Seldom do I waste time with rebutting articles, and especially not from publications like Rolling Stone. Tuesday, numerous people sent links to me of the latest Rolling Stone tripe. The story is titled “The Kill Team, The Full Story.” It should be titled: “BULLS**T, from Rolling Stone.”
The story—not really an “article”—covers soldiers from 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) in Afghanistan. A handful of soldiers were accused of murder. It does in fact appear that a tiny group of rogues committed premeditated murder. I was embedded with the 5/2 SBCT and was afforded incredible access to the brigade by the Commander, Colonel Harry Tunnell, and the brigade Command Sergeant Major, Robb Prosser. I know Robb from Iraq. Colonel Tunnell had been shot in Iraq.
The brigade gave me open access. I could go anywhere, anytime, so long as I could find a ride, which never was a problem beyond normal combat problems. If they had something to hide, it was limited and I didn’t find it. I was not with the soldiers accused of murder and had no knowledge of this. It is important to note that the murder allegations were not discovered by media vigilance, but, for instance, by at least one soldier in that tiny unit who was appalled by the behavior.
A brigade is a big place with thousands of soldiers, and in Afghanistan they were spread thinly across several provinces because we decided to wage war with too few troops. Those soldiers accused of being involved in (or who should have been knowledgeable of) the murders could fit into a minivan. You would need ten 747s for the rest of the Brigade who did their duty.
I was with many other soldiers from 5/2 SBCT. My overall impression was very positive. After scratching my memory for negative impressions from 5/2 Soldiers, I can’t think of any, actually, other than the tiny Kill Team who, to my knowledge, I never set eyes upon.
The online edition of the Rolling Stone story contains a section with a video called “Motorcycle Kill,” which includes our soldiers gunning down Taliban who were speeding on a motorcycle toward our guys. These soldiers were also with 5/2 SBCT, far away from the “Kill Team” later accused of the murders. Rolling Stone commits a literary “crime” by deceptively entwining this normal combat video with the Kill Team story. The Taliban on the motorcycle were killed during an intense operation in the Arghandab near Kandahar City. People who have been to the Arghandab realize the extreme danger there. The soviets got beaten horribly in the Arghandab, despite throwing everything including the Soviet kitchen sink into the battle that lasted over a month. Others fared little better. To my knowledge, 5/2 and supporting units were the first ever to take Arghandab, and these two dead Taliban were part of that process.
The killing of the armed Taliban on the motorcycle was legal and within the rules of engagement. Law and ROE are related but separate matters. In any case, the killing was well within both the law and ROE. The Taliban on the back of the motorcycle raised his rifle to fire at our soldiers but the rifle did not fire. I talked at length with several of the Soldiers who were there and they gave me the video. There was nothing to hide. I didn’t even know about the story until they told me. It can be good for soldiers to shoot and share videos because it provides instant replay and lessons learned. When they gave me the video and further explained what happened, I found the combat so normal that I didn’t even bother publishing it, though I should have because that little shooting of the two Taliban was the least of the accomplishments of these soldiers, and it rid the Arghandab of two Taliban.
Some people commented that our soldiers used excessive force by firing too many bullets. Hogwash. And besides, they were trying to kill each other. Anyone who has seen much combat with our weak M-4 rifles realizes that one shot is generally not enough, and the Taliban were speeding at them on a motorbike, which very often are prepared as suicide bombs. If that motorcycle had been a bomb, as they often are, and got inside the group of soldiers and exploded, they could all have been killed.
Just this week, in Paktika, three suicide attackers came in, guns blazing, and detonated a huge truck bomb. Depending on which reports you read, about twenty workers were killed and about another fifty wounded.
In the video, our guys would have been justified in firing twice that many bullets, but at some point you are wasting ammo and that is a combat sin. The soldiers involved in that shooting told me that the Taliban on the back may have pulled the AK trigger, but the loaded AK did not fire because the Taliban didn’t have a round in the chamber. Attention to detail. At least one also had an ammunition rack strapped across his chest.
This could go on for pages, but Rolling Stone is not worth it, and thrashing them might only build their readership I’ve found in the past that boycotts work. I led a boycott against one magazine and it went bankrupt. It’s doubtful that Rolling Stone will go bankrupt for its sins, but you can cost them money not by boycotting their magazine, but by boycotting their advertisers. That hurts. Just pick an advertiser whose products you already buy, boycott it, and tell the advertiser why you are not buying their product.
Now I’ve got to get back to work.
Michael Yon is a former Green Beret, native of Winter Haven, Florida, 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 News, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world. He is also author of the memoir, "Danger Close." For more visit his website, Michael Yon Online.