Colonel Darron L. Wright is a US Army officer who served throughout the war in Iraq, in combat, leadership and training roles. He served on three tours of Iraq, one just after the start of the invasion, one at the start of the insurgency and one at the very end of the American ground involvement, when he took part in the final US patrol, which took him from Baghdad to Kuwait. In the two gaps he was still involved in the war, serving in an important training role. This book is based around his personal experiences of the war in Iraq, although he also looks at the wider pictures and events in the country when he was absent. As a result this is both a memoir and a history of the war.
At first I found the book to be a little jargon-heavy and scattered with acronyms, but one soon gets used to them, and eventually it becomes clear that this is one of the book's great strengths. The names and phrases used by the US military at different phases of the war tell us a lot about their attitude to the conflict at each period. They also give us a flavour of the world in which the US soldier operates.
This is a thoughtful book. Wright isn't content to simply narrate the course of the war or his role in it, but is far more interested in examining how the US fought the war, what mistakes they made and how they were overcome. He is in a very strong position to do this, having served in front line combat and as a senior officer in Iraq and also as the commander of a US based training unit. In this second role he took part in the change of doctrine from combat operations to well designed counter-insurgency operations. He is willing to acknowledge when the US strategy was at fault (even when individual operations that he was involved in were successful within their own terms of reference but had a negative impact on the wider war). Key to this is his understanding of what would count as a victory in Iraq - the creation of a relatively stable country that would survive the removal of American troops, and the avoidance of heavy handed tactics that might win short term victories over one group of insurgents but at the same time act as a recruiting agent for their replacements.
Many books written this close in time to a conflict by an officer who took part can be one sided or too close to the action, thus lacking perspective. This is not the case here - Wright had done an excellent job of examining the strengths and weaknesses of the US military in Iraq and the political leadership back in the US (pointing to mistakes and achievements of both the Bush and Obama administrations). This is, and will remain a very valuable history of the war in Iraq.
1 - Background Briefing - The Army Prior to September 11, 2001
2 - The Road to War - September 2001-March 2003
3 - Shock & Awe - The Invasion Begins, March-May 2003
4 - Transition to Phase IV - Postinvasion Operations, June-August 2003
5 - An Insurgency Takes Root - August 2003-March 2004
6 - On the Brink of Civil War - March 2004-October 2006
7 - The Surge - November 2006-June 2009
8 - 'Wahid' Iraq - June 2009-March 2012
9 - Ballots over Bullets - Iraqi 2010 National Elections, March-July 2010
10 - The Last Combat Patrol - Tactical Road March out of Iraq into Kuwait, July-August 2010
Author: Col Darron L. Wright