Depressing Report from Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years ago

From the comments section in An Open Letter to Milbloggers, journalist Ben Shaw gives us this very depressing perspective from Afghanistan.

As a journalist (and combat veteran) currently embedded with US forces in Afghanistan, I have found that roughly 95% of the troops on the ground in no way believe in their mission, have no confidence that their efforts will bring about lasting change to Afghan security, stability, governance, or a decreased influence of radicalism. In truth, they fight simply to stay alive and want nothing more than to go home. A recent quote:

“I joined to defend and fight for the United States, but now I feel like I’ve been tasked out to fight for Afghanistan. Yet the people don’t even care, and make no effort whatsoever to help us help them. They don’t WANT help.”

The nature of freedom is that those who are unwilling to fight for it personally will never realize it. As it stands, nothing is more important to Afghans than survival, even at the expense of all self-dignity, nationalism, tribalism, and whatever ideals may at one time surpassed the will to simply “get by.”

I have also discovered that if I publicize these findings (that literally 95% of troops don’t believe in their own mission), the Soldiers who I cite will be charged, potentially relieved of command, and I will be asked to disembed from these units.

As a recent example, I filmed approximately 75 minutes of combat footage, knowingly exposed myself to concentrated enemy fire, and learned two days ago that if I post this footage, the Soldiers on film will be charged and/or relieved for uniform violations, improper wear of personal protective equipment (ballistic glasses, fire-retardant gloves, etc), and that low-level commanders have already begun this process. In an attempt to preserve the careers of the Soldiers I am trying to advocate, I am unable to tell (or show) the US public what they’re experiencing and what they think of it. The military only wants good news to flow from embedded journalists – not facts.

The reality is this: the current tactical directive leaves US troops on the ground increasingly vulnerable, often unsupported by air assets or indirect fire, and as a consequence their personal mission is to keep each other alive and come home. Under this current “soft war” policy, the war cannot be won. After all, Pashtun Islamic culture sees any sort of kindness and mercy as a weakness – and immediately exploit it. The Taliban, knowing the restrictive nature of the current ROE/Tactical directive, use it against US forces regularly.

US troops feel abandoned by their chains of command, bilked by military recruiters, and participants in a conflict that history will not treat kindly. They will return to the US and to civilian life full of disappointment, bitterness at their commanders, and unwilling to serve again. And military commanders here are doing their very best to ensure that this never reaches the public. In their pursuit of mission accomplishment, they have altogether neglected their second purpose: troop welfare. The former, however, will never be realized without an equally dedicated concentration on the latter.

I invite comments and criticism at
Photos from my current embed can be found online at
My own website is

And then further:

As of today, my photos, videos, and writing have been so closely monitored by the command that I have elected to remove all imagery for fear of jeopardizing the troops on the ground. Commanders are using the images and footage to threaten Article 15s for Soldiers photographed out of uniform, and also threatening to relieve platoon sergeants and first sergeants for allowing such things to happen. Professionally, I have been bound and gagged – that is unless I’m willing to burn an entire troop (or squadron) of Soldiers in the process of telling the US public what’s happening – which would be counterproductive.

My next step will be to file a formal complaint with commanders who use media resources to incriminate their own subordinates. This command, I have determined, is far more concerned with looking pretty than accomplishing their mission. I also think that, somehow, the US public needs to know about it.

The entire report is very depressing for me.  I won’t weigh in on the full account, but I’ll address one aspect of it.  It really is disgraceful that command, whether NCOs or field grade officers, is spending any time at all trying to push paperwork over PPEs in the field.  This is very disappointing for me to read.

Colonel Mullen who commanded 2/6 in Fallujah in 2007, for whom I otherwise have an immense amount of respect (and by the way, so does my son who told me he would follow Colonel Mullen and First Sergeant Dagenhart anywhere on earth and to the gates of hell too), nonetheless disappointed me during the summer of 2007.  I suspect that Ben is embedded with the Army, but this focus on unimportant things isn’t just restricted to the Army.  The Marines engage in their share of stupidity.

In April of 2007 the men from 2/6 left their Marine Corps issued sand/desert boots behind in the Barracks (clodhoppers they were, with heavy Vibram soles) and purchased more user-friendly, ligher, more comfortable boots (which looked about the same) from Tactical Applications Group, TAGs, just outside of Camp Lejeune.  Slab with OPFOR knows where I am talking about.  They also ditched the IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) outer shell (or tactical carrier), and opted for the Spartan II also at TAGs (the civilian version of the Modular Tactical Vest which had not yet been issued, but the Spartan II was also better than the MTV).

Along comes MARADMINs, and the men had to throw away all of the boots they purchased from TAGs (while actually deployed in Fallujah) and use the heavier MC issued boots that had to be sent later, creating logistical problems that didn’t otherwise have to exist.  On the bright side, they all looked the same.  Yes, they all looked the same.  At least they got to keep their Spartan II carriers.

Next, as I was writing Operation Alljah, I linked this photograph taken by a stringer in Fallujah.

To which Colonel Mullen, while giving me his incredibly useful interview, responded that these Marines could not be 2/6.  They weren’t wearing the right clothing.  To which I responded, “Sir, this is 2/6 Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, and the one being carried in the middle is my son after he sprained his ankle jumping down from the roof of a house while being shot at.  He’s bent over because he is taller than they are – I know them.  The one on the left is carrying his SAW and providing cover.  We found the photo on Yahoo and talked to him about it.”  I believe that this is in the industrial district of Fallujah.  That particular patrol was over for my son, with light duty for a week or two.

Later my son told me that they would always make sure to wear the right clothing, with sleeves cleanly rolled to just the right length, no matter what the sun was doing to them, when they passed a certain place in Fallujah.  This particular place was where a camera was mounted, streaming to the Pentagon.  There were enough high powered cameras in the area that he could look at Camp Fallujah from FOB Reaper on the South side of Fallujah and tell if a Marine had not shaved that day.

You know.  You want to make sure that you look right and everything.  That’s what really matters.


  1. On April 23, 2010 at 10:53 am, Warbucks said:

    As I recall, it rolled across the teleprompter and was read to us so it must be so.

    I forget who spoke this back in March 27, 2009 but it may have been important (at the time): “we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved. ”

    Well, sort of.

    What war does not yield its own Yossarian-perspectives ( ?

    2011 is right around the corner. It appears that the next big thing we Americans will be discussing both in sound-bites and in-depth CSPAN presentations come the elections, right up there with the ever popular status-of-the-economy, if that is at all possible, will be the maintenance of institutions and laws, and the limits of power acceptable to us, that assure and protect human “liberty” and “freedom”. Sort of a new American Revolution with a small “r”.

    It may be necessary therefore to just get us the hell out of dodge and call it victory (“Guthoodaciv”). It would be useful to implement some sort of ceremony that conveyed a sense of … o-o-o-oh, let’s call it … “mission accomplished,” … bring OBL out of cold storage, and say, “there, we got him!” Turn over the scepter of office to the democratically elected leader. If we just do that, maybe we achieve enough.


  2. On April 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Well, I do not argue that we are losing, nor do I argue that we should pull out. I always argue for the right strategy, implemented by the right number of troops (as best as I can tell what that might be). In this case, his report is interesting and I also lament the time and energy spent focusing on things that will not help us.

  3. On April 25, 2010 at 7:42 pm, kbob_54 said:

    I take note of the commentary regarding the appearance of Marines (and soldiers) in a combat zone, and have to say that this is nothing really new. When I was in Desert Shiels/Storm/Skedaddle, we had REMFs who had nothing better to do than ensure soldiers looked like soldiers.

    To a point, it is understandable – in a secure garrison environment, OK. But when you have people who are in the field, or have just come in from the field, it really is unimportant. And, as is typical, the DCUs (and now ACUs/MARPATs show signs of wear and tear, but (at least in the Army), the Supply Sgt, and by exptension, the S4 won’t give new uniforms to people. They don’t want to run out in case they need them for trading material, I suppose.

    I was in front of my BC for using my kevlar as a rest for my M16 and not properly wearing it. I never got nailed for lack of safety specs or hearing protection, but I expect that is coming soon, because evil Hajji is not likely to give me the time I need to put them on before a firefight, and at least for the hearing protection, you can’t wear it all the time.

    Its all about winning the fight. Not looking good or being humane to someone who will slit your throat as soon as look at you. I am not sure when it was said or by whom it was said, but to win, this must be “no quarter asked, no quarter given.”

    It must be victory, because defeat brings far worse consequences.


  4. On April 26, 2010 at 8:17 am, jumpinjarhead said:

    Maintenance of good order and discipline, whether in the “rear with the gear” or in combat operations is vital. While troops have for time immemorial griped about “mickey mouse” requirements and of course leaders should be mindful of using common sense in their regulations etc., it is still a good thing that troops be continually reminded of and required to comply with all applicable regulations. to do otherwise, starts one on that slippery slope that can lead to tragedies like My Lai. As to your “no quarter” idea, that is simply unacceptable and if practiced, illegal.

  5. On April 27, 2010 at 4:16 am, bgaerity said:

    Ben Shaw retracted the comments you quote above. He did on his blog ( and on your post “In Defense of Michael Yon…An Open Letter to Milbloggers.” Just want to make sure anyone reading this post knows that Ben Shaw’s comments above are NOT reliable or factual. At least he had the integrity to retract and apologize.

  6. On April 27, 2010 at 9:37 am, Herschel Smith said:

    My take would be this. The information he presented is still true, or it is false. The problem is that I don’t now know which, the same thing I suppose you are saying (it is unreliable).

    Either the information is false and Ben retracted it (I respect him for this), or the information is true, and he fell on his sword to protect the soldiers with whom he is embedded (I respect him for this).

    Just my take.

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You are currently reading "Depressing Report from Afghanistan", entry #4884 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Fallujah,PPEs and was published April 22nd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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