Michael's Dispatches

The Bridge

64 Comments

Mission—March 1

On Monday, March 1st, an element from 5/2 SBCT was about to embark on a mission from KAF, up Highway 4 and into the Arghandab district, west of Kandahar.  I was reading Afghan news just before breakfast when the latest report appeared claiming that Canada is preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan. That would create problems, considering BG Menard is commanding US combat troops.

At 7:35 a.m. I had just left breakfast en route to grab body armor for the mission when Karuummphh. . . . Having heard a thousand IEDs and car bombs during the last five years, something sounded wrong.  Four miles away as the crow flies, the mushroom cloud could be seen.

A suicide car bomb had exploded on the Tarnak River Bridge, killing civilians and sending a heavily armored MRAP off the bridge. According to reports later that morning, the suicide bomber apparently had waited in ambush and had pulled into the convoy as it crossed the bridge.

American Soldier Ian Gelig was killed while comrades were wounded.

Our mission that day would have included driving over the Tarnak River Bridge.  The suicide bomb damaged the structure. We could not cross. The mission was scrubbed and rolled back 24 hours.

Next morning, Tuesday, we made another go at the mission, and were strapped into the MRAPs and ready to roll when a FIPR text message scrolled on the MRAP computer that vehicles attempting an alternate route across a riverbed were getting stuck. (The riverbed was mostly dry, but just a short rain could render it impassable to any traffic.)

With this mission cancelled due to the bridge destruction, I started asking commanders who exactly was in charge of security for that bridge. Everyone said TF-K.  Inside the TOC (HQ), I found Colonel Harry Tunnell, Brigade Commander of 5/2, who was busy reading some reports, and asked him who was in charge of security of that bridge.  “Was it 5/2?”  I asked.  No, answered Colonel Tunnell, TF-K is responsible for the bridge.  I clarified, TF-K, meaning Task Force Kandahar. The commander is Brigadier General Menard, Yes?  “Yes,” answered Colonel Tunnell.  So General Menard is responsible for that bridge, yes?  “Yes,” answered the Colonel. Like most American soldiers who have worked with Canadians, Colonel Tunnell generally holds Canadian soldiers in high regard.  He probably didn’t realize where this was leading.  Nor did I.

With time on hand because of the cancelled missions, I spent the afternoon researching who exactly failed to secure the bridge.  The attack happened Monday.  This was still Tuesday.

Wednesday, I wrote on Facebook:

Task Force Kandahar, responsible for security of the bridge that was blown up on Monday, happens to be under Canadian command. This is causing friction. The Canadian government has clearly signaled that it will quit Afghanistan, yet a Canadian General is commanding US combat forces and resources -- all while allowing a strategically important bridge to be blown up. American officers have been held accountable by Americans for shortcomings in Afghanistan. Our combat soldiers should not be commanded from a country that is quitting the fight. The bridge fiasco on Monday underlines that fact. With our next big offensive set for Kandahar, command should be with British and U.S. forces. Canada needs to step out of the way.

Though numerous sources had confirmed that BG Daniel Menard was responsible for the bridge, the Facebook reports were provoking an array of responses, many of which were centered around hockey and nationalism rather than the strategic bridge.  [Note: the entire Facebook dialogue remains public.]

Captain Adam Weece, Brigade Public Affairs Officer at 5/2, emailed to me:

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: FOUO

Just got another update- RAF is responsible for things leading to KAF, not Kandahar City. Bottom line, it's a messy gray area that has changed hands a few times.

v/r
CPT Adam Weece
BDE Public Affairs Officer
5/2 ID (SBCT), Afghanistan

Michael Yon email to Adam Weece:

What is bottom line? Who has responsibility for security of that bridge?  Messy gray area is worse than black and white.  Messy gray area means at least two commands are fully responsible.

Adam Weece to Michael Yon:

When we (Stryker) assumed the FOM mission, TFK assumed security for the bridge.

Michael to Adam:

Okay, Adam, but this does not specifically say that TF-K had responsibility for security of the bridge at the moment that it was blown up. That's the only answer that is needed.  Who had responsibility at the moment the bomb detonated?

Adam:

Michael- I'm writing this out so it's clear. The bridge falls within the GDA or Ground Defense Area, responsibility of which is mutually shared by the Royal Air Force and TFK, depending on the intent of the missions occurring there. If activity there involves the security of Kandahar City then it is the responsibility of the RAF. If activity there involves just the area - like GR and D projects or maintaining the roadway - then it falls under TFK's responsibility. TFK is responsible for repairing the bridge.

END

So we’ve gone from TF-K is solely responsible to TF-K is partly responsible to we don’t really know who is responsible, meaning, at a bare minimum, the General Officers in RC-South and TF-K are responsible.

On Wednesday evening Colonel Tunnell called me into his office, pulled out a marker and began to explain matters on the white board.  Colonel Tunnell was open and answered every hard question.

Approximate 'Ops Box' around actual image of Tarnak River Bridge.

Colonel Tunnell said that TF-K Area of Operations is Kandahar, but the specific area around the bridge had been assigned to GDA (RAF), and that when units such as those from 5/2 conducting route clearance, or 82nd Airborne, drive over the bridge, they enter what’s called an “Ops Box.”

In this case, the Ops Box is a transit zone over the bridge.  Transiting units radio up to RC-South “CJOC” saying they are entering the Ops Box, and call when they leave.

While GDA is responsible for the ground, TF-K is responsible for the ground around the ground and the ANP on the bridge, while TF-Stryker is responsible for the road but not the bridge or the ground around the bridge.

[Important point: Our people/NATO cannot stop bombs from exploding, nor can they stop people who are guarding the bridge from being killed.  Someone must be on the outside perimeter checking vehicles. Some of those people inevitably get killed. Though bombs cannot be stopped, they can be kept off the bridge. This bridge should never have been blown up.]

In response to my Facebook entries, TF-K was swinging back in the press, speaking through willing Canadian voices:

Military rebuffs blogger's call for top Canadian general to be fired

This was going to be a good one: whenever the mainstream media disapproves, they call me a “blogger.”  (Incorrectly; I don’t have a blog and only ran one for some months back in 2005.) When they approve of my work or opinion pieces, they refer to me as an “author,” or “war correspondent.”

Media outlets chose to cite a source that ignored the fact that a strategic bridge was attacked, and instead focused on diversions, such as the timing of the Olympics, versus the damage to a strategic bridge under the very nose of a NATO general.  This diversion might serve to illustrate the ratings-driven focus from “news” outlets seeking manufactured, inconsequential controversy.

TF-K, for its part, tried to divert attention from the central issue, by introducing stresses created when US soldiers are under Canadian command. There is only one important thread: A strategic bridge was badly damaged because best practice for keeping it secure was not followed. A General was responsible.  This controversy never would have occurred if Brigadier General Daniel Menard had secured the bridge several miles outside the gate from his office. He probably heard the explosion.

The failure of Canwest reporters—Canada’s largest media conglomerate—to grasp or acknowledge the point of the story, sadly reinforces the fact that the mainstream media has failed abjectly in accurately reporting the Iraq and Afghan wars. No media outlet acknowledged the importance of the bridge, if they even noticed.

This had become a media chess match.  I used Facebook to sling a stone, while the TF-K Goliath used Canwest for cover.

General Menard denied responsibility.  If true, this meant the commander of RC-South, Major General Nick Carter, was responsible.

Yet by Thursday afternoon, more than three days since the attack, nobody would answer who was currently responsible for the bridge. This was getting surreal.

With TF-K jumping for cover, the only thing left was to take it up a level.

My Facebook:

Menard vs. Carter

Bridge failure heating up:

TF-K has, for all intents and purposes, blamed RC-South for allowing the bridge to be attacked on Monday, resulting in the death of a US soldier and serious damage to a vital bridge. The controversy has reached the respective Generals at TF-K and RC-South. For those who understand the dynamics here, Brigadier General Daniel Menard (TF-K boss) has shifted the blame to Major General Nick Carter (RC-South boss).

This has become a dinosaur fight -- Menard vs. Carter. Little people can get crushed.

END

The Bridge

On Thursday, 4 March, three days after the bombing, traffic was flowing, including the fuel trucks from Pakistan.  Normal trade was resuming and cancelled missions restarted.  Crucial time was gone.

My Afghan cell phone rang. A British voice at the other end asked if I had time to talk with Brigadier General Hodges at 1710, about two hours later. I said sure.

Then came word that a 5/2 soldier had just been killed and others wounded, so I sat for a while.  The soldier’s body was on the way back to KAF and the family apparently had not yet been notified.

At 1710 the meeting with BG Ben Hodges began in his office.  A U.S. Naval officer, a British officer from Scotland, BG Hodges and me; I was there to answer only two questions:  Which Coalition partner was responsible for the bridge on Monday? And, who is responsible for it now?  General Hodges explained a bit about battle spaces. Then he said, squarely, that he, himself was the responsible officer. I didn’t believe him, but did not say so. He insisted that it was his fault. He took that bullet for—who? More to the point, he claimed responsibility for the security of the bridge going forward, knowing he would be under scrutiny. He won my instant respect. I believed he was trying to solve the problem and get on with war fighting. When he took responsibility, I said something like, “That was very courageous, Sir.”

As far as I was concerned, General Hodges ended the matter by taking the bullet, though now I had to summarize for people at home.

Facebook:

Summary of meeting with Brigadier General Ben Hodges: The result was unexpected. General Hodges courageously accepted full responsibility. My respect for him doubled in about 30 seconds. Henceforth, Strykers will "own" the bridge. Bottom line: problem solved. BREAK. Something very important came up tonight [was the death of a Stryker soldier], so will give accounting Friday. The accounting will include an apology from me to General Menard.

In apology to BG Menard, I should not have demanded that he be fired so early in the process, despite that my assertion that he was responsible has proven true. I should never have mentioned hockey, as that created room for a diversion from the central importance.  Brigadier General Menard clearly was not the only responsible party for this strategic bridge that his soldiers depend upon. To single out BG Menard was a mistake, despite that he was ultimately responsible for the ANP.

Some hours after the meeting with BG Hodges, after midnight, there was another ramp ceremony at KAF.  BG Hodges was there along with many others from Canada, Australia, UK, the US and other countries.  A Marine was going home for the last time, alongside the soldier from 5/2 who had been killed earlier in the day.  Helicopters and jets were nearly constant, and so loud that I could not hear the chaplain.  Just in the background, across the busy runway, in the darkness, was Tarnak River Bridge. Ian Gelig had died there on Monday and been flown home from this same ramp.

Thursday night, two flag-draped coffins were delivered by MRAPs next to the runway. Comrades lifted their coffins onto the C-17.  Stryker soldier Anthony Paci and Marine Nigel Olsen were going home.  Hundreds of troops from different nations saluted one last time.  The ramp closed and the jet flew into the night.

[Final note: About twenty troops have been killed in Afghanistan during the days since the Tarnak Bridge Bombing.  A close source conveyed that Task Force Kandahar, under BG Daniel Menard, will henceforth be tasked with the security for Tarnak River Bridge, and that Task Force Stryker and the RAF are not responsible for the bridge.]

 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    CaptainMike · 11 years ago
    It is rather obvious that "Kit" and "CQMS" are nothing more than some oddball species of internet troll, It's best to just ignore them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack · 11 years ago
    Jack E. Hammond wrote, "Unlike the US, Canada has a small army. It just does not have the depth like the US military and other worlds military's ground forces which can rotate battalion or brigades in and out of Afghanistan. For the number of soldiers and the size of their ground forces, Canada has taken a pretty big hit in Afghanistan. It is other NATO nations (German being the main one) that let us down in Afghanistan. Not CANADA."

    Partially true ... Canada's military is very small, but I believe it is much smaller than it should be and can be. Canada neither spends enough to defend itself nor contributes its fair share to its collective defense commitment as a member NATO. Canada spends about 1.1% of GDP on defense, just above half of the 2.0% NATO treaty "mandated" minimum, and less than a quarter of the percentage of GDP the U.S. spends. In essence, Canada, and most other NATO nations freeload on American defense spending, and have for sixty years.

    I'm not saying that the U.S. hasn't gained from this arrangement, only that such altruism is not sustainable. Current U.S. budget woes demonstrate that America cannot fund both the level of defense spending needed to meet its military commitments around the world and it's current welfare entitlements … let alone the kind of comprehensive cradle-to-grave welfare regimen, including universal health care, provided by most EU and NATO nations.

    The question is, what happens to NATO (and South Korea, Japan, Israel, etc.) when the U.S. inevitably slashes real defense spending? The EU possesses a GDP larger than the U.S., yet spends so little cumulatively on defense that it has proven itself unable even to address issues in their own back yard (e.g., the Balkans mess), until the Americans participate.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kit · 11 years ago
    Interviewee:
    William Drozdiak, President, the American Council on Germany

    Interviewer:
    Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, CFR.org
    Council on Foreign Relations

    March 2, 2010

    In criticizing Europe for not paying its share of NATO's costs, Gates said NATO troops don't have enough helicopters, tanks, and other equipment. Is this because of the budget crisis through the world?

    It's because in Europe there is no security threat on the horizon, while there was one during the Cold War days, so it's harder to get voters to accept that they need to spend more on defense. Europeans now spend about 1.7 percent on average of their gross domestic product on defense, with the United States spending 4 or 5 percent. But the real problem has been the concern within Europe that continuing the war against the Taliban is not going to bring about a long-term peaceful solution and that European politicians have a hard time convincing their public that fighting on behalf of the regime of President Hamid Karzai--which is widely viewed as corrupt--is a worthy cause.

    December 10, 2009
    OTTAWA—A new report shows that Canada’s rising National Defence spending is $21.185 billion in 2009-2010, making Canada’s rank 1 th highest in the world, and 6th highest among NATO’s 28 members, dollar for dollar. (The 15 countries with the highest spending in the world account for over 81% of the total)
    -"Canadian Military Spending 2009" is published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Bill Robinson is a defence analyst and senior adviser of the Rideau Institute.

    BTW, for Canada and Nato, it's currently 1. % of GDP. Still, size wise, the military is small. We only have a population of . million and so far doesn't look likely we'll be a military nation like North Korea, or Israel, etc.

    Still, not that shabby - all things considered for a country that not many country's have a beef with. Canada, is not a permanent member of the UN security council, ie, U.S. France, Uk, Russia and China. Those 5 permanent members have a mandate to be a "Great Power" that can project their military muscle around the globe. The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful body of the United Nations. The Security Council can authorize the deployment of troops from United Nations member countries, mandate cease-fire during conflict, and can impose economic penalties on countries.

    So what good is Canada?

    The Global Peace Index is an attempt to quantify the difficult-to-define value of peace and rank countries based on over 20 indicators using both quantitative data and qualitative scores from a range of sources. The top ranking nations on the global peace index were, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Austria, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Finland, and Slovenia.

    Or, there are potentially other strengths:

    From Embassy, Canada's Foreign Policy Newspaper By Carl Mayer, March 10th, 2010:

    Less than 48 hours after an earthquake devastated Haiti, Canadian soldiers were en route to help provide security, humanitarian aid and other assistance.

    The speed of the response—a sharp contrast to previous Canadian military endeavours—did not pass without notice. Their speed and effectiveness in deployment were and are unsurpassed in the world."

    In an overview of required capabilities for force projection, Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, the head of the Canadian Navy, as well as the other chiefs of staff, pointed to rapid deployment as one of their preferred policies during a presentation at the Conference of Defence Associations. Vice-Admiral McFadden, who talked optimistically about the idea, said it such deployments are a clear example of "what we do."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt · 11 years ago
    We're all frustrated over the way the war is progressing, regarless of whether or not you agree with its cause. But (as an American), I don't like this idea of blaming Canada, or any other ally, for one reason in particular: we need to be supporting the troops. I think it's been clearly demonstrated here that Canadian soldiers are exceptional fighters, dedicated to help cleaning up the mess in the middle east. When we start putting targets on each other's backs, however, even if someone in charge is responsible for a tragety that could have been prevented, I can't help but think that it trickles down to the troops under that leadership and affects their morale. So if nothing else, when diagnosing a problem on this scale, care must be taken so that it doesn't seem we are at all degrading the brave men and women who are dying alongside us.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack · 11 years ago
    Good post by Kit. A key sentence is "It's because in Europe there is no security threat on the horizon, while there was one during the Cold War days, so it's harder to get voters to accept that they need to spend more on defense." If that is the attitude of European populations and governments, NATO should be saluted for its accomplishments, and shut down.

    Trouble is, if a security threat arises, it is likely to happen more quickly than an adaquate responding military build-up can be executed, given the long lead times to develop and produce modern weapon systems. This is especially true because governments and populations will stay in denial as long as possible due to constraints on their spending.

    The U.S. will face this too once it inevitably cuts its spending sharply. Given Europe's experience, a U.S. spending 2.0% or so of GDP on defense is likely to find itself hard-pressed to defend just it's continental heartland against an aggressor. American defense platforms are rapidly becoming obsolescent, and are not being replaced adaquately by next generation systems. This trend will only become worse as dollars dry up.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Deidre · 11 years ago
    Well, boys, it's days late and I've never been deployed, in service, or married to it, but all this back and forth between Kit and others is incredibly tiresome. Kit seems to like insulting Americans. I like Americans. I am an American. I am an American by birth. I love the American military. I do not take kindly to those who think it charming to accuse Americans of drinking the koolaid (a reference, unfortunately, a crazy American leftist/communist/dictator named Jim Jones). So, Kit, as my dear ole Daddy used to say, "Blow it out your barracks bag."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kit · 11 years ago
    A subtle influence on a highly self-regarding and insular discussion group that deludes them into agreeing to dubious assumptions and plans on the basis that everyone else seemed to think it was a good idea... or at least no one wanted to be the one to speak up in dissent.

    It mentally shortcuts past the process of examining risks and alternatives, assuming that of course the others have taken them into due consideration.

    - The short and easy definition of Groupthink - longer ones are easy to find.

    To blindly follow and support a cause, sports team, religion, protest, political figure, etc. without first looking into it or researching it

    -definition of the phrase 'Drinking the kool-aid'

    Related to - groupthink.

    I think you fall into one of the major symptoms: Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

    Btw, what's all the love, and 'I am''s got to do with it? and, I didn't coin that phase, nor am I the only one to see Americans drinking the 'kool-aid' (retired US Army officer, W. Patrick Lang, comes to mind - that was the name of the article!) there are literally hundreds, mainly within your own country. Although, I may be the only one to point it out regarding this specific topic to which I specifically was referring the phrase to, that being the topic of 'The Bridge' and the facebook comments.

    But thanks for reinforcing my observation.... Pick a flavor.

    Read the comments on Army to Army, it's not just here:

    >>It also scares me how most, not everyone, but most seem to trust the words of Michael Jon blindly, with any critical consideration. I have seen very few posts here that actually seem to critizise or atleast have a somewhat open view on the matter. Makes me think slightly about a totalitarian state where no other views are accepted.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 11 years ago
    Folks,

    This message is sort of late and I have a feeling I might be the only one to read it even, but I thought someone should post what has happened after that bridge was damaged so bad it could not be used. Below is a link to some photos of the Canadian combat engineers making a temp repair to that bridge. I had to use tinyurl.com to shrink the web address as it is on Militaryphotos.net very long.

    Jack E. Hammond

    http://tinyurl.com/yjrkomq

    .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DFraser · 11 years ago
    Very silly debate. My Yon was no doubt a very good soldier but his understanding of command relationships in a coalition warfare is limited. Most of the gray area here was created by Mr Yon through a creative use of word smithing which makes him an interesting blogger. Unfortunately, his inability to be detached from his blogging make him a poor source of news reporting. Indeed, his attempt to drive a wedge between coalition partners make him more useful to the Taliban and Bin Laden than to the NATO, Canada or the USA.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Richard in Toronto · 11 years ago
    I'm a civilian, never been in the military, but it seems to me that having so many nations with no straightforward command structure is a recipe for this sort of mess. It happened, let's try to learn from it and instead of taking potshots at each other let's support our troops, from whichever country and get on with the war. My view on this is that our soldiers are great, but they are bogged down by bureaucratic infighting. I wish all the best to all of our soldiers in Afghanistan!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ОМОН РА · 9 years ago
    О чем речь???
  • This commment is unpublished.
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