Special Forces in the War on Terror, Leigh Neville

Special Forces in the War on Terror, Leigh Neville

For most of the time the long running War on Terror has been dominated by various Special Forces units. From the original fall of the Taliban to the long running campaign against the insurgencies, revivals of the Taliban or more recently ISIS, the smaller elite units have often had more to do than the larger conventional forces, able to take out or capture key targets (at least away from the original invasion of Iraq and the various surges).

This book certainly covers a wide range of topics. Five chapters cover Afghanistan and Iraq, and give a rather realistic impression of how things went by repeatedly skipping between the two, but there is also a look at the other areas involved – from the obvious candidates - Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Mali to the less obvious Philippines.

One thing that immediately stands out is just how many different special forces units there are, with the US seeming to have a particularly wide range of them of types, including Delta Force, the Seals, the Rangers, Green Berets (Army Special Forces) and Marine forces as well as a number of smaller, more specialist units. On at least one occasion this has caused operational problems – the fairly disastrous decision to insert two Seal teams into Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan while the operation was already underway being one well known example.

There is a slight tendency (common to many books on this topic) to focus on the missions that went wrong, simply because they introduce a note of variety. Most successful Special Forces missions followed a very similar pattern, so the temptation is to focus on the missions that don’t go according to plan. The same comes from looking at missions that produced the top awards – medals like the Victoria Cross are more often than not awarded for acts of extreme bravery during missions that have gone wrong, so the section on the three VCs won by Australians fall into the same pattern.  

The book was originally published in 2015, and written at a time when ISIS was a threat, but before its dramatic advance across Iraq in 2014. Some of the more confident comments thus look a bit over-optimistic, but that can’t be helped in a book written soon after they events they describe.

Apart from those slight quibbles, this is a good solid account of the role of the many and varied Special Forces units in the first decade of the war on terror, with a good balance between the overall strategic situation – organisation of units, general purpose etc, and accounts of individual raids. 

1 - Introduction: The World Before 9/11
2 - Enduring Freedom: Afghanistan 2001-2002
3 - Iraqi Freedom: Iraq 2003
4 - Countering Insurgency: Afghanistan 2002-2009, Iraq 2003-2011 and the Philippines 2002 onwards
5 - Industrial Counterterrorism: Hunting al-Qaeda in Iraq 2003-2012
6 - Kill or Capture: Afghanistan 2006-2015
7 - New Theatres: Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Mali and Syria
8 - The Long War

Author: Leigh Neville
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2015

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