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The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan Hardcover – February 22, 2011

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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.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1St Edition edition (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068738
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068739
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #407,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 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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90 of 101 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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By james e. moore on 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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