The military has cut short a war correspondent’s embed, and there may be evidence that the decision may have been part of a smear campaign against the writer.
Michael Yon, a former Green Beret, has been covering Iraq and Afghanistan for six years. He has also covered conflicts in Thailand, the Philippines, and Nepal. Following a string of events covered by Yon that cast a negative light on two top NATO commanders, the military decided to terminate Yon’s embed prematurely, citing reasons that didn’t add up.
ISAF’s reason for disembedding Yon was “embed overcrowding.” Yet in an email to Admiral Gregory J. Smith, an ISAF public affairs officer, Yon wrote, “I rarely see journalists. Those journalists I see have been doing drive-by reporting.”
Yon states that he has forwarded to his attorney “compelling evidence” of a smear campaign perpetrated by members of Gen. McChrystal’s staff. He says that the general’s staff have released official statements that are “defamatory and libelous.”
“A writer must be able to spot libel just as a soldier must be able to spot IEDs,” writes Yon. “It’s part of the job. If you can’t spot it, you will get hurt.”
In March, Yon began investigating a possible weapons mishap by Canadian Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, the top Canadian general in Afghanistan and also Commander of Task Force Kandahar. Reports say that Menard nearly shot Canada’s Chief of the Defense Staff, Gen. Walt Natynczyk while preparing to board a helicopter at Kandahar Airfield. According to Yon, Menard didn’t acknowledge the incident until ISAF learned that Yon was looking into the matter. Menard was found guilty of negligent discharge and fined $3500 on Tuesday.
Menard has operational control over three battalions of U.S. Army soldiers. And as Yon points out in his website that “while Canada increasingly shies from combat, American units under Canadian command will spill blood under Canadian military leadership that answers to Ottawa.”
The Canadian general’s defense counsel stated Menard “accepted full responsibility.” But in a separate incident just days before the shooting, Menard took absolutely no responsibility for a fatal incident on a strategic bridge near Kandahar when a suicide bomber killed a U.S. soldier.
On the morning of March 1, a suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. convoy as they crossed the Tarnak River Bridge leading to Kandahar. The bridge is a chokepoint on a crucial route between Kandahar Airfield and the town of Kandahar, and on out to Helmand Province. The bridge was damaged in the attack, which killed U.S. Army Specialist Ian Gelig, several Afghan civilians, and wounded several other soldiers. Numerous missions were canceled as the river could not be crossed.
The Stryker Brigade that Yon was embedded with was tasked with keeping the roads open. And the British Royal Air Force is responsible for much of the ground around Kandahar Airfield, including the land around the bridge. And the Afghanistan National Police, mentored by U.S. military police were guarding the bridge. However when Yon investigated the matter, he was informed by multiple officers that Menard was ultimately responsible for the bridge at the time of the attack as it belongs to Task Force Kandahar.
“Menard ultimately had responsibility for the bridge,” Yon stated in an interview. When Yon investigated the matter, he was informed by multiple officers that the bridge at the time of the attack belonged to Task Force Kandahar. Menard tried to pin the blame on his supervisor, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter. Yet during a meeting with ISAF officials, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges took full responsibility, although Yon did not believe him.
When asked why the U.S. military would possibly cover for Menard, Yon replied, “I think the cover was in the interest of Coalition warfare. An American putting it to a Canadian would have had political ramifications.”
Yon has stood alone in his criticism of Menard and received heavy fire for doing so. He called Menard incompetent and said he needed to be fired. He also stands alone saying the same about McChrystal. Yon recently wrote, “This is clear as day: General Stanley McChrystal will lose this war.”
“The reason stated for my disembed was ‘overcrowding.’ Clearly this is untrue,” Yon said. “The war is going poorly and it is widely known that I will call the ball where it lands. We are losing the war and it seems likely that McChrystal and staff don’t want me in combat reporting their failures.”
So with the upcoming operation in Kandahar – which would be commanded by Menard – it seems entirely possible that ISAF wanted Yon out of the theater. His criticism of not only Menard but of ISAF commander Gen Stanley McChrystal could well be the reason behind the ending of his embed.
While the military may view Yon’s dispatches as controversial, the American people deserve the truth. And as Kay Day from the US Report says, “No one reporting on the Global War on Terror has done a more effective or honest job than Michael Yon.”
Past statements by Yon were initially viewed as controversial – such as being the first journalist to say the “Surge” was working, or that Iraq was experiencing a “civil war.” However, these events would soon become conventional wisdom. Could his assessments of Gens. Menard and McChrystal soon become conventional wisdom as well?
Perhaps a comment from a reader at the United States Naval Institute sums it up best:
Frankly, I trust Yon more than I trust McChrystal at this point.
The man who took part in the cover-up of [Army Ranger and former professional football player Pat] Tillman’s death has lost quite a bit of credibility. In fact, McChrystal admitted as much – years later – before the Senate.
Yon, meanwhile, was right about Iraq. He was right about Afghanistan. He was right about Petraeus. He was right about Menard.
And I suspect he’s right about McChrystal.