This is the war memoir of a captain in the Army Reserves recalled to active duty in 2004. He served for eight months in Afghanistan in 2004 as part of an interagency task force interrogating captured members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
I would have liked to have had the author’s task force’s mission spelled out more clearly, along with his exact duties, and a discussion of what a typical day/week was for him. As is, the reader is left to puzzle much of this out, as it is never explicitly spelled out in one place at a sufficient level of detail. Much of the book is written as a series of anecdotes. Additional connective tissue would have helped. As far as I can tell, the task force had an unusual intelligence/legal function: it interrogated and exploited Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees, but with more of an eye toward building later legal cases against the men. The author had some training as an interrogator (as well as psychological operations), and participated in many detainee interrogations. He also accompanied a number of special operations and other units in the field to collect additional materials that could be exploited later, either in support of criminal cases to be brought against the detainees or to aid in follow-on operations.
The author’s voice is very informal, which makes the book a very easy read, but it may not be to every reader’s taste. Additionally, it’s an intensely personalized account dealing only with what the author experienced and the people with whom he interacted. His personal convictions, beliefs, and opinions (along with his biases; e.g., the word “media” is seldom used without having the adjective “liberal” appended to it and he explicitly states that he is a conservative Republican) are clearly stated, which I appreciated. A lengthy afterword includes his ruminations on US domestic politics, as Meszaros became increasingly interested in politics on his return. I think the stronger parts of the book are those where the author does not draw a political connection, simply recounting his experiences, but I don’t mind when an author wears his sympathies on his sleeve. It is far worse, I think, when an author creates a façade of objectivity while actually pursuing a particular political agenda (of any stripe).
The book is pretty engagingly written, and even contains some downright funny anecdotes. Some are relatively lengthy descriptions of a particular mission (such as a raid on a high-value target’s compound); it is these that are most interesting because they show much of the tactical processes involved in capturing an important suspect and dealing with the aftermath of the mission.
I should note that the book was apparently self-published via Lulu (a print-on-demand venue for self-publishers and small presses who choose not to use traditional printers). I normally don’t pick up self-published works, but this one was a gift. Physical quality of the book (a hardcover) was good; I am impressed with Lulu’s work. The text itself is better than might be expected of many self-published works. A professional editor could have improved the flow of the text, but it was well copy-edited.
I give this one 3 stars out of 5. I recommend it to those particularly interested in the topic, and probably to those who have served in some capacity in Afghanistan themselves. As long as you’re comfortable with the idea that you really are reading one man’s story (and that of a relatively junior officer), and understand his goals for the work going into the experience, you may find the book interesting. It provides yet another piece of the puzzle in how counter-terrorist operations have been conducted in Afghanistan.
Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers