Michael's Dispatches

Afghanistan: Talking Points US Troops


08 December 2013


Many of our Soldiers in Afghanistan are required to carry this paper in a pocket at all times.  Troops are expected to memorize the talking points and cough them up to any journalists coming through.

We decided to help headquarters spread their message.

Many complaints about poor morale are coming from Afghanistan.  Most troops are kept on base, where they undergo mindless inspections and even small ‘parades’, and of course rocket and mortar strikes.

It has been estimated that in 2014, the cost to taxpayers to keep one troop in Afghanistan for one year will be more than $2 million.  And we have our $2 million dollar troops there doing inspections and memorizing propaganda for the press, while Washington bickers with Karzai and the enemy grows stronger.

George Orwell would be proud of this propaganda jewel:


But wait, isn’t nighttime the time that our special operations forces work the hardest?  Yes, it is.  Does that make Rangers cowards for working at night using fancy see in the dark gear?  Nothing tastes worse than lies.

Another jewel: Taliban are running back to Pakistan while their leaders in Pakistan plead for them to stay and fight.  With our Rules of Engagement and lack of combat operations, Afghanistan is plenty safe for the Taliban.  Our combat troops are memorizing this propaganda.

We say this every winter and have been saying it for years.  Yet we know that for many generations significant numbers of Afghans migrate to Pakistan to escape the harsh winter, whether or not there is war, just as snowbirds migrate from Canada to Florida each year to their winter homes.  Afghan snowbirds migrate to Pakistan.

And when there is war, the Afghan snowbirds come back each spring and plant corn, poppy, and bombs.  The Taliban are not retreating.  They are drinking tea, plotting their 2014 war plan.  They are concentrating their fight on our dwindling forces.  Yet every approaching winter, we say their leaders in Pakistan are pleading with them to stay and fight.  Don’t worry.  They’ll be back in the spring.  They always are, with a new plan.

The image below is from the same paper but was created using stitching software to make a few areas easier to read.


Click on the image for a larger view.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris Ellis · 7 years ago
    Served in OEF 10-11. We had the same exact cards, with the same exact talking points. Except ours had an extra one hand written on the back, explaining how "Osama bin Laden did not die a martyr for the nation of Islam, he was an Enemy of Peace"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob Calvert · 7 years ago
    Thank You for all you are doing. I wish I could get back over there but my health will not let them happen again. However soon I hope to have the funds to get another team over there. Keep up the good work. I am working on another call in program from Kandahar.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Paul · 7 years ago
      Bob if you need a Pashto linguist get in touch with me via Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Constitutionalist · 7 years ago
    Information Operations (IO) is a big part of the every day fight, just ask the leaders, Mike you know this to be true. I'll not argue that this messaging is in anyway good. It demonstrates more about our weaknesses and obvious failures over the last 12 years than it does any weakness in the Taliban fight. Hell, I think the Taliban have done an exceptionally good job of handing us our arses on a silver platter. I'll also not blame this administration alone. The previous administration is just as guilty. Instead I'll point more to the military leadership that I believe has failed to properly advise a ill-equipped and ill-prepared adminstration (current) on how to exit successfully or salvage some semblance of a victory in the long run. I was never a fan of a protracted fight in Afghanistan, the history of this region alone spelled disaster for the US because of our weak backbone and lack of commitment over long periods. We didn't declare war, and had no real intent to fight a war - as defined in doctrine. Our military men and women aren't nation builders - turning them into such a tool has only weakened our military and wasted valuable resources.

    This post screams failure to me. It is telling! Mike keep up the great work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul · 7 years ago
    I've just come back from a tour in Afghanistan, I was embedded as a mentor with the ANSF 'Lions' and my pistol was always made ready, and at times de-cocked, in case they should try to kill us. This is when they weren't stealing from us or shaking down the local civilians. I've not seen this particular piece of drivel before but saw much more like it. I had a good chuckle when we were told to only use the term 'Enemies of Peace'... Because call them Taliban and they get respect and support. And similarly to your point above about the cowards who fight in the dark, the Taliban aren't enemies of peace, they just want peace on their own terms. The other laugher is that they are cowards for planting IEDs but we're not cowards sitting in Bastion and firing rockets at them.

    A more egregious case was when Afghan police fired on and killed unarmed demonstrators earlier this year and the UK's Psyops news broadcast on the radio in Helmand Province put out the line that the Taliban (Sorry enemies of peace) had infiltrated the demo, and didn't report the numerous accounts from those involved that this was not the case. I wouldn't mind a bit of propaganda so much if we were engaged in total war and intent on winning...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dave B · 7 years ago
    I'm familiar with and fairly critical of the coalition's public affairs and info ops efforts in Afghanistan. It is worth noting though that this, as near as I can tell, is the work of a single unit: apparently Combined Task Force Dragoons - essentially 2nd Cavalry Regiment. Others may be issuing similar documents (I don't know if that is the case), but I wouldn't assume that many or most are required to carry this sort of this - at least based off of this single document.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 7 years ago
    I understand deception is part of warfare but not this kind of lying by U.S. Politicians towards our U.S. Troops. I tried to " reverse read " the letter and have thought about the benefits to U.S. Troops v.s. A.Q. & Tablian. I tried to think about what it might look like on the map of Afghanistan and I do not think there is any reverse pyschology going on here either. Deception is a necessary and a vital part of warfare ... but hold on here is also the truth a necessary and a vital part of warfare. It is one thing to lie to the enemy and it is quite another thing for the politicians to lie to the U.S. Troops.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jeff Levinger · 7 years ago
    "Worse than Pravda" ??

    I'm a bit confused by the reference to Pravda:
    Which of the following claims are false?

    A. ANSF destroyed 26 caches with hundreds of IEDs, killed 48 Taliban and arrested over 100.
    or is it that the above is true, but "ANSF Winning" is not true?

    B. ANSF cleared hundreds of villages, killed hundreds of Taliban,
    but? did not? gain the respect of the people?
    They-and-we secured 20 voter registration centers
    but? could only hold them for 4 months? is that the objection?
    or is it that 20 is minuscule or unimportant?

    C. Taliban come like cowards in the night to murder and steal from fellow tribesman.
    is the objection that Taliban don't do this? or is it that coalition forces also operate at night?
    but isn't there a difference of both intention and effect
    between Taliban "murder and steal" and what coalition forces do at night?

    D. Are Messages B and C false?
    that markets are open, people walk freely, and large-or-many projects are underway?

    E. Is Message 4A false, that there are-or-will-be 244 polling places?
    and is it false that 24 ,000 people are registered to vote in Kandahar Province?
    or is it merely irrelevant for some reason, such as the likelihood that Taliban will suppress or influence the vote?

    The idea that troops would carry reminders of appropriate messaging is not inherently bad, even if the phrasing may be clumsy or overreach.

    I don't fully get the reasons for denigrating such messaging; is it that contrary to all such messages, we're losing and all our efforts are in vain no matter what?

    • This commment is unpublished.
      Tommy Barrios · 7 years ago
      And that is, irregardless of what the putrid piece of paper says on it, the fact that OUR troops are required to carry this POS around and memorize same, hearkens back to good ole days of the Soviet Politburo officers in the Soviet military who expected all the troops under his or her authority to have all of the Pravda talking points down to a tee :-?

      Don't OUR troops, have enough to do trying to do their thankless job and stay healthy at the same time, without being expected to be propaganda stooges for the Obomination administrations lies, obfuscations and down right treasonous behavior :-*

      REALLY :-?

      Anyone who agrees with this ignorant propaganda tactic needs to bend over and have their collective ass kicked by every veteran within reach :eek:
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon at large · 7 years ago

      Am in the middle of some Syria issues. Will try to answer tonight.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      M&M · 7 years ago
      This answer smells like its drafted by someone sitting behind blast walls, making powerpoints and living in the Kabubble. I think those working in Afghanistan should ask if their jobs could be done from their capitals. I suspect 90% of the Kabul international military and civilians could work from home. And if they did all go home, coordination would improve between the international community and ISAF, including on more developing more educated messaging.

      Having worked inside and outside the Kabubble since 2008, I can say that most long-term expats and afghans in urban cities make the analogy between ISAF messaging and Pravda. When you look back and compare, it is alarmingly similar (numbers of dead enemy/found caches, numbers of schools, health clinics, progress with women's access,etc). Furthermore, in a country with -- the lowest Human Development Indicators in the world, perceived as number 1 corrupt country globally (with N.Korea and Somalia), international market leader in illicit opium production, record high 201 opium cultivation, bottom of barrel human rights records, poverty is visually rampant (as is accumulation of elite wealth), vast criminalizaton and conflict, -- the ISAF narrative must be at least be couched in a 51% context. I am generally a fan of some of ISAF's good practices as a driver of stability but also as professional trainers and mentors for the ANSF. But the ISAF messaging department is its biggest liability and pamplets like these are permeating a growing grassroots anti-NATOism across the country.

      On destroying caches as a metric of success this is the 'whack-a-mole' approach, some refer to mowing the lawn. With safe havens across the border there are endless supply of IEDs - great you destroyed some but its not a metric of success, but one of prevention.

      You claim success in killing 48 Taliban, which former COMISAFs would say created 480 Enemies of Peace, non? Remember COIN math - kill one enemy, create 10. Remember former Afghan Minister of Defence Wardak: "An Afghan Mother has two sons - she sends one to ANSF and one to Taliban in order to keep her family safe."

      Finally, let me remind that the 201 'fighting season' saw an increase in 79% casualties over 2012 (those are ISAF's numbers) - that security incidents were just a tad better in 201 than the bloodiest year of the war, which was 2011 - but, more importantly, there has been a steady increase in insecurity since 200 /2004 and persisting at high levels today (for Afghanistan).

      Anyway, will stop my rant. Someone needs to conduct a BIG lessons learned on PAO/IO/POTF in Afghanistan. I find it embarrasssing that is so simple and awkward, and so late in the game.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        Jeff Levinger · 7 years ago
        OK. I gather from M&M that the answers are as follows:

        A. The idea that "ANSF destroyed 26 caches with hundreds of IEDs, killed 48 Taliban and arrested over 100." may or may not be true, but the numbers are swamped by their opposites, and what is true is that "ANSF Winning" is a ludicrous lie.

        B. The idea that "ANSF cleared hundreds of villages, killed hundreds of Taliban," may or may not be true, but the "respect of the people" is a lie and the 20 centers "secured" is minuscule/unimportant/irrelevant, because we're already mired in corruption, deceit, and the hopeless situation of leaving-on-a-schedule, and therefore Afghans hedge every bet against the likelihood of Taliban taking over again.

        C. Distinctions between Taliban-cowards-in-the-night-murdering-&-stealing and death-by-coalition-forces are mostly lost on many/most Afghans; and it doesn't matter anyway because we're already etc etc

        D. Markets may sometimes be open, people may sometimes walk freely, and large-or-many projects may be underway, but none of that is secure, reliable, repeatable, and it doesn't matter anyway because we're already etc etc

        E. There may or may not be 244 polling places and 24 000 people may be registered to vote in Kandahar Province, but
        it doesn't matter anyway because we're already etc etc, and the Taliban will suppress or influence the vote anyway

        and finally, the conclusion:
        ..... There IS no message that troops could carry that would have any meaning or effect: we're losing and all our efforts are in vain no matter what.
        • This commment is unpublished.
          Tommy Barrios · 7 years ago
          "There IS no message that troops could carry that would have any meaning or effect: we're losing and all our efforts are in vain no matter what." :-?

          Would like to see the White House Puppet Lao come out and say this very thing :-*

          Asalami Ilikeum 8)
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon author · 7 years ago
      Your reply is either amazingly naive or came from the same kool aide packet. If you have spent any time in Afghanistan, it must have been back reading reports because if you say you roamed the country and villages, spending time with Afghans outside the wire and outside the cocoon I will know that is untrue.

      Are you the author of the propaganda, perchance?

      Heaven help us if you are at IJC or ISAF and you really believe the message.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        Jeff Levinger · 7 years ago
        Michael, I'm a great fan of your work, and an admirer of your photos and reportage and guts in confronting things that are wrong, like the whole medevac thing a while back. I think the right conclusion here is that I really do not know whether you're saying every statement in the paper is a lie and/or irrelevant and/or in the service of lies. That's why i asked my questions. That you feel attacked or in total opposition is a shame; it seems you think the answers to those questions are so obvious that i have to be stupid or a plant; but i am neither.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        Mark T · 7 years ago
        Sorry Mike, but he just asked a lot of reasonable questions. I wondered the same in re the "come in the night" are you equating special forces actions against their enemy the same as murdering innocents under cover of darkness? I dont have a problem with you questioning Jeff, but denigrating his questions without a reasonable response seems irrational.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon · 7 years ago
    Mark T.,

    One bold lie is enough to take down the entire document and pull all into question. There was more than one bold lie, which I already addressed and will not flatter Jeff by addressing them twice.

    You must understand that people like Jeff and me are natural enemies. Jeff believes in Soviet-like propaganda, while I believe in attacking it. We are opposition in the clearest sense.

    Based on my experience living around Afghanistan in so many provinces and villages, I find this paper worth little more than trash blowing down the road. Anyone involved in writing or supporting this document is pitifully uninformed, propagandizing, or both.

    If you support this document, we have little to talk about. We are opposition. We are destined to collide. One side is about propaganda, and another side is about exposing it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    bill bloom · 7 years ago
    The Wall Street Journal recently had an article about how Afghan civilians are fleeing to Kabul as the US military pulls back in preparation for leaving the country.

    This would seem to support Michael Yon's position that the "official talking points" are more like Pravda than the truth. During WWII, German propaganda had their side winning right up to when the soviet tanks rolled into Berlin.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    woodNfish · 7 years ago
    We expect the government to produce propaganda, Michael. It is only a problem when you and the rest of the media report it as if it is the truth as the Obama-fellating LSM does most everyday.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    A&N · 7 years ago
    Mike...I'm just a regular US citizen who has followed the war since 9/11 when WE were attacked by Islamic terrorism big time....not that we weren't attacked by them before that. Some folks want to appear smart. I can't compete. I just know what our military men who have been there tell me and what I see happening with my own eyes. I know that we citizens get nothing but lies and propaganda, on any subject you want to bring up, every day now. Our politicians never tell us the truth nor do most of our news organizations. Face it, our country is not what it used to be, as our dear leader promised us but we were too stupid to catch on to what he meant by that. Why am I not surprised that we get propaganda on the War in Afghanistan or in Syria or anywhere else? You can't rebuild countries that are dung holes and will always be dug holes no matter how much blood we shed or money we throw at them. You say that you and Jeff are oposites and will but heads no matter what . Well, Islam and democracy are oposites and never the twain shall agree....on anything . It is no secret, I know beause our GIs tell me so, that their hands are more or less tied over there and of course we are not fighting this war to win. We do nothing to win anything anymore and we can't even call a spade a spade now days,Mike. The military men know propaganda and lies when they see them and we citizens who don't have our heads stuck up our rears know that too. There are 2 arms of Islam, Mike, the political and the militant. Two arms that work hand in glove. We are wasting our time, men and money trying to build a country or anything else over there. Bring all of our men home, secure our borders, drill for our own oil, throw the terrorists embedded in the USA out and load up the big ones.....if they haven't all been dismantled and send out the word....one wrong move towards the USA or our allies, if we have any left, and your crap country is glass. You can't play games with terrorists or terrorist countries Mike. What is so stinking difficult to see about that? Thanks for pointing out more government propaganda to us.....but I am as....make that knee deep in propaganda over here and defending myself from the invaders over our very insecure Mexican border right now. Bring our boys home and quit playing political games in those arm pit places of the word with people who will not change .....It's their "culture". What I write to you is not propaganda....it is the truth. Open you eyes and look aroound. Did I miss anything Mike? Good job Mike. Hey... we're Americans.....we never give up and Freedom is our cry....or at least it used to be before the propaganda crowd took over.
    Annie & Neatie
    Arizona....a State also under siege....,
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brad · 7 years ago
    I wonder if this is limited to one unit doing their own thing or if this is afghanistan wide. I spent 9 months in SE Afghanistan (Paktiya/Khost) with the 101st in 2012-201 and never saw anthing like this... yet I totally believe this kind of stuff occurs because I saw something similar (put out via PAO) during my second tour in Iraq in 2005-2006.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 7 years ago
    If any of you arm chair commandos would care to do a history lesson on this subject, in lieu of this being the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, you would see even more deplorable propaganda manufactured by the US during WW2 regarding the incompetence of the Japanese fighters, which in retrospect caused the unnecessary deaths of too many young men who foolishly thought the Japs were weak undisciplined monkeys with bad eye sight.
    We all know now how wrong that atavistic tactic was in retrospect :eek:

    The difference here with this OBVIOUS rhetorical propaganda is that today's soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are connected to the truth by almost daily direct contact and the world wide web :-?

    So the effect that this kind of rhetorical propaganda has, is that serves only to inflate the morale of the enemy and deeply erode the moral of the IASF troops, especially the Americans and the Brits :eek:

    Whomever generated this garbage no matter how high up it goes, needs to be FIRED, all the way down the line in the command chain :-?

    To make our troops carry around a piece of putrid paper like that, just they can regurgitate toxic guano talking points for the consensus media morass, is despicable, irresponsible, and puts our troops at more risk unnecessarily, just to prop up the lies of the Obomination and his corrupt vile administration :-?

    Take back the Congress from the Islamic terrorist apologists and enablers in 2014, or we will see more and more of this kind of travesty for the rest of the Obomination's term :eek:
    • This commment is unpublished.
      A&N · 7 years ago
      Propaganda or not we beat the stuffins out of those japs, germans and Italians didn't we. At least we knew they were the enemy an called them that.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 7 years ago
    Speaking of troop morale, how about putting yourself in the shoes of our young men and women who at this very minute have no hope of being home for Christmas/New Years Holidays as I once did and many of you out there did at one time also :-?

    Whether its in the warmth of a command center or a freezing foxhole, especially during the High Holy Days and Christmas Holidays, there is no place like HOME 8)

    Please think about supporting any civilian or military organization that tries to bring some measure of comfort and support to that freezing foxhole :-?

    If any of you out there are in the supply chain of one of these type of organizations, give a shout out 8)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TrT · 7 years ago
    Can you imagine google staff are issued a piece of paper like this? No
    Can you imagine Yahoo staff are? Yes

    When you are winning, everyone knows you are and there is simply no need to "shape" the "message"

    The compliant Afghans dont care how many IED factories you have destroyed, all that concerns them is the IEDs along their commute.
    And they know if the IEDs are there or not, they dont need you to tell them.

    All this does is try to justify the failure to clear those routes.

    Its the same with every point.
    That the Taliban "only come at night" is neither news nor comfort to the widows whos husbands were executed outside of 9-5 office hours
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cecilia · 3 years ago
    Performed it for awhile, the game is alright.

    Feel free to visit my website; digimonlinks
    hack: https://www.npmjs.com/package/digimonlinkshackcheatsnosurvey
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alex Hatfield · 1 years ago
    Don't remember if I told you this, but after this piece came out, they re-printed the paper with "SECRET" all over it ?

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