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More than McChrystal could handle?


Michael Yon about whom I have written here before, has recently published a following short message on his Facebook:

Life was good before I went to Iraq. But after three friends were killed during the GWOT, and my growing mistrust for the media and for the US Government/Military, I quit traveling the world and went to war. The United States was in peril. I am American. Today, I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people tru…st the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched.

Appealing. Michael has been following Iraq and Afghanistan and especially officers, NCOs, GIs, in general military units in areas of operations for too long to just whistling in the wind. I have tried to find other clues for his assertion on his Facebook account, but I have not found any clear ones.

Anyway, the fragmentary message on his FB brings back an idea that the problem is complex. Michael might gain a feeling that situation on the ground is getting worst, the strict rules of engagement tie down soldiers’ hands which evokes discontent and at the same time inability to react properly. But I am sure that there will be more reasons for Michael’s posture, e.g. disagreements with the command.

I was to a certain extent surprised by the tough words that operation in Afghanistan is above general McChrystal’s head. I remember that even during the hardest times in Iraq Michael was an optimist and gave credit to general Petraeus. I remember one discussion we had five years ago in Baqubah which Michael concluded: “Optimists are wrong from time to time but pessimists nearly always”. What is happening with the mission in Afghanistan?

Apparently, the operation in Afghanistan is quite different and much, much more complicated. Moreover, general McChrystal is under overpressure. General Petraeus did not have unlimited time in Iraq, but his hands were more free than general McChrystal’s in Afghanistan. He is asked to do too much and too fast.

NATO is at the moment working hard on the transition of the provinces – list of conditions is being set together. Still this year some provinces must be transferred in order to show progress (an announcement is expected this summer/early autumn). As one diplomat in alliance headquarters in Brussels told us: These must be important provinces and the solution permanent. It would be disaster if we had to return in a couple of months.

Of course, many people have been working seriously on the list of conditions for transition but the political pressure is high – it is important to show some success to the end of this year. Withdrawing at least some of the troops should start next summer and autumn in order to calm down the public in Europe as well as in the U.S. – it is always worth looking at the election calendar. The time is ticking out.

Training of the ANA and ANP has been accelerated and within few months we will hear encouraging speeches of how the situation in Afghanistan is improving. Therefore, we will also hear that “Afghanisation” is the only correct and sustainable approach how to help the Afghans and at the same time conclude the war. Maybe, but is it achievable in the given time? More and more frequently I remind myself of the words by Henry Kissinger (and Richard Nixon) at the end of Vietnam peace negotiations about the “honorable peace”. Aren’t we walking on the similar path in Afghanistan? I do not compare those conflicts. I am speaking about the perception of their outcome. The perceptions matter at the end.

Ferret by which the packet will be tied round is being weaved. The key test will be Kandahar. My estimate is that the offensive can’t fail (at least virtually). Anyway, it is clear that we would learn the whole truth only with difficulties. It is even more clear that if somebody would reveal it to us, I would bet, it would be Michael Yon.

Frantisek Sulc
On War | On Peace


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tom · 11 years ago
    Michael, you've had some arrogance issues for some time now. OK, I get that, and I've still supported you. But lately you seem to have just about lost it, man. First you are completely bent out of shape after being disembedded from a really long embed with the worst-led unit in Afghanistan. I mean, 5-2 Stryker was kicked out of the Arghandab after screwing up the situation there beyond recognition and causing themselves the highest casualty rate in the country. They were given a road patrol job to give them something to do. 4-82 was pulled off of their mentoring mission to cover down for them, and you were incensed to be disembedded from that lot? Come on, Michael. I thought you had a better grip on counterinsurgency than that. So after that disappointment you start ranting at McChrystal, who from what I can see is actually changing some things and making progress. How does that help? How does calling for the dismissal of the most productive commander yet to serve in Afghanistan help?

    Then you run off to Thailand and use my contributions to pay for daily foot massages. I didn't contribute to you so that you could get your feet rubbed, Michael. That's not what I thought I was getting for my money.

    Now you've got a guy who you've apparently put on here because he wrote something nice about you. But what does that line about a woven ferret MEAN? Could you please explain that?

    Michael, I cannot support your egotistical ranting, tearing away at a good officer, Thai foot massages and bizarre letters from Czech fans about woven ferrets any more. You're going to have to get your head straight and prove that you're a sane, accurate observer again before I put another cent into this. Everyone else can do what they want, but as for me, you're fired.

    I sincerely hope that you can get back on track. Best of luck.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Frantisek Sulc · 10 years ago
    Sir, at first I am sorry to write the answer few weeks after you posted the comment, I found it just now.

    1) Ferret "issue" - what I meant by that was that if you are selling something or giving something to somebody you are trying to pack it as beutifully as you can. And this metaphor was (and still is) I think the case of mission in Afghanistan. Now I am not describing military point of view but political aspects. When I wrote the piece (in Czech orriginaly) back in April it was clear that important part of the thinking about the mission within the political and diplomatic elites is how to "sell" the transition and near future withdrawing of the Western troops to the more and more discontented public as "win". There is clear and long term discrepancy between the part of political and diplomatic elites in some NATO countries and military on the ground. Good example is time pressure on the US side (July 2011, although latest development could change it a little bit) as well as in other countries (the Netherlands, the Canada), or pressure on military to "deliver the good news" which would be salable to public. Of course, it has heavy impact on the military mission;
    2) "bizarre letters" - the text is not a letter, I post it on my blog (in Czech) as a reaction on Michael's remark about general McChrystal on Facebook and made argument broader. I am sorry you found it "bizarre";
    ) "Czech fans" - I am not a chairman of Michael's Czech "fan club", but I am respecting him greatly and I think, it is good to take him seriously or, at least, to think twice about his remarks and arguments. It is not necessarily mean that he is always right, but he is able not ony to bring great stories from the field but also analyze the events correctly. Good example is a replacement of general Stanley McChrystal by general David Petraeus and
    4) English is not my native language so excuse possible misspeling.

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