HH: We turn to an American reporter in al-Anbar Province. Michael Yon, a pleasure to have you back on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Michael, tell us where you are and what you’ve been doing.
MY: Hey, Hugh, good to be back on the show. Actually, I’ve left Anbar Province, and I’ve now made it up to Nineveh Province. I’m up in Mosul, and I’ve been embedding with infantry soldiers, going around, seeing what they’re doing, looking at the progress with the Iraqi Security Forces, went on a mission this morning, an air assault with helicopters and ground force as well, in conjunction with the Iraqis, which was very successful, no shots fired, no drama whatsoever, went over very well. So that’s what I’ve been doing up here, just checking on the progress of the Iraqi Security Forces.
HH: Well let’s start there, and then work backwards to Anbar and Baghdad. How do the Iraqi Security Forces up in Nineveh Province appear to be improving in their efficiency, Michael Yon?
MY: Let me start just slightly north of there, Hugh, and go to two extremes. One extreme is the Kurdish north, where everything is a done deal, and the other extreme is Anbar Province, which you just mentioned, where the Iraqi Security Forces are really in the crawling stage at best. Now here in Nineveh Province, where Mosul is the capitol, the ISF is doing very well, actually. They were doing well even in 2005, but next week, on the 15th of January, we’re going to turn over, with a memo of understanding to the 2nd Iraqi Army division, to take hold here in Nineveh Province, so they’re going to have two Iraqi army divisions operating unilaterally here, and bilaterally, in Nineveh. And so, previously, the Americans were leading the military operations here, and trying to stand up the ISF. And then, after that, and I saw this with my own eyes in 2005, they began to do bilateral operations. And then by the time I left, there were limited unilateral operations where the ISF was conducting the intelligence and planning, and the actual operations. And now, we’ve gotten to the point where as of later next week, everything here…not everything, minor points that are still unilateral on the U.S. side, but I would say some large number, let’s just throw it out there, say 90% of the operations are going to be either unilateral with the ISF doing them, or bilateral with the ISF, or the Iraqi Security Forces, leading the operations. So in Nineveh, there’s been tremendous progress.
HH: Now in Mosul itself, can civilians walk the streets without fear of IED’s exploding and snipers?
MY: It’s still dangerous here. It’s not anything like it was when I left. Now when I talk with the soldiers here, to them, it seems very dangerous, which it is. They have about 8-12 IED’s a day, still, but those IED’s, generally speaking, are not anything like what they used to be about a year ago. A year to a year and a half ago, they would be catastrophic attacks, could destroy an entire vehicle. Now, a lot of them are actually just pipe bombs, and they’re surface-laid. Now there was a vehicle that was very badly damaged about two days ago, a striker, but for the most part, they’re just surfaced-laid pipe bombs, that sort of thing. The snipers previously were very good here in Mosul. Now, they’re not so good. Now down in Ramadi, they’re excellent, unfortunately. But no, in Mosul, the insurgents are on the run. They’re hiding. And so they’re fighting a losing game up here. It’s not over, don’t get me wrong. But the ISF is getting stronger faster than the insurgents are.
HH: Fast forward a year from now, Michael Yon. What do you expect Mosul and Nineveh Province to look like?
MY: I’m sorry, Hugh, I missed that.
HH: Look forward a year and just prognosticate for us. In a year from now, what do you expect Nineveh Province and Mosul to look like?
MY: All right, now I’m going to go ahead and go out on a limb with this one, and take the bait, Hugh. I think that in a year, and some of this is dependent on what happens in Baghdad, but my guss is that in a year…
HH: Uh oh. There goes our phone. Well, we’ll try and get him back, and we’ll come back after the break.
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HH: Michael, before we got cut off on that satellite interruption there, you were about to give us your best guess of what Mosul will look like in a year. Please do.
MY: Right. Hugh, I usually don’t do the crystal ball thing, but I think I’m going to do it this time, because I do have some confidence. I think a year from now, and I’m going to go on the record here, I believe a year from now, the ISF, the Iraqi Security Forces in Nineveh, are mostly going to be running the operation. I believe we’re still going to definitely have a U.S. presence here. That’s going to be needed beyond a year from now. But it’s very clear that the Iraqi Security Forces, the Iraqi police and army, are getting much stronger. We need to build the next layer in their organization. Their combat power is already there. They’re well-trained, they’re getting better as well. But now, the next stage is to build those other layers that go into a military, for instance, logistics and those sort of things, sustainment, but these things take time. But when it comes down to day to day combat, the insurgents are definitely on the run here. They know they’re not welcome in Mosul. And so what’s happening now is the insurgents are trying to operate outside of Mosul in the villages, and they’re now being targeted there. You know, Tal Afar used to be a huge problem west of Mosul about a year and a half ago, but that’s now been a tremendous success story. You’ll still see some attacks on the news, but they’re more of a nuisance than anything else. So I’d say a year from now, you’re…you don’t see Mosul or Nineveh Province in the news much already. So I think a year from now, people are going to forget that it even exists.
HH: All right, now take us down to Anbar. You have an amazing series of posts and pictures on Anbar, and the difficulty of the fighting there. But capture it, if you could, in a few minutes for our radio audience, Michael Yon.
MY: Okay, Anbar is on a different edge of the scale there. The good things I’ve said about Nineveh Province I cannot say about Anbar. I was just down there talking with quite a few Marines and soldiers on different bases, and observation posts, and also people that were out training Iraqi army and police. The government, the Iraqi government in Anbar Province is all but non-existence. Now it is definite confidence among the Marines and the Army trainers there that they are making progress. And you would never guess from the news. And it is deadly. I mean, that’s a serious fight down there. Just in a three day period, while I was in Ramadi and Fallujah, we lost four people to snipers, KIA, and then there was quite a few others wounded. And so, the fight down there is very intense. We don’t have enough people in Anbar Province, and that’s one of our problems. It’s a very large province, there’s big cities there, Ramadi and Fallujah. Fallujah’s getting better, still extremely dangerous, but much better than it was before. So there’s progress there, but that one is a definite sore spot that needs to be addressed in a big, big way.
HH: Now you mentioned on your blog post that the explosive projectile devices being used against our vehicles have become sophisticated, in some instances, manufactured, showing the signs of factory production, which would of course point to Iran. Is that the speculation on the part of the Marines and the Army that you were embedded with?
MY: It is, and I noticed that Tony Snow actually mentioned something about that, I believe it was yesterday.
MY: So it’s not just the opinions here. Apparently, it’s coming from other levels as well. The actual EFP’s, or the explosively formed projectiles, are an old technology that are used in anti-tank mines, for instance, the M21 anti-tank mines. It’s called a platter charge. It’s a very simple bomb, in and of itself. I got an e-mail from a Special Forces soldier yesterday. He said that he was teaching other Special Forces soldiers how to make those back in 1964. And in fact, I learned how to make them in 1983, and it probably took a day to learn how to make them. So they’re very simple. What’s difficult with these types of charges is hitting your target. And that is where the sophistication comes in, because it basically, it’s like a giant cannonball that will fly at over a mile per second, and it will penetrate any armor that we have, even the main battle tanker, the M1. So you know, it’s a very deadly device. However, on the large military scale, it is merely a nuisance. Of course, it’s not a nuisance if you get hit. You’re dead. But on the larger scale of this war, it’s merely a nuisance.
HH: Now what about the snipers that you refer to? Are our teams also in the field taking a toll on the enemy?
MY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, our snipers are better than theirs are. You know, if you were to see a daily count of what happens to the bad guys, if I were just to count what comes across my radar screen, you know, you would see quite a lot of enemy being killed. I don’t report every time an enemy gets killed. If I did, I would be writing constantly. We take a much heavier toll on them than they take on us.
HH: And do you think that that is having an effect on their will to fight, which is ultimately what matters more than anything else, Michael Yon?
MY: In some areas, definitely. The main thing is, and we’ve learned this lesson over and over in Iraq, once you take an area, keep it. Like Tal Afar, you know, west of Mosul. We took it, we didn’t really give it back, but we kept a token force there, al Qaeda came in, in great force, and then we had to take it again, and take it a third time. And as far as things happened in Mosul, we’ve learned these lessons. I mean, you can definitely affect their will to fight. All you have to do is read that letter that Zawahiri wrote to Zarqawi in 2005, that was captured, a very interesting letter, in which he talks about how their top leadership is being attrited, he talks about how they’re losing support among the people in different places. And so, no, they’re not always on the upswing. The places where they really grow are the places that we have not had enough troops, you know, like I said, Tal Afar, we had to put them in Najaf for a while, had it in Mosul. That’s been our big problem in Anbar Province, just not enough people. Once we have enough people there to push them back, and show the Iraqi people who’s in charge, not us…
HH: It’ll work. We’ll be right back.
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HH: I’m talking with Michael Yon in this last segment. You can read Michael’s report at www.michaelyon-online.com. Michael Yon, in your travels, how long have you been in Iraq this time?
MY: I just got here on the 26th of December, 2006, and I plan to stay the entire year of 2007.
HH: Okay, you’ve been there 17 days. How many other media correspondents from mainstream media have you come across?
MY: I came across a crew down in Baghdad when I came through, an NBC crew, and then I saw a German professor, and that’s about it. I’m not tracking them. Of course, there’s not a lot of media here at any point anymore. So you’ve almost got a monopoly when you’re here.
HH: Do you believe the American media is adequately covering the fight in Mosul and Anbar, and other places that you’ve been?
MY: Oh, absolutely not. You know, and I don’t blame all of them, and there are some good ones, some good journalists in the mainstream, by the way. But you know, it’s a very expensive…I believe it must have been Dexter Filkins from the New York Times, I read something from him about six weeks ago or so, and he talked about how many millions of dollars they send to keep their correspondents here. It’s fantastically expensive. Only the top people can actually afford to keep anybody here. I mean, it’s just crazily expensive. And it’s very stressful for the journalists. I went to a conference in Chicago two or three months ago, and it was a media…military media and editors conference, a lot of military people there, General Petraeus spoke, in fact, and you could tell among these correspondents who had been over here quite a lot, some of them are stressing out. So I mean, the same things that affect our soldiers affect the media as well. You know, they get killed, this is the most dangerous war in history for journalists. And they get stressed out and wounded, and PTSD, and the whole shebang. So no, there’s not a lot of media here.
HH: Well, Michael Yon, you’re filling the gap. Tony Snow recognized it on this program yesterday, and we appreciate it. We’ll check back with you again. I want to send everyone over to www.michaelyon-online.com. And support Michael by reading his work, send him a contribution if you can. Keep him in the field so we can get the news that nobody else does. Michael, thank you very much. We’ll check back with you in a few weeks time.
End of interview.