Michael's Dispatches

Hurricane Afghanistan


28 August 2008
Michael Yon

The long journey back to Afghanistan is complete.  Starting in the mountains of Nepal, with several days’ walk to Pokhara, then a long drive to Kathmandu, a flight to Bangkok where I bought some combat gear (my regular gear is in Iraq and Washington), then to Dubai, and a circuitous journey from India and finally Kabul, where I landed several days ago.  I hired a taxi to the British Embassy, passing horse-drawn carts, vendors selling sunglasses, and old men who looked older than time.  The streets of Kabul are not war-ravaged like Baghdad, but the fact that there is a war on is unmistakable.  The weather was clear, bright and cool, and Afghan and foreign troops were all about, armored convoys could be seen.  After a meeting at the British Embassy, I asked for a taxi to the Serena Hotel, but one of the Afghans working the embassy gate suggested there was a kidnapping threat if I took a random taxi.  Since I do not have a private car, taxi it was, through the Kabul traffic where kids begged for bakseesh at intersections and the horse-drawn carts clopped by.

Arriving at the Serena Hotel, my driver stopped at the front gate just as two armored vehicles with Turkish markings rolled up behind us.  A hotel security guard came out excitedly, asking why we stopped.  Meanwhile, heavily armed Turkish soldiers were piling out of their vehicles, guarding the armored car of a hotel visitor.  The Turkish soldiers wore patches that say “ISAF,” or International Security Assistance Force. The soldiers were on high alert, and I wanted to be away from them in case of any drama, and so I unloaded the gear and headed to the front gate of the Serena Hotel.  Earlier this year, according to an eyewitness who works as a waiter at a restaurant inside the hotel, two suicide bombers detonated themselves at the gate, killing four guards.  The restaurant was a nearly perfect vantage point from which to see the attack unfold.  The waiter told me that after the suicide bombers detonated at the gate, two men wearing police uniforms shot their way into the hotel, killing two people in the lobby, and then over to the health club where they killed two more before disappearing without a trace.  The attack garnered international attention: Click Here to read story.

Today the lobby was full of customers, and I saw no signs of the murders.  The Taliban are making a play for Kabul.

Some folks are asking how much it costs to run these web-operations.  Since that information is proprietary, I will not lay out a detailed budget.  But I will say that from inception in 2004 to about July 2005, the entire operation was funded from my pocket.

Now the site itself costs about $5,000 per month to maintain (this includes labor), no matter whether I am in Iraq, Afghanistan, or hiding for some precious quiet out in some jungle.

Communications costs are more difficult to estimate, as my operations are shifting from Iraq-centric to Afghanistan-Pakistan-centric (AfPak), and the costs will be higher through the remainder of 2008 and 2009.   I spent approximately $5,000 over a 15-day period this year for communications from Iraq.  My communications costs in Afghanistan could run $5-10k per month while on the ground, and I plan to spend most of the year here.  That means perhaps $80,000 for communications in 2009.  Sat-gear is expensive, and so I beg readers to send me precious little email; it costs piles of money to receive photos of cute puppies.  It’s best to send non-essential letters to my PO Box.  I plow through the letters at Christmas time, and greatly enjoy reading them.  Knowing that there are letters waiting for me at the end of the year help recharge my batteries.  Please mail to:

Michael Yon
PO Box 5553
Winter Haven, FL 33880

All non-critical correspondence should go to the PO Box.  The box is checked daily.

Hardware: I break cameras constantly, and just broke the screen on my latest laptop.  If there is no catastrophe such as an IED taking out my gear while in transport, it’s safe to budget about $10,000 for gear in 2009, though I haven’t bought new body armor yet, and so there will be some additional expenses.  But I imagine 2009 will be a cheap year for gear since I have nearly everything needed, except for what I break or lose in the war.

Just hours before boarding the flight from Dubai to Kabul, my laptop broke.  It had been repaired once before but the repairs did not hold.  Luckily, I had just enough time to FedEx the bad computer home, hail a taxi downtown, spend about 30 minutes computer shopping, and get to the flight. 

Transport and flights:  Maximum $20,000 for 2009.

Legal expenses:  I pay approximately $100,000 per year to fight copyright infringements, conduct business development, handle licensing and other contracts, and address other legal obligations.  Much of this has been offset by the actual copyright settlements, and I have paid my legal counsel roughly a quarter-million dollars in the last three years.  Interestingly, most photographers I talk with would never dream of taking on a behemoth, but will not hesitate to crack on the smaller folks.  I’m the opposite: if a grandmother uses my work to support troops, or in her church group, or in some way that benefits humanity, I just wink and nod and feel a sense of joy that she felt my work was good enough and appropriate enough for such good work.  Contrary, if giant and very powerful entities—the U.S. Army, magazine publishers, newspapers and television networks, for instance—take my work and think it’s free domain, then they can mark an expensive fight on their calendar.  These days, I don’t actually have to fight much; the reputation has gotten around and so mostly the big companies just settle and go on about business.  To date, when I get settlements, those settlements have gone toward legal expenses and operations.

Insurance: I have two policies for coverage overseas.  One is specifically for combat, and both are due this week.  These policies, for this billing cycle, are about $5,600.  Good grief. 

There are other expenses, like hotels, but bottom line is that this operation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per year just to keep breathing, and that provides no funding for growth.  There are opportunities to reach millions more people in the United States and abroad.  Last year, I wanted to have the site translated into other languages but that proved to be too expensive.  The operation could greatly benefit by having an assistant accompany me, which would allow me to publish more dispatches.  The right person, and all the associated insurance, travel and other expenses, would likely cost another $75,000.  Many people volunteer, but after consideration, I have decided there would be far too much training involved to rely on volunteers.  I need someone full-time for the long-term so that I can focus on the war and the writing.

More importantly, this entire operation would greatly benefit from a CEO-type who can oversee all the myriad responsibilities, so that I can focus completely on the war.  That person would come with a big price tag, but the right person could help transform this site into an international powerhouse of reporting from AfPak.

Of further benefit would be to have a presence in Dubai for at least the next two years.  Again, many people offer a room or other short-term assistance, which I greatly appreciate, but that’s not the way to go.  I am not a “blogger” who is content to live on shoestring for a couple weeks at a time, always seeking ad hoc solutions, but a methodical writer in it for the long haul.  To maximize productivity, clear and consistent systems need to be in place, and truly this would be the domain of a CEO-type—skilled in fundraising and management, as well as creative and innovative thinking.  Already, the site reaches up to a hundred countries per day.  But if we, meaning the engaged readership along with me, are to reach millions of people in places such as Europe and Asia, there should be a man or a woman with great business sense and energy who can take the wheel of this ship and sail it around the world while I focus on what I do best.

The AfPak war is not going away; it’s coming at our windshield at a hundred miles per hour.  More than 40 nations are involved.  No matter who is our next President, the challenges will be enormous.  At this point, some of us are wondering which of our allies will quit first.  It is highly unlikely to be the Canadians; they are too tough and are fully engaged.  Definitely not the British.  But what about the French or the Spanish?  Al Qaeda and the Taliban are busy trying to split off the weaker-spirited member-nations.

One thing this war terribly needs is more long-term, firsthand reporting from combat as well as non-combat areas.  Many journalists argue that embeds give only the Public Affairs vantage point, but—counter-intuitively, perhaps—the opposite is true.  The closer writers are to the action, the less interface they have with Public Affairs.  I can go for weeks sometimes without much communication with Public Affairs, because I don’t need official statements.  The journalists who rely almost completely on Public Affairs statements are the ones who are not there to see events with their own eyes.  And so, it’s the un-embedded journalists (the other 99%) who are most at mercy of the Public Affairs machine.  In AfPak, my intentions are to balance embedded with unembedded work.  When I came to Afghanistan in 2006, it was completely without the military, but that was fantastically dangerous.  British soldiers can hardly believe that a friend and I drove back roads, winding through unpatrolled villages, from Lashkar Gah to Camp Bastion, and back, without the military.  There was no drama (save for the suicide bomb we barely missed on 8 April 2006 at the Lashkar Gah PRT), and the unembedded time with normal Afghans, farmers and such, was very helpful.

If we thought the reporting from Iraq was atrocious, please look at what is (not) coming out of Afghanistan.  At the current rate, reporting to the American public will be almost completely secondhand, regurgitated from email and phone interviews, and most embeds will be like the war tourism we so often saw in Iraq.  There are British and Canadians doing more firsthand reporting, but the Americans seem to be leaving it mostly to the winds.

And so this is not a tropical storm warning.  This is not a warning about high seas ahead.  We are talking about Hurricane Afghanistan, without weather reporters.  But if there are no cameras there to record the damage, will it really have happened?  We have a military that is now very experienced in counterinsurgency.  The military knows what it’s doing from the NCOs up the 4-star generals.  These are among the few people I trust to know what we need in Afghanistan.  They are our best, and we cannot allow them to be fed into some political meat-grinder.

As I wrote in 2006, Afghanistan is the new hot war.  We are on a collision course with heavy fighting in the near future.  Victory is crucial.  We have our best people fighting.  But we also need our best journalists and writers here.  Our political process cannot be trusted.  We must have public auditing in the media, or many politicians will not support our commanders, and those politicians will mangle Afghanistan like they did Iraq.  Without top-notch journalism, Afghanistan could become America’s forgotten war.  After we lose it.

I am with British combat forces in southern Afghanistan.  Please stay tuned for some interesting reports.  The situation is more interesting than I am currently permitted to report, but the embargo will soon be lifted.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Any man · 13 years ago
    You should find the US Army in Afghanistan and as to ride with one of the RCP's. It would provide some great material for you, I think. Go find the places where they are and see what they see, there are stories worth telling, of the men who try to find the IED's and clear them or get blown up by them. They just keep doing it, time and time again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris_AB · 13 years ago
    Thanks so much for your commitment to reporting the truth, it has been very helpful to me over the years. Got you book and will keep trickling in the cash, your work is very important.

    You are right, the Canadians will not quit, we are there to do the right thing. Bad guys from Vimy to Normandy have learned not to fuck with us. The Taliban is next!

    God bless,

    Calgary, Canada
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barry · 13 years ago
    Once again thank you Michael for having the courage to keep at it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DagneyT · 13 years ago
    You wrote, "but the Americans seem to be leaving it mostly to the winds." and it made me wonder if that isn't because of our election mess going on now! For your sake, I pray the American people will see the empty suit that is Obama for what he is; a phony, and a socialist with radicals for friends!

    Also, I'm curious as to why the Brits always seem to be in the south of both Iraq and Afghanistan???

    Thank you for your clear writing, and concise information. God bless you, and keep you safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anon · 13 years ago
    Please don't start a political flamewar on this dispatch or site. It's completely off-topic.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael H Boyce · 13 years ago
    I look forward to your news of the Canucks. As a former Cdn Recce type circa 1970 and with my old Regiment having been rotated to Afghanistan a couple of times I am anxious to hear how they doing and faring. I am glad Canada has come up fighting alongside the U.S., Britain and others. Your reportage is great, with the definite feel of first hand on the ground experiences. Thank you and God Bless you and keep you safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan Johnson · 13 years ago
    Glad to here that you are safe on the ground in country, keep up the good work and be safe. Lets hope that every one can work to support you in the work that you are doing. You and guys like Michael Totten are on the forefront of the battles that are going on today that will affect our country AND WORLD for years to come. I look forward to hearing the REAL story from your dispatches to find out if we can do it the right way in AfPAk, I keep hearing from people how much things have turned around in Iraq, hopefully we can still learn...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    KLM · 13 years ago
    Gosh, I'm just so glad you are reporting the story there now. Thank you thank you thank you. I have been waiting for good reporting from there. No offense to anyone else, but with our guys over there, we are all very hungry for better reporting. I wish you didn't have to be there, but I'm so glad you are. Again, thank you. God be with you and the Soldiers with whom you'll be spending time.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    A Anderson · 13 years ago
    Not sure how effective it would be at translating your dispatches since I'm an English speaker & have no ability to read other languages but babelfish (now a subsidiary of Yaho does offer translation of web pages & also text.

    If I won the lottery, your efforts would be on my short list of contributions to make!

    Until then, I'm using word of mouth to generate traffic & donations.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    William Crum · 13 years ago

    Keep your eyes open and your head down my friend, and make sure and come home safe! Thanks for everything you do!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thunder Run · 13 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/29/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    middleroader12 · 13 years ago
    I just stumbled on this website. The more I read, the more hungry I am for more! So very well written! I'm buying your book for myself and plan to distribute additional copies to friends. God bless you and keep you safe!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Gonzales · 13 years ago
    Thanks for your latest dispatch. I had no idea it cost so much to do what you do. I've added my contribution and encourage ALL who read this to do the same.
    God Bless You!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andy Stevens · 13 years ago

    I have been following your reporting for a long long time and am ever impressed. I pass the links on when ever the opportunity presents itself.

    I have your book highly profiled on my Website at: http://www.go-patriots.com/Michael%20Yon.htm and on my links page at http://www.go-patriots.com/links.htm as well.

    Keep yp the great work.

    God bless
    Andy Stevens
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Phyllis Pajka · 13 years ago
    I have just aquired a group of guys in Afghanistan to support and while exchanging emails we were discussing politics and the media. I made the comment that I no longer read the paper or listen to the media. The only person's views I trust as far as Iraq and Afghanistan are yours Michael and I asked if they knew of your blog. The answer was "Michael Yon, of course we know him. All the troops love him". Now it can't get better than that can it? You should feel very proud to be one of the few speaking the truth about these places and those of us who know your writing always know we will get the real story and not some media hype. Thanks Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Richard McConchie · 13 years ago
    Well, I already give a monthly payment to Totten, so I'll double it for you. Stay as safe as you can, and best wishes from Australia.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mary l · 13 years ago
    I will send money when I can.

    God bless you, your friends, and your allies.

    a soldier's mom
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CSBrown · 13 years ago
    Michael, you have been our touchstone and our rock on the Iraqi campaign. I live in Canada, but have two sons in the American military, including a Marine anticipating his second tour. If I hadn't had you to tell the story over these past years, I'd have been twice the wreck I was while my son was there. You have also been a source of comfort for friends of ours here who have a son in the British Army, the Black Watch Regiment, who was in Basra for six months. They had no information at all about what was going on in his area until I told them about your website. He will probably deploy to Afghanistan soon, and they will be depending on you again. Even if you aren't accompanying our sons specifically, you give us a vivid picture of the situation on the ground for them. I would urge you, if you can, to spend some time with Canadian troops, who have been doing yeoman's work and getting very little credit or coverage in their own country. (That will surprise nobody who follows politics up here.) If you are able to do that, I have a few journalist friends who would be grateful to draw attention to whatever you write.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ronald Hatmaker · 13 years ago
    I am one of those who fought the "war" in Vietnam. We killed a bunch of those other people. some say almost three million. But we finally gave up and came back to our own country. So now we buy Vietnamese cashews at Kroger, God bless America baseball caps in Washington Dc, made in Vietnam, nice ceramic products near Myrtle beach SC. and we are trading partners with our former enemy. Take a nice vacation in Dai Lait.
    So now we kill those rag heads (or whatever). Killing them like mad we are. Planes, tanks, bombs, missiles - you name it. So they have home made bombs, and a few mortars. But still they come. One would have thought we killed them ALL by now.
    Maybe if we just swallow our pride and ease out, they will settle their own problems. Let them repair their own generators.
    America a democracy? Well most American citizens never would have voted for this so called war and most will vote to quit right now. And most will vote to stop all foreign aid. Especially to these crackpots and the zionists jews who destroy our ships and spy on us. But then we don't get to vote except on our fellow lying crackpot drug running fellow Americans. Yeh, so much for democracy. But one last question. Are your tanks made in China? Everything else is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    darin · 13 years ago
    That sounded like 1 hell of a mission.As remote looking as that dam look's,what's to keep the "toweleeban" from taking it out?I've read that they are now attacking f.o.b.'s manned with heavy firepower.Is there a strong troop presence @ that damn?

    Great work & tell all of the troop's we think of them daily & thank's.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Diekmann · 13 years ago
    Mr. Hatmaker,
    First, thanks for your service to our country. You are one of the few who actually has the justifiable right to complain about the direction of the country, having served to protect it.

    I would invite you though to consider commenting not from your anti-government soap-box on Mr. Yon's blog, but over at Daily Kos or some such angry liberal destination. Mr. Yon has been putting his life on the line to report the facts on the ground in conflicts around the globe for many years. It might me more respectful of you to support him, both financially and in spirit, as he seeks to share the glory and pain that US Armed Forces (and other Coalition Forces I should add) personnel have experienced on the field of battle. This entry, regarding a logistically difficult and dangerous mission to bring renewal power to the people of Afghanistan, hasn't been mentioned in the MSM once! Can you not thank him?

    I wonder if you would've appreciated someone like Mr. Yon reporting from Viet Nam rather than Jane Fonda? Do you believe that he would've done your story more justice?

    Los Angeles
  • This commment is unpublished.
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