Monday, September 22, 2008

Were the French Paratroopers Unprepared?


Michael Yon has posted a new essay on this issue:

Here in Afghanistan, I sense a storm brewing between NATO and the media. The official denial of the secret report on the 18 August Taliban ambush on French forces is not an isolated incident. There have been other instances which give the impression of a pattern of denial and cover-up. NATO credibility is critical in this war. Support is already weak in several NATO countries. The Afghani and, even more so, Pakistani populaces are often skeptical of our efforts and question our honesty. For example, when the U.S. was recently blamed for the deaths of nearly 100 innocent people in a single attack, the basic facts of the case were highly disputed. Who are the people supposed to believe?

Because they know the impact on the propaganda war, the Taliban routinely lies about casualties, exaggerating the number of civilians killed and claiming their own fighters were civilians. If NATO is found to be spewing propaganda, they will not be able to counter Taliban propaganda. Western journalists here already do not believe the Taliban or al Qaeda. We know they lie. But enemy shams do not translate into NATO credibility…

Continue reading the whole essay here.

Michael Yon recently sent an email to those on his list :

The French and NATO are challenging reports from me and a Canadian newspaper about existence of a secret NATO/ISAF document. This secret document describes the battle during which 10 unprepared French soldiers were killed. The document is real. If the French and NATO continue to challenge its existence, they face embarrassment.

Here’s the newspaper report to which Mr. Yon refers:

France denies troops ill-equipped in Afghanistan

The Globe and Mail reported Saturday that it had obtained a NATO document saying that French troops ambushed during a reconnaissance mission had to abandon a counterattack when weapons on their vehicles ran out of ammunition 90 minutes into the battle. The article alleged that the single radio of one French platoon went dead, leaving those soldiers unable to call for help.


The newspaper is “totally wrong,” Capt. Christophe Prazuck, spokesman for the French military, said Sunday…

The veracity of this account is crucial to the disposition of French troops in the future. The French legislature is set to vote quite soon on President Sarkozy’s plans for the country’s military strategy in Afghanistan. France will increase its presence to more than three thousand troops placed there if Sarkozy’s plans go forward.

There is little doubt that the August incident which killed ten paratroopers came as a shock to the French:
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“In its struggle against terrorism, France has just been hard hit. Yesterday, ten of our soldiers from the Eighth Infantry Parachute Regiment, the Second Foreign Parachute Regiment and the Regiment du March du Tchad died in Afghanistan. Another 21 soldiers were wounded during the joint reconnaissance mission with the Afghan National Army. Serious measures, notably in the air, were taken to support and extricate our troops caught in an extremely violent ambush. They were on a mission in the Kabul region, where our forces have been located, along with our allies, since 2002.

I acknowledge with respect and emotion the courage of these men, who fulfilled their duty to the point of the supreme sacrifice. My thoughts go out to their families and friends, to whom I express on behalf of France my condolences. To those wounded, I send my sympathies and my support during this trial. I share the pain of their fellow troops and to all French troops. This evening, I will travel to Afghanistan to reassure our troops that France is at their side.

My determination is intact. France is committed to pursuing the struggle against terrorism, for democracy and for freedom. This is a just cause, it is an honor for France and for its army to defend it. On behalf of all French people, I reaffirm this country’s faith in its troops to fulfill their mission.”

However, a problem has arisen regarding discrepancies in the After Report of the paratrooper engagement. The French military is claiming that a purported failure regarding their troop protection is “totally wrong.”

Michael Yon begs to differ:

Yesterday (20 September 2008), I linked an article in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail concerning the Taliban ambush of French troops in Afghanistan on August 18. The article was based on a secret report that I have read very carefully. The Globe and Mail article described the contents of the report accurately. Now the French military and NATO claim that the Globe and Mail article is wrong.


If NATO and the French persist in making these claims, the secret report, written by American Special Forces who were present, could find itself on the internet. Certain embargoed details in the report are even more troubling than the facts that were published in the Globe and Mail article. [my emphasis - D ]

The loss of ten French soldiers is bad enough. Let’s not make it worse with cover-up. Truth leaks faster than helium. It happened with the mythologized death of Pat Tillman. And it will happen in this case.

There are pictures on Mr. Yon’s site of some of the damage done. He says there are more pictures available.

There is also dissension in the comments regarding the facts of the case. Here is an example, in which one reader responds to others' opinions:

Rampant political CYA’ing within many of the European NATO countries have left the US, Canada, Australia and the UK holding the bag in Afghanistan, with situations like France’s troops often suffering the consequences. During extensive research a year ago on the conditions in Afghanistan vis-a-vis opium poppy eradication/elimination strategies, I was disturbed to find that several of the European contributors to NATO’s ISAF presence had placed unbelievably limiting ROE’s on their NATO contingents. I have not yet looked to see if this remains in effect, (and will do so shortly), but as of one year ago, Germany had restricted their troops in Afghanistan to only conducting ops during the day. Yep, their boys weren’t allowed out to hunt Taliban/AQ after dark. Can you imagine LAPD’s finest being told that they can only conduct ops against the Bloods and the Crips during the day??

Having seen that, sadly I was not all that surprised to hear that the French troops had been sent out in the middle of lion country with limited means. According to Clausewitz, “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” Unfortunately, politics too often undermines the military’s ability to conduct warfare effectively.

Gates of Vienna recently received a snail mail request from Mr. Yon for help with his reporting in Afghanistan. He thinks that the theater of the war being carried on in Afghanistan is being neglected, and I agree with him.

Yon does need more financial support in order to continue. I am going to attempt to contact him to see if the blogosphere can organize a large bleg for his work. If any of you know how to directly talk to him, please do so. He’s doing crucial, dangerous work; support for that work needs to be coördinated in order to have the most effect. Meanwhile, as slooow as snail mail seems to have become, we’ll attempt to reach him that way.

When the history of our efforts in Afghanistan come to be written in any definitive way, Michael Yon’s name will figure largely in the account.

And…as Yon points out, perhaps the French will learn from the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s tragedy. Maybe they will be courageous enough to allow the truth to be told. Our brass lacked that integrity and it cost them - and the Tillman family - dearly as the truth slowly oozed out into the public realm.

It would appear that in making one’s way up the military’s promotion ladder, honesty can end careers. There are medals for valor under fire, but there don’t seem to be any awards for truth when it comes to mistakes.