The terrible toll of the Marine Corps’ ferociously fighting Third Platoon in Afghanistan, within the context of a larger failed U.S. effort.
Embedded with the Third in January 2011 during its dangerous drive to clear out the Taliban from Sangin, a poppy-farming community in southern Afghanistan bordering Helmand province, war correspondent and Marine veteran West (The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan, 2011, etc.) offers a suspenseful account of the perilous mission, during which the platoon suffered a greater than 50 percent casualty rate. Though the objective of the mission—winning over the Sangin tribes of farmers, installing a turbine at the Kajaki Dam and instilling a “nation-building” ethos through the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency policy—was not achieved, West demonstrates the tenacity and cohesion that kept this fighting force together and driven despite the horrendous conditions. The author gives a terrific overview of the Western attempt after 9/11 to expunge Al-Qaida, while the U.S. remained ostensibly to build a democratic nation. Yet the Taliban crept back in to secure the wealth of the poppy fields, routinely attacking the British garrison around the district market and ringing it with IEDs. When the Marines went in with President Barack Obama’s call for a surge, the mission was to “drive the enemy out of Helmand by walking every foot of farmland”—6,000 steps per day. Despite the confusion about the goal, downgrading “defeat” of the Taliban to “diminish,” and attempting to win hearts and minds rather than killing their way to victory, the U.S Marines took over from the British and kept their sights on defeating the enemy. The battle-hardened Marines lived in caves and were frequently blown apart by IEDs, leaving shock and anger and a fresh will to move forward. West’s last chapter, “Who Will Fight for Us?” offers a heart-rending assessment of the collapse of this long war of attrition.
A moving account of bravery.