Michael's Dispatches

Night Into Day


Sangin, Helmand Province

Finding the Enemy

29 July 2009

Orders are given before every operation.  The orders filter down through various unit levels involved, until each platoon finally recieves its specific mission.  The concept for this mission came down from the 2 Rifles Battlegroup (battalion) to the  companies, including elements of the Afghan National Army and their British counterparts from the Welsh Guard, and down to each 2 Rifles platoon involved.  So for any mission there might be literally dozens (or more) orders and rehearsals until each man and woman knows the perceived enemy situaton, their specific tasks, and much more.  While soldiers here at FOB Jackson received orders, undoubtedly pilots and others, stationed far away, perhaps on an aircraft carrier or even farther afield, were finalizing related plans.

On 23 July, the afternoon before the mission, a call came into headquarters that two British soldiers had been wounded by two IEDs, and that the American helicopter medevacs known as “Pedro” had been called to extract the casualties.  Pedro is a potent morale booster; British soldiers know that their American brethren in the medevac helicopters will come for them anytime anywhere, guns blazing if needed.  Medevac is dangerous work; earlier this month, a bomb detonated, killing and wounding soldiers from 2 Rifles, and when they moved to prepare for medevac, another bomb exploded.  In all, five soldiers were killed and many wounded. Yet the soldiers know that if they can get their buddies while still alive onto Pedro, chances for survival are dramatically increased.  In addition to carrying outstanding medical crew, Pedro would roar back to Camp Bastion’s first-rate trauma center in about fifteen minutes.  Night or day, gunfight or not, Pedro will be there.

23 July 2009, at 1600 hours: Corporal Kris Griffith, from British 2 Rifles FSG Snipers, receives his mission.  The gear is already prepared.  The weapons are spotless.  All that’s left is one last round of checks, and then to try to sleep until about 2345 hours.

At midnight, soldiers arrived in the mess tent for breakfast.

After breakfast, the soldiers pulled on their body armor and what seemed like dozens of sorts of weapons: rockets of various sorts, different types of machine guns and rifles, grenade launchers with odd sorts of grenades, hand grenades, pistols, knives, radios (probably most deadly of all) and lots of attitude.  A few soldiers smoked last cigarettes and then we trod on foot into some of the most bomb-laden stretches of Afghanistan.  Everyone wore night vision gear, but it was so dark that I left the PVS-14 flipped up, on standby mode, and used what little ambient light was there.

Even at 3200 ISO, f1.2, 1/8s, precious little light was registering on the camera sensor.

The camera was nearly useless (as the shot above will attest), but in fact the enhancement below shows the eerie apparition of the soldier as we headed into the battlefield.  With water crossings ahead and the darkness, the camera was better stowed in the waterproof bag inside the rucksack, so was soon tucked away.

Each soldier had been told to carry at least six liters of water, and so I carried 8.5 liters.  Everyone carried medical kits, including bandages and tourniquets on the right side, and an un-cracked infrared chemlight on their helmet, and a blue chemlight for casualties.  Twenty British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this month so far [the number since this mission has increased], and probably another hundred to hundred and fifty have been wounded.  Ingress was dangerous, with land mines and other bombs planted in every route the soldiers were likely to take, and so we set off through the most unlikely routes that the commanders could manage.  All roads and paths are mined or laced with IEDs, at choke points such as bridges and easy ground.  And so we slogged through muck and soft ground, and crossed irrigation canals by ladder or wading through in the dark.  The soldiers were quiet and used no lights, though some used the night vision monocular that would leave a faint green glow around one eye.

This is an active battlefield—even as I write these words on 27 July an Apache is firing down with its 30mm (killing four Taliban) nearby and combat occurs many times per day—and so this mission can only be described in general terms.  In broad strokes, the mission on 24 July was to bait the enemy to take certain actions, and there were multiple moving parts to our side, making it difficult for the enemy to keep track of our combat elements.  Though we would leave obvious boot tracks through fields and neighborhoods, our units split and went here and there, and so despite that the enemy had home field advantage, we could still achieve relative surprise for at least short periods.  As the soldiers quietly sweated and moved through the darkness, dogs barked in the night; the canines sometimes go nuts at quiet but high-pitched emanations from the metal detectors.

Along the way, Rifleman Ryan Grieves busted his ankle, possibly breaking it, so the British soldiers pushed out into security positions and my section of eight (seven men, one woman) pushed through a canal and forward.  We moved up to a compound and there an incadescent light made me very uncomfortable and I tried to melt into a shadow near a rifleman who was doing the same.  A British soldier moved toward the light – many times soldiers just whack out the lights – but he carefully unscrewed a few twists and a more comfortable darkness returned and we moved forward.

Other sections pushed forward and entered a compound where more than a half dozen Afghan women and girls were sleeping in the open on a raised platform, under the Milky Way, where it was cool.  The lights inside bathed the compound with an amber glow.

The interpreter explained our situation to the women and girls, who hardly seemed startled and not the least bit afraid.  Everyone knows that women and children will be treated well, and I kept the camera mostly out of sight and away from the women.  The British soldiers stayed away from the open area where the women and girls just watched us from the platform, though a couple of them seemed to fall back asleep.

Rifleman Grieves had been on point—an extremely dangerous place to be—and was unhappy to suddenly be carried by his buddies and to slow down the mission.  But that’s the way it goes; the ground was favorable to a broken bone or two, and Rifleman Grieves had drawn that straw and busted the ankle.  (Later we learned it was not broken.)

Medic Lance Corporal Beth Sparks is on her job, while Rifleman Karl Dresser talks to Ryan Grieves who is on his back.  A soldier took Grieves’s weapon and cleaned it spic and span; the barrel got stuffed with mud, which can be a problem out here, and you’ve got to pay close attention, especially at night.  Firing the weapon with mud in the barrel will cause it to explode, which takes the rifle out of action and possibly the rifleman, too.

Corporal Lee Edwards with Molly the bomb dog.  Everyone loves Molly.  First off, she’s a cool dog that likes to swim in the river with the soldiers, and secondly she trots into combat and has found a lot of bombs that could/would have blown people up.  Molly can cross ladders spanning deep ditches, or when needed she piggybacks on Corporal Edward’s shoulders.  It seems that every working dog in Afghanistan is treated better than the soldiers.  Molly is no exception.  Corporal Edwards treats Molly like the Queen of Sangin.

Up to this point, there had been no gunfire, but first light was coming at 0440, and we needed to get into position before light.  So my section of eight left the compound while others stayed behind with Rifleman Grieves.

Corporal Kenny Copeland 2 Plt A Coy 2 Rifles.

We moved another two hundred meters through low corn to another compound, which was occupied by a family.  The man of the “house” asked if he could leave, and if he could take his wives and children.  The British soldiers treated the family respectfully saying they were free to stay or to go.  I kept the camera low.  After all, the man was not known to be Taliban, just a farmer, and it’s bad enough that we would commandeer his compound for half a day, much less that someone would start to take photos.  The soldiers were respectful of the little property, though there was practically no property other than a few filthy blankets, nasty pillows, one light bulb, and just enough cooking utensils to fill up a brown grocery bag.  The family tantamount lives in a barn with three cows, two donkeys, some sheep, chickens, and what appeared to be a fat dove-like bird in a cage hanging above their filthy blankets.  Corn, okra and other vegetables were growing within the compound.

The compound, rooms and all, covered an area about the size of a tennis court.  Tomato slices were laid out drying on a chest-high wall while human and animal feces dried just near the bottom of the same wall.  Fred Flintstone would call the place primitive.

The compound had been selected because the commanders thought Taliban might stumble into us while the Taliban were, let’s say, reacting to some other initiatives.  If the Taliban ran into us, the soldiers were to kill them, and by now various elements were scattered smartly about to make the Taliban feel like a pinball, only instead of getting hit with flippers, it might be machine guns, rockets, mortars, howitzers, and fire from aircraft.  The Taliban are trying to snare us with mines, bombs, and SAFIRE (small-arms fire), and basically we try to do the same, only we don’t use mines, and our bombs often come from the sky.  The Taliban are very brave, but they are ignorant brutal men who murder locals who do not support them, and brave doesn’t stop bullets.

After we occupied the compound and the family walked out, the soldiers heard some activity and were keen to check it out.  Compound walls are incredibly resilient and can stop 30mm rounds, so AK-47 bullets make little more impression than do mosquitoes on windshields, but that doesn’t stop people from tossing grenades over the walls or popping up from tunnels.

The rustling next door was just a family going about their business.

And so we waited, and waited.  While other British and Afghan elements did their work.  Our job was to wait for about ten hours to shoot any Taliban who stumbled by, or maybe call in an air strike or cannon fire.

Lance Corporal Kevin Bowen, from Jamaica, mans the radio after carefully checking/cleaning his machine gun and laying the brush down.  Kevin’s accent is easier to understand than some of the British accents.

Riflemen Jamie Massey and Jordan Farrer checked their weapons and zonked out.  Everyone was wet from the canal crossings and sweat, and so the morning was chilly.

The ladders are used to get on the roofs.  This family was so poor that they did not even sleep on a raised platform, and didn’t seem to have a radio, but they did have the fat dove-like bird in the cage, which apparently was their only song.

Corporal Chelsea Williams and Color Sergeant Kevyn Diggle ('Diggs') clean their weapons.

'Diggs': ready for action.

As earth warmed under the rising sun, flies began buzzing about.  Kevin Bowen was ready for the onslaught.

Kitchenware: This represents nearly the entire extent of the family’s utensils and tools.  There was little more besides a shovel and a pump sprayer for herbicide/pesticide, and they had the few blankets and pillows.  A small stack of poppy was drying by the front door.  How can anyone be blamed for joining the Taliban when they live like this?  (We have no idea if this guy was Taliban.)  Sangin is a fester-pot of the Taliban: Isolation, poverty and distilled ignorance create ideal conditions for the cult.

U.S. B-1 bomber roars miles overhead.  During the mission of 24 July, hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of aircraft covered us at one time or another.  The B-1 above is departing at 0631 local, when this photo was made, while sporadic SAFIRE and machine-gun fire competed with the birds chirping.

Impersonal view of Sangin from approximate bombing altitude of the B-1.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General Stanley McChrystal put sharp restrictions on the ROE (Rules of Engagement), which caused many armchair generals to throw tantrums that we are endangering our troops.  (Years of loose ROE clearly did not work; during the cowboy years since 2001, Afghanistan got worse.)

Secretary Gates, General McChrystal and troops all over Afghanistan are making difficult decisions.  Only time will reveal if McChrystal and crew can turn the war around.  If our folks – the Coalition in general – can reverse the slide, they will deserve the same respect that was earned for the turn-around in Iraq.

PBR Street Gang, this is Almighty Standing by.

It’s great to know that Almighty is up there, yet it’s also clear that Almighty needs to keep those bomb bay doors closed most of the time.  Down here, this could not be more clear.  We can pulverize the Taliban from now until we are ready to go home, but if Afghanistan is to be brought into the first millennium, we need the resources to build, the patience and stamina to see it through, and greater wisdom than has so far been brought to task.  And sometimes Almighty.  These Afghans on the ground need education and development.  Without education, we will develop only richer more confident enemies.

At about 0700 hours, a couple of mortars or rockets explode close enough to cause me to step inside a mud room.  At 0708 hours, a B-1 again roars over and disappears.  A report comes on the radio that Afghans passing through an ANA (Afghan National Army) checkpoint say that Taliban are warning families to leave the area around us.  Meanwhile, a man neatly dressed with a robe drives by at various times (during the day) on a motorcycle.

A soldier on the roof sees families leaving nearby compounds.   At 0711 two fighting-aged males move into a compound nearby.  I ask Chelsea Williams, who is military police, if her family and friends know she comes out into combat.  Chelsea laughs, saying her family thinks she is on Camp Bastion, which is about the safest place in Afghanistan.  I say to Chelsea that she should never tell her family what she really does because they won’t believe her anyway.  Chelsea laughs and there is sporadic small-arms fire from different directions, but nobody is shooting at us.  What’s the use in Chelsea trying to explain all this?  At 0717 there is a controlled three-round burst from a machine gun, and a couple of sparrows land on a wire in the compound.  Less than a minute later, another controlled machine-gun burst and the sparrows glance around and chirp but hardly seem to notice.  It seems certain that the sparrows live better than does this family.  The machine-gun bursts must have been either British or ANA trained by British; Taliban would have let rip the machine guns in longer bursts.  I ask the radio operator if he knew  who was firing and he answers that it was ANA.  Two minutes later intel comes in that Taliban are in a compound just near us and are “ready to go.”

Between 0719 and 0825 is sporadic SAFIRE and machine-gun fire (probably a few hundred rounds) and occasional booms from RPG shots.

Sangin: everything that is not under our direct view is under heavy Taliban influence.  The Taliban still control Sangin more than we do.  The entire surrounding area is under Taliban control.  The British are confident they are making progress, and my initial impression is to say they are in fact making progress, though the journey will be long.

As the sun rose higher, the soldiers stuck it out on the sweltering roof.  Many of these soldiers have been to Iraq, and it was much hotter in Basra, but still the temperature would climb to about 110 degrees in the sun.  They were chugging the water but without complaints.

With the family gone, the animals became thirsty and hungry and broke out of the pin and started ravaging the family garden.  It seemed fruitless to try to stop the animals, but Diggs was the defender of the family plot and kept herding the animals until finally he rounded them all back up.  The Afghan man came back with a couple of his burkha-clad wives, apparently for the animals that needed to be watered and fed, but the soldiers made what I thought was a smart decision and didn’t let them back in.  The man already knew our strength, and allowing him in would show our posture.

The brown splotches on the wall (upper-center) are manure that is dried and used for cooking.

The pin is made from mud and sticks and reminded me of Red Riding Hood.  In Afghanistan, a home made of mud is practically bombproof against violence that would shatter a home made of bricks, but unfortunately, the Big Bad Wolf that once nearly swallowed the whole of Afghanistan is the Taliban, and Sangin truly is part of the Taliban belly.  (Yet in one telling indicator of Taliban weakness, we are in their belly and there is little they can do about it.  They are trying to expurgate us, but they are growing weaker, slowly weaker, in Sangin.)

Soldiers not on guard were trying to sleep because good infantry soldiers never miss a chance to fill canteens or sleep, and they already had filled canteens.  At 0835 there was a brisk salvo of something bigger than RPGs, sounded like 105mm howitzer. Whoever had fired went straight to FFE (Fire For Effect) and skipped any adjustment, indicating the fire came from a fixed base onto a pre-registered target.  At 0837 another salvo popped off and though I was half-asleep, it sounded like about 35 rounds, but I lost count and it might have been mortars.  A radio call said our guys were trying to cut off some Taliban and trying to push them into a different area that favored our side, so that they could be hit by ambush or air strike.

Off and on we could hear “Green Eyes,” a UAV, buzzing like a lawnmower overhead.  I got up and at 0842 the guard on the roof again spotted “two geezers” moving about 50 meters from us.  The fields were completely dead.  No farmers, nobody.  By 0900 it was starting to get warm and bright so I switched the clear Oakley lens to the amber.  It’s important to wear ballistic eyewear because eyes are more expensive than Oakleys.  Plus it will be harder to write if my eyes get blown out.  The British NCOs are strict that the young soldiers wear the glasses and gloves.  There continued sporadic fights from various directions, but we were uninvolved, though a bullet zinnnged overhead (sounded like it came from many hundreds of meters away).  At 0921 a proper firefight broke out and the radioman relayed saying ANA was in a big fight, which was doggone evident.  Other than that, I didn’t realize it was ANA; some shooters seemed to be controlling fire and some weren’t.  There were some explosions and the firefight seemed to subside after a mere three minutes.

By 0925 all of us are sweating in the shade.  My water inventory: 2.5 liters gone, 6 liters to go.  The soldiers who are awake are in good spirits, as if this is just a picnic that they do every day.  I try to go back to sleep as the firefight resumes at 0930.  I look around the sad compound and realize that even birds make better homes.  There is a large explosion and I have no idea what it is, and at 0935 more explosions, and between 0936 and 0937 more explosions—maybe mortars—while I try to sleep, and by 1015 it’s quiet but the cloudless day is growing hot.  At 1104 an Apache comes overhead then flies away.  The soldiers on the roof must be cooking, but not nary a word of complaint from anyone about anything.

The only cupboards were simple recesses in the mud walls.

The Sketch

The animals needed to be fed and watered, but what were we to do?  The Afghan man of the compound sent his three children to another compound, where another British section waited in ambush and where Grieves waited to be extracted with his messed-up ankle.   The kids, a boy and two girls, were trying to say something to Captain Nick White, who pulled out his notepad and a child drew the picture above.  Captains Nick White and Aaron West realized that the kids wanted to feed the cows, and told the kids it was okay to come back to our compound.  The kids gave the sketch to Diggs who let the kids in.

The two girls and the boy fed and watered all the animals, smiling at the British soldiers the whole time, and finally they left with the fat dove-like bird and the sheep, donkeys and cows.

As hours dragged by, the fields were empty, and sporadic firefights continued around us while I slept in the feed storage room and the soldiers slept here and there.  Each time a soldier walked on the roof, sand and dried mud rained on my sweating face.  Another firefight broke out, apparently again with ANA, and this time some bullets whizzed overhead but we were out of the action.  The motorcycle driver had gone by probably ten times by that point.

At 1343 came a BOOM  shoooooosszzch BAM!  Diggs said that some kind of rocket had just been fired and he told the radio operator to call it up, and as it happens, my watch was off sync by about 2 minutes, and it was in fact a Hellfire launch at 1340 from an American Reaper who was helping us out.  I didn’t know what had happened other than that someone fired a rocket.  Turned out that a Reaper—flying too high to be seen or heard—had been tracking Taliban who had been responsible for some of the shooting we had been hearing.  The Taliban had been shooting at the Welsh Guard British OMLT (Operational Mentor Liaison Team) and their ANA counterparts.  The Reaper had watched as the Taliban took their weapons into a mosque and came out unarmed, but the Taliban mistake had occurred when they went to another compound and picked up some weapons and got back into the fight.  The Reaper used its own laser to designate the target and was cleared to fire by LTC Rob Thomson, Commander of 2 Rifles, and launched a Hellfire missile whose seeker head locked onto the laser reflection.  At about the last half-second, the Taliban heard the missile and bolted like deer trying to jump the bow, but it was too late for two men who were killed.  The third might have escaped with injuries, but if he did he’ll need new eardrums because the strike was very close.  Interestingly, the enemy had avoided the bait that had been laid for them, and had gone for a hook (the team the dead guys had been firing on was there to ambush Taliban), but it did little good because the Company Commander in the Sky—this time Reaper—took the shot.  (Thanks “Team Reaper,” wherever you are.  Probably Nevada.  The soldiers love to know that Predator/Reaper has arrived.)

The order was given to collapse back, and so we left early at about 1400.  We and the enemy know this is the best time to hit us, and we fully expected to get hit.  We walk away from the paths because that’s where the mines and pressure plates are most likely.  Diggs and crew had been hit heavily almost exactly here just less than a week before.  Apparently the soldiers killed the IED triggerman that blasted a few soldiers down, but they were all okay.  The IED was big but the enemy buried it a little too deep, and so it left a smoking crater and some soldiers who couldn’t hear so well but they came straight back into combat.

Staying off the paths means crossing open fields and avoiding bridges.

Soon, even logs will be off limits, but it’s clear that the Taliban are losing 'ground' here.

The corn is not high yet, but as it grows it will provide excellent cover for friend and foe.  There are so many bombs around here that last week a Taliban accidentally stepped on one of their own pressure plates and got blown to pieces.

Cujo: Always being watched.  He wanted off that rope.

Cat and mouse:  We move in unlikely places, though the enemy is watching every step and would try to plant bombs in front of us.  The day had grown hot and I was down to 2.5 liters of water.

Cat and mouse: we try to bomb them, they try to bomb us.  The enemy is now putting bombs in these ditches, too.  It would be greatly beneficial if every infantry soldier had a few weeks of tracking training.  We could spot even more IEDs.

Smelly ditch

Bombs often are planted in the walls, or the enemy shoots through small holes.

Probably safe because there are kids around.

There’s the Kite Runner kid.  Up in Mazar-i-Sharif, the kids fly kites by the hundreds.  Sometimes the enemy uses kites for signals.

Growing up in the belly of the Taliban.

He smiled and pedaled by.

The soldiers don’t like running low on ammo during firefights, and so were carrying about three times more weight than I had.

Nearly back to FOB Jackson.  We never got hit, but crossing through warm stench-water from the village was little consolation.

Sangin sewerage.

Other patrols had been in for more than an hour, but everyone waits until the last patrol arrives, just in case.

Sweating and dusty, the soldiers wade into a chilly river running through camp, uniforms and all.

The current flows at roughly 1.5fps, so the rope is there to help stay in the swimming hole.

Afghan soldiers set up their toilet just down from the swimming hole.

The Fob Jackson Launderette.

Corporal Richard Tyrrell; Rifleman Stephan Glover.

In summary, the 24 July mission netted two Taliban killed by the Hellfire missile from the Reaper but that was just another day.  On the 25th, soldiers at Kajaki killed two Taliban.  On 26 July, here, just near FOB Jackson, Sniper Team Kris Griffith and Justin De Lange dropped another Taliban from 1,100 meters with the .338 rifle, and were themselves barely missed by a Taliban “sniper” who fired two shots, but remained concealed.  I was not involved in the firefight but was close enough to hear the firing and explosions.  During the same engagement, the mortars and 105mm howitzers fired 15 rounds each and killed three more, for a total of four Taliban killed.  The sniper kill on the morning of 26th was the fifth confirmed for the two sniper teams during this tour.  This morning, 27 July, while finishing off this report, the enemy fired an RPG at a British helicopter but missed.  Later at Kajaki, a British soldier was killed by an IED.  A U.S. Reaper came back on station in Sangin and was tracking armed targets that I saw on the monitor.  The kills would have been easy, but the British commander here, LTC Rob Thomson, and the Reaper crew, were looking for a good shot that would cause no civilian casualties, and eventually an Apache who fired 60 rounds from the 30mm.  Later in the day we received nine casualties in Sangin, and the A-10s came in and were firing their cannons, and as the dispatch is finished late afternoon on the 28th, a vibrant firefight is unfolding outside the perimeter.  An RPG just fired.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken Van Tassell · 10 years ago
    In the world everybody is caught up on a stupid comment and reaction by a couple of parties while brothers and sister are laying it out for Freedom. Why cant people see the common thread that holds us together and show basic respect that these soldiers live and die by everyday. Another wonderful job Michael GOD bless all who fight for basic goodness against EVIL!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kudzu · 10 years ago
    One thing that can be said about this fight is that the Brits are knee-deep in it down in Helmund and Kandahar. Thank you Mr. Yon for covering this and publicizing their sacrifice. We are not alone in this.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mad Dog · 10 years ago
    Another great article giving us more insight into the everyday lives of the Afghanis and to our stalwart Brit brothers and sisters. The boyfriend of my niece was an Almighty pilot for a long time and told my about missions from Kuwait over the Stan. Glad to see they are still there and you gave them some credit, Tough job for them as well. He is now a B2 pilot, but that is another story.
    Anyway, your story made me make another donation to you. Keep safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 10 years ago
    Fantastic dispatches Mr. Yon. Good show to the Brits, and stick it to those bastards.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Zeno Davatz · 10 years ago
    Another excellent article! Good to see all these faces and know the story of the soldiers and how they live and smile far away from home. Also good to see, that women are also very welcome with the Brits! That river look wonderful for a refreshment!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gismo Fly · 10 years ago
    I was in that river with them. Arn't they bloody marvellous?

    Thanks, Mike.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rog · 10 years ago
    Its great to see that the UK MOD is serialising your dispatches Mike. A testament to your work which is the benchmark for the Afghan war. Brilliant photos too, reminds me of Tim Pages work in Viet Nam when I was a kid. I must make a contribution now as I spend so much time checking your reports.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 10 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/29/2009 - News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lisa Claire · 10 years ago
    This puts us in the thick of it! Thank you from this USAR Colonel's wife (He's now serving in the Middle East). Photos are incredible. God Bless the Brits and all of you fighting the Taliban. You are not forgotten!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Moose · 10 years ago
    Headed off to London in a couple of weeks. Do you have many readers in the UK?

    Thanks for all you do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Asif Ali · 10 years ago
    Like I said, what are we really sacrificing for??? world hegemoney, oil dumps, exporting our culture to aliens who enjoy spirituality is better than us. One Question: Why do we need to stretch our Empires, don't we have enough space or we are just blood hungry war hogs who simply can't wait to shoot brown people.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Radio Jihad · 10 years ago
    Afghanistan is an Islamic Country, the Qur'an is its Constitution, and strict Sharia Law is the Judiciary and culture. Sharia Law (Allahs Law) and our Secular Laws can never can never cohabitate peacefully according to the Qur'an.

    That said, the Taliban control the towns and all the people including the Children. The Mosque is the center of their universe and our ROE will not allow our soldiers to destroy the Mosque even after Taliban store arms and receive aid and comfort.

    Are we there to kill a few Taliban when we can and the revert control back to the Taliban when our soldiers leave - that is how it appears to me.

    Should our military be used to beat the Islamists into submission and force a Democratic government mirroring our own (nation building) as we did in WW2. That means very limited ROE and Mosques are now legitimate military targets.

    I don't have the answer - but Mr. Yon does show our troops putting their lives on the line going on a patrol with no clear objectives other than to kill a the stray taliban where you find them - as long as they are armed and not in a Mosque.

    Are we fighting the Islamist ideology that demands we submit to their will? I think we are!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andrew Lale · 10 years ago
    You have at least one- me. I've been reading Mr Yon for the last four/five years. Doing single-handedly the work the 10,000 lazy bastards at the BBC won't...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JJCollette · 10 years ago
    The media refuses to do on-site reporting (or even honest reporting) and I rely on Michael to tell me what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan. Donating money to keep his dispatches coming is a privilege. How much do we all waste on incidentals: gum, coffee, candy, that extra beer? Add up your weekly incidentals and consider: who needs that stuff more - you, or Michael, who is doing a bang-up job keeping the rest of us awake & aware? I (finally!) put my money where my mouth is and signed up to make a monthly donation. It makes a difference - maybe the difference between Michael staying in Afghanistan and reporting, or leaving Afghanistan. And I want him there.

    I don't know Michael, I've never met him. But consider: who do you trust more when it comes to Afghanistan - that AP reporter who is phoning it in using 3rd hand sources & garbling up his article with political bias and spin, or Michael, actually IN Afghanistan, going on missions with troops, writing to us and for us his first-hand reports and impressions? No contest.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Uncle Jefe · 10 years ago
    Do not purport to speak for 'us', Asif Ali.
    'We' are sacrificing so that 'we' can live without someone telling 'us' who or what to worship, who can or can't be educated, how we can or can't live...it's called freedom.
    So nutcases like the Taliban can't force the people of a country like Afghanistan to submit to the Taliban's perverted version of Islam, and offer scum like Al Qaeda a base from which to plan, train, and export violent jihad.
    What oil have we taken from Iraq? What oil is there to be taken from Afghanistan?
    And did you notice that the people fighting FOR the freedom of the Iraqis and Afghanis are people of all colors, as seen in Michael Yon's photos?
    Please crawl back under your rock and stay there.
    You do not speak for 'us'.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ron · 10 years ago
    Nice article. Thank you. However, I would like to know how operations like this fit into the supposively pop-centric strategy. Was the Afghan compensated for using his compound? Where is the interaction with the population. You describe body counts, which is exactly what we are are told is not important. Body counts do not demonstrate wrestliing control from the Taliban. I love these descriptions of tactical ops, but I do not see how they lead to success. Are there any development tasks being accomplished in Sanguin? Anything along these lines would help us understand what is going on.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    If the Brits do not understand the language or the culture (kid's drawings do not count) then there can be no pop-centric strategy. Why is there not an ANA embed with the Brits? Sangin seems nothing more than a war of attrition which coalition forces are doomed to lose as polititians begin to face an increasing outcry from home. Is there no language training before deployment? These are brave men and women who should not be sacrificed in a halfassed effort.
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    Papa Ray · 10 years ago
    Yes there should be an ANA or more embed with the Brits and any and all NATO forces in the Afgan. And there will be. There are thousands of Afghans training right now, but it is a drawn out process and then there is the lag getting them in the field and more training.

    Michael has a mission. He is trying to stay out of the politics and give you first hand knowledge of what is going on on the ground. This is not something anybody could do. You have to be a little crazy to do this type work, and you have to have the mental and physical ability and stamina to handle it. Michael has been in combat for over five years straight.

    I was in combat for 19 months and had had enough to last me a lifetime.

    Everyone who can should pony up and give Michael money to continue doing this. He is not paid by some employer, nor has any grants. If you can spend a hundred dollars a month on cable and beer, you can give the same so that Michael can continue his mission.

    Thanks Michael, stay safe and remember like I have told you before...you ain't bullet proof.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas
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    NahnCee · 10 years ago
    Thank you for this. It's nice to know the Brits have more going for them than what we saw in them retreating from Basra and giving up their sailors to the Persians. Interesting that so many of them look like Prince Harry. If he ever was allowed to go back into combat, it would be difficult for a sniper to pick out the real prince, surrounded by all the other ginger-haired warriors.
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    Thomas · 10 years ago
    Great stuff.
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    JohnW · 10 years ago
    RE: your comments entitled "BTW What are we Sacrificing For?" - Do you honestly believe what you wrote? Do you think Americans "...simply can't wait to shoot brown people"? Our country is _full_ of brown people, many of whom are fighting this war and have lost their lives. In case you have forgotten, thousands of people all over the world have been killed by Islamic extremists not because these were threatening others, but simply because they didn't hold to the same views as the extremists. They include women, children, the elderly, the disabled, fellow Muslims, and on and on. The "expendables." These extremists would be more than happy to slit your throat if you don't hold to their views. Their hope is to kill everyone you love. They aren't fighting for some noble cause - they want political and economic power, oh yeah, in the name of Allah, and if you stand in their way, you are vermin to be exterminated. My son fought in Iraq, had several friends die from IEDs, and saw directly the hatred and malice motivating the Jihadists. Wake up, Asif! It's not about skin color, cultural heritage, religious traditions, or politics. It's about hatred, greed, and lust for power and control over the lives of others. THAT is what we are sacrificing to destroy at the source.
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    windy · 10 years ago
    saying the brits retreated from basra implies we were beaten by the insurgents in basra.it would be like me implying america was beaten by the vietnamesse.which of course isnt true.whatever the reasons our militarys chose to withdraw you can bet its more about politics then any other reason.the british army is small and fighting a war in iraq and afganistan has put massive strain on our armed forces and to concentrate our limited resources to one battlefield seems to me common sense.my point is weather the battlefield is in basra our helmend the insurgents get kicked around the battlefield.trying to get an insight of this war on terror from CNN is about as useful as tits on a fish.
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    Scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    My bad. In rereading the dispatch, I realized I had missed the fact that there was an interpreter before the section of 8 moved out. I just think that understanding the customs and language is key to any sort of success. A mistake made in Vietnam.
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    Sara Johnson · 10 years ago
    I hold my breath between your dispatches. Nowhere else do we get this information. The other day I made a contribution. I encourage others to do the same. I'll cancel all subscriptions and put my money on your work, in order to see it continue. It is the least I can do, Michael Yon.
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    Nanci Shelton · 10 years ago
    If we all give even a little bit to support Michael we will all benefit. He is our only good resource out there. Thank you, Michael, and be safe.
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    Jimmy in Clearwater · 10 years ago
    Godspeed Michael. Thank you for the work you're doing. May our soldiers and allies rest safely when their hard work is finished. They are brave and we are proud of them all; Brits, American, and all of the coalition. Freedom isn't free. Its paid in blood by those willing to defend it.

    Thank a veteran today and everyday.
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    NYC Marine Vet · 10 years ago
    As a Marine with 2 combat tours (Iraq '03 & Afghanistan '04), I can't thank Mr. Yon enough for his efforts. In fact, my infantry unit and I captured 131 Taliban & Al Qaeda and killed about twice that many...all in Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Helmand provinces. So this coverage is most personal to me. Also, the reporters we had embedded with us didn't know there rear-end from their mouth, let alone how the "real" (re: front-line) military operates. Thus, their reporting was incredibly limited in breadth and scope. So, THANK YOU Mr. Yon for reporting the "real" story...to include both the bad and the good. The U.S. tends to only focus on the negative (numbers of casualties, etc.) and rarely ever mentions all of the good and progress being made (millions of girls now in school, thousands of schools being built, electricity, clean water sources, roadways built, etc.).
    And in response to Asif Ali - get a clue buddy! The only land America ever "takes" from another nation/people is the land needed to bury our fallen heroes. Also, I know for a fact that the 4 African-Americans and 8 Hispanics I had in my platoon of 39 couldn't possibly disagree with you more. Consequently, your arguments of imperialism and race-based targeting are completely unfounded...and make you sound absolutely clueless.
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    a father · 10 years ago
    A really personal report which outlines the day to day life lived by these heroines and heroes, it really is reporting of a far superior level to the sound bite reporting we tend to rely on via BBC and SKY. These soldiers are doing their duty and fighting for each other, they are fighting alongside the ANA and your report brings out the respectful approach they adopt with local families. It really tells their story and puts the flesh behind the headlines. The level of risk they face is clear from the report with the threat changing to and IED led one. Although we may be winning I suspect it will be many years before we this war ends and the only force that can truly win this war will be an Afghan force. A moderate and peaceful Afghanistan seems a long way away although it is an objective that is worth pursuing for our and the worlds long term security. So until then more boys and girls will need to live and patrol from the FOBs, and hopefully you will continue to tell their story.
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    Gordon · 10 years ago
    Two comments from above:

    The US Military did not decide to pull out of Vietnam. Politicians in Washington decided, it was a political decision.

    It was seldom reported and often wrong when it was, but there was a substantial effort on the part of US Military to learn customs and language in both Vietnam and Iraq. That only works when the troops have time to establish a relationship with the locals, and when the locals are receptive to a relationship. Given both it was quite successful.

    We were winning when I left.

    Semper Fi
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    Daniel Welborn · 10 years ago
    Thanks again Michael for these detailed dispatches, I feel right on the ground next to you and the soldiers. Regarding what others said that these missions may seem not to achieve much, I think that you're exactly showing the grunt's view... each group of soldiers is but a part of an overall strategy and I have some faith that the top commanders are putting together a good strategy. What's the goal, what does victory look like, as others have posted and asked? Afghans living peacefully, sustaining themselves, and not having elements like Taliban or Al Queda running around beheading them if they don't do exactly the right things. Also, regardless of how the Afghans are living, since it is a sparsely populated country without centralized institutions currently, if we weren't there, the area could be used for foreign jihadists to train to export their violence ala 9-11. We're there to keep the swamp drained, so to speak. So, I can see the point of being there. People often feel insurgencies are unbeatable, but there are precedents of an insurgency finally losing the will to fight and just fading into oblivion, leaving the peaceful industrious citizens alone to live their lives. So, it is possible. Not certain though, grant you that. In any event, Michael's presence and reporting there is not so much to endorse any particular thing going on, at least that's not the value I take away from it. There are soldiers there, fighting everyday, and he provides an excellent bird's eye (or even closer) view of it, and I find it interesting and fascinating to get this perspective, which very few if any other reporters provide. Kudos to Michael.
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    Scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    Gordon, I was an advisor on RVN gunboats in IV Corps (Nam Can). I received extensive language and cultural training in advance since I was the only American on board. After 4+ months of that, I was recalled to Saigon as Flag. Lt. to COMNAVFORV, ADM. Wilson. I attended the COMUSMACV briefings so I was able to view Vietnam from both the micro and macro sense. VERY few at our riverine base understood the language or culture. When I returned to Saigon, I found it a universal truth that the vietnamese civilians spoke very freely in vietnamese around Americans which is a strong indication that few americans spoke their language. I could give many anecdotal stories supporting this.

    It is always a political decision to go into or come out of war and that is as it should be in our form of government.
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    Mr. H · 10 years ago
    What an amazing collection of photos!!

    Thank you for sharing them.

    Mr. H
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    withheld for securit · 10 years ago
    Thank you for your honest reporting. Having been on more patrols than I can remember; I know that your product is genuine. Our folks have been busy as of lately unfortunately. Always glad to get those who fight for us out of dire situations; we would prefer not to have to fly. I pray that you and the good people you chronicle stay safe. Stay ahead on your immunizations, take your anti-malarials & avoid unnecessary risks. I hate having to patch up our wounded but consider it the greatest of privledges. I hope to run into you downrange but not in the back of my aircraft.
    -These things we do that others may live.
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    Anthony · 10 years ago
    This is my first read and will not be my last.
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    keith martin · 10 years ago
    my son is with 2 Rfles A company 2 platoon, its a pity the british media do not report the war so well, thank you
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    hukart · 10 years ago
    someone should tell them that washing himself and clothes in a river is not a good idea when locl people use it for drinking watter.
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    Peter Montbriand · 10 years ago
    I'm curious what your load out on a mission like this is. The military folks call it "battle-rattle". How much are you lugging around on a hot day as opposed to the plucky Brit soldiers(you did mention that they're carrying 2x times you, right?)?
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    alexakim · 10 years ago
    Michael, you continue to do an amazing job. I wish I could put my money where my appreciation is, but I can't at this time.

    I ask for someone, or any number of someones out there who read your dispatches, to perhaps boost their contribution by a buck or two for me, until I can again.

    The black and white photo, evocative, mysterious, rich with stories the reader will want to know every word of. Wow.

    I continue to look to you for your reportage and continue to keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    I keep all Our Troops on my mind and in my prayers. Daily, throughout my day, grateful for the sacrifices they and their families make, and for their service.

    Please do let the Brits know that for sure this American values their friendship and amazing victories as if they were our own. Of course I pray for them too.

    Watch your 6.
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    Scott Dudley · 10 years ago
    For those interested

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    Former CH53 Crew Chi · 10 years ago
    If there is one person who I truly admire for the quality of his reporting it is Mike Yon. Once again Mike delivers with great work in his reporting on his embed with our British counterparts, who by the way look as professional as ever. Thanks so much for this story Mike, and thanks to all of our allied troops who are supporting the effort in Afghanistan and anywhere else in this troubled world. Thanks especially to 2 rifles A company for keeping Mike safe and reporting. I'd be proud to buy any of you a pint any time!
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    jrAnnapolis · 10 years ago
    Great work, as usual, from the Brits. Their contributions...on so many levels...are invaluable.
    I'll take issue with the following characterization: "...during the cowboy years since 2001, Afghanistan got worse". I don't consider Luttrell, Murphy, Axelson, and Dietz...just to name a small, but NOT insignificant representation...a bunch of cowboys. Out.
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    Aunt of 3 ANG · 10 years ago
    i read M Yon's blog from Iraq, and I got the impression that the British did a mighty good job while there and went thro everything our military did. Before that, i too thot the British just deserted their post. I take M Yon at his word. Many of our news broadcasts here in the US are not reliable in my opinion. They do not tell all the truth about the military. Fox News will give the military folks credit too. Oreilly donates proceeds from his books etc to help wounded warriors and another military group and ships cases of his book free of charge to soldiers overseas. One of the guys on Fox and Friends and Glen Beck donate proceeds from their books etc to good causes that benefit soldiers also. Therefore, I am more apt to believe what they say. I am glad that this site tells some about the various coalition soldiers from dif nations. So THANK YOU to all the coalition soldiers. I am thankful our military does not have to carry this burden alone.
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    Anni Golden · 10 years ago
    Every morning I check the news (USA) for the latest updates on Afghanistan. Sitting at my computer I check DOD sites, Twitter, etal. Then I do a reality check here. Thank you Michael. I pray the folks in D.C. read and give serious thought to your dispatches.
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    Ed Stockelbach · 10 years ago
    Stumbled on your site from defensetech.org, and posted your existence on the Galloping Beaver, exhorting people to come visit. http://thegallopingbeaver.blogspot.com/2009/08/brits-in-afghanistan.html You have taken the best pictures I have seen of our boys and girls in Afghanistan.
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    Josh · 10 years ago
    just wanted to say thanks for putting up such a terrific site. the men and women of the british army fully deserve the recognition you afford them.
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    COUNTRY · 10 years ago
    Thank you from the Pedros' on that flight 23 july. We enjoy working aside each one of you and WILL come in Guns A Blazing anytime for you guys!!!
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    Willie Mohan · 10 years ago
    Re the so called retreat from Basra. Nothing could be further from the truth. The decision to pull out was of course the work of our Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The Rifles who were the last battalion to pull out had beaten anyone who had come up against them. I am afraid it was as usual the craven and subjective media hounds who decided to call it a retreat and cast doubts on the quality of our troops. But as is well documented we have a Prime Minister who has spent his entire tenure as such,in denying the Armed Forces of the UK the resources they so badly need. Our Armed Forces are fighting in Afghanistan in order to protect the way of life we in the west take for granted and so our thoughts and best wishes go to all the Allied Forces in the Ghan. And it is gratifying to see the kind thoughts and generous comments posted from the USA which has been the bedrock and shield of our way of life for over 60 years and does not get the praise and gratitude it so richley deserves. PS I, unfortunately cannot agrue about the Royal Navy's debacle, the only good thing to come out of it was the committement to sink any Iranian vessel that came within spitting distance, but still the incident brought shame on all who hold the Navy in high regard. So keep up the good work Michael this old ex Para finds your reports not only incisive but also a great living picture of the boys doing the business.
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    Meg Barker · 10 years ago
    My son is in this coy and was with you on this patrol. I just wanted to say thank you Michael for a wonderful insight into what my son does on these patrols. He said you took lots of photos and I would love to view all these. Try and spot my son! Thank you again Michael. Meg
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    barbara jayne willia · 10 years ago
    looking through your photos i spotted my daughter cpl chelsea williams rifles 2. i was shocked to see her in action. shes been out there 6 months. im so very proud of her. shes home in a few days where she will b safe. some times i just wish she was a hairdresser , im so proud to have her as my daughter
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    pattie marsh · 10 years ago
    Thank you for the article it means so much to those of us at home who can only pray and watch for a chance to see our loved ones on the computer, I cannot imagine what they go through but you certainly helped .God Bless you for what you do. Pattie

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