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FIRST IN by Gary C. Schroen

FIRST IN

An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan

By Gary C. Schroen

Pub Date: May 31st, 2005
ISBN: 0-89141-872-5
Publisher: Presidio/Random

Of mullahs, mujaheddin and moolah: a spook’s-eye view of the recent fighting in Afghanistan.

Most professional soldiers are reluctant to talk about the things they’ve done and seen in the field, but CIA types these days seem happy to tell all. Agent Schroen takes pains to accentuate the positive—opening, for instance, with the happy assurance that a CIA review board called his book “the most detailed account of a CIA field operation told by an officer directly involved that has ever been cleared . . . for publication.” Among the details to which we’re treated: Schroen’s team’s communications officer was flatulent, but he kept the cables coming, and that’s the important thing. If you’re high enough up in the paramilitary food chain, you get what you ask for, including, in the case of the “Jawbreaker” crew, 200 pounds of Starbucks coffee and a Bible (“I never knew whether Chris actually read the Bible he had requested, but it was a thoughtful gesture for the CTC logistics officers to make the extra effort to purchase and ship it to him”). If you want to get things done in Afghanistan, you pay bribes: $50,000 a month for senior commanders back in the golden days of anti-Soviet intervention, rather more today (“In the forty days I was in the Panjshir Valley, I spent $5 million, the vast majority passed to our Afghan allies for their use”). And, by Schroen’s account, there’s nothing quite so thrilling to behold as a cavalry charge, even when the bad guys have machine guns. After all, the good guys have bunker-buster missiles, and it’s not so bad to behold flaming Taliban and al-Qaida troops breathing their last, either. And so on.

A competent enough account of battle, punctuated by useful lists of what to take along. (Power Bars are good. So are knives.) Schroen never quite gets around to explaining why Osama & Co. are still on the loose, but he does close by wondering whether, “given the total preoccupation with Iraq,” the Bush folks will forget about Afghanistan—and perhaps their quarry, too.