Robin Moore is the author of the classic The Green Berets. He’s also the only civilian I know of to complete Special Forces qualifications and has spent decades befriending and palling around with members of the SF community. As such, it’s only natural for the reader to expect an unapologetically triumphalist narrative of SF exploits in Afghanistan, and that’s more or less exactly what we get here. With a book like this, we have to take the bad (unabashedly pro-SF bias, tone, lack of citations) with the good: unfettered access to SF operators and a clear, exciting, eminently readable account.
The book is organized in roughly chronological fashion, from soon after September 11 through September 2002. Each chapter is composed of a series of sub-sections that are really more like a set of vignettes. The book would have been stronger, I think, had these vignettes been woven into a coherent, flowing narrative. As it is, the work comes off as being relatively choppy and disjointed, and seems almost hastily constructed, with much of the connective tissue the reader would expect missing.
The book’s greatest strength (and perhaps its greatest weakness) is the narrow – at times extremely parochial – focus on SF operations in Afghanistan in 2001-2002 through Tora Bora and Operation ANACONDA. In the rush to get the book out roughly a year after September 11, the chronological focus of the book is necessarily compressed. Sadly, as of this writing (May 2011), the US is still in Afghanistan, and while the “hunt for Bin Laden” has only recently proven successful, the last eight years of SF and other operations in Afghanistan are not chronicled here. This is not by any means the definitive history of SF operations in Afghanistan, or even the definitive history of the first year of those operations (e.g., while Moore devotes a few pages to the Battle of Roberts Ridge, that battle is detailed exhaustively in Malcolm MacPherson’s Roberts Ridge: A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan). This work is a snapshot in time, and an early one at that, so it has to be taken on its own merits. It does include a number of details on particular operations that I have not seen elsewhere. For example, Moore includes an account of the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi (the prison uprising where CIA officer Mike Spann was killed and where John Walker Lindh was captured) that is at odds – dramatically so – with other accounts, so Moore’s work is useful for these kinds of details as well.
The book suffers from a lack of attention to detail on what CIA paramilitary forces were doing in Afghanistan (Schroen’s First In and Berntsen’s Jawbreaker will help fill in this gap) – what little Moore does say about the CIA is almost unrelentingly negative or dismissive – nor does it say much about what other SOF teams were doing. It is simply a highly-focused account of what the SF A-Teams were doing, no more, no less. Moore is clearly channeling the frustration of many SF operators with conventional forces and US military leaders without SOF experience (Franks, for example). That’s fine, I share that bias to some degree, and these frustrations are visible in a variety of sources, but readers should be aware of Moore’s (and his subjects’) positions and biases.
The book is exciting, interesting, and generally well-written, though its organization needs work, and I wish that Moore had taken another year to polish and expand the book before publishing. I give it 3 stars out of 5, but would very much have liked to have seen Moore do an expanded second edition of the book (sadly, Moore died in 2008).
Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers