The Green Berets played a major part in the fall of the Taliban, acting as the liaison between the various Afghan groups who fought against them and the might of US air power. When the decision to intervene in Afghanistan was made, they were amongst the first troops to be available, and small parties went into the country to operate with the various Afghan leaders and warlords who were already at war with the Taliban. This began with the Northern Alliance, but soon expanded to include Hamid Karzai’s Pashtun forces further south. The Green Berets played a crucial part in the repaid collapse of the Taliban, although at this stage were rarely directly involved in combat themselves. Indeed their Afghan hosts were often unwilling to let them get close enough to the enemy, afraid that any significant losses would convince the Americans with withdraw (just as had happened in Somalia).
We start with a useful history of the Green Berets and their earlier deployments in combat (mainly in Vietnam). Next is a look at the current selection and training regimes for the Green Berets, giving an idea of just how difficult it was to join the unit. The Belief and Belonging section makes an interesting point about the motivation of the Green Berets in 2001 – mainly understandable anger after the 9/11 attacks. One unusual manifestation of this was that they took some of the remains of the World Trade Centre with them and used them to create memorials in Afghanistan. One does wonder how easy it made it to work with the various Afghan factions, and in particular those who had only recently changed sides. However the author makes it clear that the Green Berets often felt that they had built up good relations with their Afghan partners, and were generally unhappy at the speed with which they were withdrawn for the invasion of Iraq.
Not everything works well. At the start of the ‘On Campaign’ chapter we are introduced to a fictional Special Forces group, but we don’t actually follow them for long. They are used to take us through the initial part of the campaign – the fast moving battles that led to the unexpectedly rapid fall of the Taliban, but largely disappear when we get to the famous later operations. I would have liked a greater understanding of the very different military tradition in Afghanistan, which is largely portrayed here as an untrustworthy willingness to change sides. One does have to remember that while this was something of a crusade for the Americans in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, for the Afghans it was simply yet another stage in the generally rather violent history of the country, and in particular in the fighting that had been going on since the Soviet invasion at the end of 1979. One does also wonder if the Afghans genuinely believed they were seeing ‘death rays’ in action when shown laser guided bombs in operation – they had after all been at war with a superpower for most of the 1980s, so weren’t unfamiliar with modern warfare and technology. In general the tone is supportive of the US Special Forces and their view of the war, so we also see criticisms of the ‘big army’ attitudes that came in when more troops were on the ground.
Despite these flaws, this is a useful look at the role of the Green Berets during the invasion of Afghanistan, where they helped support the local forces who played the biggest part in the unexpectedly rapid collapse of the Taliban regime.
Introduction: History and Tradition
Recruitment and Selection: Becoming a Modern Green Beret; The Q Course and Robin Sage
Appearance: Bears and Baseball Caps
Belief and Belonging
On Campaign: Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan
Experience of Battle
Aftermath of Battle: A Missed Opportunity and the birth of a Modern Legend
Author: Leigh Neville