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The War According to Michael Yon

The War According to Michael Yon

By Bill Steigerwald

Michael Yon is unknown to most Americans. But in the Internet blogosphere, he is making a name for himself as one of the best combat reporters filing stories from Iraq.

Yon doesnít work for a news media outlet. As he declares on his remarkable Web site, michaelyon.blogspot.com, he is "an independent, informed observer chronicling the monumentally important events in the efforts to stabilize Iraq."

Yon, 41, does much more than observe, however. Armed with only a digital camera, the Special Forces vet from Florida is embedded with the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion 24th Infantry Regiment, which patrols Mosul in wheeled Stryker armored vehicles.

His dispatches provide a narrow view of a complex war. Nevertheless, they offer a unique and valuable inside look at the dangers American soldiers face every day on the mean streets of a city of 1.3 million.

Detailed, opinionated, unapologetically pro-soldier and deliberately first-person, his long reports include I-am-here-in-the-bloody-action accounts of firefights, car chases and tense searches for roadside IEDS (improvised explosive devices) that often result in death.

His most recent blog, "Gates of Fire," describes a harrowing, deadly shootout in an alley with "terrorists" that began with a battalion commander being hit three times, ended with hand-to-hand fighting and included Yon picking up and shooting an M4 carbine. It includes 14 amazing action photos shot by Yon.

Yon makes no bones about whose side heís on in Iraq -- ours. He went in January, on his own dime, to do something personally about the "disconnect" between whatís really going on in Iraq and what the mainstream media are reporting.

Since communicating with Yon by phone is a logistical headache, I interviewed him in late August from Pittsburgh by e-mail:

Q: Has anything youíve seen in Iraq changed your mind about your decision to go there?

A: Terrorism is a horrible thing and must be confronted. If you do not confront terrorism, it will confront you. That said, I have seen different types of terrorism in different parts of the world. "Terrorism," like religion, is a word that begs definition. The kind of terrorist who wakes up in the morning plotting how to run airplanes into your buildings should be confronted.

Q: What is the major thing you and soldiers over there know (about the direction of the war) from being there that we consumers of mainstream media do not know?

A: That very real progress is being made. This war is simmering and could get worse. Iraq could possibly fall apart. We have seen many nations do this. I, personally, have been to many nations during major upheavals. When countries fall apart, the world keeps spinning. Iraq, on the other hand, is getting stronger. Only time will reveal what will happen with Iraq.

Q: I found your stuff very good Ė and I donít mind the pro-military point of view/bias, because you are upfront about it.

A: Actually, the military drives me crazy. Thatís why I got out. Our military is professional, they represent us, and they are not terrorists. They are fighting terrorists now. Itís important to be upfront that I am pro-troop and anti-terrorist. Journalists who are not up front about this are either hiding something, or just look dumb. Either way, they lose credibility.

Q: My fellow journalists, especially newspaper types, say you are not providing the wider perspective Ö.

A: Tell them to get their asses over here and help. I am only one man.

Q: Ö and are not providing info about the enemy and are too cozy with military brass.

A: I fight with military brass. I was nearly kicked out of here last week. There was some serious argument last week after my dispatches "Proximity Delays" and "Gates of Fire." Many people wanted me gone. One captain was screaming at the top of his lungs in a parking lot. Not cozy at all. I just donít air every fight. I donít run a tabloid. There are bigger issues than my relationship with "the brass," which is shaky at times.

Q: Who are you writing this blog for?

A: I just wrote what I was seeing; the audience came. I didnít write to anyone in particular.

Q: Why are you risking your life to write these dispatches? What is your motive? What do your dispatches tell us about our soldiers, the enemy, or the war in Iraq that we need to know?

A: This is an incredibly important moment in history. This is not the invasion of Panama or the expulsion of an army from Kuwait. Terrorism is increasingly dangerous. Your life might end in the next five minutes because of it. Your childrenís milk might be poisoned because of it. Donít kid yourself. They blow kids to pieces here. Scares people when they do that. Scaring people is part of their plan.

Q: You call yourself a writer Ė not a journalist. So should we trust/believe your reports? Are you too friendly to the military? Are you interested in being "fair-and-balanced"? Is the journalism establishment too hung up on these questions?

A: I do not call myself a "journalist" simply because I do not work for anyone. All the journalists I know work for someone. The editor -- someone such as you -- has final say. Actually, your advertisers and so forth have final say. We are remarkably different in that regard. Nobody can "pull the plug" on me, or refuse to run something I write, and therefore shut me down. I am certainly a writer.

Q: Based on what Iíve read of your dispatches, I have learned: The enemy is very tough and smart; the street fighting is frighteningly fierce and deadly; American soldiers are brave, dedicated, good leaders and are trying to do the right thing; our equipment and upper-level planning are not always the best. What else?

A: The Iraqi people and the Coalition are making this work. The enemy is brave, but so are the new Iraqi police and Army. The enemy is smart, but so are many people who are stopping them. The enemy is getting their ass kicked in Mosul. They are still deadly, but they are losing. Three new police stations were built this week. Peace can prevail here. They have been at war here for about 50 years. Itís time for peace. Many of the Iraqis are weary with war.

Q: I was always against going to Iraq; Iím anti-U.S. interventionist foreign policy but not anti-military. Reading your stuff Ė the Aug. 10 dispatch, for example Ė only makes me think that the insurgents/jihadists/terrorists are nastier and tougher and more numerous than I imagined and that we were stupid for going there and should get our butts out ASAP. Am I wrong?

A: You are wrong. If you run, they will follow. They will kill you.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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