Michael's Dispatches Michael's Dispatches

Canadian Cover Up?

61 Comments

04 January 2010

(Unfortunately, this news comes as I wait to board a flight from Hong Kong to the United States.  It must be written quickly and without editing.)

A reporter at Canwest News Service emailed Saturday asking for information on the four Canadian soldiers and the journalist who were killed on December 30 in Afghanistan.  I supplied a portion of the unpublicized information, and the reporter emailed Sunday that the Canadian military is “trying to suppress our telling of your information.”

The reporter also wrote, “While the Canadian military confirmed to me much of the information you provided, they are trying to prevent us from publishing it, saying it would breach our agency's embedding agreement.”

There is nothing classified or sensitive about the information supplied to Canwest.  This smells of a classic cover-up that has nothing to do with winning or losing the war, but more likely something to do with saving embarrassment.

Read more: Canadian Cover Up?

Into Thine Hand I Commit My Spirit

128 Comments

Arghandab, Afghanistan
New Year's Eve, 2009

On this small base surrounded by a mixture of enemy and friendly territory, a memorial has been erected just next to the Chapel.  Inside the tepee are 21 photos of 21 soldiers killed during the first months of a year-long tour of duty.  The fallen will belong forever to the honor rolls of the 1-17th Infantry Battalion, 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and they will join the sacred list of names of those who have given their lives in service of the United States of America.

Read more: Into Thine Hand I Commit My Spirit

Christmas message from General Petraeus

11 Comments

24 December 2009

Many people know that General Petraeus is one of finest Americans ever minted.  To me, General Petraeus is a strategic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  If General Petraeus didn't show up, we likely would have flown our Iraq efforts into a mountain.  We now have a solid chance for success in Afghanistan.

I emailed asking for General Petraeus to say something to our folks for Christmas.  General Petraeus responded with this excellent message:

Read more: Christmas message from General Petraeus

General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey Cancels Trip to Cuba

21 Comments

Published: 22 December 2009
By Barry McCaffrey (General Ret.)

Dr Wayne Smith
Center for International Policy 22 December 2009
1717 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC. 20036

Wayne,

Just got in last night to read the Reuters reports that Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced President Obama at the Copenhagen Conference as an  "imperial and arrogant  liar" in the most vile and personal terms imaginable.

The Foreign Minister could not have borrowed talking points from Cuba's worst enemies to more effectively harm the country's future economic and political  interests.

The AP wires also note Raul Castro mentioned Cuba's recent "war games" to prepare for US invasion. What a laughable assertion of an external US military threat.

Read more: General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey Cancels Trip to Cuba

Brian Williams to the Troops

37 Comments

22 December 2009
Kandahar, Afghanistan

Brian Williams from NBC emailed to me something for the troops.  Brian is a Great American.

I was in Afghanistan about two months ago, and as usual the best part of the trip were the Americans in uniform who we met along the way.  I think about all of you every day.  I tell my civilian friends about you, and about what I've seen.  They all know that you are the people I admire most.  We toasted all of those deployed overseas at our Thanksgiving table, and we will on Christmas Day and on New Year's Eve.  I appreciate your service, and we appreciate our freedom.

We owe you all a staggering debt.

For now, Happy Holidays and the blessings of the season to you all.

 

Brian Williams

 

As Christmas Approaches

31 Comments

20 December 2009
Arghandab, Afghanistan

As Christmas approaches, many people are thinking about the troops, who in turn are thinking about loved ones at home.  Cards and letters are tacked up on many walls.  The favorites are from the little kids, with questions like, "How do you go to the bathroom?"  "Can you eat dinner?"  "Does it hurt to get shooted?"  It goes on.

I emailed to Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger, asking if he had any words for the troops this Christmas.  Jeff came right back with this awesome letter:

Michael,

As you make your rounds over there, please to remind them that we know they are there and appreciate their performing their duty in such a magnificent manner.

Jeff

Then CSM Mellinger writes:

I awoke this Saturday morning at PT time (0430), and looked at my surroundings.  The worst winter storm in DC for a number of years had arrived in force.  Snow, and lots of it.  Roads are closed, planes are grounded, and people are huddled comfortably inside their homes or foolishly out trying to learn how to drive in snow.

Read more: As Christmas Approaches

Arghandab & The Battle for Kandahar

68 Comments

image001_730

13 December 2009
Kandahar, Afghanistan

People are confused about the war.  The situation is difficult to resolve even for those who are here.  For most of us, the conflict remains out of focus, lacking reference of almost any sort.  Vertigo leaves us seeking orientation from places like Vietnam—where most of us never have been.  So sad are our motley pundits-cum-navigators that those who have never have been to Afghanistan or Vietnam shamelessly use one to reference the other.  We saw this in Iraq.

The most we can do is pay attention, study hard, and try to bring something into focus that is always rolling, yawing, and seemingly changing course randomly, in more dimensions than even astronauts must consider.  All while gauging dozens of factors, such as Afghan Opinion, Coalition Will, Enemy Will and Capacity, Resources, Regional Actors (and, of course, the Thoroughly Unexpected).  Nobody will ever understand all these dynamic factors and track them at once and through time.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that a tiger doesn’t need to completely understand the jungle to survive, navigate, and then dominate.  It is not necessary to know every anthropological and historical nuance of the people here.  If that were the case, our Coalition of over forty nations would not exist.   More important is to realize that they are humans like us.  They get hungry, happy, sad, and angry; they make friends and enemies (to the Nth degree); they are neither supermen nor vermin.  They’re just people.

But it always helps to know as much as you can.  This will take much time, many dispatches, and hard, dangerous work.  Let’s get started.

Read more: Arghandab & The Battle for Kandahar

First December Report From Afghanistan

21 Comments

Now BayNews9 story.

Local man reports on troop morale in Afghanistan
Sunday, December 6, 2009

(Bay News 9) -- For the past five years Winter Haven native and former Green Beret Michael Yon has been covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as an independent journalist.

A couple of days ago Bay News 9 spoke with him on a Skype connection to Afghanistan.

Yon has been reporting for years that the U.S. risked losing the war there.

Read more: First December Report From Afghanistan

FYI: Paperwork for Afghanistan Media Embed

12 Comments

17 November 2009

There has been much curiosity about the procedures involved during the embed process.  The process is constantly changing, and is different for Iraq than for Afghanistan.  A Philippines embed is different still, and requires embassy approval because, am told, the State department is worried about what one might say.  In Afghanistan, the process with the British and Lithuanians also varies.  The process can be dramatically different for powerful media outlets, who often come in on "junkets."  In Iraq, in 2005, saw CNN have two helicopters dedicated to it for a day in Diyala Province.  (I went with them.)

Read more: FYI: Paperwork for Afghanistan Media Embed

Hostages

26 Comments

Michael Yon
16 November 2009

When New York Times journalist David Rohde was kidnapped last year in Afghanistan, the company engaged in a painstaking effort to squash the story. They succeeded in persuading major media who learned of the kidnapping to keep quiet. The cover-up was so good that a New York Times reporter I spoke with in December 2008, while she and I joined Secretary Gates on a trip through Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq and back to the United States, had not heard about the David Rohde kidnapping.

The New York Times openly agrees that publishing such articles increases the peril to the lives of hostages, yet it published details about a British couple being held hostage in Somalia, and thus increased the value of the hostages to the kidnappers.

Some months after Mr. Rohde’s kidnapping started leaking, I published a generic blurb about the case, but made sure none of the information was new.

Read more: Hostages

Japanese Aid to Afghanistan II

1 Comment

12 November 2009

I asked General David Petraeus, General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, about the Japanese decisions on Afghanistan.  (The Japanese plan to recall their refueling capacity but to add $5 billion dollars in development aid over five years.)  All three responded.  This from Geoff Morrell, who is the spokesman for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"We welcome Japan's additional contribution and its continued partnership in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Answers from Generals Petraeus and McCaffrey are here.

 

Japanese Aid to Afghanistan

17 Comments

Published: 12 November 2009
By Michael Yon

Kathmandu, Nepal — The Japanese are pulling naval assets from the fight in Afghanistan, but they are adding assets in another category. I asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who has not responded), Gen. David Petraeus, and Gen. (ret.) Barry McCaffrey to comment on this report:

Japan plans additional $5 billion for Afghanistan
By JAY ALABASTER (AP)

TOKYO — Japan on Tuesday announced $5 billion in fresh aid to Afghanistan even as it plans to bring home refueling ships supporting U.S.-led forces there. The pledge comes just days before President Barack Obama arrives in Tokyo for talks that are sure to focus on the countries' military alliance.

The announcement appears to be a way for Japan, which is barred from sending troops for combat by its pacifist constitution, to show support for Afghanistan's reconstruction while Obama reviews his options for a new strategy in the conflict.

Read more: Japanese Aid to Afghanistan

Ambush of the Common Sort

11 Comments

08 November 2009

Got a ping today about an attack on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul.  It's a dangerous road and I don't like to drive it.  The source has always been reliable, so I pinged Tim Lynch (who often is on that road), and Tim just sent these pics and a quick narrative.  (Unedited, and my post also coming via Blackberry.)  Tim writes:

The ambush happened around 0845 or so on the west side of the Duranta Tunnel.  Steve and I rolled out to look - the fuel convoy had security escorts from Compass security and they plus some ANP are who you see up in the ridges.  Three tankers were burning and three more were shot up and leaking fuel all over the place.  There was a section of OH-58's up and after about 20 minutes of figuring out who was who on the ground they started in on the bad guys with rockets and mini gun.

Read more: Ambush of the Common Sort

Smithsonian Air&Space on Kopp-Etchells Effect

10 Comments

November 04, 2009

Helo Halo

Luminous halos twirled above a Boeing CH-47 Chinook on a recent night around 11:30 p.m. local time at Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as helicopters ferried casualties and supplies in and out of the base. The photographer was independent journalist Michael Yon, a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who has covered Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines with a camera. Helicopter pilots don't have a name for the effect, but one explained to Yon, "Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as...dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case, titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust." Yon says, however, that a researcher studying helicopter brownout emailed him to say that scientists are not 100 percent sure what causes the effect. Depending on the viewing angle, it creates dazzling little galaxies. An even longer exposure reveals stars and another aircraft marked by a string of lights at upper left of center; Yon suspects this aircraft was a Predator or Reaper UAV, which, unlike manned military aircraft, fly with their lights on in the Afghan night to avoid collisions. Yon, who made these shots with a Canon 5D Mark II with a 50 mm lens at an ISO of 800, claims that the night was far darker than his sensitive camera conveys, as evidenced by the green chemlights on the ground to guide the pilots. He was moved to create a name, the Kopp-Etchells Effect, for the rotor phenomenon to honor a pair of fallen soldiers, U.S. Army Corporal Benjamin Kopp and British Army Corporal Joseph Etchells, who died one day apart in July after fierce fighting in Helmand (Kopp had been evacuated to the U.S. before he died). "The tent in the foreground is a medical tent," says Yon, "so that casualties can be kept in a tent until the last minute. A substantial number of British casualties in Helmand have been lifted off of this exact spot...because this is probably either the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, or nearly the most dangerous."

 

Colors

34 Comments

A military watchdog gets it wrong on the debate over camouflage.
By Michael Yon

Some things are not as they seem. Many people, for instance, seem to think Stars & Stripes is a military lapdog, but this is untrue. If Washington had a yearbook, Stars & Stripes might be voted “most apt to slam the military.” Stars & Stripes is a watchdog.

Drew Brown is a Stars & Stripes writer with much battlefield experience. Drew’s stories on Iraq have always rung true, as have his stories on Afghanistan. However, his recent story from Afghanistan about Stryker camouflage left room for respectful disagreement, or perhaps a “context adjustment.” One might suspect that the editorial process changed the tone.

Read more: Colors

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark

39 Comments

Anybody seen a better future around here?

21 October 2009

In 2008, I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal preparing for a return to Afghanistan. A message came from a British officer suggesting to end the trip and get to Afghanistan. Something was up, and I didn’t bother to ask what. Days of walking were needed to reach the nearest road. After several flights, I landed in Kandahar and eventually Helmand Province at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008.  During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure. And then the British kicked me out of the embed, for reasons still unclear, giving me time to look further into the Kajaki electrification failure.

Read more: Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark

Adopt-a-stan

37 Comments

Lithuanians bring supplies to district hospital at Chaghcharan.

18 October 2009
By Michael Yon

The inbox was peppered with hyperlinks to Dexter Filkins’ story in the New York Times, Stanley McChrystal’s Long War.  One message came from Kathryn Lopez at National Review, asking if I had seen the article and for any thoughts.

It should be said that I respect the work of Dexter Filkins.  Mr. Filkins is a seasoned war correspondent whose characterizations of Iraq ring true, while Stanley McChrystal’s Long War resonates with my ongoing experiences in Afghanistan.  Despite the great length of the article, the few points that did not resonate were more trivialities for discussion than disagreements.  Mr. Filkins did a fine job.

Read more: Adopt-a-stan

Afghan Lunacy

33 Comments

2y4q4304acc-730
[This dispatch was written by me in December 2008 in southern Afghanistan. It was never published though I recently found it in the unpublished archives. The photos came from the same period.]

Published: from Nepal on 14 October 2009

On May 25, 1961, the President of the United States of America said:

“Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”

Read more: Afghan Lunacy

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