How We Got There: A Short Bibliography

Below is a terrific mini-bibliography from guest blogger Jeremy Ward that takes us back to the genesis of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

In 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, an extremely lean contingent of American forces–mostly CIA, SF and other special operators and intelligence specialists, backed up by U.S. air power–made their way into the country and hooked up with the indigenous forces that became known as the Northern Alliance.  Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?  The object was to destroy the Taliban as payback for their harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and permitting him to use their territory as a safe haven from which to plan, organize and launch the September 11th attacks.  Sure enough, this unlikely alliance of U.S. air power, special operators and tribal/ethnic militias did just that in short order.

The books below tell that tale.  They provide an indispensable grounding for any reader seeking to make sense of the evolution of the conflict from its roots to today.
In 2001, the Taliban were basically in control of Afghanistan.  They had overthrown the corrupt warlords who had supplanted the previous Russian-friendly government; they occupied Kabul; their fighting men were operating not as guerrillas but as a conventional fighting force, with tanks, artillery, and dug-in positions that, unfortunately for them, made them sitting ducks for U.S. laser- and GPS-guided munitions.

The books below tell the story of the if-only-it-were-still-so-easy overthrow of the Taliban, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the escape of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighting elements across the border into Pakistan.  Jeremy Ward has selected a superb pocket library here.  All the books are written either by the actual participants themselves or by outstanding journalists and scholars, working from extensive research and on-the-ground investigation.  These books are indispensable as histories–and terrific fun to read too.  Thanks, Jeremy!

JEREMY WARD, Guest Blogger
This is my short list of must reads for Afghanistan as it relates to intelligence work and special operations (not in any particular order):

1. Ghost Wars by Steve Coll :  This is the single most important book about Afghanistan and the CIA involvement there prior to 9/11.  Coll did a brilliant job.  A historian working for the CIA could not have done much better.  This is a great reference.

2. Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile:  The film sucked.  Read the book.  It’s a focused history that fits in well with Coll’s broad strokes.  An enjoyable and entertaining read too.

3. The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander by Pete Blaber:  This is a great book. Covers some stories from his time as a Delta officer as well as life and philosophical lessons.  Blaber was the AFO Commander during Operation Anaconda (from Naylor’s book).  He’s a bright guy.  Can’t recommend this highly enough.

4. Not A Good Day To Die by Sean Naylor:  This is great.  A very Army-centric view (Naylor writes for Army Times and is predisposed to take their side of this story), but still a great account of what is right and wrong in our approach to Afghanistan.  Read Blaber’s book to figure out why he got it right and the desk jockeys in high places got it really wrong.

5. Kill Bin Laden by Dalton Fury: Not a well written book, but still a great treasure trove of info about spec ops dealings with the Afghans and their culture. A lot of other good stuff about Tora Bora, too. A very worthwhile read.

6. Jawbreaker by Gary Berntsen: Heavily redacted by the CIA, but if you read this in conjunction with First In by Gary Schroen, you’ll be able to piece most of it together. Berntsen relieved Schoen as commander of the CIA Jawbreaker team in Afghanistan. He was the CIA commander at Tora Bora. An insightful read.

7.  First In by Gary Schroen: This is Schroen’s first hand account of taking the CIA team into Afghanistan just after 9/11. It’s great. Can’t say enough good about this book.  (Note: Schroen is also featured in Ghost Wars by Coll).

—Jeremy Ward,
Former Marine Corps SIGINT Specialist


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  1. Jeremy Ward on June 11, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for the post Steve!

    I thought of another book. It’s called “Killer Elite” by Michael Smith. In the chapter titled “America’s Avenging Angels” there is more good stuff on what happened in Afghanistan following 9/11. More on Schroen and his team as well as the ISA involvement there. (ISA is the overall focus of the book.)

  2. Mark on June 11, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Great bunch of recommendations! As a Navy veteran I have to agree that Naylor’s book is a bit Army-centric. Some things he wrote stung a little bit – but overall a top notch work. Thanks for the reading list, there are a couple here I missed and went straight to the library to put on hold!

    • Jeremy Ward on June 12, 2009 at 7:33 am


      Glad you liked the recommendations. By the way, “Robert’s Ridge” by Malcolm MacPherson is sort of the Navy side of the story regarding what happened on Takur Ghar during Operation Anaconda.

      Jeremy Ward

  3. Ed Beakley on June 12, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Jeremy, Thanks
    have two will pursue the others.

    Your take on David Kilcullen’s new book “The Accidental Guerrilla?” Half way through appears right in sink but with some differences in emphasis with Mr. Pressfield’s work
    Ed @ Project White Horse

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