Michael's Dispatches

Two Firefights: One Video


July 2009, Sangin, Afghanistan.

05 October 2009

In July, British soldiers and I boarded a CH-47 helicopter at Camp Bastion for the flight to FOB Jackson at Sangin where fighting is brutal.  The helicopter was so stuffed with men, gear and supplies that the cargo was not even strapped down.  We steadied the long stack with our hands and prayed that the pilots not begin flying violent evasive maneuvers.  The tail gunner partially lifted the ramp to prevent bundles from tumbling into the skies, and that was it for securing the bundles.  Just a week before, a giant MI-26 helicopter was shot down on final approach to this same landing zone.  All aboard died in flames, as did two children on the ground.

This is, interestingly, the same landing zone where I would make the photos for “The Kopp-Etchells Effect” dispatch, which was published in many languages around the world.  Many readers have weighed in with ideas about the causes of the glow.  Some say the cause is St Elmo’s fire or the triboelectric effect, or perhaps the piezoelectric effect.  The actual cause does not seem to be surely known, according to J. Gordon Leishman, D.Sc.(Eng.), Ph.D., F.R.Ae.S., Minta Martin Professor of Engineering, Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s caused by angels.  It definitely is beautiful.

We landed and British Soldiers from “2 Rifles” swarmed in to help unload cargo.  Since I made this photo, at least two British CH-47s have been lost in combat operations, one of which was just north of here.

We need more gear and more forces now.  We can outfight these enemies and we can win the war, but at this rate a favorable outcome is difficult to imagine.  This war shows signs that it will become more intense than Iraq at its peak.  As with my twelve dispatches from 2006 warning that we were losing this war, the warnings over the past couple of years seem to be falling on incredulous ears.  We will lose the war unless we get more troops and more gear soon.

This weekend we lost eight more soldiers in a firefight.  I learned about it while they were still fighting, but did not report it until just before the media broke the story the next day.  Still unreported, to my knowledge, sources tell me that FOB Keating was destroyed and that troops were under siege for up to 24 hours before Air Force Para-rescue got them out.  (Subject to confirmation.)  The fighting will only intensify.  We can beat these guys, but not under current conditions.

The last two missions I did with British 2 Rifles ended in firefights.  Due to bandwidth difficulties, only a small part of the video was uploaded.  Those two firefights were melded into one short video.  These are just typical hum-drum day-in day-out missions, nothing like what happened this weekend in Nuristan.

Please click Firefights.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Terry Johnson · 11 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Schmedlap · 11 years ago
    Was that a Javelin fired in the video? Something else?
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    Lukas · 11 years ago
    Thanks for the video. ive already read the article of this mission, so it was interesting to see it in oving pictures ;-)
    And yes, that was a javelin...
    I hope youll be able to report again soon.
    take care.
    greetings from france
    Lukas R.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nani Kemp · 11 years ago
    My heart grieves, each time I hear the news of losing another brave, young warrior. I appreciate you mentioning how you spent those final days with them. I'm sure their loved ones appreciate it, too. I pray, everyday, that God will keep you & our soldiers, safe, & to give them victory, soon.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 11 years ago
    I have commented on this and other aspects of this battle. Go to comments and page down:


    Please read.

    Thank you

    Papa Ray
    Central Texas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Delaney · 11 years ago
    As BHO dithers, our guys die. So much for the genuineness of egO's commitment to fighting the Taliban. I can only imagine how adversely his indecisiveness is affecting morale there. Like why lay my life on the line if your own Cmdr-in-Chief's support is wavering--which it is. Shades of Vietnam again: we won the battles despite the odds, but lack of support and micromanaging by incompetent politicians back home rendered our sacrifices null and void.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 11 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/05/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Colin · 11 years ago
    Take the time to click on Guardino's article, http://tinyurl.com/y9pbcac
    Great post Papa Ray...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mikkel · 11 years ago
    Our boys are dying there and the politicians are doing what they can best. Stick their heads in the sand and fill their pockets with money. They just dont give a rats ass about Afghanistan. The election is over (in the USA) but not in the UK. Still time to make a change.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bart · 11 years ago
    The "problem" is, we live in democracies, not right-wing paramilitary dictatorships. Sending an army out to fight a war, properly equipped, requires considerable support on the home front. If you lose the war at home, you will definitely lose on the front line, no matter how brave and smart the troops. Insulting the C-in-C, throwing tomatoes, or worse, at elected representatives causes you to lose, not gain, necessary popular support. You cant possibly have successful COIN, hearts-and-minds in Afganistan, or anywhere else, if you dont have the brains to win the political debate in your own country!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 11 years ago
    It is very disturbing to me that the present jackanapes running this country regard our present military missions as nothing more than a distraction from their imperious goals of installing communism in America. They have blown off the Israelis and encouraged our enemies to do us harm. We are slowly creeping back to the same Jimmie Carter / Billary military malaise that caused many of the problems we have around the world today. A viable and ardent military threat is the only thing that is going keep our enemies at bay and eventually destroy them along with their ability to cause us trouble!
    I am not big fan of the corrupt MIC, but I do believe we need a strong military with world wide rapid deployment capability. We just need to clean the garbage out of the military contracting arena! We can give our troops at lot more for a lot less and still make money for the contractors. Our national security depends on it!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    "I can only imagine how adversely his indecisiveness...."

    Immediatly brings to mind, when Pres. Bush was informed that the country was under attack, he stared blankly ahead as My Pet Goat continued to be read. From what I am hearing, the military advisors, Gates, Petraeus, and McCristol are trying to come up with the best strategy options and we should wait until fully formed. A rash decision here could cause far more casualties. I am hoping for a winning epiphany but I hold out no hope.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    trashhauler · 11 years ago
    "Immediately brings to mind, when Pres. Bush was informed that the country was under attack, he stared blankly ahead as My Pet Goat continued to be read."

    That's hardly an analogous situation, since there was nothing any President could have done at that time, except finish what he was doing and get somewhere safe. He could have been sitting in the White House situation room and the practical effect would have been the same. So, that's a meaningless snark.

    The analogous situation was President Bush's decision to go with a surge in Iraq, despite conventional wisdom against it. Right or wrong, he made a decision, which is what president's get paid to do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rick James 2/11 ACR · 11 years ago
    We are so far into this fight, bases and camps setup ect ect ect...... "IF" 25,000 more troops will do the job.....lets just get it done...... Is 25,000 more troops enough to finish the job?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    pbjafa · 11 years ago
    Please... to date this whole conflict has been nonsense. Winning isn't even in the calculation because the strategy doesn't aim for that. To win you have to do specific things, sitting and waiting to be attacked doesn't cut it.
    Lets get realistic about the the situation.
    Afghanistan isn't a proper country, thats why it is a failed state, even if you could defeat the Talaban, it would still be a failed state. What are we going to do, pour money into it forever hoping it might turn into a proper country. The borders are arbitrary and nonsensical, the various peoples living within the boundaries have no common interest. The Pashtun are a separate everything from the, Tajiks, the aluch, Chahar Aimak, Turkmen, Hazara, Uzbek, Nuristani, Arab, Kirghiz, Pashai and Persian. We would do better to break the country up and divide it between states that actually could maintain their national integrity and rule of law.
    Next, if opium is such a big problem and Helmand is out of control, then dam the Helmand river, divert the water and turn it all into a screaming desert, that solves the opium problem, and the Talaban financing.
    As for the people, take a good look at the Malay emergency, they relocated the people into fortified hamlets, where they could be both protected, monitored and educated. If anyone thinks anything less is going to work here, then you are going to be pushing it up hill.
    Vietnam showed what happens if you don't have a functional, credible government in place. You are doomed before you even start. What plan is there to develop a self sustaining national government? There is none!
    Pakistan, there are rumors that a big Pakistani military push is getting lined up. Maybe it will happen, but in the meantime they have huge swathes of their country that are out of their control. If you can't control your country then it isn't your country. So invade the tribal areas and sort it. Anything less than that, and yes I know there are all sorts of reasons why you "can't"... means that you can't control Afghanistan either.
    Do, or do not, there is no try...
    Actually, unfortunately there is "try", its what we are doing, and badly, but it wont work, can't work and in the meantime we bleed lives and treasure.
    It is all nonsense, we wont do the things that need to happen in order to succeed.
    Do we even know what we want to succeed at?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Agnana · 11 years ago
    Seems to me there are three political dimensions here that are complicate the discussion. Many of the commenters, though not Mr. Yon, are ignoring them.

    1. The Afghan political dimension. I suspect the paradox that the Administration faces is the following. If we make it clear that our commitment to Afghanistan is unequivocal and open-ended, we basically write a blank check to the political elites to set up the kind of kleptocracy that Pakistan, Uzbekistan, etc. have- a government with no political legitimacy broadly. Sp we set ourselves up for long-term failure. But if we threaten to pull out, we embolden the Taliban and set ourselves up for short-term failure. One question I would like to see addressed in these despatches- is it possible to win the war militarily while not losing it politically in the long term?

    2. The Pakistani political dimension. We have been engaged in a war for the past eight years against at least part of the security services of a nominal ally. If our effort in the northern part of "Pushtunistan" simply pushes the enemy over the border into Pakistan and closer to nuclear weapons- have we really helped the cause of civilization?

    . The American political dimension. Far too many people see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way of "scoring points" against their political opposition at home. Bush and Cheney did this up to the 2006 election and it is a major reason that the war in Iraq was nearly lost. I very much fear that Joe Biden is doing the same thing now from the left. Using our troops on the ground to win points in debates over health policy is just wrong. One of the big reasons I respect Mr. Yon is that doesn't try to frame the situation on the ground in terms of what the domestic political impact would be- i.e. who get's a bigger share of the Washington power pie. We desperately need more of his brand of truth-telling but also leadership from within Washington to depoliticize the discussion over how to best fight this war.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 11 years ago
    As long as we let them run amok across the border, tragic events like this wil keep happening. The Paki's keep stringing us along, "no you can't do that"...NO you cannot strike in Balochistan...WAKE UP WEST!!! The afghan gov is corrupt and has NO credibility. We are beyond the "mess" stage now, and i cannot fathom WHY there was no CAS for those guys besieged by over 200 hadji's. Maybe we should start using nape again...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Delaney · 11 years ago
    If the challenges in Afghanistan are so insurmountable, as some of the commenters here have suggested, then let's pull out NOW and let the chips fall where they may. And fall they will. But, at least American blood will not be needlessly shed for what so many here may believe is a lost cause. In the final analysis, a war, no matter how well planned or executed, cannot be won without unity of purpose back home. We learned that in Vietnam.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mad Dog · 11 years ago
    Great video, but saw one unfinished product by G SM titled Combat Rescue Afghanistan 2009 right next to yours. Worth a peak as it is PEDROS in action.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Georgia · 11 years ago
    Policy, strategy, resources and tactics--in that order--with periodic reaassessment. Obama announced his policy for Afghanistan in late March, along with an outline of his strategy. He'd already chosen his new commander by then, and ordered him to provide reports on the situation in Afghanistan--dire--and the resources necessary for the US, NATO and the Afghans to defeat AQ and the various elements of the Taliban. In the wake of the rigged election, some re-evaluation of how the nation-building effort will be carried out was deemed necessary. I agree--it was. Rather than focus on building the national gov't, as Dubya did, shift the nation-building effort to focus on local and provincial gov'ts and let Karzai rot in Kabul.

    Behind the scenes, we negotiate with the Pashtuns. Like the Kurds, they want their own state. Like the Kurds, they cannot be permitted to have it now. They must be convinced of that and the need for them to settle for autonomy within Afghanistan. Thanks to the wasted time and lives of the last seven-plus years, there is not the political will to fight a protracted conflict, we will never get enough forces into Afghanistan to win a straight-up guerilla war and if the situation doesn't improve dramatically before the end of next year, the NATO forces will leave. So the goal is to strike a deal with the Pashtuns so they split with the other elements of the Taliban (radical Islamists and some of the warlords) and AQ. With the help of the Pashtuns, they can be dealt with in fairly short order. All the while the nation-building effort and the training effort continue, so that by the end of 2011 the end of the conflict is in sight and the Afghans can be left to run their own affairs.

    That's my idea of what the path forward needs to be. Obama seems to be following the priorities I set out at the start of this post (unlike Dubya) so I think there's a chance he'll make proper decisions and succeed where his predecessor dithered, wasting time, lives and goodwill.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kev S · 11 years ago
    Great reporting, keep telling it how it is.
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    Mountain Fox 8 · 11 years ago
    In a demonstration of the clear evidence that we have now entered the surreal, our C in C, the same person who cannot seem to garner enough to time to prosecute the "War of Necessity" or even call his ground commanders and discuss strategy on a regular basis, has been awarded the what?

    The Nobel Peace Prize.

    Not Chinese dissidents fighting for freedom, not Iranians trying to seek a moderate government and not even members of Code Pink who have spent at least 8 years "seeking peace". No, the idiots of Oslo award it to a man whose only real accomplishment is flying around the world at great taxpayer expense apologizing for US efforts and actions. To make this even more interesting, he was nominated only 2 weeks after taking office. At least they waited a while for Carter and he got Sadat and Begin to shake hands.

    Folks, Michael, keep your head down. This jackassery of symbolism can only bode badly for the fight in Afghanistan...

    MF8 out.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mac · 11 years ago
    Question for you Michael. Would there be a point to deploying armor such as Bradley/Warrior to this chunk of Helmand? From your earlier reporting and this last video it looks as though the terrain is favourable and the squaddies could use the help. Do you think it would be worth the added log strain?
    Stay safe out there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gerry · 11 years ago
    Merry Christmas everybody.

    I am a retired Canadian-ex RCAF, and I create slide shows as a hobby.This show is a 2009 Christmas Greeting to the Canadian Armed Forces.

    h8hiHDZ44U?autoplay=1" data-image="https://img.youtube.com/vi/ h8hiHDZ44U/hqdefault.jpg">
    h8hiHDZ44U" class="jcm-player-title" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= h8hiHDZ44U

    Enjoy and please pass it on to the troops, their families, friends and forums or blogs you may visit.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    lisa cameron · 11 years ago
    im aaron aamot s aunt we lost him in battle nov.5 i swore a hundred times i would write him and my chance is over so i am writing this to tell u all keep up the good work my prayers r with u all happy holidays and thank u
  • This commment is unpublished.
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