Michael Yon to end Afghanistan embeds and go it alone

September 1, 2009

Independent war reporter Michael Yon has not so much burnt his military embed bridges as completely obliterated them.

He claims that the Ministry of Defence has been trying to have him removed from the area of Regional Command (South) and from Thursday he will be reporting unilaterally from Helmand province.

Yon was annoyed that his embed with 2 Rifles in Helmand was ended by the Ministry of Defence last week, and says his "days of covering British operations are over."

There remains some difference of opinion on the nature of the end of Yon’s embed. The Ministry of Defence left a comment on one of my previous posts claiming that they had "hosted Michael with British forces for five weeks, some two weeks longer than originally planned".

Yon who always said his embed was "cancelled" with "zero warning" now claims in his latest dispatch that it ended "about one month before we had agreed it would end".  

Whoever you believe, Yon certainly does not appear to be in a conciliatory mood. In his piece entitled ‘Precision Voting‘ he criticises both the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence:   

"The Pentagon and British MoD spin lies (though I have found Secretary Gates talks straight), but veins of pure truth can be found right here with these soldiers.  The Pentagon and MoD as a whole cannot be trusted because they are the average of their parts.  There are individual officers and NCOs among the U.S. and U.K. who have always been blunt and honest with me.  Among the higher ranking, Petraeus and Mellinger come to mind, but for day-to-day realities this is where it’s at.  Out here.  Nothing coming from Kabul, London, or Washington should be trusted."

Yon also has something to say about equipment shortages in the British Army, providing more information than you will find in the official version on the death of Joseph Etchells last month:

"Several times, the events of Joseph’s loss were recounted to me, in clear hopes that important details would be told.  I said not to worry, it will be told.  The missing details were that soldiers had complained about not having enough ladders to scale walls to avoid dangerous compound entrances.  During a mission the soldiers needed to get over a wall but were without a ladder, and so Joseph Etchells volunteered to go through the entrance, where he stepped on a pressure plate."

He pitches in on the helicopter debate too:

"Enemy control of the terrain is so complete in the area between Sangin and Kajaki that when my embed was to switch from FOB Jackson to FOB Inkerman—only seven kilometers (about four miles) away—we could not walk or drive from Jackson to Inkerman.  Routes are deemed too dangerous.  Helicopter lift was required.  The helicopter shortage is causing crippling delays in troop movements.  It’s common to see a soldier waiting ten days for a simple flight."

The question now is what and how will Michael Yon report. Yon’s coverage, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, has often focussed on combat; will it be possible for him to access the front line unembedded or will he have to change tack and chase different aspects of Afghanistan’s troubled story?