Michael's Dispatches

To Follow these Steps

22 Comments

Many of the smart troops realize and will tell you that we are hobbled by our “forcepro.”  (Force Protection.)  We are so busy with making sure nobody gets hurt that more people get hurt because we can’t get our work done.  A credible source in another province told me that we are using a helicopter to ferry soldiers 400 meters from one base to another because it’s too much hassle to mount constant ground missions. We literally are shipping ice in from Saudi Arabia.  (I saw the bags.)  General Petraeus will be the first to tell you these things.  It’s maddening for him and everyone else who wishes to succeed.

Recently a mission was launched to Nimroz Province.  American Marines hovered in on two Osprey aircraft, secured the airfield (or at least brought a lot of guns), and later a British general landed in another Osprey and the meetings began.  The bottom line of the meetings was that we are not going to do much to help Nimroz Province.  It’s out of sight and out of mind.  The American way of doing things, along with British moral support, is to give money to people who are blowing you up and to ignore those who are neutral or helping you.  The meeting was as impressive as it was meaningless.  Swoop in on the loud Opsreys, set up machine gun positions, make a show of how nice it is to take off your body armor, talk a lot with nice words, and leave in the loud Ospreys.  Waste of time.  And if you dare try to calculate the hard and soft costs of that mission, it had to have cost well over a million dollars.  The funny thing is, traveling with Steve is easily as educational as travelling with a general.  Information flows from the firehose, yet his model is lean and mean.  You get in the car and drive, yet it’s far more dangerous for me to be with U.S. forces in those giant vehicles with body armor than it is to drive with Steve or others.

We visited a greenhouse project that he had going in 2006.  Back then, Steve had farmers from Africa working here to help Afghan farmers, and he brought Afghans to Thailand to visit the Royal Project Foundation and to see his Thailand projects.  In fact, it was just about at this very spot that I realized in 2006 that we were losing.  That night, the base was in serious contact.  We could hear the fighting.  Yet we were staying out in the desert with Afghans with no problems.  One of Steve’s people said to me that they had warned the U.S. battalion commander that year about an IED, but she had ignored the warning and a soldier was killed.  Very few American or British officers will listen to contractors, despite that many of the contractors know the ground and the people far better than most military will ever know.  They tend to view the contractors as dirty, conniving profiteers, and some are exactly that.  But there are others who wish to make a profit while succeeding here, and they spend far more time here—quality time at that—than most soldiers.  Most troops never actually leave a base, and only a small fraction have any meaningful interaction with Afghans.  This is not the fault of the troops.  The warrior class who understands this struggle wants to live in the villages, and some do.

We headed to one of Steve’s offices for briefings/talks/questions, and then an Afghan senator invited us to tea.  Steve has known Senator Abdul Khaliq for some years and in fact it was Steve who got him on the ballot to be elected.  Senator Abdul Khaliq would be a tribal influence with or without the nudge, but not a senator.

So we headed to Senator Khaliq’s home and sat down to tea and business.   During the conversation, Senator Khaliq mentioned that he was about to head to Kabul for meetings and to take his kids to some school.  Steve then said that one of his airplanes was coming in a few hours and could take him if he wants to go today.  The Senator said thank you and agreed, so Steve hit the speed dial and confirmed the flight.

We then headed to lunch and after that met with a representative of USAID along with an American officer.  The USAID man said what two other USAID people said in two other provinces.  Steve is best implementing partner they have.  He goes where no man goes.  The American officer was from Special Forces.  He’d done multiple tours, and though he was a young captain, was about the sharpest officer I’ve seen.  His knowledge of Afghanistan was intimate.  He was asking Steve to consider doing a certain very dangerous project.  It would not be appropriate to discuss the project.  I’ll let the Army do that, but Steve was interested.  After a long, healthy talk, I was impressed with that Special Forces captain and when we shook hands and said goodbye, Steve said, “That guy is switched on.  Impressive.”  That’s big words from Steve.  The Special Forces officer was dangerous.  He studies his enemy in detail. Sitting there listening to this Special Forces man, I thought, “I wish he were my neighbor.”  There would be no crime in our neighborhood.  That’s part of what Afghan people want.  He gets it.  If the Taliban stomp down crime (and they do), people will accept them.  When they see the government as delivering nothing but orders while shipping money to Dubai, they will resist!

In order for this project to go forward, you will either need a LOT of guns, or simply cooperation from the tribes.  With tribal cooperation you don’t need guns because they have guns coming out their ears.  If they like you, they will fight for you.

We headed to the airfield and Steve’s airplane landed, and Chief Ajaml Khan Zazai stepped out of the airplane along with Sara Persson who is reporting for the BBC.  (Many journalists, including the big fish, silently use Steve’s infrastructure as a launch pad.)

And there it was, on Steve’s airplane flying from Tarin Kot to Gardez: Steve started working with Senator Khaliq to formulate an idea of how to make this Special Forces idea work.  During this time, Chief Zazai discussed with Senator Khaliq other tribal matters.

I could tell another hundred “Steve stories,” but the bottom line is that this guy—who I admit is my close friend—is a winner.  He can help win this war.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Duquette · 11 years ago
    Hey Michael, been following you since early Iraq and you've never led me astray. I still remember when you were saying, when support for the war was at seemingly it's lowest ebb, that the mainstream media was only showing us the bad things happening, not the many, many good things the our boys were accomplishing there.
    Understand, that at this time, I was opposed to the war. Your words and photos from up front and on the ground turned me 180 and made me proud to be an American citizen. I have told many, many others who were distraught about the casualties we were taking back then, "I have two words for you that mean the Truth about what is happening in Iraq: Michael Yon."
    So it will be with Afghanistan.
    Some day I would love to meet Steve in person, and be introduced to the people of Afghanistan, sans armor.
    Thanks again for what you do.
    Our thoughts are with you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marion Stade · 11 years ago
    Thanks to Michael for keeping us informed. Your pictures and writing amaze and frustrate me at turns. In addition to supporting your work with donations, is there something else we need to do?
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    Saifullah Khan Mahsu · 11 years ago
    Great story Mike..... Steve is a winner for sure! A good friend to have and frankly if it were for me it would be Steve running the AF/Pak show than Holbrook!
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    Peggy Gautraud · 11 years ago
    I have been following you since my son was in Iraq with the Marines. I so appreciated your information then and I do now. Once again we have a Marine in the theater, reading this gives me hope for what you all are doing but frustration at our military outlook. Where can we apply pressure that would be effective?
    Thank you for your pursuit of the truth.
    Peg
  • This commment is unpublished.
    xoxoxoBruce · 11 years ago
    You say we are hobbled by our “forcepro”, and General Petraeus agrees. Now he’s in charge again, does he have the power to change that policy, or is that dictated by Washington?

    Are you advocating the strategy of spreading troops around in small outposts, to maintain local law and order, like during the surge in Iraq?

    USAID money, while large, is not infinite. Who decides what provinces/projects get funded? Is that directed from Washington? Kabul? NATO? Does Petraeus have input?

    Earlier you wrote of USAID people reluctant to leave Kabul for the places the work was actually being done. Has that changed?

    Can the USAID people, actually in the field, have input as to which contractors are used? I realize contractors aren’t hanging around every corner, like day laborers, but can USAID field people have an under performing contractor replaced, or at least re-evaluated?

    Yeah, a lot of questions, but after all these years of screwing up in Afghanistan, I’d like to see us get it right, or get out. Preferably the former.

    Check’s in the mail, take care.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brother Ned · 11 years ago
    Michael, i've been reading your dispatches for years, always with appreciation. This is one of the very best. Thank God for men like Steve, and thank you for letting us know what a great contribution he is making. He's a builder, not a wrecker. Would that more like him could be working in these dangerous situations.
    May God bless and keep you safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mary · 11 years ago
    Michael, I learn soooo much from you, thank you for your posts. Steve is a good man. We need more like him and you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jordan axelrad · 11 years ago
    Michael, does the current administration have your ear? Do they see through your eyes? Do any news outlets NPR, Fox, the major networks, anyone sharing with the public your insights?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gordon Jacobson · 11 years ago
    Michael:

    This is my first exposure to your reports. I am impressed with the info and donated $100.00.
    I think I know why McCrystal was fired (Rolling Stone article), but why do you (and Steve) think he should have been fired??
    The earlier comments by J. Axelrad and others raise very good questions that I hope you are able to answer or give some relevant info.

    Thanks for your good work,

    Gordon Jacobson
    USMC (Ret)
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    Dick Sherman · 11 years ago
    Thanks Michael for another brilliant post. I must hit your tip jar again. Your comments about Steve reminds me of Robert Kaplan's writing at Key Men in key places in one of his recent books. Its not necessarily the title nor the rank - it's the quality of the person that counts. Steve sounds like a quality guy. Thanks for introducing him to us.
    Be safe and may God bless you.
    Dick Sherman
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Stephen Moore · 11 years ago
    Michael, it's good to see more reporting from you! And your pal Steve sounds like a great guy. Ah, to be able to work for a guy like that and do some good!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Charles, Bath, UK · 11 years ago
    Michael,
    I have followed your work for several years and I have always found you to be months ahead of the main stream media.

    This was one of your best posts in ages - it is exactly the sort of thing we want to hear about. We want to hear about the real story on the ground.

    How is it that this stuff is never widely covered in the MSM?

    What a brave bunch this team are! How I wish there were a hundred like him.

    What I would really love to hear is how is the war going overall? Are things beginning to change in a more positive light?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Janet Kidwell · 11 years ago
    I read most of your articles but by far this is the most informative and important to not only me, (my son is patrolling in one of those "Hot Spots" with the 101st Airborne) but our country. I think this article should be passed on for others to read. I feel so frustrated. If there is anything you think we could help with at this end please let us know.
    God bless you and thanks for all your great unbiased reporting!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Graham Ludlow · 11 years ago
    Whoa,

    I would give anything to work for this guy. Seriously.
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    Steve Gough · 11 years ago
    Mike,
    It's testimonials such as this that renew my goal to do the best I can and continue to train the next generation of Operators in the ethos to succeed in a dynamic and ever-changing environment such as Afghanistan. Recent history ( months after 9/11) has proven that less, ODA's +, can overcome any obstacle and make a decisive change. Truth be told, that probably scares more Generals and Politicians than actually losing a military engagement. Stay safe and continue to tell the ground truth Mein Alter Kumpel.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 11 years ago
    I see you brought up the double edged sword of being embedded with the troops again.

    Your quite right in conveying that the danger far outweighs the benefits, but your up close and personal reports of the troops morale and conditions are going to be missed also.

    Hopefully you can still accomplish this side of your excellent reportage, outside of an official embed position.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James · 11 years ago
    I love reading your dispatches and looking at your photography. Thank you for being there to report the truth on the ground. America needs this, please keep reporting.
    Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan Johnson · 11 years ago
    Michael,
    Glad to hear you are back in it, and where it matters! Great to see someone is making a difference. I pray that you are safe, certainly appear to be in very capable hands! Throwing something towards the tip jar, I know it isn't cheap.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Norris Palmer · 11 years ago
    Great stuff, butt...., please tell me why the U.S. is really there? I have people under the bridge in Seattle tonight that don't have a place to stay nor any food, but we can find the bucks for this stupid excercise. Why aren't the people in the U.S. rising up? Because it hasn't hurt them, the mainstream media doesn't cover it like they did in Vietnam. The military machine learned how to keep going without the people knowing.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob Grames · 11 years ago
    With this one article, Afghanistan, the people and how to really win this war becomes clear. Using the big stick was necessary to start, but projects that better the lives of the people there, projects where the money actually flows to the people will do more good than anything. I hope those in power remember what you wrote here.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael St. John · 11 years ago
    Michael - thank you for your service to this country!
    I briefly met Steve in Baltimore when he was doing business in Easter Europe, to discuss the possibility of one of my contacts to sell him some slot machines for his customers over there. It was a fun & brief night with a lot of adult beverages. God bless you and Steve and all of your love one’s!
    I vote for Steve to be our next Sec. of Defense! Talk about a shake up!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tom Grove · 11 years ago
    Michael, In your old age you are losing something. Good Luck on the Book.

    Shaulis and the whole crew look exactly like the type of folks we do not need
    in Afghanistan. The whole sunglasses, super cool, we have a plane thing does
    not work. Just a full up kiss up. Very disapointing. The whole things seems staged
    and pure propaganda for Shaulis who come off like a guy with a Napoleon complex.
    Very disapointing.

    Your kiss up to Gen Petraeus recently is also disturbing. You can joijn Max Boot in
    following the man as things go from bad to worse. Did they pay you for this?

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