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The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812980905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980905
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #348,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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This is a book that is sure to generate controversy and heated debate.
James R. Stark
The book is made the more powerful by the fact that West reports his experiences "on the ground" in Afghanistan with the troops.
Steven A. Peterson
You reach that conclusion as a reader through the stories he tells. . . through the eyes of the soldiers on the ground.
Julie Jason

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By D. Roche on February 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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59 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Matt Golsteyn on February 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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 By Philip M. Byrne on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By D.Landon.Felix on March 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Bing writes a great book from a tactical vantage point, so if you want to read about "the action" on the ground in Afghanistan, this is your book. However, I really found the book lacking much solid operational and strategic analysis.
I will go so far as say that this isn't a well-researched book for the claims and recommendations Bing makes at the end. Yes, Bing writes from his personal experiences on the ground, but his experiences and accompanying analysis are also limited by what he can see from his "fox hole." Bing provides critiques of Presidents Bush and Obama, military generals, and staff officers (like all young grunts and Marines might), but Bing doesn't follow through with time at the presidential level; he doesn't follow GEN. Petraeus around for even a single hour; and there was one or two times he criticized higher level staff sections without going back to those officers and NCOs for explanations. So, yes, this book is a great read for some action, but not much of a read for understanding how/why the Soldiers and Marines are being asked to fight and die in Afghanistan. Bing should have added another 200+ pages and taken the reader up a few more levels in the chain of command and around the USG if he had really wanted to convince me of his arguments.
I might also say that, with some research done away from the tactical level, I would probably be in complete agreement with Bing and praising this book. I don't believe the U.S. military personnel should be involved with national building. I agree with Bing that U.S. Soldiers and Marines should fight, not try and manage local shuras and economic growth. Unfortunately, most U.S.
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