Michael's Dispatches

No Young Soldiers


10 August 2009
Sangin, Afghanistan

Daily dramas unfolded, including the bangs, booms and small-arms fire that punctuated the times.  At 1800, I was preparing to go to orders with 1 Platoon, A Company of 2 Rifles, when shots from a large-caliber rifle began cracking low over base.  I passed by sniper, Kris Griffith, and said, “Hey Kris, why don’t you grab your rifle and go shoot that guy?”  Kris replied that two other sniper teams were on it.  “He’s close,” I said, and Kris answered, “About 600 meters.” Then we went our separate ways.

Orders were given and then the soldiers performed final checks on their gear and tried to fall to sleep in the sweltering evening heat.  Some nights I would go to sleep using the sleeping bag as a pillow, only to wake up with it drenched in sweat.

The alarm was set for 0213 hours, but at 0211 I sat up and turned it off before it could wake the soldiers who were not going on the mission.  I had nineteen minutes to pull on my boots, body armor, and small rucksack, before I had to get to breakfast, engage in final conversations, and then show up for the mission at 0310.

The mission was to begin at 0330; my section was to slip off base at 0345.

The following series of photos were taken during the early morning hours of August 2nd .  The conditions were “red illume,” meaning there was less than 10 millilux of ambient light and it was too dark for most helicopters to fly, even while using night vision gear.  It was plenty dark.

Soldiers and section leaders did “final check” after “final check” of their gear, and talked quietly among themselves while last-minute updates came over the radio.

In red illume, the soldiers used dim red lights that were harder for the enemy to see.  Red light also preserved our night vision.  By showing up a half-hour before departure and sitting quietly, our eyes and senses had time to adjust and tune in to the battlefield.  The battlefield was a thirty-second walk away.

Some soldiers smoked cigarettes before stepping out into the wild zone.  Most were quiet.  There was little talking during the last ten minutes.

In Green: Lance Corporal Jamie Nicholls, section commander for 1 Platoon, A Company, 2 Rifles

My section assembled…

…While another section waited.

The first section moved out nine minutes before the mission for my section began.

Six minutes to departure.

Final red lights were out. Our mission started three minutes early.

Despite low ambient light, the market in Sangin was dangerously lighted.

By 0357 hrs, some shops were already open, including this shoe store.  The Taliban in this area did not seem to wear running shoes as did some of the enemy groups elsewhere in Afghanistan.  Here, the enemy mostly wore sandals or went barefoot.  (Many often ran right out of their sandals, especially during combat.)

Shops on this very street sold fertilizer used to make bombs.  They might as well have sold dynamite.  (The fertilizer also happened to be good for growing opium.)  The bombs regularly blow the limbs off troops around Afghanistan.  Soldiers may lose their legs, or their legs and an arm and their eyesight, or worse.  But what can we do, really?  Gasoline, like fertilizer, can be an incredible weapon.  Are we to ban gasoline and attack gas shipments while trying to build a country from scratch?  We talk about weapons flowing in from Pakistan, while in reality most of the casualties in this area come from bombs made from fertilizer sold in the open markets.  We talk about Pakistani Taliban flowing in, while the local ANA Commander, Colonel Wadood, tells me that some of the fighters are Tajiks from places like Ghor Province.  Tajiks generally hate the Taliban but they come to make money, he says.

1 Platoon, A Company, 2 Rifles moved silently through darkness cut by bare bulbs.

The sensitive camera and fine lens seemed to amplify low light.

The crux of the mission was a raid, but the task of our section was to provide security and fire support for the raiders.  If the enemy were to try to hit our guys during the raid, our job was to kill the enemy, and so our objective was a farmhouse that overlooked the target.

British soldiers moved into an occupied farmhouse as the man willingly opened the gate to let us in.  Several cute children were sleeping under the stars. The soldiers were so quiet the kids were not disturbed.  I thought to myself, “What would the kids think if they woke up and saw the soldiers?” About fifteen minutes later, one of the children woke up, and his voice could be heard through the silence of the night.  The man with the turban stepped over and spoke quietly to the child who immediately zonked out again, as if it were all part of a dream.

After the compound was quietly and respectfully searched, some of the soldiers sat down while others pushed into security positions.

The soldiers were perfectly early: not so early that they risked tipping their hand too soon, but early enough that they had time to collect thoughts and tune-in after the movement and get into good positions while the raiders skulked in on the nearby target, only 150 meters away.

Instead of pushing everyone into position immediately—increasing the chance of compromise—most of the team waited down in the compound until just before first light.

This man seemed unconcerned. The British soldiers respected the locals while the Taliban acted out on a whim, murdering innocents or splashing acid in the faces of schoolgirls.  Within hours of the time this photo was taken, we felt the rumble as the Taliban blew up a local bridge and killed two ANA soldiers.  In addition to the killing, the bridge was important to the locals.  This was not a fight for terrain, but for the sentiments of the people.

As with al Qaeda, the Taliban is our best weapon against themselves.  The Taliban issued a code of conduct, which likely was a blunder on their part.  Why?  Because the Taliban are undisciplined savages, and every time they violate their own code of conduct—which happens every day and night—the good guys have a chance to broadcast the transgression.

Rifleman Robert Welsh

More soldiers moved to the roof at 0442 while the raiders got into final position. At 0500 the raid began, but only two air rifles were found.  At 0510 “dickers” (watchers) were spotted on motorcycles and on a roof, as the FST plots potential enemy positions.

Fire Support Team members: Hatton, Wotherspoon, Beale

Though it might seem like a simple raid, it would take many long dispatches for the untrained reader to develop a reasonable understanding of this three-dimensional battlefield and what the soldiers were doing.   There was more going on than just “1 Platoon, A Company, 2 Rifles, with guns on a roof in Afghanistan.”  1 Platoon was a small part of a larger package.

Embedded within 1 Platoon was a handful of specialists from 636 (Arcot 1751 Battery), 40 Regiment Royal Artillery, “The Lowland Gunners,” simply called the “Fire Support Team.”  Most soldiers just say FST.

The primary function of 1 Platoon was to provide security for the raiders, and to deliver the FST, whose primary function also was to provide security for the raiders.

The FST controls air assets, mortars, cannons, howitzers, and remote rocket systems known as GMLRS, (which Americans pronounce “Gimmlers” while the British say each letter: G-M-L-R-S).

GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) scares the heck out of the enemy; GMLRS can be launched from dozens of miles away and reliably kill a man—or a lot of men—without warning.  GMLRS are like the ultimate sniper rifle, only the bullet is a large explosive warhead. The system is so reliable and accurate that during operation Arrowhead Ripper during the summer of 2007 in Iraq, our people were hitting IEDs from dozens of miles away.  Whereas the enemy can see or hear most aircraft, they get no warning with GMLRS.  Even with the invisible and silent Predators and Reapers firing the small Hellfire missiles, the enemy has a few seconds warning.  Hellfires are like gigantic hand grenades with a homing system.  A Hellfire can hit a car and not necessarily kill everyone.  But if GMLRS hits a sturdy two-story house, the house is gone.  The Taliban hate it.

The FST had an array of tricks up their camouflaged sleeves; the primary weapons of this mission were the devastating 81mm mortars, the even more devastating 105mm howitzers, and the GMLRS many miles away.  Overhead were two American A-10s; British Apaches attack helicopter; and a supersonic American B-1B bomber that was designed to deliver hydrogen bombs into the heart of the Soviet Union.  The call sign for the B-1B might as well have been “Strangelove” and it’s not difficult to imagine Slim Pickens at the controls.  (A message came that a B-1B crew who had covered us on a recent mission, had read the dispatch and sent a message to me.  The Brits relayed the message; thank you B-1B!  During upcoming missions, I’ll be the one waving up at you in the stratosphere.  The enemy has IEDs, but the riflemen are monkey-stomping these guys.  Thank you for the top cover.)

FST soldiers plotted all suspected enemy firing points and listed the coordinates while other soldiers were ready near the mortars and howitzers and would fire into the target mere moments after a “FIRE MISSION…” radio call came in.  At 0521 a man was spotted in a dark dishdasha moving through a woodline.  Sergeant Wotherspoon, a Scottish soldier who sounds very much like the Scotsman on the Simpsons, pulled out his laser range finder, checked the distance and plotted a fire mission.  The “dicking screen” seemed to be increasing so the FST stayed busy plotting potential targets.  At 0544 the first raid was over and the raiders moved to hit a second compound.  Amazingly, some people in the United States believe that the raiders should take time to gather forensic evidence for later court cases.  This would spell many death sentences for us, and prove a potent disincentive to soldiers who risk their lives to capture suspects alive.  If soldiers at war are held to the same evidence collection standards as law enforcement officers at home, we need to end the war before we sink further into the quicksand.  If the judiciary enforces unbearable standards in this ugly war, a fair-minded, informed person likely would say that we need to conclude our attempts to raise up Afghanistan, and we should bring home the troops.

At 0546 there was a large caliber rifle shot that kicked up dust about a hundred meters from us.  A minute later there was another shot but we saw no splash.  Wotherspoon said, “That’s how it started last time; single shots trying to find us.”  (Wotherspoon really does sound like the Scotsman on the Simpsons but I didn’t dare say it.)  They had gotten into a serious firefight here before and expected another.  I fell asleep when shots woke me up at 0633. There were sounds of motorbikes and sporadic shots being fired as I fell back to sleep. While most soldiers worked some were switching watch and a few slept.  An infantryman’s rule of thumb: never miss a chance to fill canteens or sleep.

Modern battlefields bring countless strange sounds.  What does a bomb sound like when it slices overhead through the dark to a target?  An RPG launch?  How about a Javelin or Hellfire or 81 or 105 or 107 or 155 or A-10 or Shadow?  Everyone reading this likely knows the sound a train rumbling by, or a car horn, yet out here on the battlefields there are probably hundreds of new sounds to learn.  While falling back to sleep, an incident came to mind from my first day or two at FOB Jackson.  The mess tent was crowded and we all heard a THUMP, which sounded remarkably like an incoming mortar launch.  This base – despite all the combat – does not take mortar and rocket fire (touch wood), so nobody hit the deck.  But in the seconds after the THUMP, the loud mess tent went completely silent as all ears strained to hear.  And then came a slight whistle and at least fifty people were on the ground in a second or two.  But one soldier, Corporal Ryan Hone, just sat there and said “What?” Corporal Hone was temporarily deaf because he had been flat-blasted by an enemy bomb some days back, and so he didn’t hear the whistle.  And there was no incoming mortar.  I’ve never heard one whistle, anyway.  The whistle came from Serjeant Rob Grimes from 2 Platoon!

In addition to plotting potential enemy FPs (Firing Points), any potential enemy group who came within our reach was also immediately plotted.  The machine guns, rifles and grenades the soldiers carried were the least things the enemy should have been concerned about.  Fine training and attention to detail are crucial in this job.  All targets were “danger close” to us, and often to the other elements on the ground.

“Danger close” means that even if everything goes just right, friendly troops are so close to our fires (such as bombs, mortars or the guns), that we might take casualties from our own fires.  Any fire missions that the FST would have called from the position we were in would have been danger close, to us and probably to the raiders.  Most fire missions in the Green Zone are danger close.

So if one of these soldiers made a mistake—even one digit off—the mistake could have wiped out an innocent family, us, or both.  To safeguard, they train constantly, and during missions two FST members plot each target separately then compare answers.

Lance Bombardier Matthew Hatton

FST soldiers must be able to pass the tests during firefights and when bombs are exploding or when people are screaming with horrible injuries. They must reliably call fire missions during all conditions, such as fitful, dark nights when the men are tired, hungry, and in need of rest.

L to R: Corporal Pat Cunningham; Sgt Lee Wotherspoon; Gunner Jake Beale.  Many soldiers adapted the camouflage to blend into the local condition.  The green shirts help in the Green Zone.

While the soldiers on the roof worked radios on different nets, plotted their own solutions and shared information, the family below offered bread and tea to the soldiers.

From the roof, the FST can call a fire mission from scratch and have rounds landing in -- let’s not give the enemy a clue, and just say “very fast.”  Since the FST had already plotted all likely enemy positions, the fire mission would be accelerated Time Of Flight (TOF) for the 105mm Howitzer shots would be 22 seconds while the 81mm mortar bombs will fly for about 33 seconds before detonating.  All fuses are dialed to “proximity low” to reduce structural damage and increase damage to Taliban fighters.

On the roof, Gunner Jake Beale mentioned that he turned 19 in May, and later Corporal Mark Foley recounted how he saw Gunner Beale shoulder his 40mm grenade launcher and take aim at a Taliban who was about 200m away.  Beale launched the grenade, which arced lazily to apogee and fell straight into the Taliban and detonated.  While shots were being fired in the distance, the soldiers joked that it takes eight washings to get the smell of Afghanistan out of your gear.  Beale said that if you iron your uniform, the smells take you on a tour around Afghanistan with smells from fields, compounds, markets, irrigation ditches and shit.

This A-10 had just popped flares and headed straight over the unfolding ambush.  British soldiers love to see a couple of American A-10s on station.  It’s like having a backup battalion in the sky.  The A-10s are not sexy like F-15s, but they are fantastic platforms operated by capable pilots.

There were various shots as the morning unfolded and at 0743 there were two explosions that we thought were an RPG attack. Actually it was an IED attack with two bombs on the ANA.  The sun was rising and the morning was already hot when we heard random scattered shots and a short but brisk firefight.  The soldiers were in good spirits.  I said, “Those guys out there with guns are not very friendly,” and they laughed and told jokes of their own.

Bones the B-1B had flown over a couple times, and at 0759 the two A-10s flew over and popped flares nearly over our heads.  The ANA, some hundreds of meters away, had been ambushed by a bridge and the bridge was destroyed.  One soldier was dead and another dying.  We could hear bullets flying but could not see the action other than some dust.  A British rescue helicopter carrying a MERT (Medical Emergency Response Team) was dispatched from Camp Bastion and headed straight into the danger.

The raids were over and the raiders had pulled back, so we departed the roof.  I saw a couple soldiers say goodbye to the turbaned man who was waving his farewell.

As we entered the first funnel between two compounds which ended at an open area, we were in the perfect position to sustain a hit.  When we entered the open area we saw a half dozen men watching us from a mud building that had been melting through time.  We seemed to have surprised them.   No weapons were visible but my danger alarms kicked to red-alert, and the same happened with the soldiers who immediately prepared for combat.  It seemed to me that soldiers were clicking rifle selector switches to FIRE, but I am not certain.  Some kids were also watching from another position.  Everything seemed wrong.

One man, among the group of men in the melting building, pushed a small child in front of him and at least two British soldiers told all the men to “Get out of here right now!”  I could sense that British trigger-fingers were a glance away from pulling into action.  No shots were fired and we moved on.

Were those men and the children part of something bigger, or just onlookers?  A European or American likely would have taken cover if they saw a firefight brewing, but that doesn’t mean these people would.  Combat veterans of the Iraq war might remember seeing women and children walking down the streets during the middle of firefights.  Hundreds or thousands of bullets might be snapping by, yet some woman with a couple kids would appear and leisurely cross the street like nothing was going on, as if protected by a force field.

Some people say the Taliban are cowardly for planting bombs, but I do not believe this makes them any more cowardly than the A-10s, Apaches, B-1Bs and Reapers make us cowardly.  We didn’t come here for a fair fight.  We came to win.  Some troops even say that if you show up to a battle and find it’s evenly matched, you didn’t plan well.  What most of us find cowardly and despicable are the enemies who hide behind children.  The bombs they plant for us are fair play.  But males who hide behind children are not worthy of respect.

It’s difficult to move unpredictably in tight areas.  There are choke points and only so many ways to travel in the limited battle space.  And so we were bottlenecked, and the point man detected something suspicious.

Most of the bombs here are command detonated, requiring only that someone push the button or connect the battery.  Despite the danger, the point man crawled on his belly to the suspected bomb.  If what he saw was a command detonated bomb, he likely would die suddenly and we would be pelted by the blast.  If what he saw was a pressure plate, he might save the life or limbs of one or more of those behind him.

A cow was munching green just to my right.  The soldiers were quiet, as they scanned the danger areas.  Everyone was quiet: If you’ve got nothing to say, now is a good time to not say it.  Should the point man have been killed we would likely have been in a firefight right there.  By this time the British helicopter is just minutes out from picking up the dying ANA soldier who had been blown up earlier, while his buddies loaded up the dead soldier.

Point man said quietly back, “Barbed wire,” and it was relayed back to me and I said, “barbed wire” to the man behind, who said, “command wire” and the file behind immediately started to pull back. I said, “No, no, barbed wire, not command wire,” and he understood then, so we all moved forward.  The point man found no bomb.

We pushed farther into another fatal funnel.

The enemy often plants bombs in the walls, or they can easily dig under a wall and put a bomb under the path without leaving visible disturbance.  These are normal tactics.  They also shoot through small holes in the walls.  At this range, the A-10s and Bones the B-1B could do little more than watch.

The soldiers cleared through the funnels and moved back onto the market street.

The suicide bomber threat was high, and unfortunately we had become an irritant to the people.  We could not let motorcycles and cars just roll by or it would be just a matter of time until a bunch of guys would get flattened.

Back in May, a motorcycle rammed a patrol and when soldiers got out to help, he detonated, killing two British soldiers.  This happened in nearby Gereshk.  One of the soldiers had been a Gurkha.  Word came to Brunei where I was training with Gurkhas.   The soldiers halted the exercise briefly and held a moment of thought, then returned to training for a return to Afghanistan.  That attack had occurred in Gereshk.  There had been four suicide attacks in Sangin.

When we stopped traffic the people would become irritated; most of them were just going about their lives.  I saw a letter wherein one American officer said that he did not see people irritated when he stopped traffic in Kabul, but he must not have been paying attention.  The people do get upset, and so it was important to smile, wave and act as non-threatening as possible.  Sometimes there was little else you could do.

Typical transport on the main road in the district capital of Sangin.

There are many tractors in Sangin.  Diesel fuel can be mixed with the fertilizer to make bombs (ANFO: Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil), but here the bomb-makers had been mixing the fertilizer with fine aluminum powder used in spray paints.

Apparently this ANP is not accustomed to shoes or boots with laces.  The golden sacks on the right are fertilizer that can be used in bombs.

We made our way through the market and one motorcycle looked like he would crash the patrol and a soldier immediately shouldered his rifle, aimed at the man and yelled, “STOP!” The man skidded to a stop.  I waved and he actually waved back.

Nobody liked doing this, pointing a rifle at someone who was probably in his hometown.

Back where we started: Soldiers clear their weapons, head back to clean their gear and go for a swim in the river.  The blonde and bespectacled Jake Beale turned 19 years old in May.   Rifleman Matty Meakin (far right).

Some of the soldiers out here might seem young, but there are no young soldiers here.  Not even one.

Guarding the body

The British MERT helicopter had landed on the battlefield and picked up the severely wounded Afghan soldier.   He was delivered to Camp Bastion where he died that day.

While the helicopter had evacuated the soldier who died shortly thereafter, the Afghan soldiers loaded up the dead soldier, the one who was killed in the initial attack, and brought him to our base despite the fact that he obviously was dead.  Maybe they thought the British could do something but he was dead and nothing could be done, so the Afghan soldiers kept guard on the body and for a time at least two of them cried for their comrade. I brought them water.  They wanted a British helicopter to come take the body somewhere, but this was not going to happen.

It’s a bad idea to land helicopters here in broad daylight other than for casualty extractions, and the ANA has helicopters; their own commander could request the same.  FOB Jackson is a busy little base where Afghan soldiers also live, so most people probably had no idea why the Afghan soldiers were even sitting there—but the medics had told me.

Later that afternoon the two Afghan soldiers were still there, but had lightened up and wanted their photo taken. That day like every day kept unfolding, and ended just as it had begun.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andy · 11 years ago
    Tommy, with respect. If he has concerns he raises them through the correct channels and not in public. That's what a real soldier does.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    I searched the Telegraph site and could find nothing of the sort. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/
    Perhaps Raymond could provide the link to his claim.

    It appears the British are suffering losses similar to our levels and maybe higher by proportion of troops on the field, not indicative of excessive caution. Hygiene comment silly. (Our marines have not showered in months???)

    Could the alleged comments have been made by McChristol's predecessor, resulting in his relief?

    The "alleged" comments would not have been made by an intelliigent commander in a general briefing. If made, should have been one-on-one with the British counterpart.

    Again, I doubt the alleged incident occurred based on available evidence.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Toxicseagull · 11 years ago
    the article is here, its hidden under a different title, skip down 6 paragraphs....

    although i urge ignoring Bob's comments in the article, he is trying to shift blame for his inability to lead.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Toxicseagull · 11 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy · 11 years ago
    My guess is it was from 24th MEU as the briefing was given in the spring. The qoutes are from Stephen Grey's article in the New Statesman ( just Google it) The officer gave a private verbal debrief and called it as he saw it - that's what allies should do. If your angry take it up with HM govt and our Army leadership not the Marines for being honest. I'm a Brit by the way and I want us to hang on in there and win.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    Chill, Tommy. Since the "Commander" was not identified in the original post, I thought it was an Army Commander. You seemed to know immediately that it was a Marine. Good for you. My point is this. I was taught that a Leader praises in public and chastises in private. That concept worked well for me over many years.

    Interesting that you want "us" to hang in there and win. Win what? And what constitutes winning? If you knew it would take 50-100 years to win in the context that we know it, would you still be game?

    And thanks to toxicseagull for posting an actual link.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy · 11 years ago
    The breifing was private Scott. A British Officer chose to reveal it's contents to the Journalist Stephen Grey. But I agree with your point about leadership and you ask fair questions about the future of the campaign - I don't have any smart answers if I'm honest.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    Amazing. I can only wonder what motivated to British officer to reveal the details since it reflected poorly on his leadership and courage. Any ideas? Well done to the Marine for chastising in private. Wonder if he is still there? Vast majority of what I know about the British performance in Afghanistan is from Michael. They appear well trained and well disciplined and perfectly willing to engage the enemy under adverse conditions.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy · 11 years ago
    I think he did it because the UK does not feel like a country at War and perhaps try to shake both the civilian population and maybe his superiors from their complacency. You might want to take a look at Richard North's blog "Defence of the Realm" to get an idea of what the British Soldier has to contend with. However I don't think the individual courage of Soldiers is at issue - it's the British Army as an institution - smug,conservative and too close to their political masters.
    The Marine's learned some hard lessons since 200 - they have much to teach and we should learn.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    Thanks,Tommy. This is the link http://defenceoftherealm.blogspot.com/
    I have the sense that there is little difference between the British public and ours...to wit...support for the troops but not the war. I have repeatedly stated here that we have achieved all reachable goals. Al Qaeda is gone and would likely receive little support should they try to return. The Taliban are fighting us only because we are there as they have banded together to fight all who come to their country over the ages. Absent foreigners, they will revert to fighting amongst themselves for local power. The central government is corrupt and ineffectual outside major cities. We will not defeat Islam..it is embedded in their constitution. We cannot shove democracy down their throats We cannot bring them into the 18th century much less the 21st. No roads, no major rivers, nothing but mountains, rocks, and deserts. Once this fighting season is over, we should withdraw, declaring that we have achieved our objectives and it is up to the Afghan people to sort out their own future. The cost in blood and treasure is simply too high.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Toxicseagull · 11 years ago
    defence of the realm website is not really the best viewing. he gets ridiculed by the squaddies a fair bit for his ridiculous views on ARRSE and other websites.

    not a problem for posting the link. my main comments stem from general cynicism if im honest. i dont think he was a marine (as Yon has pointed out, the marines arnt exactly showering every day either ;-)) especially with the comment on "short tours", as the US Marines do 6 month tours as well and the US Army has been under pressure to adopt it as well from their current 12/15 months.

    so i would imagine its either been horrendously reported or released to give the government/public a kick up the bum. I dont agree with Bob's points at all in that article either. looks to me like cheap political saving of his own ass. blaming his own dept's failures on not enough public support. Nevermind that if the "sense of purpose and momentum" has not being translated from the front line that is due to the MOD and government failing to do so, not the public or the troops. if some people in the UK believe its not worth it. give them legitimate reasoning to prove it is worth it. his
    "“This defeatism has been exacerbated by political arguments about British troop levels, vehicles and helicopters that often misunderstand the nature of coalition warfare.”" quote is frankly ridiculous. attempting to paint people that question his department as defeatists or not supporting the troops.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    windy · 11 years ago
    if you can believe the media in the uk public opinion in the uk is split down the middle about if we should pull out of the war.but one thing you should believe is that the public are 100% behind the armed forces.all this nonsense about british army performance on the battlefield is a waste of time and energy.i would not make comments on the performance of american troops in combat because i don't know enough about it. i do know that every day they go out into combat without complaint and you should be proud of them.
    but if you believe anything mr yon has to say on the matter he has nothing but praise for british troops.i have read many reports of michaels in iraq and afghanistan and none of them have even hinted at any reluctance to fight the tali-tubbies or iraq's
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy · 11 years ago
    I don't think he's right about everything Toxic but He was one of the first to argue that the Senior leadership of the Armed forces bore part of the responsibility for our difficulties. Also the crucuial issue for me is to pick apart the criticism. For example why are we having to take long recovery periods between patrols ( if indeed we are and I concede thats just stated not proven) it could be the need to maintain equipment, heatstroke whatever ? Thats what we should be doing, instead we get all defensive about it like its a US vs UK Army competition rather than a coalition. Windy, caution isn't cowardice it's a diffrent way of reacting to ambushes for example - do you go firm or all out attack - it's just tactics. Anyway I have to go and earn a living now. Cheers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter Taylor-Smith e · 11 years ago
    Having served as a rifleman with 2 Mercian during the summer of 2007 (they are currently redeployed in Afghanistan, third 'tour' in five years there) i don't recognise the observations the US officer makes. Sure we are a grubby bunch but this has more to do with our ability to keep clean. The lack of water neccesitates that we are unable to wash as often as we would like. I believe the US officer is really refering to us growing our hair and beards long (to save water) than overall hygiene - the US marines have to shave.
    I was in Sangin between April and July '07 and in that time i can assure you we were run into the ground by constant patrolling and deliberate ops - the only 'downtime' was to sleep eat and prepare for the next patrol, i fail to see how our tempo could be any higher! We are also not timid, everytime we are out we are looking for troubla and almost always find it.
    It is true we suffer a large number of heat casualties, however few of these are evacuated, in most cases the guys are back on the next patrol (rightly or wrongly). I think one reason for these heat injuries is the weight we are carrying...every man is carrying well over lbs100 on average in over 50C heat, this takes its toll on anybody. Because of lack of assets to resupply us in the field we have to carry all of our water and equipment for an op. In prolonged engaments we were envariably running out of water, that is when blokes tended to go down with heat stroke.
    Finally, it is rubbish to say that we moved out in overly large groups, most of the time we moved out in eight man sections (all though we were supported by other sections close by). We never moved out in larger than platoon formations and even then the platoon would be widley dispersed. Is a bit of a joke really as even these 'sections' and 'platoons' were not worthy of the name as they were so under-strength/manned (even at the start of the tour) that a section was lucky to constitute 6 blokes, let alone 8! Even my platoon was little more than a multiple (12 men) by the tail end of the tour.
    I have a lot of respect for the American soldiers and i felt when working alongside them (82nd airbourne and US spec ops) that the feeling was mutual, that is why i am surprised by this officers comments.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    D Collins Ex Light I · 11 years ago
    I read the story about the US Marine officer and his remarks. I want to know why the New Statesman and the officer who reported the story have not 'outed' the USMC officer! Bear in mind this is a new statesman article and in my opinion is RUBBISH. US Marines/Soldiers work alongside British forces on a regular basis (to show them how ;-) ) and almost all of them go back to their units with the greatest respect for our soldiers. UK Infantry units live in 'Terry's' back yard, they fight him EVERY day and unlike our American cousins they normally patrol in section or platoon strength (platoon patrol rotation) and not company strength; we don't have the numbers, unless undertaking a specific op. We need no lessons on how to fight any kind of war, especially the kind we are fighting right now, we've been doing this since Caesar landed and up to 1755 and beyond; plus 0+ years in Northern Ireland.

    As for short tours, as pointed out, the USMC do 6 monthers. the reason the USArmy (mostly NG) do 12 months as I understand, is that on return to the USA they leave the army 'en masse', this leaves very little in the way of combat experience to draw from. Also at the moment most british infantry units are on their SEVENTH tour of duty.

    We have nothing to prove. Perhaps that's what annoys so many US officers.
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    Aunt of 3 ARN · 11 years ago
    Hey where did u hear that about the NG? Most ANG did much longer than 12 mo in Iraq. As I stated on the next post our guys did almost 2 yrs there. I believe Iowa or Ohio did about the same length. I believe our Minn Gov Pawlenty was fighting to get the tours down to 12 months cuz of the toll it was taking on the NG and their families. The NG have lives (jobs schooling, etc ) that they leave in limbo while they are overseas unlike the ones that actually join the Army or Navy etc for a set amount of years. It is tough for employers to hold jobs for 2 years. Minn NG were on a marine base and they saw marines come and go home and the same ones come back again after they had a home break while our guys were there straight through. (Altho i sure don't begrudge the marines for that) As for leaving en masse i don't know. The ANG i know still have 4 yrs to go and some are back in Iraq and some are in Afghanistan and some will be in Afghanistan next fall.
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    PR · 11 years ago
    Lance Bombardier Hatton was killed on patrol in Sangin on Thursday - RIP

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    PR · 11 years ago
    RIP to his 2 colleagues also
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    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    22 photos down from the top is a photo of Lance Bombardier Hatton. Sorry, Michael.
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    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    Hope I am wrong.
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    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    Nope, I am right... photos below that is another. This is too close to home. Hope you are safe, Michael.
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    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    Now, forever young
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    Aunt of 3 ANG · 11 years ago
    Does anyone know if there is a site where a perosn can put condolences for the fallen British heroes? The US has Legacy.com for American soldiers. I, for one, like to give honor to these fallen soldiers also.
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    The Raider · 11 years ago
    Michael. I have been here since I think 2005. Readin your posts and your stories reveals truth behind enemy lines. It would be a disaster to lose you bro. We nee more stories, real stories like yours to be revealed. CNN reports some off the wall crap that I don't seem to understand. Whats going on in Afghanistan is everyones interest as it is in Iraq.
    Not many care but, much do. Those who support you and our troops care bro. Keep your head down no matter where your at and always remember to adapt and overcome. The press may move along with fake half ass stories. But, you bro, speak the truth. Your there. They aren't.
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    Aunt of 3 ANG · 11 years ago
    1 66 08/1 /09 Cahir, William J. Sergeant 40 U.S. Marine Reserve 4th Civil Affairs Group, Marine Forces Reserve Hostile - hostile fire Helmand Province Bellefonte Pennsylvania USA
    iCasualties.org: Operation Enduring Freedom
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    James Duke · 11 years ago
    Your lead photo for this episode has really touched me. There is something poignant in it. The exposure setting captures the sense of time moving along and soldiers coming and going through different conflicts. There is the immediate, life changing event and then the less important things that slowly slip from our memories as we move on through our lives. That picture has been searching my mind for several days. Thanks for the good and not so good memories.
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    chic fleeting · 11 years ago
    only the good die young? and remember your doing a GREAT job, we can all sleep and dream of nice things,because your all there protecting us.... so GOD BLESS and ma you all be safe.. ex-ARGYLL chic K.L.M.F .... Keep Low Move Fast....
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    alison · 11 years ago
    Yes Aunt its called LASTING TRIBUTE

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    theFightingSeabee · 11 years ago
    First, I'm proud of Michael Yon. His reporting is REAL.

    Second, beyond some British politics (MOD), even though the google earth images were older, it's still something that could be used to plot taliban fire missions, etc, so I can understand the Brits getting mad about that.

    But... the rest of the article does nothing but showcase the BRAVERY, DEDICATION, and HONOR of the Brits. Those guys are my heroes 'til the day I die. I hope the MOD reconsiders their decision, even if they have to lay down some ground rules about operational details.

    It seems to me that the Brits don't have a huge army, so they are doing their part, even with being hamstrung by politicians (they have blood on their hands!).

    God bless the Brits!
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    HM1 DV/FMF/PJ Michae · 11 years ago
    Mr Yon:

    I have been an ardent admirer and advid reader of your posts and site since you satrted. Even though my previous and sometimes current, personal finances are um, thin, I try to donate to your continuing good works often. Regardless, I sincerely thank you for your dedication, often poorly supported, in providing us here @ home, some "ground truth".

    I'm first-generation Anglo-American, and an admirer of the UK 's forces. I've had the "honour" of working w/ elements of HM Royal Navy and Royal Marines ... well-discplined troops that are thoroughly professional ... so much so, that me and a friend donated a small amount to a UK-based organization similar to our "Wounded Warrior Project" and/or "Semper Fi Injured Marines Fund" ...

    I would like to appeal to my "fellow" readers - especially those connected in any way w/ the armed forces: If you support our own troops and our Allies, please forgo this month's beer re-supply and consider donating those funds to the many useful organizations here and in UK and Canada, that support our wounded, returning troops.

    I make it a personal point of honor and respect to say this in person to all of you on active service - US and our ABC Allies [Aussie, British and Canadian] - reading this rambling post: "Thank you sincerely for your service to our country(ies)!" Believe it or not, I'm envious: I'd rather be back on duty as an FMF Corpsman, but I'm disabled [only slightly!], too old and a "little" unfit (or so I''ve been told about 4X by NAVPERS and BuMED after beggin' to help 'my' Marines as they run toward the sound o' the guns) ...anyway, I'm a soon-to-be Instructor for the Army's 68 W course @ Ft Sam, so I reckon that kinda counts for service in time of war, huh?!
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    Caleb · 10 years ago
    Great work Michael. It's a great joy to receive your dispatch.
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    veranell · 10 years ago
    Lord please send the angels to cover our brothers and sisters now and for ever.
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    jeff jones · 10 years ago
    After reading this I'm speechless.
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    Steve Gough · 10 years ago
    I don't think there can be any doubt in anyone's mind that the British Forces are true warriors. This is not the only place to learn of their exploits and I know we are all busy following the US through their quest but it has been a coalition effort all the way through, both here and in Iraq.

    From what I know the Brits have decent gear and most importantly the will to win. One observation I have made is that it seems that everyone has comms, this is something I have not seen on a widespread basis in the US military. They are a brave bunch and are every bit as worthy of our support as our own guys. Thanks go to them!

    Another great read pulled from the archives, keep it up Michael, can't wait for the new book.
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    Alyssa Burke · 9 years ago
    I love the way in which you have done the report - vivid photographs, objective and insightful comments to them. I wish the best of luck to you, I will keep reading.
    free pdf converter
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    Lee Wotherspoon · 2 years ago
    Hey Michael,
    Just for the record I really don't sound like groundskeeper Willie from the Simpsons. ? Hope you are well and keeping up the good work.
    Best regards,
    Lee Wotherspoon

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