Yon: Rolling Stone's report on "kill teams" is BS

Michael Yon gets as frank as possible in this detailed pushback to Rolling Stone’s article on allegations of systemic abuse in Afghanistan.  Having served with the larger unit in question, Yon accuses RS of conflating legitimate action against the enemy with the isolated incidents of alleged murder in order to make the entire unit and chain of command look bad, and that it left out important context as well:

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 yesterday, 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.

I hadn’t heard the “too many bullets” argument, but it’s of a piece with the notion that the use of force in war should be measured and reciprocal, which is hogwash of another sort.  When an enemy speeds at your position on a motorcycle while brandishing an automatic rifle in the context of war, you are not under any sort of obligation to only match the attack bullet for bullet.  To do so would be to give up the advantages of both numbers and firepower.  It’s a great way to get more American and NATO soldiers killed.

That kind of concept doesn’t even apply to police work here in the US, let alone in war abroad.  When criminals threaten police or civilians with knives, the police here are under no obligation to holster their sidearms and whip out switchblades.  Police (and civilians, for that matter) have the right to use lethal force when their lives are reasonably under threat.

The crimes alleged by the Army in the case of the handful of soldiers in this unit should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted if substantiated.  That’s no reason to impugn the other members of this unit, especially by somehow linking the alleged murder of unarmed civilians to legitimate actions against the enemy.

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David Strom 3:31 PM on November 30, 2022