Over-Hyped by Marketing, Excellent for Students of SOF, October 15, 2008
This book has been very heavily over-sold by the publisher and will disappoint those who are expecting something other than a professional account of a professional mission with all its warts.
This is a very fine first person account with ample detail that I for one found very rewarding and worthy of both my time and money (the book is very reasonably priced). The reader will benefit from first reading the reviews of the books I list at the end–one would never know from this account that Rumsfeld gave the Pakistani’s an air corridor to evacuate 3000 Taliban overnight from Tora Bora, that the Navy was certain they killed Bin Laden, or that General Franks refused to put a battalion of Rangers on the back door (the author does tell us of his understanding that President Bush personally ruled that the back door belonged to the “trusted” Pakistanis).
The author tries hard to be nice to intelligence, but his true bottom line is captured in his description of what they had for him:
1) It’s winter in Afghanistan
2) Bin Laden can ride a horse
We all know they had more than that–even with a US Senator blowing the fact that we were listening to Bin Laden’s cell phones and satellite phones–but the reality is that CIA could meet with the warlords but did not have actual people within the tribes and on the ground as the Pakistani ISI did.
The author also makes clear that it was just as hard to figure out the friendly situation as it was the enemy situation. From where I sit, “total battlefield awareness” is a pipe dream–a fraud–and it’s time we started refocusing on humans that can live up to the Gunny Poole “Tiger’s Way.”
Here I my notes, ending with my conclusions and ten books I recommend in partnership with this one.
Early on the role of snipers, and the possible uses of snipers if we could get bureaucrats and politicians out of the way, impress me.
Small teams with a forward air controller that can go deep and stay for days impress me, very much. Unfortunately, we don’t field them often enough (I only have read of use in Colombia, not generally, but SOF operates in over 150 countries so who knows).
Author reinforces the concept of Irregular Warfare as bottom-up thinking in which every person has a say, but takes pains to distinguish this from leadership, with the self-effacing comment that the leaders will decide after the enlisted personnel tell the leaders what they need to know.
Early on he laments to misplacing of the Special Operations “truths,” the first one being “Humans are more important than hardware.” Today privates are being selected for special operations right out of boot camp, and between private military contractors being allowed to loot the public treasury of both money and skilled manpower, and the complete dismissal of all standards, one can sense the author’s thoughts between the lines: DELTA is the last vestige of “true” special forces (although I would include SEALs and some special air).
Air Force air strikes were not great–1 out of 3 hit the target, and the so-called super bomb, the BLU-82, did not explode as advertised.
Bin Laden’s “order of battle” was surmised to be an inner circle of Saudis, Yemenis, and Egyptians, with an outer circle of Afghans, Algerians, Jordanians, Chechnyans, and Pakistanis.
Taliban liked to wear black on black…I could not help being reminded of the Viet-Cong.
Terrain blocked our radios. General Clark and others have made it clear that we are not trained, EQUIPPED, or organized for mountain operations, and between this point, and the personal knowledge I have of how few special Chinooks we have that can operate above 12,000 feet–and only because their CWO pilots have learned to fart into the fuel–it’s clear the US is not serious about mountain or jungle warfare, and marginally competent as urban warfare.
After seven days they were out of batteries and water.
There was a “surrender” gambit when they got close, the primary purpose being to keep an Afghan warlord between Bin Laden and the Americans.
We still have total disconnect between ground troop use of grids on a map, and Air Force demand for latitude and longitude. The $150 GPS conversion is great, Navy and Air Force still not joint.
Lovely account of how they did a field hire of a seeming gift from heaven, a second translator who spoke English, only to learn later he also spoke Arabic and had been sent as a penetration. Sidebar on Pakistani penetration of the Afghan group they were with.
No mules. Very very tough to resupply in the mountains in winter. Even without loads, four kilometers on one occasion took five hours.
Bin Laden evidently wrote his will on the 14th of December, coincident with his rather desperate sounding call over the radio to all to arm their women and children.
We dropped 1100 “precision” bombs and $550 “dumb” bombs on Tora Bora, plus tens of thousands of rounds of other artillery and ammunition. I am so reminded of Viet-Nam, where what we paid for artillery shells being fired could have bought every Vietnamese a two-story cinderblock house with electricity and running water.
Author concludes that the CIA model of buying warlords DOES NOT WORK for specific objectives.
I learn for the first time that a visit was made to Tora Bora after the fact, a forensic visit. [He know from Bin Laden’s later emergence that he did get out.]
The author is scathingly critical of the Army Center for Army Lessons Learned, which has exactly one hit on Tora Bora against thousands of documents visible via the web.
What I learned from this:
DELTA is over-trained and under-utilized.
Conventional Army leaders have no idea how to use special forces in advance of operations or deep behind enemy lines–they simply do not have the mind-set.
CIA paramilitary and some clandestine needs to be transferred into a new Active Measures Command that is the dark and dirty side of Irregular Warfare.
Fine book! See also:
Fine book! See also:
First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan
Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander
Delta Force: The Army’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit
About Face: Odyssey of an American Warrior
Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
The Tunnels of Cu Chi
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
War Without Windows: A True Accout of a a Young Army Officer Trapped in an Intelligence Cover-Up in Vietnam.
See Also the Comments
Robert David Steele
ON INTELLIGENCE: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World