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Hunt For Bin Laden, The – Review

by: Moore, Robin

Publisher: Presidio Press Book (Random House)

Copyright: 2003

Cover: Northern Alliance Advisor Group

Type: Softcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 3/16/2004

Summary: Not must reading, but informative.

There are three ponderables to be taken from this book: First, efficiency is a product of skill and command, not size. Second, a bureaucracy will grow laterally once it has ascended to its highest level of possible competency. Third, America Special Forces are the best of any military organization at waging war when left to their own devices. The subject of this book of course are the American Special Forces.

Robin Moore takes us onto the Afghanistan battlefield less than two months after the September 11, 2001 attack on America. What follows is a different kind of war story. It is the story of TASK FORCE DAGGER, the 5th Special Forces task force headquartered at K2 air base in Uzbekistand, commanded by Colonel John Mulholland.

As heroic as the war in the shadows were, the Special Forces’ efforts in Afghanistan were executed with such precision and common sense, one is apt to miss the point that it could have been otherwise. Robin Moore sprinkles his narrative with flashes of the alternatives, but he does not dwell on them. That’s a good thing. Despite the riveting war narrative, it is the seemingly parenthetical commentary that grabs your attention. One can not help but to recall the adage that victory has a million masters, defeat is an orphan.

It would have been relatively easy for the United States to repeat the fiasco of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in the early 1980s. The fact that America implemented the lessons of twentieth century warfare and put a small, mobile offensive force on the ground can ultimately be attributed to Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Of course, his rational could have also been that there were no significant targets in Afghanistan warranting a large ground force. In Moore’s book, it is the foresight (or dismssiveness) of Rumsfeld that allowed the Special Forces to prosecute the war. Adding to Moore’s assessment is the March 2004 invasion of Iraq with a relatively small force. In one case, the results were successful, in the other, not so successful.

As numerous authors have pointed out, any adversary against the United States would be a fool to go army to army against the technology of America’s armed forces. In anticipating this attitude on the part of the enemy, Rumsfeld has forced the military to adapt to the weakness of its potential foes. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is that Rumsfeld’s new way of waging war assures military victory but leaves political victory floating in a sea of intangibles like determination and will.

Task Force Dagger was able to respond quickly and effectively to support the Special Forces teams dropped into the environs of Afghanistan. The Taliband and al-Qaida hangers-on (i.e., parasites) were dislodged and the way was paved for a new political order. However, the fighting continues even today. One of the consequences of the Rumsfeld’s new military strategy for both victor and vanquished is that the machinery of war can be easily dismantled, but the political machinery that support a war machine can linger into a slow death. Rumsfeld’s new strategy creates a political order vacuum, but it does not put in place a new order. For a nation pursuing democratic principles, such as America, the results can be disappointing to say the least. Think revolutionary France and the rise of Napoleon.

Moore relates two rather disturbing non-combat incidents that makes the reader set up and take notice. The first involves the surrender of the city of Kunduz in November 2001 in northern Afghanistan. Surrounded for forces fo the Northern Alliance and the Green Berets TEXAS 11 team, the Afghan Taliban and foreign al-Qaida troops contemplated surrender. During the protracted negotiations, two planes laded at the airfield controlled by the Taliban. General Daoud, leader of the Northern Alliance forces, stated that the planes were sent by the Pakistani ISI intelligence service to recuse top Pakistani intelligence aides and top al-Qaida officials caught in the siege. The author raises the prospect that if al-Qaida and ISI personnel had been allowed to escape, “valuable intelligence had been lost”. But Moore leaves the mysterious flight to safety in the realm of a pay-off to the Pakistanis by the United States for Pakistani cooperation in the war. That’s a weird thing.

Another tidbit of adrenal stimulation in this book, above and beyond the tale of war, are some comments Moore makes about the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He reports that the New York Police Department sent its own “undercover counterterrorists” into Afghanistan and Pakistan because NYPD could not get relevant information out of the FBI. They still weren’t sharing. And the FBI, “after years of disgrace and embarrassment. . .convinced Congress to expand its coutnerterroism workforce fourfold to four thousand personnel. It was typical FBI wisdom . .and it was typical American response-when faced with incompetence and bureaucracy, spend another billion dollars, and hire some more bureaucrats to fix the problem.” This is all rather misleading. Actually, the FBI’s counterterroism workforce was working rather well by most accounts. The problem was FBI leadership in Washington. A different story.

THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN is not must reading, but it is an enjoyable and highly informative read.

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