John Bernard of Let Them Fight has drawn my attention to an extraordinary comment appended to his post this week featuring the views of Ben Shaw, a combat veteran and embedded reporter in Afghanistan.
Having featured John's post of the original Ben Shaw material, I am passing along the new comment. It is also by Ben Shaw. It is a retraction and apology for his initial observations, criticisms, and opinions, and it is extraordinary for its abject and sweeping aspect.
It's worth pointing out that some of these now-retracted observations are by no means original to Shaw, and have been attested to elsewhere. I refer, for example, to the fact that, as Shaw originally put it, "the current tactical directive leaves U.S. troops on the ground increasingly vulnerable, often unsupported by air assets or indirect fire." See events at Ganjgal, for example.
Shaw also observed that that "Pashtun Islamic culture sees any sort of kindness and mercy as weakness -- and immediately exploit it," further stating that the Taliban, "knowing the restrictive nature of the currect ROE/Tactical directive, use it against US forces regularly." This is something that comes under the heading of Old Hat (and regardless of the guerilla war the US is in). Recently, we have seen this in Marja; also, Paul Avallone describes the same phenomenon from the Bush phase of the war in Afghanistan here. Other examples abound.
The most sensational claims Shaw makes is that "literally 95% of the troops don't believe in their mission," and that that he has "discovered that if I publicize these findings, the Soldiers who I cite will be charged, potentially relieved of command, and I will be asked to disembed from the units," and that "the military commanders here are doing their very best to ensure that this [extreme discontent] never reaches the public." He further wrote that he had removed his image and video footage from public view for fear of jeopardizing the troops (making them vulnerable to military sanction). Finally, he wrote that his next step would be to file a formal complaint with commanders "who use media resources to incriminate their own subordinates."
The following was his next step. From Let Them Fight:
A few Days ago I ran a blog entry entitled 'Corroboration'. The reporter has since recanted and apologized in the comments section of that entry. In the interest of doing what the reporter desired, to publicly apologize for public comments he now regrets; we are publishing his apology:
Ben Shaw byshaw said...
Recently, I posted an emotionally-driven comment on a small blog I found on the internet (http://www.captainsjournal.com/2010/04/19/in-defense-of-michael-yon-an-open-letter-to-milbloggers/), making several derogatory claims about military commands and commanders, US foreign policy in Afghanistan, and the merits of the conflict itself.
Soon thereafter, these remarks appeared on this blog, without my permission, publicizing them widely. The more I look at my own writing, the more I logically examine every claim I made, the more I realize that my statements are altogether out of line and demand a retraction and apology. Below is that piece:
Recently, in an attempt to advocate US servicemembers deployed in Afghanistan, I have committed a series of grave errors. Rather than maintaining any sort of journalistic integrity, I chose instead to write based on my own opinions and emotions, and wrongly presented that material as fact.
When discussing a command and its supposed shortcomings, it behooves me to confirm every potential accusation, ensure that sources are properly-informed, and where possible interview the person(s) in question. In the case of this recent article, I did no such thing, taking vague conjecture and presenting it as factual. My behavior was both foolish and unprofessional.
For my statement that lower commanders are making efforts to charge subordinates for uniform and PPE violations, I sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize. I have witnessed no such thing on any occasion, and regret my accusations, which were rooted entirely in personal anger and not fact. Additionally, there was only one Soldier whose PPE choices were in question.
For suggesting that other commanders are attempting to level these charges against their subordinates, I again apologize. This was unprofessional devolution into hearsay at the total disregard of fact.
For stating that truly 95% of troops do not believe in their mission, I also offer my apology. This claim was in no way based off of statistically-verifiable surveys and should have been presented as strictly my own opinion. Nor is this statement the result of observations or interviews conducted in the past four weeks of my embed in Afghanistan. It is based on roughly seven years as either a US serviceman, or a writer working on their behalf.
For bringing undue scrutiny upon units that have exhibited nothing but the most professional conduct, highest integrity, and ferocity under fire, I retract my inaccurate, unverifiable accusations, apologize for the questions they have raised, and ask that commanders dismiss my writing as poorly-presented opinion statements which cannot be confirmed as factual. I take full responsibility for my writing, regret its negative effects, and humbly request that commanders be released from any proximal responsibility they are believed to have. My writing reflected a personal agenda; not facts, and I regret its publication in full. I have violated my own mission of military and veteran advocacy.
Finally, I apologize to the numbers of Soldiers who brought me into their confidence, who trusted me and cared for me like a brother, only for me to underhandedly level wild accusations against them, their commands, and the United States' military's mission as a whole. I take full responsibility for my actions, and regret whatever loss of confidence I have caused Soldiers to experience in either their commanders or their subordinates.
Ben Y. Shaw