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The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan [Kindle Edition]

Bing West
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $11.06
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description


In this definitive account of the conflict, acclaimed war correspondent and bestselling author Bing West provides a practical way out of Afghanistan. Drawing on his expertise as both a combat-hardened Marine and a former assistant secretary of defense, West has written a tour de force narrative, rich with vivid characters and gritty combat, which shows the consequences when strategic theory meets tactical reality. Having embedded with dozens of frontline units over the past three years, he takes the reader on a battlefield journey from the mountains in the north to the opium fields in the south. A fighter who understands strategy, West builds the case for changing course. His conclusion is sure to provoke debate: remove most of the troops from Afghanistan, stop spending billions on the dream of a modern democracy, and insist the Afghans fight their own battles. Bing West’s book is a page-turner about brave men and cunning enemies that examines our realistic choices as a nation.

With a new Afterword by the author.

Editorial Reviews Review

A Conversation with Bing West, Author of The Wrong War

What is this book about? I bring the reader onto the toughest battlefields in order to show what the war really is – a series of short, sharp clashes between our soldiers and the Taliban. This is hard stuff, and our rules of engagement are too strict. It’s nonsense to say wars aren’t won by killing and bloodshed. That’s how the terrorists seized power, and they have to be destroyed. Our troops understand this; our leaders do not.

What is our goal in Afghanistan? Are we fighting to win? In 2009, President Obama said the goal was to “defeat the Taliban.” In 2011, he downgraded the goal to “preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people.” He no longer intends to win by defeating our enemy. Whether we settle for a tie by negotiations remains to be seen.

What does your title, The Wrong War, mean? Afghanistan was the wrong war for our strategy of benevolent counterinsurgency. Our strategy has been to give money and some protection to the Pashtun tribes in order to win over their hearts and minds. In return, the Pashtuns were expected to stand against the Taliban who were, in fact, their stronger relatives.

This strategy has failed. The Pashtuns have not rejected the Taliban. I bring the reader onto the battlefields in the mountains of the north and the poppy fields of the south to show why.

Do our troops care about politics, or do they fight for one another? They fight for one another. But -- they volunteered to be grunts before they ever met one another. They wanted the adventure - the chance to prove themselves in battle- and to serve their country.

But our generals have to set achievable goals. Otherwise grunts become cynical. Few of our grunts now believe we are winning hearts and minds, as our generals claim.

Does Pakistan control the outcome in Afghanistan? Pakistan provides a vast sanctuary, and refuses to arrest the top Taliban leaders. Pakistan lacks the resources and determination to move against the sanctuaries. Afghanistan can remain intact only by developing a strong army to fight along the Pak border.

What has been the main mistake in the war? We’re paying the bills, taking casualties and doing the fighting. Yet we ceded total sovereign control to an untrustworthy Karzai,. Our greatest mistake was not keeping some control over the finances and the promotions of the Afghan security forces.

Six US generals have failed in Afghanistan. Why? Either we had six incompetents, or we have to acknowledge that very, very few men speak truth to power. On the one hand, our military was too strong to lose. On the other hand, Afghanistan was so vast and so chaotic that our mission of nation-building required three times the number of troops we committed. Our generals knew this. Yet Presidents Bush and Obama did not know.

What is the book’s basic message? Our troops are trying to protect and provide projects to Pashtun tribes that are hurtling headlong into the 10th Century. Our strategy is kind and liberal, but it will take another ten years and one trillion dollars to nudge Afghanistan into a progressive, democratic, economically viable state.

We don’t have that time. Our vital interest is to prevent a takeover of Kabul by the Taliban radicals. We can prevent this by reducing our troop levels and placing the Afghan soldiers in the lead, with American advisers. That is why my book brings the readers into combat with both British and American adviser teams. We must change what we are doing.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. West (The Strongest Tribe), a former Marine combat veteran and assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, boldly assesses the prospects for U.S. success in Afghanistan in this provocative analysis. The author made eight trips to Afghanistan to witness the Obama administration's counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes "winning over the population" ("Thus our military became a gigantic Peace Corps... drinking billions of cups of tea, and handing out billions of dollars"). Embedded with frontline troops in Afghanistan's most violent provinces, West eloquently captures their tireless efforts to carry out an "amorphous" mission. The lack of "understandable policy" confused the soldiers, encouraged risk avoidance among commanders, and "created a culture of entitlement" instead of cooperation among the Afghans who are content to accept aid and remain neutral as they wait to see whether the Americans or the insurgents will take ultimate control. Concluding that we can't win with this strategy but that withdrawal would be "disastrous," the author proposes that the U.S. immediately "transition to an adviser corps" whose primary task would be to continue training Afghan forces to defeat the Taliban. West's vivid reporting and incisive analysis provides a sober assessment of the present situation and prescribes a way for the Afghans to "win their own war." (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 14483 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (February 22, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004EEP9AO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,350 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Right War, Fought the Wrong Way February 22, 2011
Bing West, a former Marine who is one of the foremost experts on counter-insurgency warfare and an expert on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, delivers a searing portrait of the day to day battlefield in his provocatively titled and entertaining, "The Wrong War." He lays the groundwork for his verdict on the conflict through a series of profiles of hard fought campaigns from the mountains of the Korengal and Waigal Valley to Helmand Province in the South. He combines minute to minute descriptions of individual battles and campaigns between US forces and the Taliban with a frank and uncomfortable view of the indifferent role of the Afghan civilian population, the corruption of the Karzai government, and the inability of the Afghan military to operate on its own after ten years of US involvement.
West's understanding and appreciation for US fighting forces gives him unique access; his list of sources goes on for nine pages and the book is filled with descriptions of US forces getting after the enemy and struggling with the rules of engagement around the civilian population that allows the Taliban to function in their midst without recourse. He believes US military should be used to fight and kill the enemy- not win hearts and minds by acting as small town politicians handing out favors - and his narrative gives literally dozens of examples to illustrate the futility of our current approach. Indeed, a reader of The Wrong War will start to come to some of West's conclusions before he lays them out just by the stories he tells in the first 150 pages.

West's solution is nuanced, and isn't easily categorized by the current political debate - shrink the US force to focus on acting as an advisory task force to the Afghan Army.
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60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Grunt's Homer", a nickname well-earned February 22, 2011
I had the both unique and exciting opportunity to read "The Wrong War" as part student of war and part subject matter of the book. In addition to poinent policy analysis, "The Wrong War" provides an honorable tribute to my Warriors of ODA 3121, my ANGLICO Marines and CPT Justin Woodruff, my Marines of Route Clearance Platoon - 3, my friends MAJ Jim Gant and CPT Will Swenson, the architect of Operation Moshtarak and my mentor Col Randy Newman, and my Classmate CPT Jimmy Howell. Based on nearly a decade of ground combat experiences across Afghanistan, it would be difficult to find a duplicate or comparable effort to "The Wrong War".
To my brother's in arms, I highly recommend this book as "Chicken Soup for the Warrior's Soul". As Bing combines analysis of American policy, Afghan history and first hand unit accounts from across the country, the Soldier or Marine may find comfort that our Afghan struggles, though great are not in isolation and though often misrepresented are not misunderstood in this book. To the casual reader or historian, you have a front row seat for the bloody struggle for legitimacy and control in the Afghan countryside and the challenges facing Soldiers and Marines who have been directed to nation build.
I have watched Bing, under fire and without a weapon or protective armor, fearlessly run along side my Special Forces Soldiers (many years his junior I might add) as they jumped canals and climbed walls to vigorously pursue and punish the enemy. Bing has done this over and over again for this book; his heart to tell the story of our sacrifices, victories, and failures from the grunt's point of view shines through every page of this book.

To my fallen Marines, SGT Jeremy McQueary and LCpl Larry Johnson, Ave atque Vale.

De Oppresso Liber,

Matt Golsteyn
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside and Outside The Wire February 23, 2011
This is a must-read book for those who want a tell-it-like-it-is report on the ground action in Afghanistan from one of the top war correspondents of this generation. But it is more than just a chronicle of the tactics, bravery, dedication, and resourcefulness of our troops. It is also a clear-eyed view of the strengths and weaknesses of our strategic approaches to this critical battleground over the past decade, and how they must evolve if we are to accomplish our mission in this extremely difficult environment.

Bing brings a depth of experience from 50 years of service to the nation which gives him access not only to the small-unit actions on the ground, but to the highest levels of command. He is "outside the wire" with the Marines, infantry, and special forces, risking his own life as they do, and able to report on and analyze their battles in a gripping narrative.

Whether Bing's latest book is read for it's compelling stories of today's American heroes or for his well thought out views on how we should proceed from where we are today, this book will be enjoyed by all.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Right Strategy for the Wrong War February 23, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Bing West's unique approach, combining access to both the highest and lowest levels of the chain of command, as well as his own personal history result in an understanding of this war that is authoritative. He is an extraordinary story teller who brings to life the realitiy of fighting this war from the point of view of the infantry soldier. This is a company commander and platoon sergeant's war and West tells that story brillantly while maintaining his strategic perspective.

My son has fought in Afghanistan since October 2011, most recently with the 173rd Airborne brigade in both Kandahar and the northeastern border with Pakistan. He and has fellow NCO's and officers that I have met would fully agree that in order to succeed in the war we must convince the local tribes that we can and will defeat the Taliban and their allies. They would fully endose Mr. West's solution of simultaneously attacking the enemy and building the Afghan army. This is not a simple minded, violence only approach, but without control of the battlefield, no hearts and minds strategy can succeed. West also demonstrates that America does not need nor can it afford to continue to sustain the massive infrastructure that we require to support the classical "big Army" strategy.

This book will certainly intensify the debate on America's proper role in Afghanistan. West protects no senior officer's reputation. After nearly 10 years of war and multiple failed strategies, it should be far to late for that. But for this alone, it will be controversial, attacked and must be read by all concerned citizens and soldiers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Sadly Mr. West got suckered by one story but I think much of his assessment is well placed.
Published 1 month ago by Trust No One
5.0 out of 5 stars Good writer - good book
Good book with all the typical insight. Nice depiction of the Dakota Meyers incident. Should also read his book "The March Up to Baghdad", or something like that from the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by power ranger 1
2.0 out of 5 stars A Huge Fan is Disappointed
I was looking forward to this book as I've read every one of West's books since I bought "Small unit action in Vietnam" in the late 60's. Read more
Published 5 months ago by D. Croft
Published 6 months ago by Walter Joseph
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the very best books on the war by one of the best writers on...
Bing West is a tough, former soldier who went out in the field with the troops on the ground, and he is a smart, insightful writer. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Charles Ripley
3.0 out of 5 stars The wrong perspective on "The Wrong War".
"America cannot afford to loose the war in Afganistan."

Great 2010-11 report about the activity of soldiers on the ground. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Gullible Guss
5.0 out of 5 stars The man has it right.
A man who truly understands all aspects of the conflicts he writes about. He has an amazing ability to tie the actions in the weeds with the overarching strategy and point out the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by woodrow d hawthorne
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding analysis of the situation in Afghanistan
This was one of the best books I have read regarding the war in Afghanistan. The writer was embedded with a number of different military units. Read more
Published 13 months ago by donald kalady
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read
This is almost required reading for anyone, not on the front lines, to understand the challenges faced by the US in the military action in Afganistan..
Published 16 months ago by Roger H. Frommelt
5.0 out of 5 stars Gut wrenching first hand reporting
Bing West rep[orts from the front lines telling the true stories of what our brave warriors go through in the wars against terror. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Robert J. Castaldi, Sr.
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More About the Author

Bing West is a former assistant secretary of defense who chaired the US Security Commissions with El Salvador, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Pakistan, South Korea and Japan. A combat Marine, he has been on hundreds of patrols in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written ten books about national security and battle.

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