MILITARY INTELLIGENCE

Military Operations in Afghanistan

(Operation Enduring Freedom and Follow-on)

Books

S - Z

Schroen, Gary C. First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan. Novato, CA: Presidio, 2005.

Click for reviews.

Shaffer, Anthony [LTC/USAR]. Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan -- and the Path to Victory. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2010.

Varner, Military Review (Jan.-Feb. 2011), notes that because of redactions, "this book only hints at the story Shaffer would like to tell.... Shaffer gained some notoriety for his 2006 testimony before Congress that he was part of the SOCOM-led Able Danger task force. This effort purportedly identified two of the 9/11 cells as well as Mohamed Atta over a year before the world learned of them.... Much of Shaffer's narrative reads like a made-for-TV movie script.... Shaffer's story has made him a cult hero within conspiracy theory circles." He "writes almost ponderously."

See also, Scott Shane, "Pentagon Plan: Buying Books to Keep Secrets," New York Times, 9 Sep. 2010; and "Secrets in Plain Sight in Censored Book's Reprint," New York Times, 17 Sep. 2010.

Simpson, Emile. War from the Ground Up: Twenty-First-Century Combat as Politics. London: Hurst, 2012.

For Freedman, FA 92.3 (May-Jun. 2013), this book "is more than just a collection of anecdotes on the conduct" of the Afghanistan counterinsurgency campaign: it is a disquisition on the meaning of contemporary warfare.... The result is an erudite and intelligent contribution to the literature on counterinsurgency."

Stanton, Doug. Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. New York: Scribner, 2009.

Clark comment: The author's treatment of the role played by specific teams of the Fifth Special Forces in Afghanistan in the first months after 9/11 is detailed, focused on individuals, and overall a good read. However, the war did not begin with the unit's arrival in the country nor end with the siege at Qala-i-Janghi fortress. The presence of the initial and follow-on CIA paramilitary teams, as well British SAS and SBS personnel, is acknowledged but not developed; and the parallel efforts going on elsewhere than in the locations of the SOF teams are largely ignored.

Barcott, New York Times, 17 May 2009, notes that this is the story of the Army's Fifth Special Forces Group and of their fight alongside the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Although he identifies individuals, the author draws his protagonists "in such bland macho superlatives that they all tend to blend into one intense, hard-as-nails G.I. Joe." The Northern Alliance's Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum "pulls double duty here by liberating his country and breaking out of the book's broad-shouldered tough guy mold.... Stanton packs a huge amount of research into a thrilling action ride of a book."

For Seeger, Studies 53.3 (Sep. 2009), the author "provides great insight and understanding of what it was like for the members of TF [Task Force] Dagger in the fall of 2001." However, "[r]eaders looking for an assessment of the strategic purpose of the initial operations or a discussion of how we got from a small set of Special Forces to a large-scale commitment of men and material will be disappointed."

Williams, Brian Glynn. The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warlord Who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013.

Seeger, Studies 58.2 (Jun. 2014), sees this as an "insightful book into Dostum and his life and times. It is "[w]ritten in a clear and entertaining style.... Williams has not only superbly portrayed Dostum as a hero to his Uzbek people but also as a real person whose personal and professional flaws in part explain his relegation to a regional rather than a national role in Afghanistan."

Woodward, Bob. Obama's Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Clark comment: The wars referred to in the title are not those of Iraq and Afghanistan but those fought within the administration. That point aside, this book is pure Woodward. It reads quickly but is filled with detail. Along the way, it throws out tid bits that entice. In the end, however, the book may raise more questions than it answers. Among the enticing items is Woodward's scattered references to "the CIA's 3,000-man army of Counter-terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT)."

For Sheehan, Washington Post, 3 Oct. 2010, this is another of the author's "superbly reported insider accounts.... According to Woodward's narrative, Obama seems to have first stepped into the Afghan war in a somewhat absent-minded way, granting the military another 21,000 troops for the conflict, without much examination, during the opening months of his administration." But the military wants another 40,000 "with no strings attached, no promise that this will be the last request and no fixing of a date when Obama can begin withdrawing them. The president sees the pit opening before him." But, in the end, he "surrenders and gives the military most of what it demands."

Baker, New York Times, 21 Sep. 2010, notes that Woodward "was granted extensive access to administration officials and documents for his account, including an interview" with President Obama. "Beyond the internal battles, the book offers fresh disclosures on the nation's continuing battle with terrorists. It reports that the C.I.A. has a 3,000-man 'covert army' in Afghanistan called the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, or C.T.P.T., mostly Afghans who capture and kill Taliban fighters and seek support in tribal areas. Past news accounts have reported that the C.I.A. has a number of militias, including one trained on one of its compounds, but not the size of the covert army."

An insultingly negative review comes from Richard Adams, Guardian, 9 Oct. 2010: "Disjointed and meretricious, Obama's Wars seeks to tell a tale with no beginning or end, delivered without insight and written without narrative.... Woodward's style is to leave his readers to their own devices, wandering through the corridors of power and eavesdropping on a few muttered conversations, often without context and certainly without analysis. No detail is too trivial to be recounted.... The overall result is what American journalists call a 'notebook dump.'" On the other hand, Kitfield, Proceedings 136.12 (Dec. 2010), praises Woodward's "meticulous research and unmatched access to the top players themselves"; and Mead, FA 90.1 (Jan.-Feb. 2011), calls the work "a riveting and at times revelatory read."

Leonard, Military Review (Jan.-Feb. 2011), says that "Obamas Wars is an exceptional book. No other writer maneuvers through our government's national security apparatus quite so deftly as Woodward.... [N]o other writer can convey the complexities of politics so effortlessly. His investigative methods and his conclusions are as insightful as they are important." This "is an essential resource for understanding the realities of American politics and the challenges of defining strategy in the current era."

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