Three strikes…


War journalist and active blogger, Michael Yon, has been disembedded from US forces in Afghanistan. As the saying goes, what goes around, comes around…while Yon offers a valuable hearts and minds service to families of deployed service people, his conduct as a precious prima donna with a predilection for shooting from the lip has obviously not made him any friends in GEN McCrystal’s headquarters.

The saga unraveled on Facebook (the dates may be a little out owing to the dodgy datestamps that Facebook applies to posts):

10 April. Got word from military today. Am being disembedded as of 30 April. No idea why. Not a big deal. Not going to fight it this time. Will cover Battle for Kandahar from outside the wire from the Afghan perspective. (Still some dispatches in the pipeline.)

Lunch with Afghans was not so good today. Just bread, rice and taters. The beans usually are good but they were out. Insofar as being disembedded, it’s been said that I’ve spent more time with the military at war than anyone in U.S. history. I do not know that this is true but it sounds good. It’s been a long road that I’ve been lucky to survive. Am looking forward to more work outside the wire.

11 April. Have sent a message to Public Affairs:

Response from military re embed cancellation just arrived. Important to consider that I invested heavily in time/expense to stay with 5/2 SBCT to the end. I came at invitation of 5/2 SBCT and they understood that I was coming for a long embed. Having done this work more than anyone during at least the last two wars, I strongly believe that this decision had to be blessed by a General officer. Will say it clearly: I do not trust General McChrystal or his PAO staff to honestly report to the American public.

I must leave Afghanistan to get a visa and will come back alone. Important to bear in mind that though I am best known for my work with troops, have spent a great deal of time outside the wire. Have written far less about that time, but it has informed my writing and the record is clear that I have called the trajectory of Iraq and Afghanistan as well or better than anyone, and typically far ahead of the pack. This comes from hard work and constant study of the people involved. (Not studying what they say, but what they do and who they are.)Operating with combat troops is very, very dangerous. It is in fact a relief to me (if unfortunate for readers) to get the boot; my chances of emerging from the war with all my arms, legs, eyes and life are probably 5x higher when going alone. There is a journalistic-swagger to going alone which is perpetuated by those who refuse or mostly refuse to go into combat. Reality is that danger and discomfort typically are far higher with combat troops. I know the military side very well. Contacts are vast and varied. Going alone will hardly diminish my access to intelligence, opinions, and operations. I just won’t be getting shot at or picking up arms and legs after a bomb.

So this is Adios to combat with the military, and Hello to streets of Afghanistan and elsewhere, and to halls of influence in power centers around the world where the decisions are made.

This email just in from Public Affairs:

First, thanks for all the great work you’ve done since arriving in February. I hope the three months you’ve spent here was what you hoped for and that you’ve gotten all the support you’ve needed.  Unfortunately, we have an extremely long wait list of other professional journalists (81!) that we need to give an opportunity. We’d love for you to come back at some point and I wish you the best in your remaining time here and safe travels in the future.

12 April. Got messages today from high level that military reversed decision on my embed and can stay. Unfortunately I have already made definitive moves to leave. To change now would be expensive and would likely upset others. This work is expensive in every way. Not smart to change directions so quickly. Too late. Also had to kindly decline to go back with British. Carpet has been pulled out from my feet for final time.

13 April. Email just sent to General McChrystal’s Media Man:

Rear Adm. Smith,
I’m a writer embedded with U.S. Forces in RC-South. RC-South PAO recently apprised me that the embed was ended. This happened precipitously and for dubious cause. Cited cause: embed overcrowding. I rarely see journalists. Those journalists I see have been doing drive-by reporting. Having embedded before, the PAO pattern is familiar and predictable.
Am with 5/2 SBCT. It was agreed, as prerequisite of my coming back with infantry, that I would stay with 5/2 to RIP. As a matter of business, these moves are expensive and time consuming. When the military fails to uphold its side, persistent problems are created from air.
After extracting from the field to KAF after PAO notification, was told by 5/2 Commander that I am welcome to stay. I am considering this offer but need assurance by your office that PAOs will go through you before disembedding me.
And so it’s down to you, Sir.
Shall I stay or shall I go?
Very Respectfully,

Michael Yon

15 April. Response came in from Rear Admiral Smith (General McChrystal’s Media Man): Michael, I understand both the IJC and HQ ISAF PA shops are aware and working to resolve. They should be back to you shortly. ATB, GjS

McChrystal’s crew has spoken: Embed is ended. This comes from McChrystal’s own spokesman (through one CPT Jane Campbell USN cc RADM Greg Smith and COL Wayne Shanks USA). This lends confirmation to ideas that the disembed came from McChrystal’s crew. (If not before, 100% now.) McChrystal cannot be trusted to tell the truth about this war. Packing my bags.

The disembed from McChrytal’s top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?

Bottom line? Good riddance… Michael Yon needs to go away for a while, get a life and consider his relationship with the hand that feeds him. Maybe all the adulation from his fans has gone to his head and he actually has begun to believe that he is some kind of water-walking super-journo but he’s had his three strikes and then some with his public attacks on US allies in Afghanistan like Canada and Spain, his recent attacks on President Karzai (he is probably right but there are limits to what am embed can write), and his accusations of dishonesty in the highest echelons of GEN McCrystal’s keadquarters. While I don’t agree with the current Cursed Earth strategy in Afghanistan, it is a big leap from there to the dishonesty and corruption claimed by Yon.

Perhaps when Michael Yon grows up a little, he may realise that the easiest way to deal with a thorn in one’s side is to rip it out and discard it. All the good Michael Yon has done promoting the human side of this war, has been undone by his inability to bite his tongue and see a bigger picture and a world that does not revolve around him. In time, I hope he does come back, but wiser and stronger…

FOB Frontenac, Afghanistan. Under an early morning sky, a red glow is cast from the lights on an Air Force water drilling rig. (c) Michael Yon 28 March 2010

Edit: Michael Yon has pointed that my original Tui on his disembedment gave the impression that he had stated “I am a victim” which he had not so I have amended the ‘billboard’ accordingly.

14 thoughts on “Three strikes…

  1. Yeah…how ever will he manage to go it alone while carrying that huge ego around? Perhaps that expense he’s talking about involves hiring Sherpas to haul it over the mountainous terrain.

    First shutting down the T.G.I.Fridays in Kandahar and now kicking out Yon…sounds like McChrystal is on the right track.

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    • “Can’t help but agree…and at least you didn’t ‘told you so’!”

      I was just biding my time…Allow me to bask in the glory of my own foresight.

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  2. So it is your opinion that as an embedded journalist, Michael should be censored? I am referring to “there are limits to what am embed can write”. Until you get off your ass and go report from Afghanistan, maybe you should refrain from belittling others with the courage to not only be there in the first place, but to write the truth as they see it. Personally, I don’t want to hear from any reporter who doesn’t have the balls to speak his/her mind about what they feel to be the truth. They can be wrong, that is forgivable, but to censor themselves is not.

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    • Sorry (not really) but not once have I proposed that Michael Yon be subject to any form of censorship other than that which any adult might apply to themselves while in polite company. He is NOT a roaming unaffiliated reporter – he is a journalist embedded with ISAF forces which implies an element of responsibility on his part in what he writes and publishes.

      If you took in a dog, perhaps because your kids like it and it’s kinda useful around the house chasing rats and birds and warning of intruders, how far would you tolerate it if it keep snapping and biting your friends? If you run a business, how long would you put up with an employee, partner or maybe even a client that consistently rattled of accusations of dishonesty and incompetence at you and your staff, and openly attacked your business partners, more often than not with only a tenuous grasp on the facts.

      Of course, you wouldn’t put up with this, anymore that GEN McCrystal has to put up with an embedded reporter who is only too quick to take whatever he can get from ISAF in terms of access and mobility but who is equally quick to foster dissension with the force, erode confidence in command, make blanket accusations without much if any research or balance. Michael Yon is like a spoiled teen who wants everything his own way but who fails to grasp that life is a two-way street. He attempted to railroad HQ ISAF into re-embedding him by publishing his correspondence with it and then, when he still didn’t get his own way, reverts back to unsubstantiated accusations of dishonesty and incompetence directed at GEN McCrystal.

      Yon is a great photography and worthy of recognition in the relevant awards but as a journalist, he is only an average writer and his research is shallow at best. He is not an experienced and mature soldier who brings the experience and maturity of a career soldier, who has worked within and understands the art of war, to his work. He left the US Army well over 20 years ago, after only fours years service, and ot the best of my knowledge has not spent any significant time since in any organisation that might provide that rounding maturing experience…

      As I said, he does a great job job showing the human side of these wars but needs to take some time out to realise that it is not all about him and that he does more damage than good when he strays from covering those people stories he does so well to the political arena where he is so obviously well out of his depth…

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    • I’d argue there are (at least) two issues of contention with your description.

      First, no one is talking about censorship. Yon is free to report whatever he wants. He is not, however, guaranteed any right to support from the U.S. government to do his writing. He is therefore exercising his first amendment rights: He’s going to get a visa and report without being embedded.

      Second, do you really want reporters to “speak his/her mind” or do you want them to report facts and context? Or do we want reporters that speak to our internal biases to do so? One wonders where the outrage was when reporters from Al Jazeera were the subject of all sorts of trash talk from the U.S. government.

      Third, Yon is former military. I wouldn’t expect him to roll over and become a shill for the public affairs office but I also think it’s highly unprofessional for someone with such a background to accuse coalition partners of cowardice and U.S. command of being part of some shadowy conspiracy. Yon writes from the perspective of a private. When he’s stuck in the rain, guarding some empty piece of real estate he gripes and complains that this is evidence that command is incompetent. Many times that’s because that private doesn’t know the bigger picture. Yon frequently ignores context of activity and only reports from a soldier’s eye view. That’s an important piece of understanding what’s going on over there but it’s only a small piece. Such thinking is excusable in a 19 year old PFC, we should expect much more from someone who claims to be such a gifted journalist.

      And Simon’s right, his photography remains amazing…

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      • Yon writes from the perspective of a private.

        That says it all.

        But today, I don’t think that it excusable even in a 19 year old PFC. It may have been once when we were all parked up around the Fulda Gap Railway Station and the actions, let alone opinions, of 19 year old PFCs were unlikely to have influence at all the Big Picture. Now, when the Strategic Corporal has evolved into the Strategic Private, everyone at all levels must appreciate and respect the impact that THEY can individually have. With power, comes responsibility – a lesson that Yon has yet to hoist aboard…

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  3. Pingback: Afghanistan roundup… « Travels with Shiloh

    • It’s even easier to criticise them when they are immature, grandstanding prima donnas with an out of control God complex who are too lazy and/or too dumb to do proper research or even write that well, and whose only recourse when challenged to to throw more shit

      Vote YON for COMISAF

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  4. As I say in my own column on this issue, I have no claims to military expertise or connections in this GWOT. However, as a ‘lay’ reader I took issue with things like posting a US General’s email on a public forum – for one – and his need to publicly insult both McChrystal and Menard, and demanding that the military fire Menard for an incident that was PROVEN not to be his responsibility. Many other aspects of his recent behaviour which have caused me to quit following him. No, my own ego is not large enough to think my absence will be noticed. 😉

    Oh and I tried to privately email you, but your email ‘thing’ doesn’t work, it seems.

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    • …and those are things that Mike just doesn’t get, things that simply aren’t done in the real world of adults…certainly not without consequences which is probably what he is feeling the effects of at the moment…I still follow his Facebook page, not because of any great desire to see more of his prima donna antics but because when he sticks to what he is good at, portraying the human faces of this war, he is very good (but you shouldn’t believe that because Mike says that I’m ‘dishonest’).

      You’re quite right re your absence being noticed which is a little sad – you’d think that the lack of dissenting voices would be cause for thought in it sown right but unfortunately Mike will only notice if the gushing adoration starts to dry up…

      Thanks for the heads-up re my email link – not sure what happened there but found the problem and have fixed it now…

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  5. Ive been up and down the blogosphere following this story, and it seems a lot of conservative mil-blogers have problems adjusting the map to the terrain. To sum it up, Yon has in writing accused the general of misleading, if not outright lying, to the president. He has compared members of McChrystals staff with “crazy monkeys”. He has been kicked of embeds 3 times before. He has declared that he no longer trusts the military, the president , the media and the whole political system, merging them all into a single unit. Earlier, he has published photos without securing permission from personel.

    And still he pisses and whines about not getting his embed prolonged over and beyond the usual time for embeds? Im just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for him to go into a “Obama is a muslim and he hates me” mode.

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