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This book has attracted quite a lot of controversy, which is quite common for 'true life' tales of Special Forces soldiers. In this case it is the allegedly true account of the most senior Delta Force Commander on the ground in Afghanistan after the U.S. responded to the September 11th suicide air plane attacks in New York 9 years ago.
It is told in quite a lot of detail - painfully dull at times - and concentrates on a short window of time during the media - friendly and now 'infamous "Battle of Tora Bora". This event was a high scale concentration of U.S. Delta Operators (the designation of an elite soldier), U.S. Army Rangers (Special Forces), British Special Boat Service (SBS - equivalent to Delta Force) and local Northern Alliance Afghani soldiers who as a combined Force attempted to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden - the new 'worlds most wanted man'. This event was written up endlessly by the British media, and they adorned their puff - pieces with cartoon graphics of soldiers heroically fighting in caves at close quarters with enemy insurgents, sometimes hand - to - hand. I know a little about conventional warfare, and these accounts were frankly ridiculous. But the public like stories of heroic soldiers taking on the big, bad enemy, and it makes for great 'Dan Dare' type reading.
Dalton Fury is a pseudonym, which the author states is necessary because of the risk to his life and the fact he didn't want to offend members of the Delta Force community after the events portrayed in the book, or expose their identities by association with him. He also states early in the book that he was approached to write an official account of events of Delta Force by an alumni organization and felt obliged to subsequently tell the 'truth' of what went on at Tora Bora and discount the fanciful media stories of pitched battles in caves and knife battles with insurgents. This doesn't sit well with anecdotal accounts that since publication, Dalton Fury has become persona non grata in the Delta Force community due to breaching the unofficial oath of secrecy and solidarity to ones comrades. It is a similar problem the famously shy British Author Andy McNab (real name Steven Billy Mitchell) faced when he wrote his less than charitable accounts of some of his colleagues in the SAS. But in Fury's case he kind of does the opposite - he practically gushes over his soldiers, and when you have read it for the umpteenth time it starts to get very boring indeed.
Delta Force were mobilised in an unconfirmed strength (rumoured to be around 50 in total at different times) to the Tora Bora mountain range (near the Khyber Pass, quite close to the Pakistani border) with the sole task of capturing, killing or providing irrefutable evidence of Osama Bin Laden's demise - such as DNA evidence in the form of body parts or blood. The political focus behind this operation was immense, with the entire mechanism of the U.S. Department of Defense (sic) given instructions to achieve this goal by the White House. The American public were hurting and they wanted to manifest their anger by seeing Osama Bin Laden dead. Delta, through Dalton Fury and his senior command structure were to liaise with the CIA near to the vast mountain complex identified by intelligence assets as the 'likely' holding up place of Bin Laden and an unknown number of Arab (non - ethnic Afghani Al Qaeda) fighters.
Fury, being the senior guy on the ground had a lot of dealings with a Northern Alliance Warlord named General Ali, as well as various aspects of tribal Shura's (Village/town elders, equivalent to councillors or Mayors). Significant portions of the book concentrate on meetings with Ali and his staff, and painstaking hoop - jumping in order to not offend local sensibilities and not be seen to be taking over what was essentially their fight.
Therein lies the rub. Delta Force was tasked with operating 'low key' probes into enemy territory as 'escorts' and advisor's. They were not to be involved in direct fire operations. Essentially they were the 'motivators' and 'instigators' of actions and that had to be seen as being made by General Ali and the Northern Alliance. The U.S. wanted it to be seen as a Northern alliance victory and a common goal to rid the world of an evil terrorist. For some bizarre reason the U.S. government didn't want to commit thousands and thousands of ground troops to encircle Bin Laden and tighten the net around the mountains of Tora Bora. They did not want to be perceived as 'invading Muslim lands'. The irony is that is exactly what followed with both Afghanistan and Iraq and now the folly of both incursions is literally screamed from the rafters at every possible opportunity by the usual international suspects. What followed was that despite the careful and meticulous planning in this operation, Bin Laden was able to walk casually our of the 'rear' of the Tora Bora complex - effectively sneak out the back door - and 'waltz' into Pakistan and to the unstable North Western Tribal belt. The U.S. made a catastrophic mistake by taking Pakistan at their word that they would secure the border and prevent a mass exodus when the U.S. concentrated the bulk of their air strikes at Tora Bora and the Northern Alliance stormed the mountain stronghold.
This is a bizarre decision in my eyes, as it is well known that the Pakistani ISI had been for years supplying the Taliban with Intelligence and weapons/training/skills in order to bolster them against potential Shia uprisings and a possibly change to the balance of power in the region. They were not prepared to allow a Shia group to seize power in a neighbouring territory. On the other hand, the U.S. had few or no allies in the region, and they were loathe to invade Pakistani territory to achieve their goal. With the benefit of hindsight, they would have done this differently as U.S. Special Forces are operating in Pakistan even as I write this.
As some of you will surmise, I have an interest in this region and also with Islamist terrorism and jihadism. I have read quite a bit on the subject, and have previously enjoyed overviews of CIA Afghanistan accounts - including the book about the 'Jawbreaker', who were the Bin Laden unit in America's Intelligence arm, and 'First In' by Gary Shroen. So I have a pretty good idea of what was going on in the region prior to reading Fury's account. Gary Shroen was there at the same time Dalton Fury and was tasked as the CIA 'bag man' - which effectively meant he was bribing his way into the good books of Northern Alliance Warlords. That is how business was done. The CIA chief was literally handing over suitcases containing millions of dollars to various people, securing their support not by common cause or a desire to help them in their quest (which they did with military ordnance and personnel anyway), but by bribery. That is the only thing the Warlords were truly motivated by as it guaranteed their status in society. A poor Warlord does not have much of a retinue.
Fury portrays endless frustrations at General Ali (his proxy commander in the Northern Alliance) as a media savvy figure who was more interested in presenting his 'achievements' to the massed ranks or reporters each morning than by committing his Forces to a surge on the Mountain complex. He moans about endless unfulfilled promises, demands for more cash by Ali and ever - slipping deadlines on when they would commit to the final push. He realises every day spent is another day Bin Laden could have escaped, and is helpless to do anything about it. He constantly moans about instructions from his faceless superiors in the U.S. giving him unrealistic orders and not appreciating the complexity of the task he faced on the ground.
He laments the lackadaisical approach to soldiering exhibited by the Afghani Northern Alliance, many of whom are only fighting to earn enough for their families to survive on. Most don't care about Bin Laden or the threat he faces, and effectively they are mercenaries because Ali used the money from the U.S. to pay their wages.
He questions their commitment, but I think this naive in the extreme. They had no hatred for Bin Laden, and indeed many saw as him as a latter day Islamic 'white knight'. He frequently expresses frustration at their poor soldiering skills, lack of preparedness to spent nights out in tactical situations (consolidating positions they won during daytime fire fights), and often talks of Ramadan feasting meaning Northern Alliance personnel had to eat after daylight hours. I believe he is very naive about this on more than one count, as in no way are Northern Alliance conscript fighter comparable to Delta Force Operators. They lack the skills, training, equipment, ethos and more importantly the desire to do what the American soldiers wanted to do. For Delta, this was personal, and a lot of them were hurting over the affront to American independence and strength by such a brazen terrorist act on 9/11. He has no right to expect what are effectively illiterate mountain youths to behave like disciplined elite soldiers and feel the same burning hatred of Bin Laden that they do.
Fury bemoans the Tribal Shura's and their disdain at the apparent heavy U.S. presence in their lands. Having experienced years of Soviet oppression and occupation, they were obviously dismayed at the prospect of another Empire taking hold in their land. Quite what they would have said had they been able to see the hordes of U.S., U.K. and coalition soldiers spending 9 years there with still no end in sight is a question we know the answer to. General Ali had to constantly say 'yes' to American interests whilst at the same time not compromise his power by allowing them to have a free reign. He was the consummate 'Yes man', but never committed, much to the chagrin of Dalton Fury. Fury knew the score, but was powerless to do anything about it. He knew that there was a chance General Ali could be replaced by some younger, more enterprising fighter, and saw the futility in forcing him to commit to attacks before he was ready. The CIA experienced the same problem in this regard and frequently thought they might have 'backed the wrong horse'.
When Fury is not criticizing everything and everyone around him due to his impotence at being unable to directly influence 'his' battle, he is usually fawning over his command. It gets very embarrassing at times to repeatedly hear how superhuman his troops are. If they are not pumping massive amounts of iron, they are running faster than Olympic athletes for fun, or breezing though triathlons. Obviously they are all the best marksmen and combatants that ever lived, and the World is a safer place now that his guys are 'on the job'. Yawn.
From this I get the impression Fury is lamenting their lack of gainful employment in a war zone and being reduced to mere bit parts more than anything else. His troops act as functionaries, and more often than not have to 'advise' (read cajole) the disinterested Afghani's into action and spur them to advance into the face of enemy fire. Fury may mock the Afghani's, but many would counter this by saying it's tantamount to suicide for an attacking force to advance on a well supplied and well motivated enemy who are dug in to an elevated and fortified position. They had an abundance of mortars to reign down fire on any attacking force, and whilst they were not accurate, they put the fear of god into the Northern Alliance conscripts. And when you factor in that the Al Qaeda fighters were fighting for what they believed in and were supposed to be Bin Laden's personal guard force, its unfair of Fury to expect miracles from unmotivated and untrained (by his standards) heroin smoking guerrillas.
Furthermore, it couldn't be helped that the U.S. 'surge' (minus U.S. ground troops) policy coincided with Ramadan. The fact that the Afghani's couldn't eat during the day and would return to their permanent encampments at night is pretty much to be expected. They did not have the same ration packs or cooking equipment as the U.S. soldiers, and to suddenly expect indigenous conscripts to adopt Western soldiering methods is naive in the extreme.
As well as constantly moaning about his lack of firm guidance, assertiveness and direction from his Special Force Command structure in the U.S., Fury talks a lot about the U.S. Air Force's 'brilliance' at strategic bombing. Indeed, one of these images adorns the front cover of the book. When you consider that each of these bombardments cost millions of dollars and they were relentlessly pounding the Tora Bora mountain range in the lead up to the final assault, it is amazing just how much money was wasted on a pretty ineffective campaign. According to the official report which I have examined, the cost of spent munitions alone exceeded $400 million. Considering the number of enemy combatants killed was modest to say the least, it is not hard to see why the last section of the official report is titled 'The price of failure'.
Which is essentially how I am going to sum up this review. The book is an endless whinge about how Delta Force were never allowed to do what they do best - go in and 'kick ass'. Fury pulls no punches in slating the system he works in, but comes over as naive and whiny in the process. What did he expect? There were supposedly 200-300 Delta Operators and various detachments of U.S. Special Forces Army Rangers tasked with doing a job that 100,000+ troops haven't been able to do since - capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Fury can lament circumstances such as Ramadan, the weather, inaction by local commanders and restrictive rules of engagement forced onto his command, but the simple fact is that the combined Allied/U.S. effort allowed Bin Laden, his personal bodyguard, command structure and key fighters to waltz out of a supposedly encircled and bombarded position straight across the border and to safety in the Pakistani tribal areas.
I would argue that Fury should have not have bothered writing this story. It has made him an 'untouchable' in the U.S. Special Forces community and is persistently lacking in detail, excitement, engagements or the Special Forces revelations that make books on Delta Force, the SAS and SBS interesting to the general public. The public want to hear about innovative techniques and cutting - edge technologies that Special Forces routinely use, but this is sadly lacking here. At some points I forgot that Delta were indeed anything to write home about and were not regular infantry soldiers.
Essentially, this is a boring account of endless bombing runs by B-52 bomber planes against an unresponsive enemy, and how Fury's Team(s) were laser marking specific areas for the pilots to aim at. This is all well and good, but they fundamentally failed to 'crack the nut' and take out the mountain strongholds that were constructed to fight and eventually defeat the Soviet Union 30 years before the events in this book. The only other thing Delta Force seem to do here is baby sit reluctant Northern Alliance conscripts in their 'jaunts' up to engage the enemy for a few hours at a time before buggering off for a sleep. Accounts of Delta Operators engaging in battles with Al Qaeda/Taliban fighters are so rare, I can only think of 5 or so in the whole book. This may be the truth, but it's not the kind of story the reader wants to hear. I can think of 5 books regarding Delta Force that are more interesting reads from Operations 20-30 years ago than this. I was expecting so much more and it failed to deliver on almost every level. I veritably lap up Special Forces tales, and most are revealing even if they are heavily edited - as this was. But somewhere Fury forgets that he is writing a book and merely just relates a very dull tale of day to day soldiering in the harsh Afghani wilderness. That may be the reality of the situation, but it makes poor reading.
Fury writes a great deal about a shadowy CIA co-opted translator named 'Adam Khan', and how he was fundamental to the U.S. mission at the battle of Tora Bora. I agree with this, as he appears pivotal throughout. Revealed only as a former Marine Corp soldier, he is key to much of what goes on. It appears that without him acting as the go - between Delta Force, The CIA and the Northern Alliance, the whole thing wouldn't have gotten off the ground. I would much rather have read his autobiography than this boring tale. At least he seemed to have achieved something during this disaster of a military campaign.
I would not recommend this book to anyone but the most hardcore military anorak. I have read a few war stories that are based on fact, but can think of few that made me want to throw the book in the bin and which took over a month to read.