the difference between an American and a French jet at midnight.  But you know the result: when bombs or bullets fly off in the wrong direction, which inevitably happens in a hot war, when there is an occasional overuse of force, it gets blamed on Americans -- or the "U.S. led coalition" -- with the implication that the U.S. engineered the error.  This is partly a function of the expert propaganda machine that the Taliban and its fundamentalist allies bring to bear -- and, of course, of a world media eager to exploit such stories.

For our part and to the credit of our leadership, the U.S. is reluctant to publicly correct the record, since finger-pointing can only cause friction in the coalition.  At a moment when Afghan policy is hanging in the balance, with a new Administration thinking about what they ought to do to move toward stability, we walk a tightrope between offending our allies by criticizing their actual shortcomings -- and the even more important problem of overstepping very sensitive boundaries in Afghanistan. If we are going to be able to finish the job we started, we can't afford to create problems for the Karzai government.

Rules of Engagement, discipline, training and moral boundaries vary drastically between nations.  Sophisticated readers should know that “U.S. led” does not necessarily mean that an American called in the target, or had anything to do in dropping the bomb.  But I will say that a small American team told me recently that it was a French jet who came to their aid during an ambush, and expertly dropped a bomb straight onto a Taliban position.

This story can also be found covered at Pajamas Media.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Huntress · 13 years ago
    Excellent piece. It also answers the last question posed by Pat Dollard to Mike Yon on JihadiKiller Hour last nite, and serves as a compendium to what Mike discussed with Pat.


    Brilliant, insightful, truthful insights from Mike Yon & Pat Dollard.

    Mike appears about 25 minutes into the show, but until then you get to hear me share my thoughts on Mike: who he is, why hes important, why he's a great guy on a personal level. :>)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leonard Henry · 13 years ago
    Among unconventional forces we employ in Afganistan, do we use professional trackers who can follow these adversaries directly back to their hiding places? Check out Tom Brown's tracker school and the tracking books he has published to get an idea of the level of tracking skill I'm referring to. Mr. Brown was trained by a Lipan Apache indian. The insurgent isn't born who could outwit his better tracking school graduates. Compared to what these guys are tained to see most of us are totally blind. I went to one of the classes and saw these guys in action - unbelievable!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    casstx · 13 years ago
    I read this morning on bloomberg.com that the next 4000 Army troops will be sent primarily to Kabul to protect the city from the south. So is there going to be no relief for the Army and SOF in the east? Are we pulling back from the border and operations like keeping the Gardez/Khowst pass open? With 200 vehicles destroyed over the weekend near Peshawar (we heard 150 here), it seems that it remains vital for our supply lines to remain open from Pakistan, yet I see no reinforcements and additional troops heading that way to keep us supplied. Are we going to rely on air drops into Bagram now and forget the roads? This move would seem to reinforce or empower the terrorists in FATA.

    I know some NATO forces are extremely helpful, as you mentioned, but others, not so much, and you're right about the Afghans not knowing the differences between the countries all the time, they just refer to the "white" (goreay) troops. The first is in the east and south, when will the eastern border troops get some help from anyone?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Gugino · 13 years ago
    I am continually amazed as I come to learn the truth through your reporting on the abilities of our american armed forces. I believe that Iraq's success has been forged in creating a "band of brothers" between Iraqi military personnel and US. A dedicated, professional and valiant armed force, ultiimately commanded by CIVILIAN leadership is Iraq's best chance. I pray that an increased US presence in Afganistan can lead to the same result. Here it seems further complicated by the working together of allied countries. Thank you and please impress upon any allied personnel that there are Americans who love them (including french air support!).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cassandra McDonough · 13 years ago
    First, should be fight, the fight is in the east. Sorry.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert Comstock · 13 years ago
    I have been following your reports every day you release them for the past several months. First, thank you for your book and for letting we back home know the real truth. We never believed the national American press anyway.

    Most of all, a helluva thank you and God bless you to our men and women serving their country regardless of where they are, but especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are heros every one. My wife and I have been sending packages to "Any American Soldier" in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I encourage your readers to follow suit by visiting anyamericansoldier.com.

    Thank you again and God Bless the USA.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Double play ball · 13 years ago
    Read in article in the Economist recently about the poppy farms being replaced by pomegranate farms. I truely belive that until there is a crop that is not illegal, anything besides poppy really, that the inroads will not be made into making Afganistan stable. Just clearing the poppy accomplishes nothing. If they have a self sustaining crop that benefits the country, it would help.

    Anyone have any more info on this?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thunder Run · 13 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/08/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kohlerdrums · 13 years ago
    Thank you, Mr. Yon. Thank you, brave American Soldiers. Another donation is coming your way for your great work. Words are nice, but you are taking care of that end of the deal. I figured I'd back mine up with a little action.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dale · 13 years ago
    Thank you so much for your real world reporting on the work of our soldiers over there; we wouldn't have it without you and so your work is so very valuable even in the limited amounts that you can provide as a single source.

    ...regarding Afghan crops - As an Ohioan, I can tell you with great confidence that we have American farming ingenuity in abundance here and the power's that be need to make a visit to Columbus. There at OSU they can find some expert help. If anyone can figure a crop that can grow over there, there is a highly likelihood that some stuidous farmer in OSU's farming program can. Send a soil sample back to their labs along with the lat and long and they can determine quite a lot. Wish I had a contact but perhaps someone reading this does.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Typhoon · 13 years ago
    Thanks for the excellent and truthful reporting, Mike. You are the best!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sgt Scott Stream · 13 years ago
    I am in Kandahar and I have an interest in Agriculture so I made a point of asking that very question. Agronomists in the military have already started several demonstration farms that use a combination of crops to capitalize the land, at a higher profit then the poppy and to add to the food base of Afghanistan, it is a blend of grapes, date palm, and almond as well as vegetables. So it is one of our long term projects since grapes need five years to start and almonds need ten. Frankly the pomegranate production seems pretty high. In the meantime the cheapest solution may well be to go to poppy farms and pay the farmer and destroy the crop. He is happy and it is cheaper then fighting the farmer if he joins the Taliban after we destroy his cash crop. I am not sure what the choice will be, anytime cash comes out the Afghans start cheating so that is a big issue... but if we can put money into farmers hands while they ramp up the new crops, we will leave in place a more beautiful and healthy farm economy. Raising the water table up to fifteen feet and creating shaded farms and homesteads.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kathleen Meilahn · 13 years ago
    When we target the poppy CROPS what we do is further indebt the farmer to the Taliban who loaned him the money in the first place for the supplies needed to grow the crop in return for actual produce at the end of growing season. It's usually a double-your-money investment for the Taliban. If we allowed the farmers to hand over the crops to the Taliban and then targeted the convoys transporting poppy, we eliminate a number of problems. 1) The farmer is no longer indebted to the Taliban and now we can talk to him about pomegranates or almonds or whatever. 2) The poppy product is gone and off the market. ) We have eliminated a source of Taliban revenue.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SkysoldierRecon2-327 · 13 years ago
    For a very long time it has been known our logistics route was in danger. The P-stani's will NOT defend these facilities with thier lives, they run. They will not escort these convoys either, because part of the P-stani army, thier ISI, and other security apparatus are in bed with our enemies. I bet if the US started hitting known camps, the madrossa's, safe houses, violence in A-stan would drop. The P-stani's will not act, that has been established, so maybe its come time for the US to do it for them. When there is intel on a target, we should act. If a madrossa is housing insurgents, it should be taken out. Only when we can cut out the P-stani logistics route, will we be able to really get at the roots of wat is a state sponsored terror group. There have been many instances of Pak FC, and army, firing at US soldiers while engaging T-ban/AQ. Would you call these people allies? Tell them to stay out the way, or bear the consequences. The ISI should be designated a terror group, along with that swine Hamid Gul. Lets see if they hand him over.....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gil G. · 13 years ago
    It seems that when we set our minds to it we can win any war. I still cannot understand why epople would want to have chaos and murder rather than order and propserity. Why exactly does the press want to project all these inacurracies about the US or about Bush. This makes no sense.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    rockin rod · 13 years ago
    Gen. Petraeus asked in/about Iraq, and got no answer, "How does this end?"
    In Afghanistan, the history of occupying forces is pretty abysmal. The Brits suffered their greatest military defeat of that era when they lost 15,000 people in the retreat from Kabul. The Russians lost 25,000 by 1979.
    so the question we should be asking is, "How does this end?" There may be an answer to it, but I don't hear anyone even asking, "How does this end?"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Mullins · 13 years ago
    We all know the war is going on but the leaders if anyone calls them that and that few Americans has any confidence left in any local, state of federal leaders.
    THE people of America are in a survival mode and has lost all confidence in the leadership. It has proven to be many times how the American people have been robbed, lied to and tricked out of their savings and overcharges on the products and services that allowed the rich and powerful leadership to empower themselves with a rich lifestyle.
    The people are tired of the lies, trickery and bad leadership of politics. Thank you
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steven Charles · 13 years ago
    This war will require many years for some sense of stability to be assured. The Mumbai attacks I think have shown how crucial Pakistan is to the outcome. There are few to almost no attacks now outside the Middle East, so I think the world is making progress against the Islamists.

    Let us hope that Mr. Obama will take this issue seriously and pursue defeat of the terrorists. In the end, only the Muslims of the world can put an end to the scourge. That is why it is so important to keep the terrorists confined to Muslim countries. That way, Muslims will be more motivated to rid their communities and countries of Islamists.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dave · 13 years ago
    Two simple problems we (the US) has in AF -
    1. Good Governance will never preceed stability
    2. Our policy should be based on reality , not the other way around
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Proud American · 13 years ago
    The war has gone on for 7 plus years now, and I still support our troops just as much now as ever.
    In war mistakes happen, in life mistakes happen.
    Innocent people die everyday, not very comforting to thier families I know, but it is a fact of life.
    I feel we MUST continue of efforts there, unless we want it here, again.
    REMEMBER 911?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Arsalan · 13 years ago
    If you think that the people who attacked India are same who are killing people and military in Pakistan then you are mistaken or illinformed or you are trying to hide facts. the terrorirts who are killing innocent people in Pakistan are getting active support of India in terms of finances and weapons. India is trying to destablize Pakistan at all cost. You must not forget this.

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