Small Wars Journal

The Bridge

Thu, 03/11/2010 - 10:16am
The Bridge

by Michael Yon

Download the full article: The Bridge

Shah Wali Kot, Afghanistan

11 March 2009

The military axiom that "amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics" has special meaning in Afghanistan. During the Soviet war, though the Bear comprised Afghanistan's entire northern border, the Afghan resistance was frequently able to block Soviet logistical operations, which were dependent on scant roads, tunnels and corridors. Captured Soviet logistics convoys often supplied the Mujahidin.

Logistics in landlocked Afghanistan are exceptionally tough because the country is a transportation nightmare of impassable mountains, barren deserts, rugged landscape with only capillary roads and airports.

When we lose a bridge, we can't just detour twenty miles to the next one, as we might on the plains of Europe. In Afghanistan, there might not be another route for hundreds of miles. Conversely, Afghan fighters, who have used guerilla warfare tactics for decades -- centuries even -- lack our tanks, vehicles and massive supply lines, leaving them less dependent on infrastructure. Most of the guerrillas we face are from the immediate area. Their corn comes from their own stalks; ours comes from other continents.

Download the full article: The Bridge

Michael Yon is a former Green Beret who has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004. No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars. Michael's dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation. His work is published at Michael Yon Online and has been featured on Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.

About the Author(s)

Michael Yon is a former Green Beret, native of Winter Haven, Fl. who has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004.  No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars.  Michael’s dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation.  His work has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.


May I ask one thing. Could people please explain all their in-theatre abbreviations as I thought I knew military abbreviations but have obviously been out of the military too long.

KAFFA (not verified)

Thu, 03/25/2010 - 12:20pm

Last note about PRT, brought up by anon.

Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) headquarters in downtown Kandahar city, The PRT station is a heavily fortified compound where Canadian civilians direct development and reconstruction projects in Kandahar province. Hundreds of heavily armed Canadian soldiers protect the compound and use it as a base of operations to conduct security patrols in Kandahar city.

The PRT's "signature" has projects such as the reconstruction of 50 Kandahar schools, the vaccination of all children in the province for polio, and the $50-million Arghandab Irrigation Rehabilitation Project. (To put the project in perspective, the United States, for example, is to spend $250 million for agriculture projects in ALL of Afghanistan).

The centre piece of the irrigation rehabilitation project is the Dahla dam, which is about 35 kilometres northeast of Kandahar city, at the end of a road that is frequently targeted by insurgents.

They have hired >>engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and water consultant Hydrosult Inc., both based in Montreal, to conduct the rehabilitation project. Their contracts are signed; work plans are being refined and civilian employees from Canada will start arriving soon.

"Several thousand" local Afghans are expected to be employed along the Arghandab river and canal route, which runs from the dam, down the Arghandab valley, and into Kandahar city itself, a distance of about 40 kilometres.

Canada prt has funded the construction of a new bridge<<

That bridge is now complete....

>>Sergeant Brian Highfield, member of the KPRTs Specialist Engineering Team and project manager for the bridge construction, outlines the importance of this preliminary step. "Before the dam can be worked on, the current bridge had to be replaced with one that can support the weight and physical size of the heavy equipment needed to do the repairs to the dam."
The bridge project alone, valued at approximately $330,000, provided employment for about 50 local Afghans. With the roadway now complete, the big step of rehabilitating the dam and the irrigation works downstream can begin.<<

Canada is officially among the worlds top donors to Afghanistan. The list in the link shows what they are/have done in Kandahar…

So, just a counterbalance to your insinuations about who is contributing what in the area.

KAFFA (not verified)

Thu, 03/25/2010 - 10:38am

This is a statement by Captain Lena Angell Dated March 19th, 2010.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A bridge severely damaged by a suicide bomber has been repaired through the joint efforts of Canadian and Afghan military engineers. A Mabey-Johnson prefabricated truss bridge is now in place on the section of Highway 4 spanning the Tarnak River that was destroyed on 1 March 2010 in an attack that left three dead.

A crew of nine Afghan National Army sappers, and an equal number of Canadian soldiers, took two days to assemble the Mabey-Johnson bridge. About 40 meters long, it stretches over the section of the Tarnak River bridge on Highway 4, a few kilometers from Kandahar Airfield, where a suicide bomber drove his car into a on-coming ISAF convoy.

"We began the project on March 10th with ANA and Canadian engineers working 24 hours a day to complete the job as expediently as possible so as to minimize impact on the local traffic. We had practised assembling the bridge days prior, and it was incredible to observe the ANA apply the skills and see the project actually come together," said the Canadian site co-ordinator, Lt Mike Veitch.<<

Just in case everyone is envisioning lazy Canadians sitting around playing hockey.

The fact is, everyone knew who owned what right - aside from some Americans. Just because those few were mixed up (then set straight) it seems to irrationally lay claim to the conclusion that everyone else was unsure too. In fact, right after, more than a handful of top people clarified it...slowly, like talking to a child.

It does say something about those who weren't sure though...hmmm

<em>Ed. Note: received via email on 3/14, with a request for publication.</em>

<div align="right">Leavenworth (Kansas), 13 March 2010</div>
Mr. Yon:

I am Maj. Luis Cepeda, Spanish Army, a student in the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). My family and I have fully enjoyed the hospitality and friendship of the U.S. Army and the American people in Leavenworth, Kansas, for the last two years. I use to search "Small Wars Journal" as an excellent source to gain self-awareness on current operational issues affecting the U.S. Army and, by extension, the rest of Allies in our struggle against those who want to wipe out our Western way of life.

I would like to share with you my profound disappointment when I read on 8th March the publication of a letter from a LTC in the 82nd Division on alleged misbehavior and lack of support from Spanish troops to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. To my dismay, I have witnessed with deep sorrow the flurry of derogatory and highly insulting comments against the Spanish Army and Spanish people in general that this posting originated, not only in your web page, but also in other media. I have to assume that you, as a retired, experienced military, were aware of the potential effects that this single-sourced posting would raise.

I am not in the details of current issues in Afghanistan right now. However, I would like to share with you my direct, first-hand experiences on our support to other nations contingents. I have been deployed abroad four times, the last one in Herat (Afghanistan) in summer 2007. In all my deployments our compounds hosted small detachments of soldiers from other NATO and even non-NATO troops. I can promise you that we always tried to offer them the same living conditions that we the Spanish enjoyed. In summer 2007, I met the U.S. small detachment in Qala-i-Now (the Spanish PRT), I talked to them, and they were extremely delighted of being hosted in the Spanish compound. I can enumerate dozens of faults that the Spanish people might have; but never, never the lack of hospitality was one of them, even more in operations.

That is why I was profoundly amazed when I read this letter. That is not the way in which I have seen our treatment to our allies and friends in operations. Honestly, I find it hard to believe. It is far from my intent to label the information that this LTC provided as false. But I am completely sure that there is a perfect justification by the Spanish alleged misbehavior. Perhaps the ongoing works to build up a new compound in Qala-i-Now and all related constraints is not a minor issue. Now, I do know that senior leaders are addressing this issue not only in theater but also at diplomatic level between our countries. In any case, it seems to me just a clear example of a low-ranking level misunderstanding that commanders on scene can easily address.

Mr. Yon, you said in your comments that you do not have any reason to doubt the report. By the same token, you should not doubt my words either. Your posting has seriously damaged Spanish militarys image amongst our allies and friends, and that does not correspond at all with what I have seen and experienced myself. Honestly, I think that this letter deserves your attention and, maybe, publication in "Small Wars Journal" as a fair retribution of just a Spanish militarys point of view on this issue.


Maj. Luis Cepeda

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 03/12/2010 - 1:24pm

Mike Yon introduces the real complexities of working in a NATO environment:

"While GDA is responsible for the ground, TF-K is responsible for the ground around the ground and the ANP on the bridge, while TF-Stryker is responsible for the road but not the bridge or the ground around the bridge."

The fact is that noone really knew who owned what right after the incident. Battlespace management is the Regional Command's duties.


The Zabul PRT is sponsoring the funding for the Tarnak Bridge Repair.

Another American Task Force is sponsoring the funding for a Tarnak Bridge Bypass.

The US Army Corps of Engineers will be managing both projects.

That highlights his point of lack of NATO funding from a RC(S) perspective as well as a lack of Canadian funding, from a PRT perspective.

There has been 0 Kandahar PRT funded projects in any AO outside of TFK battlespace. Perhaps it is time that PRTs fall under the RCs. Same issue in Helmand.

Worst of all is that while everyone concentrates on the Tarnak Bridge situation, nobody seems to think that something should be done immediately for the Arghestan Bridge which is a few clicks south of that Bridge.

Andy Scheidl (not verified)

Thu, 03/11/2010 - 11:19pm

Interesting report, but maybe a little self-serving.

To review: After visiting some offices on KAF, almost going outside the wire, and then blogging some shaky assumptions, Yon...makes a sarcastic apology worthy of a grade-schooler, and wraps up by cocooning himself in the suffering of real heroes.

After 13 pages, the only things Yon really clarifies are his desire for credibility and an odd contempt for America's allies.

Two notes, then, for Mr. Yon:
1. Balance and fact-checking aren't just for mainstream journalists.
2. The urge to associate oneself with casualties is understandable, but keep in mind: THEIR enemy was the Taliban, not their brothers in arms.