When I was contacted by the publisher asking me if I would be interested in a copy of this new book that has come out titled The Only Thing Worth Dying For, I knew from the title alone that it was probably going to be good. Once I checked out the website at http://www.onlythingworthdyingfor.com/ I was convinced it was a book I HAD to read.
I have been struggling with how to write this review as I want to be able to highlight key parts of this book but don’t want to give it all away. I have edited this many times so I hope this review gives the book justice.
Eric Blehm (who was interviewed on You Served Radio Feb 11th, http://www.blogtalkradio.com:80/youserved/2010/02/12/episode-75) did a great job writing the story of ODA574 and how this single 11-man Special Forces A-team did the true Special Forces job of partnering with local opposition to overthrow an oppressive regime and help that opposition train to get ready to fight against the regime. In this case the oppressive regime was the Taliban, and the opposition was a little-known influential leader in the area named Hamid Karzai. Even though there were already SF teams and CIA in northern Afghanistan teamed up with the Northern Alliance, the Northern Alliance was a loosely disciplined and defined fighting force. In the south, it was Hamid Karzai with maybe a dozen loyal supporters.
Eric does a fabulous job of not inserting his opinion or viewpoints into any part of this book. Instead he simply tells the story of them men that were part of this critical mission. Actually to call it critical is an understatement. Had this team not partnered with Karzai, or had any number of things happened which could have caused this mission to fail, it is without a doubt that Afghanistan would not be where it is today. Yes, this 11-man team wrote history and has had a direct influence into where we are today in the Global War on Terror.
Kandahar was the last city to fall in Afghanistan, and was considered the headquarters of the Taliban in 2001. When that city surrendered the initial “liberation” stage of the war in Afghanistan was considered complete. The actions of this team, and many others that supported them caused that to happen. In addition to helping bring down Kandahar, they also protected Hamid Karzai at all costs because they recognized his importance to the success of Afghanistan.
Unlike many other books I have read which tend to name and highlight people that do good things but hide the identity of people that screw up, Eric does not do that. Because he is truly just telling the story of these men, he calls out and tells the story of even those that made mistakes…even mistakes that costs American lives. The book is an easy read and does not cause the reader to have a Google page opened up to define military jargon. As my buddy CJ says, it does not go into the technical weeds that will cause the non-Special Forces reader to get lost.
The book starts with a prologue of Eric finally getting a chance to meet with Hamid Karzai in a NYC hotel room. Eric was given 15 minutes between meetings of (then) VP candidate Sarah Palin and (then) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That 15 minute meeting dragged on for over an hour as Karzai recited many facts from memory about the men on that team and looked at photos that Eric brought with him. Secretary Rice was made to wait, but I am sure she would understand if she knew why.
As per Eric’s website, I want to highlight the following paragraph
From the author of the award-winning The Last Season comes a one-of-a-kind war story that redefines our understanding of America’s early days in Afghanistan. THE ONLY THING WORTH DYING FORreveals, for the first time, the astonishing true story of the Special Forces A-team that helped conquer the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, and bring Hamid Karzai to power. In powerfully simple prose, Eric Blehm weaves together the unbelievable chain of events that intimately expose the realities of modern unconventional warfare and international politics during the critical months after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Following Captain Jason Amerine and his ten Green Berets, Blehm puts the reader on the ground alongside Hamid Karzai and his guerrillas as the men of two very different worlds unite to seek a reckoning for the horrors haunting both of their nations…
The video below is Eric himself telling a good overview of the story and them men he wrote about. It is worth the watch.
The story actually starts with ODA574 training in K-stan with local forces there on 9/11/01 and how they agonized with being stuck overseas while their country is under attack. Eventually they get back to the US and thru all the right things happening at the right time, they become the team selected to insert into Pakistan for a mission that would take them and Karzai into Afghanistan to start what was supposed to be several months of local fighter training for an eventual clearing of Taliban forces in Southern Afghanistan. However, as we always say in the military, the best plans in the world get thrown out the window once you hit the ground. That is no different for these true warriors. Murphy’s Law was present, but they adapted and overcame and rather than a couple of months of train-up, they had literally days before they were thrown into the fight.
The courage and bravery of not only the 11-man A-team, but also the courage and guts of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) rescue pilots is demonstrated in this book. These guys flew the first daytime missions into Afghanistan, over populated areas and some of the crew had only been in the area for a few hours. Sadly the incompetence and fear of the Marine Commander at Camp Rhino is also portrayed and I am sure it will make you as mad as it made me. Especially seeing who that Marine General was and what he eventually became to be. I can also say (as I had blogged on here before) that this book changed my mind about Hamid Karzai. I have said some very non-so-nice things about Karzai on this blog many times, but after reading this book I have to be honest when I say that I have a lot more respect for Karzai now than I ever did before. Not to say Karzai is perfect, but at least I know how he used to be and where his roots are in the Global War on Terror.
The whole story is told in this book, from the impact of 9/11/01 on these guys and our military, to the planning process and decision making, to the decisions entrusted to a Captain (Now-Major Jason Amerine will be interviewed on You Served Radio on Feb 18th, 2010 at http://www.blogtalkradio.com:80/youserved/2010/02/19/episode-20) and 10 of his men to how things tend to get screwed up when higher command go against their own doctrine and micro-manage competent professionals.
There is no doubt that as the years pass, more and more “history” books will be written about the war in Afghanistan. But you don’t have to wait long to find out how our forces inserted cold into the southern part of the country, with no support network, cut off from the rest of the world while deep behind enemy lines. How they ensured that the person who would eventually be selected to lead Afghanistan (three times) stayed alive and how all of them were either wounded or killed doing it. But for those that died, they knew it was THE ONLY THING WORTH DYING FOR.