September 25, 2009

Censorship in Helmand

Michael Yon writes:

David,

British Media Ops are censoring in Helmand, please read this dispatch!

-- Very Respectfully,

Michael Yon

Bullshit Bob

By Michael Yon
25 September 2009

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.

In 2006, Iraq was melting down and I had just written twelve dispatches that clearly stated we were losing in Afghanistan. Those dispatches caused a public uproar and the consequences were such that U.S. military refused to let me back into Iraq. Because of the U.S. military censorship in Iraq, I published a dispatch in the Weekly Standard titled, Censoring Iraq. General Petraeus emailed to me immediately, and if not for his intervention, there would have been Censoring Iraq II, III, IV, V…. Ultimately, dozens of dispatches about soldiers have been forever lost.

I returned to Iraq in 2006, and in 2007, I reported that the war had turned around and progress was clear. In 2008, I wrote that we had won the Iraq war. And although recent bombings have grabbed headlines, overall violence continues to decrease.

This brings us to Afghanistan, 2009.

My latest embed with British 2 Rifles, which began in July, was extended on at least two occasions. The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) had recently agreed that I would spend roughly one more month with 2 Rifles. My scheduled embeds with the United States Air Force and Marines were specifically arranged around the British schedule, and I was enjoying reporting on the excellent British troops.

However, on August 24th, with no warning, unseen faces of MoD discontinued my embed from 2 Rifles. The message that I was no longer embedded was emailed to me by Media Ops, just as I returned from an interesting firefight in the Green Zone. Luckily, none of our guys got hit, but I think the British soldiers may have killed some Taliban.

I do not know the reason for the embed termination. My best guess is that it relates to my sustained criticism that the British government is not properly resourcing its soldiers.

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.

But there are a few who should not be in uniform and it takes only one roach leg to spoil a perfect soup.

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