To win in Afghanistan, dedicated American soldiers must live among the tribes, earning their trust and molding them into effective fighters against Taliban and al-Qaida networks. Decorated Green Beret Jim Gant made this argument in a 2009 paper that impressed Gen. David Petraeus and other leaders, who told him to go ahead with the plan.
Already an admirer, having covered Gant’s heroics in Iraq, journalist Tyson recounts the subsequent three years, much of it spent in his company, as his unit moved to a remote village, befriended the chief, and proceeded to hire and train the tribesman who soon drove off the local Taliban. Neighboring chiefs began requesting help, and eventually, documents obtained from Osama bin Laden’s compound after his death complained about Gant by name. “The directive mentioned Jim by name,” she writes, “and said he was an impediment to Al Qaeda’s operational objectives…and needed to be removed from the battlefield.” Other units reported similar success, but Tyson concentrates on Gant’s campaign, which produced plenty of fireworks, heroism, suffering and, this being Afghanistan, constant frustration. Even as Gant set to work, the American government was announcing its intention to withdraw from the country. By 2012, the process was well under way, but by this time, Gant’s superiors, irritated by his independence and nonconformity, relieved him, denounced his tactics and forced him to retire. Tyson presents a damning picture of betrayal by commanding officers whose rigidity and lack of imagination was aggravated by personal dislike. Readers will find her arguments impressive, although they will be surprised by the frank admission that she and Gant fell in love.
Tyson can expect an avalanche of criticism for flouting a dozen precepts of journalism, and Gant has been accused of an unrealistically romantic view of Afghan tribalism. Still, readers will encounter one of the only satisfying products of a dismally unsatisfying war: this entertaining book.