The normally quite peaceful Michael Yon has a real go at British Media OPs in Afghanistan and their erstwhile lickspittle leader Bob Ainsworth. It shows the lengths that some within the MOD are going to cover-up some parts of the war in Afghanistan. The problem is that the truth hurts, but lies destroy. Without truth we cannot ever hope to defeat the enemy.
Michael starts out
The surprise discontinuation of my embedment from the British Army left my schedule in a train wreck. Until that decisive moment, I am told, that my embed with the British Army had lasted longer than anyone else’s; other than Ross Kemp’s. I’ve also been told that I’ve spent more time with the British Army in Iraq than any correspondent. So it’s fair to say, we have good history together.
In the last 12 months, I’ve been the assigned journalist to the British Army in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, then over to the jungles of Brunei to attend a man-tracking school, and again back in Afghanistan. During that time, I’ve also been with U.S. forces in Iraq, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. I’ve accompanied the Lithuanians in Afghanistan and also been downrange for months without any troops or official assignment.
This dispatch, and many others, should have been about soldiers at war. But it’s not. This dispatch is being written in downtown Kandahar City and I have not seen a soldier in days. The Taliban is slowing winning this city. There have been many bombings and shootings since I arrived in disguise.
But the real meat of the story is further into the article. Here are some selected quotes
Before going further, it is essential to underscore the importance of the “Media Ops” in the war. When Media Ops fails to help correspondents report from the front, the public misses necessary information to make informed decisions about the war. Many soldiers in the British Media Ops are true professionals who strive constantly to improve at their tasks and work very well with correspondents. Their professionalism and understanding of the larger mission—ultimate victory—provide an invaluable service to the war effort.
This very Major had earned a foul reputation among his own kind for spending too much time on his Facebook page. I personally saw him being gratuitously rude to correspondents. Some correspondents—all were British—complained to me that when they wanted to interview senior British officers, they were told by this Major to submit written questions. The Major said they would receive videotaped answers that they could edit as if they were talking with the interviewee. (Presumably, senior British officers are avoiding the tough questions, such as, “So, when do you plan to send enough helicopters?”)
When I asked a different Media Ops officer about meeting with a senior British General in Afghanistan, I was told that submitting a CV (curriculum vitae) would be helpful, to which I laughed. A CV? How about this:
For those who don’t know him, James Megellas is a retired U.S. Army officer who commanded Company “H” of the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 82nd Airborne Division during World War II. Maggie is the most-decorated officer in the history of the 82nd Airborne Division, having received a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and been nominated for the Medal of Honor. Maggie at 92 and is an extraordinary man. He can give an eloquent speech for an hour without a single written note.
He has spent a couple months in Afghanistan—in the worst places—and I plan to go back with him in December. He’s a true leader and a wise man, known to General McChrystal and General Petraeus. General Petraeus told me last week that CENTCOM had okayed Maggie’s trip to Afghanistan. Maggie is an American treasure. Last week in the Netherlands, “Maggie” was spending time General Petraeus and with European royalty, including Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. General Petraeus and World War II veterans stayed several days at the same hotel Maggie and I were in.
In Holland, folks were lining up to honor and pay tribute to our World War II veterans and General Petraeus. I didn’t want to distract General Petraeus with any questions while he was so busy. But on about the third day, there was a tap on my shoulder and I was told that General Petraeus had some time if I wanted to talk.
I asked the good General some tough questions on Afghanistan—the kind that would end discussions with timid people—yet, like normal, he fielded those questions with the candor that I so respect in him and have come to expect. The same has happened to me with the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and other top military leaders. Gates and Petraeus will field challenging, difficult questions and will take what you throw at them. Yet the British Media Ops in Afghanistan wants correspondents to submit written questions so they can provide tidy answers. That’s a sad joke and there are many correspondents, including me, who are not laughing.
When I deliver good news, out rolls the red carpet. Bad news, and it’s time to fight again. Only now it’s not Censoring Iraq, it’s Censoring Helmand. And it’s not the U.S. doing it this time, but the British government. The British people are demanding truth and they deserve accountability. They aren’t getting it from Camp Bastion.
Some of the Media Ops guys in Afghanistan are good at something such as threatening future access if a correspondent shows “attitude” about being poorly treated. My answer is go to hell. They can take their access and. . . . I work for the soldiers, for the readers, and for the people in general. If Media Ops chooses to be an obstacle, that is their choice.
Propaganda or Censorship?
Some of the smokescreens are less important but they are demonstrative of the pattern: On 20 August a, CH-47 helicopter was shot down by a Taliban RPG during a British Special Forces mission. Richardson reported that the aircraft landed due to an engine fire. Some hours later, while I was on a mission nearby, the Taliban were singing over the radios about shooting it down. I heard the rumble when the helicopter was destroyed by airstrikes. The Taliban knew they hit the helicopter. So who is Richardson lying to? Not the enemy…unless the enemy is the British public.
There is the maxim that a customer can judge the cleanliness of a restaurant’s kitchen by the restroom. After much experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have discovered another: Soldiers always treat correspondents they way they treat the local people. When soldiers treat correspondents badly, they treat local people even worse and are creating enemies. Those troops who brag about how they mistreat or detest correspondents are abusing and resentful of the local population, and they cannot win this sort of war. The people will kill them and the media will bash them and they will blame the people and the media. When a soldier alienates sympathetic correspondents, he has no real chance against mortal enemies such as the Taliban and al Qaeda, and they will defeat him. Yet there is subtlety: for “the people,” in the case of Media Ops, is you.
Meanwhile, as I noted British citizens began demanding answers from their government.
A question was asked and Minister of Defence Bob Ainsworth made public his reply:
Ann Winterton (Congleton, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Defense for what reasons the journalist Michael Yon is no longer embedded with British armed forces in Afghanistan.
Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 14 September 2009, c2121W)
Bob Ainsworth (Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence; Coventry North East, Labour)
Opportunities to embed with Task Force Helmand are in high demand from across the media—national, regional, print, broadcast, specialist and new media. It is not possible to meet all requests and slots must be time-limited to ensure that the opportunities are shared as widely as possible. A normal embed for a national news organisation will last on average around two to three weeks, including time for travel.
Michael Yon had been embedded with British forces on a number of occasions before his recent visit—twice in Iraq in 2007, and once in Afghanistan in 2008. His latest embed had been scheduled to last for two weeks but it was extended to take account of delays to his arrival.
In all, his stay was extended twice and he was embedded for five weeks—much longer than is normally the case, and longer than had been agreed with him before he went. He was facilitated by British forces in a number of locations and given a high level of access both to the operations and to our personnel. At the end of this five-week period Task Force Helmand ended his embed as they were no longer able to support it given their other commitments, including other media visits.
That’s hogwash, Mr. Ainsworth. Pure hogwash!
My relationship with the British military is not diminished and I would go into combat with their soldiers anytime. My respect for British soldiers is immense and undying. But I’m ready to throw down with Media Ops if they even glance in my direction. I refuse to work with the crew at Camp Bastion.
It’s hard to forget the Major’s cutting insults at the soldier who was training in the heat as a commendable young man. Any combat troop, whether they are pilots, PJs, sailors, special operations, or my favorite—the infantry—should never be the subject of jokes or derision from any military leader of any rank. The infantry soldiers are out there living like animals, taking bullets and getting blown up and, all while the Major sits back in his comfortable tent, playing on Facebook and watching The Simpsons. Those combat troops, British and American, are my family. That Major and his ilk should not cut fun of them.
Bottom line for the bad apples: Nobody is asking for access. This is not a game. Stay out of the way.