Archive for the 'War Reporting' Category



Update on W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

This brief post is made just to update my readers on the latest news concerning the railroading of W. Thomas Smith, Jr., and futher responses to the allegations against his reporting from Lebanon.  We’ll be following Tom, and I feel that he will continue to be the prolific and interesting writer he has always been.

Facts: The Story Behind the Story – Part I, W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

Facts: The Story Behind the Story – Part II, W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

War of the Words, Kay B. Day

This last article contains a discussion on blogging and editorial guidelines and stipulations.  I will weigh in later on this subject.  Each of the articles above are well worth the time.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., and His Reporting from Lebanon

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 9 months ago

In blogging as well as life, quick reactions that lack hard analysis are rarely beneficial or valuable.  This is why I don’t participate in blog bursts.  If you want snappy, timely blogging that lacks substance and takes on the appearance of tantrums, you can go elsewhere.  If you want your analysis later and correct, you can stop by The Captain’s Journal.  At least that is the intent, whether my articles fully comport with this ideal or not.

Tantrums fairly well describes the reaction(s) to W. Thomas Smith’s alleged dishonesty concerning his reporting from Lebanon.  But before I respond to his critics, let’s cover some detail regarding the alleged dubious reports by Smith.

That reporter who questioned the Smith account of his experiences in Lebanon was Christopher Allbritton.  You can study his letter to Kathryn Lopez (editor at National Review), but the only substantive, factual allegation I can find against Smith is the following:

… he’s a liar. Hezbollah never invaded east Beirut on the 29th. And they don’t have 200 “heavily armed” militiamen downtown. I passed by today. There are about 40 guys down there with no weapons at all. They sit around, smoking shisha in jeans and t-shirts.

Smith responded (in part) with the following clarification (I have redacted Smith’s response as well as Allbritton’s charges for the sake of brevity):

A reporter recently contacted NRO questioning the accuracy of two blog posts I filed for “The Tank” while I was in Lebanon this past September and October.

On September 25, I filed a post, in which I described a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” near the Lebanese parliament as being occupied by “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen”: According to the e-mail, my detractors said that, “…there are rarely 200 people there at all — much less ‘heavily armed,’” and, “…at least once a week I walk or jog through this area. I have never seen a civilian carrying a weapon.”

I can’t possibly know what someone else saw or witnessed or where they were jogging or on what day. But I do know this: The Hezbollah camp in late September — and up until the time I left in mid-October — was huge (“sprawling”). And though the tents were very large and many of them closed, I saw at least two AK-47s there with my own eyes. And this from a moving vehicle on the highway above the camp. And in my way of thinking, if a guy’s got an AK-47, he’s “heavily armed.”

Did I physically see and count 200 men carrying weapons? No. If I mistakenly conveyed that impression to my readers, I apologize. I saw lots of men, lots of them carrying walkie-talkie radios, and a tent city that could have easily housed many more than 200. I also saw weapons, as did others in the vehicle with me. And I was informed by very reliable sources that Hezbollah does indeed store arms inside the tents. And they’ve certainly got the parliamentarians and other government officials spooked and surrounded by layers of security.

My detractors’ argument that they had never seen weapons in the camp does not mean there is an absence of weapons. But don’t take my word for it. For further reading, I would recommend this recent AP article (and multiple others) about the increasing prevalence of armed civilians in Lebanon. I would say I was justified in believing not only my sources, but also my own eyes in this case …

Second, with regard to the post I filed September 29, in which I reported that between 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force’”: My detractors have said this event, “simply never happened,” because “every journalist in town would have pounced on that story, and he’s the only one who noticed?

In retrospect, however, this is a case where I should have caveated the reporting by saying that I only witnessed a fraction of what happened (from a moving car), with broader details of what I saw ultimately told to me by what I considered then — and still consider to be — reliable sources within the Cedar Revolution movement, as well as insiders within the Lebanese national security apparatus. As we were driving through that part of town, I saw men I identified as Hezbollah deployed at road intersections with radios. I was later told that these were Hezbollah militants deploying to Christian areas of Beirut, and there were four or five thousand of them …

Let me briefly mention some of my sources in Lebanon: extremely reliable men and women, who also enabled me to gain access to members of parliament, mayors and other municipal leaders, the grandson of a late president of Lebanon, one of the highest-ranking (perhaps the highest-ranking) Muslim clerics in Beirut, multiple high-ranking military and intelligence officers, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the head of the national police, and the special forces and counterterrorist strike force commanders.

At the time I read this response, my reaction was “fair enough,” but I took the opportunity to send Tom a letter saying that I have found good sources to be better than anything else, and probably better than mine and his own eyes.  Good sources, I said, are around for the long haul.  They are part of the cultural milieu and social framework.  They can “see” things that we cannot.  I can ascertain subtle changes in my neighborhood, local political scene, and all manner of things far beyond the capabilities of a foreigner.  A foreigner, for instance, had better not attempt to make his way through the backwoods of Appalachia without knowing something about the people.  I, on the other hand, would be quite comfortable doing this.  It takes more than eyes to see and understand your surroundings – it takes personal history.

I thought everything was done with this story, but the confessions and self deprecation began at National Review Online.  Worse still, blogs and main stream media publications alike picked up on this story in an orgy of self righteous outrage and indignation (I am not linking them because not a single one of them is worth the time of my readers).  Frankly, it was unseemly and embarrassing – at least it would have been embarrassing for me if I had participated.

It doesn’t take a writer as prolific as Thomas Smith to regret at some point something that was said or ignored.  It only takes living with another person such as a wife or husband.  But a good example of missing the boat in the professional military writer’s community comes from no less than Michael Yon, a prolific and popular writer in his own right.

In the recent dispatch, Men of Valor Part II, I wrote the following:“ . . . by systematically and in relatively short order demolishing Iraq’s government infrastructure, firing its staff en masse, disbanding its army, our combined militaries in Iraq could only accomplish the mission by rebuilding the country from scratch.” (italics original).

As a writer, I could have used more precision with the six key words. I have seen the extent to which Coalition forces spend great energy and suffer risks to avoid destroying Iraq’s physical infrastructure. Yes, many Iraqi government buildings stand with shattered concrete and twisted rebar, hollowed by our bombs and missiles; but the vast majority of Iraqi infrastructure was intentionally spared. In fact, US forces have been (and are) forbidden to attack infrastructure. Our people use lethal force to protect Iraqi infrastructure.

I have covered in some detail the physical destruction done intentionally by al Qaeda to Iraq’s infrastructure (the damage isn’t limited to water supplies and the electrical grid, as proven by this attack against oil pipelines).  I understand what Michael Yon was trying to say in the post.  But this debate belongs stateside, four years ago, and includes the question should we have invaded to begin with (along with the horrible decisions by Paul Bremer).  This debate shouldn’t get mixed up with the bravery of our men in uniform, or better put, our warriors don’t deserve to have their carefully targeted combat described in this manner.  Given that I have a son who earned the combat action ribbon for service under fire, I appreciate Michael’s “clarification.”  He didn’t use the word “apologize” as did Smith, but I get the sense that he regrets having used those words.  He should not have used those words, and he should have clarified them, as he did.

I don’t know Christopher Allbritton from Adam, and the fact that he says that something must be so doesn’t make it so.  While Thomas Smith’s clarification is welcome and appreciated, I don’t believe it adds anything to the story.  As to Allbritton, I would not have given him the time of day had I been the recipient of his letter.  I have followed Tom’s work for years now, and while I have a sincere appreciation for his style, hard work, and passion with which he writes, I also feel a kinship with Tom first because he is a man of faith (the Christian faith as am I), and secondly because he is a Marine as is my son (someone stupidly called Tom an ex-Marine, forgetting that there is no such thing as an “ex-Marine”).  I generally have very good judgment when it comes to people, and it brings me some degree of joy that I am proven right this time around too.

There is an important update to Smith’s sources in Lebanon.

It’s one thing to be embroiled in the recent media circus surrounding my reporting from Lebanon; it’s quite another to learn that in the midst of that circus – though having nothing to do with it – one of my strongest sources while I was in Lebanon, Gen. Francois Hajj, was assassinated Wednesday.

Hajj, 55, a Maronite Catholic and the director of operations for the Lebanese Army, was killed in a car-bomb attack, on the route between his home and his office at the Ministry of Defense in Beirut. It’s been reported that he “was considered a leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman [Sleiman], if Suleiman is elected president” …

During my time in Lebanon – September and October of this year – Hajj was one of my strongest sources. And despite my railing against the often under-reported threat of Hezbollah activities in Lebanon – as well as what I perceived to be problems within the military — Hajj pulled some serious strings enabling me to gain greater access to elements within the defense structure from which I had been previously barred.

Smith describes one meeting with Hajj: “As I entered his office — his desk covered with several huge maps of Lebanon, a couple of cell phones, and a single pack of Marlboros – Gen. Hajj was discussing something (unintelligible to me because it was in Arabic) with another general. The other general and I shook hands, he left the office, and Hajj ordered coffee for the two of us. We discussed everything from current security operations in Lebanon to the recent fighting at Nahr al-Bared. He then showed me an exclusive video tape – not seen by outsiders [he told me] – of the fighting at Bared, including some truly grisly images of killed Fatah al-Islam fighters.”

While I don’t know Allbritton, I do know that an Army doesn’t long survive without good intelligence.  My judgment now is as it was before.  Sources – good sources – can sometimes be better than your own eyes.  Smith’s sources were good, and this raises a question – not about Smith, but about Allbritton.  What story, exactly, is it that he is getting, and why does it disagree so markedly with the one given by Army intelligence?   Perhaps Allbritton should be questioning the authenticity and truthfulness of his own writing.

In the mean time, I regret that Thomas Smith is no longer at NRO.  I will miss his perspective at NRO very much.  As for Allbritton, he is a flash in a pan, and his five minutes of fame are over.  I will never read his prose again, and am sorry to have spent even the two minutes it took to read it.  Thomas Smith will land on his feet.  The quality of my judgment remains intact, and it is my hope that this humble little blog can still correspond with Tom in his future endeavors.

Interview on WTIC Newstalk 1080 out of Hartford Connecticut

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

Jim Vicevich on WTIC Newstalk 1080, out of Hartford, Connecticut, interviews me for about ten minutes on the campaign in Iraq. We discussed the thoughts that went into calling Iraq a quagmire for al Qaeda, among other things (current bombing in Baghdad, strategy of the enemy in light of their losses, etc.).

I haven’t listened to the interview. I didn’t know the format or protocol and for the first minute I was quite nervous. After that I settled in and enjoyed the conversation with Jim, but still have no idea how well I did. Jim, on the other hand, is a first rate host, knowledgeable, quick, seamless and interesting.

Interview feed.

Al Qaeda Quagmire: A Little Attribution, Please?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

On October 9, 2007, I published Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.  It got plenty of traffic, especially since Glenn Reynolds linked it at Instapundit.  In fact, a Google search on the words “al qaeda quagmire” or “iraq al qaeda quagmire” puts this post right at the top.

On October 29, 2007, the New York Post published an editorial entitled “Al Qaeda’s Quagmire.”  On November 18, 2007, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an editorial entitled “It’s True: Iraq is a Quagmire.”  In both of these editorials the main theme was similar or equivalent to the theme of my article, and at least the New York Post’s title line was approximately the same.  Neither editorial supplied any attribution whatsoever to The Captain’s Journal.

What is really sad is that the main stream media has to wait on a blogger to break the ice and tell the truth.  It doesn’t take a genius to do this sort of thing.  It takes work, diligence and an open mind.  It takes time to wade through the Department of Defense data on “what extremists are saying” to glean the meaningful data out of the letter from al Qaeda high command to Zarqawi and begin to weave a narrative together.  One must follow the various kinetic and nonkinetic operations in Iraq, and then when other letters from al Qaeda commanders in Iraq are captured and said to read that al Qaeda is “surrounded, communications have been cut, and that they are desperate for help,” the letter has some context and makes some sense.

Again, it merely requires some work and diligence, work that apparently, for the most part, only bloggers are willing to do (perhaps some in the main stream media are reluctant to publish this sort of thing even when it become apparent to them).  As for my remuneration for prose, ideas and title lines taken without attribution, if the New York Post or the Post-Gazette sends a check my way, I will try to be kind to my favorite Marine Corps charity.

Multi-National Force You Tube Channel

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 6 months ago

In what we feel will prove to be an absolutely magnificent idea, the Multi-National Force now has a You Tube channel where you can witness video of combat operations, among other interesting things.  Here is their description of what they intend to do with this channel:

What you will see on this channel in the coming months:
- Combat action
- Interesting, eye-catching footage
- Interaction between Coalition troops and the Iraqi populace.
- Teamwork between Coalition and Iraqi troops in the fight against terror.

What we will NOT post on this channel:
- Profanity
- Sexual content
- Overly graphic, disturbing or offensive material
- Footage that mocks Coalition Forces, Iraqi Security Forces or the citizens of Iraq.

Bravo to what they DO and DON’T intend to include.  Here is the link, but a link will also be permanently included on this site.

Multi-National Force You Tube Channel

 

Failure of Main Stream Media to Report Huge Victory Against Insurgents

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 10 months ago

There is enough bad news coming from Iraq, and I have done my fair share of reporting and commenting on it.  But from time to time there are outstanding and remarkable stories of victory and success, and these instances are made all the more remarkable by the fact that the main stream media completely ignores them.

In Ansar al Sunna Leadership: U.S. Forces Net Big Insurgent Catch, I reported on the capture of eleven senior level leadership of terrorist group Ansar al Sunna.  Specifically, among those captured were the emirs of Iraq, Ramadi, Baqubah, Tikrit, al Qa’im, Bayji and Baghdad.  They also captured two terrorist facilitators, a courier, an explosives expert and a financier.  The detention of these terrorists delivers a serious blow to the AAS network that is responsible for improvised explosive device attacks and suicide attacks and on Iraqi government, Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians.  The AAS network is also responsible for multiple kidnappings, small arms attacks and other crimes in the central and northern part of Iraq.  AAS is considered by some to be a leading terror organization in Iraq … Although some AAS senior leadership allegedly hide in Iran, they continually plan attacks to disrupt Iraqi reconstruction efforts.  This allows the AAS leadership to attempt to disrupt Iraqi reconstruction progress using their followers, while keeping the leadership out of harms way.

I went on to point out that an emir is a chieftan, or a military governor of his assigned territory.  This was no small catch of trouble-makers.  Ansar al-Sunna is considered by some experts to be the most important insurgent group in Iraq, and U.S. forces captured more than half a dozen high level leaders of the group.

There is a case to be made that while the killing of Zarqawi had a Hollywood aspect to it, the capture of these insurgents was more significant and will have greater ramifications than the demise of Zarqawi.  Major news organizations should have been clamoring for information in order to weave a story together for the American public.  Americans should have information to share with each other over nightly dinner, and this specific victory should be in the public consciousness for several weeks to come.

Writing the article was relatively easy.  A few minutes worth of study of the press releases, a few more studying the relevant articles about it, and finally a few more studying the research and scholarly works on Ansar al-Sunna, and presto, there was the article.  Granted, Michael Ledeen had to write me and correct (what I hope to be a somewhat inconsequential) point of history on the group, but still, the reader now knows more than s/he did prior to reading my article.  Ignoring my foible on history, the main thrust of the story is encouraging, and would have taken a seasoned reporter only a few minutes to a couple of hours to construct.

But again, on what might be the most significant counterinsurgency victory in months, the main stream media is noticeably absent.  I posted my article on December 2, and decided to give the main stream media Monday, the start of the normal weekly news cycle, to pick up on the story.  But a quick check of the major outlets shows that there is nothing out there.  Is this a symptom of their incompetence or their bias?

Michael Fumento on C-SPAN

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 10 months ago

Friend of the Captain’s Journal Michael Fumento does C-SPAN’s Washington Journal.  It is about one hour long, but well worth the time.  Get ready to be humored and educated at the same time.  There is also an interview by John Hawkins at RWN.

I consider Michael to be the clearest, most level-headed and compelling correspondent and blogger on the war in Iraq, hands down.  He has no equal.  But not only that, he is just simply a nice guy.  The link to the show is below.

Michael Fumento on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal

Support Your Local Embedded Blogger

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 11 months ago

Friend of the Captain’s Journal, Michael Fumento, recently embedded in Ramadi, and spent his own money to do it.  Given the problematic nature of getting into Iraq and to the units with which he was to embed, I think I might just have given up and gone home.  Michael didn’t and it cost him frustration, time and money to bring his stories back to us.  He is back now and we benefit from his work, but the costs don’t go away.

Another friend of the Captain’s Journal, David Danelo, who manages and edits US Cavalry OnPoint, is reporting from Iraq.  Please drop by Michael’s site and give him a donation if you can.  Also drop by David’s web site and wish him well and tell him you are praying for his safety.  This is the least we can do, and I have for both Michael and David.

ps: I do not see a way to donate to David.  If I find out how I will let my readers know.


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