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Michael Yon’s criticism of McChrystal deemed prophetic


Published on
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 09:06AM
by Kay B. Day

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Aug. 20, 2009): Col. David Haight, commander of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (left), briefs Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of International Security Assistance Force, on the progress of Task Force Spartan's area of operation and the efforts of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams at Forward Operating Base Shank, Aug. 21. (Photo by Spc. Matthew Thompson; courtesy Dept. of Defense.).Rolling Stone’s advance of an article with controversial remarks by Gen. Stanley McChrystal about President Barack Obama’s prosecution of the war will be on the screen for days to come. Apparently the general opened up to a freelancer and held little back when it came to deriding vice-president Joe Biden and ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry. Eikenberry retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant General.*

But war correspondent Michael Yon had begun to ask questions about the leadership in Afghanistan weeks ago.

The Washington Post said McChrystal “is quoted in an upcoming profile in Rolling Stone magazine as saying that Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, had ‘betrayed’ him by sending a diplomatic cable to Washington last fall dismissing Karzai as ‘not an adequate strategic partner.’ The cable came as McChrystal was recommending that President Obama increase U.S. forces and ties with the Afghan government.”

Long before Rolling Stone published the story, war correspondent Michael Yon had also levied criticism at McChrystal. Yon came under fire from some milbloggers for his dispatches, and at least one military blog came close to character assassination because of what Yon wrote about McChrystal.

Yon has consistently turned out major stories about the war that others missed, such as the Canadian Brigadier General who not only fired his weapon negligently but also was accused of having an affair with a female staffer. The military and media lagged in that coverage.

Yon also pinpointed a serious blunder that left a vital bridge unsecured in Afghanistan, leading to deaths and injuries for soldiers and civilians.

In a dispatch on Yon's Facebook Fan Page where approximately 35,000 fans read his posts, he wrote: “If a Colonel under General McChrystal's chain of command publicly dismissed General McChrystal in a major magazine, McChrystal would be forced to fire him or appear weak and not in control.”

The military doesn’t take kindly to public criticism that runs bottom to top.

Apart from Yon, however, many conservatives have been troubled by the prosecution of this war in accordance with demands from the left and from media, and complaints about the dilution of the Rules of Engagement have been vocal in some quarters. Troop deaths rose sharply this year in Afghanistan, but national media, sympathetic to Obama, rarely make note of that. When President George W. Bush was in office, however, troop deaths were noted daily and above the fold.

A general feeling among national security conservatives is that even before Obama took office, leftwingers and allied media had actually prolonged the war and endangered troops just as they did during the Vietnam era. Another general feeling is that Obama lacked the experience to manage the war, even if his Democrat political base would permit it. The president is already behind the timetable he claimed he’d meet on troop withdrawal during his campaign.

Perhaps as a result of the attention Yon receives from branded media and from fans, it’s fathomable why some bloggers would launch personal attacks.

It appears Yon’s criticism of the general was prophetic. Yon also wrote on Facebook: “Unless McChrystal basically denies the article, he must be fired. If he is not fired, I will start calling him President McChrystal because Obama clearly is not in charge.”

Obviously Yon was ahead of the curve.

Yon’s embed was recently canceled and he has been filing dispatches from Thailand. His widely acclaimed book ‘Moment of Truth in Iraq’ has just been released in paperback.

[Ed. Note: Yon actually began to crit the general sometime in April.]

[Correction: Thanks to my readers I have corrected Eikenberry's rank! Sorry about the unintentional demotion.]


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    jenny kastner · 11 years ago
    In 196 , when President Kennedy was assassinated, I was living in Mexico City. Our friends there, academics mostly, argued emphatically that this murder was the beginning of a military takeover of the United States (with the help of certain other players, including a wing of the CIA and the Mob). I have seen nothing to refute that suspicion in the intervening years, and now we have a general publicly displaying an arrogance which gives further fuel to those assertions made thirty-seven years ago.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Jackson · 11 years ago
    Any military commander that doesn't think that Karazi is ‘not an adequate strategic partner.’ needs to be promoted to commander of the Latrine digging company. It's pathetic that he's all we have. Personally I don't think a National Government is an institution that's relevant to Afghan social structure; if we don't marginalize the national government and reach out to the tribal leaders we're doomed to failure.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alex · 11 years ago
    Having read Michael's dispatches just what is his policy disagreement with McCrystal? It seems to me about the only issue Yon has with McCrystal is that he blames him for losing his embed. Most of what I have read seems to be that Yon was in agreement with McCrystal's strategy.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Darren Stewart · 11 years ago
    Michael Yon picked out earlier the way this was going. And he correctly cited that we are losing this war. The leftist idealogy that has riddled western thinking like a cancer for decades bit deep when Obama took office. A surge of troops unable and hamstrung achieves what? Just more ment to shot at, blow up and kill. The leadership of this war has been broken now for years. There is no strategic direction. There is no purpose of the war. There is no general strategic aim. There are foggy lofty theories and idiocy about 'rebuilding'. More fog on winning hearts and minds. More endless fog on reconstruction. In the meantime, in this useless leftish fog, the Taliban and multiple offensive enemies rebuild, move freely, commit to action unhindered. Their supply lines, sources of funding, and operations are virtually untouched, apart from sporadic targetted ops that last only days or weeks and are back to the same senario within the same time.

    If we must be at war, then let the men fight. And give them everything they need. If there is an enemy, then either defeat him, or don't And no war is won by 'not killing anyone'. The lunacy and stupidity of this hearts and minds garbage that totally failed in Vietnam and is failing at a steeper rate here is a lesson in history. Further, All NATO countries have to be called to account. 000 helicopters in Europe alone, yet the brits have been short for years. A handful fight while others shirk and stand around avoiding the scrap in the shadows.

    As for the Taleban, you have to cut all their sources of funding and weapons off at the knees. And by that I mean you eliminate the sources by any means required. And this includes eliminating funds collected in western countries in the mosques being fed to the Taliban to kill our men. And it means an immediate end of our enemy from operating in our countries, so Saudi Wahhabist political and financial activity and 'conservative' support and funding for radical islam being clobbered in every single area. An immediate end in double play with Pakistan. Handing huge funds to them while their ISI support and supply the Taliban is not and will not be a winning operation.

    In addition, you'll only control the ground you stand on in foreign territory. Therefore, more men and machinery - enough to dominate the ground and leave the taliban with only the ground they stand on.

    And the raw truth, is that if we cannot or will not commit enough to win this 'war', then don't fight it. Its a waste of precious resource and our finest people and its being wasted by diabolically poor leadership.
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    Russki Top · 11 years ago
    In successive nutshells:
    McChrystal disagrees with being hamstrung by armchair wannabes in the rear. Sounds like how LBJ tried to run Vietnam.
    Yon disagrees primarily with McChrystal's rules of engagement, which hamstring the troops on the ground and will result in further casualties and fewer bad guys removed from the equation.
    Obama disagrees with being compared to LBJ because of the inevitablility of how his presidency will end in that case. And then continues to do exactly what LBJ did.
    Sounds to me like most folks should go back, review how ill-prepared LBJ was to attempt to micro-f@#$ a military operation, then compare Obama's relative lack of governmental experience to LBJ's, then decide what qualifications Obama has to micro-f@#$ McChrystal.
    COIN is long-term, it is ugly, it refuses to respond nicely to the news cycle or the election cycle, and it will NEVER work well when the imposer refuses to address the actual centers of influence and power of the impose-ee. Obama and the rest of the civilized world need to decide to accept this basic tenet, or alternatively, to pull out, wall the place up, and prepare to intercept every mud-covered POS that exits the country as a potential next suicide killer headed for our shores.
    Keep it up, Michael, you are still contributing remotely.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    asdfsdf · 11 years ago
    Always fun to watch the MSM criticizing itself for being too biased.

    Mr. Yon, I am afraid I must apologize. When you first started criticizing McChrystal, I am afraid that I was suspicious and not trusting of the validity of your concerns. After being kicked out by the British and then by McChrystal, I was afraid that you had gone over the deep end. I was sure that you had some valid criticisms, but your sudden assertion that we would lose the war and your seemingly fantastic predictions led me to believe that you had been pushed a bit too far. What I thought you needed, most of all, was a long vacation and a pinch of perspective.

    That being said, I am sorry to admit that I lost interest. In a longer than usual intermission between articles I took my leave of this site and never returned. Then, when I heard of this article with Rolling Stones, I remembered your complaints. Once again, Mr. Yon, you showed a near prescient ability to see the perils and predicaments in the future. Once again, you saw what no one else did months in advance.

    I am sorry that I doubted you. I am sorry that I forgot how you see more than many and with clearer sight than most. But that is in the past. This is the future, and I am certainly not sorry to say that it looks like I have a lot of catching up to do here. As the double edged Chinese proverb and curse goes, may you live in interesting times, and may you always have your camera ready and an internet connection nearby.
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    T A Griffin · 11 years ago

    nobody must forget that McChrystal had an input into the Tillman Affair, and the citation for his posthumous medal. Tillman was killed by 'friendly fire' and not as a result of enemy action. I think that there have long been questions about this man who is unfit for purpose. He should be sacked, and not allowed to resign.
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    Dinsdale · 11 years ago
    McChrystal has surrounded himself with a 'handpicked' coterie of US Colonels (which when the Afghans do the same it is criticised for nepotism) who feed each others egos. None of them is able to say "Look the Emperor is naked!"as a result he has closed down morale boosting facilities such as the PizzaHuts (whilst enjoying his special macrobiotic meals prepared by his personal chef, in his private dining room) and come up with restrictive Rules of Engagement (ROE) in order to placate the corrupt Afghan regime.

    Sack him and put Gen MATTIS USMC in charge.
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    Adam Neira · 11 years ago
    Prayers to the brave men and women serving in ISAF, Iraq and other US postings throughout the world. There are six billion people alive at the moment. If there was to be a "Courage Index" then the young men and women fighting to defend the values of the Western Civilization in these theatres of conflict would be rated at the very top. The various "leaders" on the world stage must do everything in their power to ensure that war and conflict is banished from the affairs of men, and that Isaiah's prophecy re. swords into ploughshares, is fulfilled over time. Soldiers who fight in foreign lands must be given full support. The Taliban are the mutant extremists of Islam. Certain people and groups are so embittered and calcified with lies and hatred that they are unredeemable and must either be contained or killed.
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    INFIDEL · 11 years ago
    There is no damn 'war' to win. The afghans either support the taliban or don't care enough to fight them. Al-qaeda is in many damn countries, and it still can't pull another big attack. there's no need for a hundred thousand troops building schools in afghanistan to fight them. Either kill all afghans, or leave. The people that will suffer will be afghans, and their muslim neighbours who support the taliban and/or enjoy seeing America suffer. Get out and watch them suffer. f

    but none of this can happen because in umerika you're either a dumb, ignorant, hypocritical left wing nut or a dumb, ignorant, hypocritical right wing nut. the republicans would love to shout down the president that 'lost' the war, even if they agree that the US should get out. They'll wear flag pins and dine with soldiers, but don't care if they die for no reason, or for republicans to win. The ones that actually agree that there's a war to fight, those poor things are just too dumb to know anything.

    Obama's an left wing idiot, but he's governing 00 million idiots that have more power than him. So he can't do any sensible thing.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alex · 11 years ago
    Did Yon really disagree with the restrictive ROE? Didn't he say that the US (and allies) had to be careful about collateral damage because killing civilians made enemies for life...pretty much the same think McCrystal was preaching? Message to Obama, Patraeus has no majic bullet for this either. Since the pres announced defeat when he said we'd pull out in summer of 2011 he had just as well move the schedule up and be done with it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul · 11 years ago
    The article was depressing reading, not least for the journalist's irritating Generation X prose style --- his photo says it all (he looks like Pete Doherty out on a bender rather than a serious reporter). I prefer Michael's stuff. Also, the journo was clearly unconcerned about the wider ramifications of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, taking the fashionable jaded view of the war (indeed of all war, judging by the conspiracy-theory flavoured remark at the end of the piece). I started reading the comments, but the first couple I read were by smug Europeans, looking down with disdain on stupid gung-ho America and their stupid gung-ho soldiers (yadda, yadda, yadda), so I clicked off and came here instead (I hear enough of that sort of unserious rubbish --- I'm British and we have a state broadcaster to keep us supplied until doomsday with trendy Leftist anti-American boilerplate). The European intellectual class is about as useful to humanity as the head louse.

    The US operation has clearly run aground, apparently through incompetence and politics. But what will happen if Afghanistan is left to the Taliban? Most here appear to think (as do I) that Karzai isn't going to be able to stem the ensuing backlash: Afghanistan will revert rapidly to the mess it was in before, and Al Qaeda will have a free rein there once more --- something which, rightly or wrongly, most in the West can live with. But what about the broader ambitions of the Taliban and Al Qaeda?

    So much focus is on the wannabe nuclear power on Afghanistan's Western border, yet too few people seem bothered about the increasingly wobbly already-there atomic power on its Eastern border --- the atomic power beset by surging radicalism, which finds it ever harder to form a stable government. The Taliban will try to win Pakistan. If they do, what exactly could the West do against a terror-sponsoring jihadist state with a nuclear umbrella and a global reach? Afghanistan is now not primarily about Afghanistan (if ever it was): it's primarily about Pakistan.

    No doubt Israel will deal with the Shi'ite bomb. But who will deal with the Sunni one?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    miscellaneous · 11 years ago
    You noted, "The European intellectual class is about as useful to humanity as the head louse."

    I think this is true of the majority of intellectuals these days. The US's isn't much better. There are a few bright spots out there, but few. You also put forth the question, "what will happen if Afghanistan is left to the Taliban." To me, there is a fairly stright forward result. First, the Taliban will once again gain control. Karzai is alredy, from some things I've read, trying to release some and make them part of Afghanistan again. So, he's already making nice with them. I suspect he's trying to solidify his position for when the pull out is expected to happen. So, the Taliban, and Jihadists in general, win a political victory. They also gain clout/leverage because their, "way," worked, seeing them return to political power. Next, because their, "determination and will to fight the Great Satan," will be seen and popularized by the majority of Islamists. It will be shown that, "staying the course, creating hope and change through Jihad," is working. Then they'll thump their chests and claim it was Arab power, people of the great umma, that defeated the Western devils. They will then call for more fighters, getting them since it's obvious that the US and it's evil ilk can be defeated by, "resistance." It will be trumpted all over the Sunni realms, plus probably other smaller ummas, and give organizations leverage to help run other geopolitical areas as they see fit. The US and allies will lose clout, look even more like the, "weak horse," and start an even greater slide into stupidity. I'm sure several people will come forward and say that we just weren't nice enough and that's why it failed. After all, Appeasement to dictatorships has always worked. It worked for Hitler. Just don't tell any one it took a war to stop him though. You might upset their sensetivities.

    Any way you slice it, it's win/win for Islam and their brand of terrorism.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Blue Dawg · 11 years ago
    When a blogger earns his rank in the military, he may have some credibility.
    I'm willing to leave the war to the experts while journalist relax with their beers and laptops
    pondering how world events would evolve if only they were in charge.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul · 11 years ago
    "I think this is true of the majority of intellectuals these days. The US's isn't much better."

    Yeah, you're probably right. The soi disant free-thinkers all think as one when it comes to America and its imperialism and warmongering and its obsession with guns and blah, blah blah...

    "When a blogger earns his rank in the military, he may have some credibility."

    Something along those lines came to mind when I read the Rolling Stone article: particularly the writer's pathetic shots at Petraeus. ...But then the media and the political Left wanted him to fail in Iraq because he was Bush's last great hope. Some of them appear to resent him still, for succeeding with the surge they all mocked so scornfully and hoped would be the final nail in the Bush coffin. (I'm no apologist for Bush: I just remember the cynical and potentially dangerous idiocy of the anti-Bush partisans, the media and the whole Tinseltown set --- how they clearly *wanted* Iraq to turn into another Vietnam.)

    God willing, Petraeus will get things on track in Afghanistan too.

    ...And here's hoping Michael gets an embed with him.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    OReally · 11 years ago
    I thought Michael Yon complained that McChrystal would hide the truth. Didn't Yon complain that McChrystal could not be trusted to tell the truth and that he fairly hid from the media? Didn't McChrystal get fired for telling too much of the truth? Did McChrystal get let go because he was too open?

    McChrystal wasn't let go because of poor strategy, or because he was "in over his head." He got let go because he was too openly critical in the presence of the media. That doesn't sound like what Yon wrote about him. That sounds almost like the opposite of what Yon wrote about him. Just pointing out the 800 lb gorilla in the room while everyone lauds Yon for having a McChrystal ball.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matthew Gonzalez · 11 years ago
    Michael, of all the things you reported ahead of time, this has, in my humble opinion, been by far the MOST prophetic thing you've been correct about. I only hope now that the war can still be saved at this point in it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TCMSOLS · 11 years ago
    I recommended changing the ROE, after speaking with President Karzai during the review under the Bush Administration, while they can be tweaked to a small degree, the emphasis of limiting civilian causalities must remain paramount to achieving outcomes for a successful mission. Both General Petraeus and General McChrystal supported the change of ROE and adopting a WHAM policy. Since the ROE changed there has been a rise in anti-Taliban militia's (LDI's) this is directly due to the change in ROE.

    I would not expect the sand on the boots to adopt a policy that I were not willing to face myself on the front line. It limits the time line of the conflict, limits the recruitment of foot soldiers to the Talib, thus in the long term it actually reduces the level of coalition KIA. It isolates the Taliban and makes their shadow government (dual system) which is designed to undermine and overthrow the Afghan Government not an alternative to the Afghan Government, this puts them in a weaker position when it comes to negotiations, they are forced to integrate into the established Government system.

    As security is gradual increase over the coming years the Taliban will be forced from this 'dual system' into compartmentalized cells further isolating them from the population. A rural insurgency is reliant on the support of the population and the tactile silence to their operations. The Taliban can no longer be seen as a legitimate form of resistance protecting the population from coalitions forces, because the Taliban can no longer take civilian support for granted they have increased their attacks on the civilian population, which further isolates them and places them in a weaker position when it comes to negotiations, as the cannot be seen in representing the population, they only represent themselves as an insurgent faction, not a popular legitimate resistance to the Afghan Government.

    The delay in the Kandahar offensive has worked to our advantage as from Karzai's first visit, the Taliban tactics of terrorizing the population lead to local support for the operation on Karzai's second visit. The Taliban are slowing isolating themselves from their support base in their heartland. The fact they have to bring in suicide bombers from outside of Marjah shows they are losing indigenous support.

    The results of the COIN strategy are a direct reason why Pakistan is try to do a deal and bring Haqqani in, because we are going to win and they know it and they believe they cannot get a better outcome, otherwise they would wait, they are acting in their own strategic interest not to help ISAF or the Afghan Government.

    We have only got started we are one year into the 5 year plan. The outcome to the mission is containment of the Taliban, as it was in Iraq over insurgents, this means the success of the mission is not reliant on negotiations with intractable insurgents for success. The ANSF will be able to continue the containment policy as the Iraqi Security Forces are doing.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter Kennedy · 11 years ago
    Interesting comment from TCMSOLS. If he is correct in saying that the current ROEs ARE having an impact and that we are isolating the the Talib, when does he think we will see this on the ground in reduced IEDs, better intel on Taqlib resulting in more kills and disruption of their networks? is current stepped assination campaign in Kandahar a sign of desperation? Where is the data? Hopefully he will be proved prescient and we shall see results before my son deploys there next year! If not, then let's look at the ROEs. I know from accounts from British troops in Helmand the frustration of watching the "dickers" on their trail bikes shadowing their evey move and helping to set up ambushes. If they are not carrying a weapon, they cannot be engaged. Same goes for Talib commanders speaking into their walkie talkies! Personally, I'm not convinced restrictive ROEs will help to turn the tide in Afghanistan, though important in other counter insurgency contexts.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark Colwell · 11 years ago
    I’m getting tired of all the feigned confusion regarding the purpose and objective of this war. It is to insure a government is in place that will not permit religious extremists in Afghanistan from carrying out attacks against the US. If we can do some other good stuff while were there, great… however the primary mission is just to be able to leave people in charge who will fight against religious extremism in the region so we don’t have too. It is an achievable mission; we simply need to commit to achieving this goal before we leave the country.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Daniel Crowe · 11 years ago
    Warplanes is giving away F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Apache Longbow AH-64D models to bloggers and Facebook followers.

    Click here to win one!

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