A sympathetic academic examines how American special operations came to dominate the Afghanistan war.
RAND senior international policy analyst Robinson (Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq, 2008, etc.) concludes that the overall role of “special ops” in American military planning “became increasingly cloudy over the decade in Afghanistan, and for that matter, in the global war on terror.” The author argues that storied units like the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers will increasingly influence the scope of American military interventions, yet the challenges of their training, logistics and supply will keep such missions expensive and complex. Robinson focuses on the experiences of several officers, who have generally made sincere, clever efforts to reach out to Afghans in rural tribal regions beset by the Taliban and have had success training the fledgling African National Police. Yet they have been stymied by the clash of military and diplomatic bureaucracies and the tendency of special ops units to rotate out quickly: “The ever-changing cast of American units sent to Afghanistan did not help the US learning curve.” Still, the author builds a narrative of special ops gradually fostering a network of reliable peers within Afghanistan’s political labyrinth. Writing in a clear, perceptive, though often dry fashion, Robinson makes a sincere effort to understand these elite warriors on human terms: “Special forces tended to view themselves as the stepchildren of the army, unloved by their ‘big army’ brothers.” The author describes many remarkable operations yet underscores the limits of the special ops model by noting the rash of attacks in 2012 on team members by their Afghan trainees.
Approachable, detailed account of the men for whom extreme warfare is a daily job and the American policies driving their expanded mission.