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Gary Schroen was less than 3 months away from retirement from the CIA on 9/11. He'd had a successful career there in "Operations", the guys who do the actual spying (as opposed to "Analysis", the guys who try and figure out what everything means), mostly dealing with the Middle East, and had wound up a Deputy Division head. For 2 years in the early 90s he was the Station Chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, and later in the decade he'd flown into the Northern Alliance's territory and met Ahmed Shah Masoud, the charismatic leader of that group who was assassinated just before 9/11. He had extensive contacts with various friendly figures in Afghan politics, speaks at least one of the local languages, and of course has lots of experience. As a result, 15 days after 9/11, Schroen was flown into the Northern Alliance's Panshir Valley on a CIA helicopter along with a half dozen other CIA guys, various laptops, satellite phones, and radios, a crate of guns, and $3 million in cash. His orders were to find and kill Osama bin Laden, and topple the Taliban government. This book is his account of the mission, how it went, and the adventures they had along the way.

Schroen was sent into Afghanistan at a time when the army didn't consider it safe to deploy troops (apparently now, if the army can't medicate wounded they won't operate in an area, and since there were no friendly airbases close enough, they were skittish about the idea of committing troops or flying combat missions) so Schroen and his friends were on their own for a considerable time period (about a month). They made friends with the locals (some of whom Schroen already knew) spread around money to buy weapons and supplies, and lobbied for air strikes, Special Forces teams, and generally support while they watched the Northern Alliance fight the Taliban. As time passed, other CIA teams and Special Forces Operators did appear. At one point in the story, several of the CIA guys participate in a cavalry charge (I keep reading books that recount the "last" cavalry charge in history: believe it or not, this one worked) and there are various other interesting anecdotes. The author, 59 at the time he was inserted into Afghanistan, had terrible intestinal troubles that were never entirely resolved, and one of the other guys had gas (apparently from the altitude). While they didn't get Osama (never even got close, really...they landed on the other side of the country) they were instrumental in tipping the war against the Taliban.

This is an interesting, intelligent book. The accounts of the politics in Washington and the Pentagon are of course frustratingly vague, but of course the author was in Afghanistan when the debates were taking place, so he can only recount what he was hearing over the radio or phone. But for an account of the War on Terror from someone who was on the front lines, this book is just about as good as it gets.

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