Top positive review
A Good Book About a Bad War
Reviewed in the United States on December 31, 2016
I am sending along two books: “Hammerhead Six” and “Pale Horse.” Both about Afghanistan, the former is set in the Pech Valley in Kunar Province (NE Afghanistan) in 2003, and “Pale Horse” set in the same valley in 2009.
Sadly, that’s the point. From 2003, to 2009, to today, nothing has changed. Nothing is different despite American dead, wounded, crippled or damaged, and despite billions of dollars spent on arms, fraud, and theft in “winning the hearts and minds” of Aghans. Afghanistan in 2017 is the same as Afghanistan in 2003. This was years of inexcusable, pointless waste and incomprehensible arrogance, at every level.
That takes nothing away from the guys who wrote these two books. “Hammerhead Six” is about a Special Forces detachment from the Utah National Guard (!), most of whom are Mormons. They are sent out to set up an outpost (“Forward Operating Base Blessing”) in the heart of Indian Country. Viewed from close up, their story is interesting, nerve-wracking, and inspiring. These guys are trying to win the “hearts and minds” of the local Afghans. They did their best. Fry, the author, is blunt and straightforward about his time there. It is a good read.
“Pale Horse” is written by an Army “lifer “ who commands an air cavalry squadron. They arrived in 2009 to fly helicopters in support of U.S. soldiers operating in the valley. The flying descriptions are outstanding, riveting; the bigger picture about the U.S. effort in Afghanistan gets in there too, although the colonel does not address it directly. This book is “technical,” as there is a lot of Army flying jargon, and acronyms. Being career military (different from the National Guard green berets, i.e. reservists like me), the author is not critical of the Army idiots who were running the war. The book does contain a fair description of the debacle known as Combat Outpost Keating (October 2009), in which 300+ mujis overran a thinly defended firebase way up the valley. The base was accessible (by Americans) only by helo. The author is careful not to malign the Army boobs who put this suicide firebase at the bottom of a valley, with no plan to occupy the hills that looked down on it. Evidently Army officers are trained differently than we, and terrain is not significant for them. You will gasp when you see the photos of Keating. The “Pale Horse” squadron evacuated the Keating base just before they rotated home.
The U.S. abandoned Camp Blessing in 2010. I believe the last Americans were pulled out of the Pech Valley in 2010; it belongs to the Taliban now. “Hammerhead Six” and “Pale Horse” and all the rest were for naught.
I am reading “the Last Punisher” now. Only about a third of the way through, but so far it is less interesting than “Hammerhead Six” and “Pale Horse.”