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The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor Paperback – Illustrated, October 22, 2013
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At 5:58 AM on October 3rd, 2009, Combat Outpost Keating, located in frighteningly vulnerable terrain in Afghanistan just 14 miles from the Pakistani border, was viciously attacked. Though the 53 Americans there prevailed against nearly 400 Taliban fighters, their casualties made it the deadliest fight of the war for the U.S. that year. Four months after the battle, a Pentagon review revealed that there was no reason for the troops at Keating to have been there in the first place.
In The Outpost, Jake Tapper gives us the powerful saga of COP Keating, from its establishment to eventual destruction, introducing us to an unforgettable cast of soldiers and their families, and to a place and war that has remained profoundly distant to most Americans. A runaway bestseller, it makes a savage war real, and American courage manifest.
"The Outpost is a mind-boggling, all-too-true story of heroism, hubris, failed strategy, and heartbreaking sacrifice. If you want to understand how the war in Afghanistan went off the rails, you need to read this book." -- Jon Krakauer
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"[Jake Tapper] has woven an intricate account about battlefield bravery hamstrung by military bureaucracy...[his] voice is understated, not polemical-just a good reporter letting the facts speak for themselves."―Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
"[A] fascinating history...Tapper delivers a blow by blow account of [the soldier's] actions, their personal stories, and the tortured, often incomprehensible command decisions that kept them fighting despite inadequate support and an ally, Pakistan, that actively encouraged the enemy."―Publishers Weekly
"One of the most important [books] of the year. Jake Tapper's book is meticulously researched, excellently written and a must-read for everyone who does more than just mouth the phrase, 'I support the troops.' "―Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Jake Tapper has written perhaps the best book set in Afghanistan to date...He provides a window into the false hopes and visions that enabled this failed experiment, an attempt to create government in spaces that had actively avoided such."―Douglas Ollivant, Foreign Policy
"Brilliant, dedicated reporting by a journalist who goes to ground to get the truth. A sad, real tale about this war, America and the brave warriors who live -- and die -- at the point of the spear."―Bob Woodward, author of PLAN OF ATTACK, THE COMMANDERS and OBAMA'S WARS
"The power of THE OUTPOSTlies in Tapper's development of the main characters ... He juxtaposes dramatic battles, complete with limbs blown off and eyes dangling from sockets, with poignant scenes of wives and parents first learning of the deaths of their loved ones."―Seth Jones, Washington Post
"The seminal work of documentary journalism to emerge out of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan."―Business Standard
"Mr. Tapper lays bare the poor decision-making that shattered dozens of American lives in the pursuit of an ill-conceived goal."―Wall Street Journal
"A heartbreaking chronicle of the rotation of soldiers asked to oversee an underfunded, often thankless mission."―Huffington Post
"The Outpost is a mind-boggling, all-too-true story of heroism, hubris, failed strategy, and heartbreaking sacrifice. If you want to understand how the war in Afghanistan went off the rails, you need to read this book."―Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air and Where Men Win Glory
"As Rudyard Kipling did in the nineteenth century, now, in his magnificent book, Jake Tapper takes us to an untamed part of Afghanistan at war. Journey to THE OUTPOST to understand what our troops go through-and why they go through it.―James Bradley, author of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, FLYBOYS and THE IMPERIAL CRUISE
"Meticulously researched, excellently written and a must-read...It may prove one of the most important [books] of the year."―Curt Schleier, Seattle Times
"This is a narrative, not a polemic, and Tapper patiently lays out the history of what happened at Keating in a gripping, forceful style...[T]his unadorned, powerful accountchallenges the purposes and wisdom of America's ongoing military presence [in Afghanistan]...A timely indictment of a thoughtless waste of young American lives."―Kirkus
"[An] incredible account of how this outpost was horribly jeopardized."―Booklist
""The Army uses the term 'BLUF' - bottom line up front. The BLUF on Jake Tapper's new book on Afghanistan, THE OUTPOST, is that you need to read it."―breitbart.com
"A chronicle of the commitment and heroism of individual soldiers. As such, it can rarely have been surpassed in the history of military writing."―powerlineblog.com
"Tapper always finds just the right personality traits and stories about [the troops'] backgrounds, allowing readers to respect them and relate to them...The Outpost is an alternately exhilarating, heartbreaking and maddening book. But ultimately...it's a testament to the fact that the brave men and women who serve and sacrifice for the United States deserve our appreciation."―Patheos.com
"What is evident in THE OUTPOST is the sacrifice made by dozens of men who answered the call of their country."―Erica Blake, Toledo Blade
About the Author
- Publisher : Back Bay Books; Illustrated edition (October 22, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 704 pages
- ISBN-10 : 031618540X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316185400
- Item Weight : 1.6 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.9 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #73,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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“The most difficult choice I faced in writing this book lay in deciding how honest to be about the horrors of war: the injuries, the deaths, all the things that make war so terrifying. The media in the United States – taking their cue from the American public – often shy away from such coverage, and that has not served the nation well, to say nothing of the troops or the people in those countries that the U.S. government says it’s trying to help. Certainly, there are good reasons to avoid descriptions that are too graphic, including, primarily, the desire to shield families of troops who have been wounded or killed from details that may be new and upsetting to them. Ultimately, with all this in mind, I opted to withhold some information – but not a lot.” – Jake Tapper, Author’s Note
Keep the last sentence in mind as you read this book.
‘The Outpost’ tells the saga of Combat Outpost Keating, tucked in a deep and narrow valley between three steep and tall mountains and two rivers in the Nuristan Valley of Afghanistan. It’s likely a province you’ve never heard of, much less the outpost, or the soldiers who were stationed there from 2006 to 2009. Over this period four companies, 3-71 Cav, 1-91 Cav, 6-4 Cav, and 3-61 Cav, would man the outpost, and attempt to pacify the insurgents, and get the locals to come together. They would meet with mixed results, and would be under constant attack by the Taliban and other insurgents from day one.
Completely against fundamental tactical military protocols (which dictates that you want to control the high ground), the outpost was placed in THE most ridiculously vulnerable place it could possibly be: at the bottom of a valley. Why? Because there was a “road” to Jalalabad there which it was believed that supplies could be brought in (the road, such as it is, could *barely*, by inches, accommodate a Humvee), and that the locals would want it for their own avenues to the greater world. Instead, the base became a target, no, a *magnet* for insurgents hanging out in the surrounding mountains, villages, and over the border in Pakistan, to come pay daily visits. And not the friendly tea-and-crumpets kind of visits, either.
The book, over 600 pages long, is broken up into three ‘books’. The first covers the time of 3-71 Cav (Jan 2006 through June 2007), who built what was then referred to as PRT Kamdesh (PRT – Provincial Reconstruction Team, and named after a local village), through the time that 1-91 Cav took over. During those 18 months 1st Lt Ben Keating of Able Troop would be killed in a senseless accident, one ultimately driven by the brass higher up and further away. Subsequently, as was the informal practice by Army units, the base would be unofficially named after a person who died or was killed while serving in an area (although the names would catch on higher up the ranks). While a number of soldiers were killed during the time of 3-71’s presence, PRT Kamdesh would be renamed to Combat Outpost Keating in honor of Ben Keating. Other Combat and Observation Posts would be named after other fallen heroes throughout the region. You meet a lot of the soldiers of 3-71, get to experience some of their hopes, fears, and pain, through the eyes of Tapper. There are deaths, some senseless from accidents, others tragic from combat and assassinations. And no one of the 3-71 when they first arrived and were told what they were to do thought this was a good idea/location. More than a few believed they would not go home from there. Some were right.
The middle section of the book covers a two year period, May 2007 through June 2009, of 1-91 Cav and 6-4 Cav. As command of the outpost is transitioned, you meet new soldiers who are there to stave off the insurgents and foster good relations with the locals. Again, no one who was stationed there thought this base was at all a good idea/location. And there were the battles, trials and tribulations, challenges, and assassinations that the companies faced. And again, there would be some who would not go home again.
The final section of the book covers from the time 6-4 left and 3-61 took over (May- Oct 2009). The environment, the interactions with the locals, everything had changed for the worse since 1-91’s high water mark. Part of it was how the new outpost commanders handled things, part of it was the lack of supply to the base, part of it was the rising hostility of the local villagers, part of it was the increased insurgent attacks, and part of it was politics back home (which is visited in the book, so you can better understand the driving machinations from higher up in the ranks). When it was clear that the outpost was to be finally closed, the Taliban, spurred on or supplied by or otherwise supported by Pakistan, led an all-out assault on the outpost, sending over 300 fighters against the meager number of US troops in the base. The final battle, which lasted *12 hours*, is fairly epic (I was amazed at the detail covered, and what these men went through; nothing I’ve seen from Hollywood comes close to what I read of this final battle), but in the end the insurgents are driven out of the base. However, at a cost: 8 US soldiers lost their lives and 22 additional were wounded. Days later the US forces finally withdrew from the base, leaving behind a treasure trove of material for the insurgents to loot (although most of it was not necessarily usable by them for combat purposes). It was subsequently bombed to destruction several days later to minimize the ‘victory’ looting.
Throughout all this are stories of uncommon valor (two Medal of Honor recipients came from this outpost – Staff Sergeants Clinton Romesha and Ty Carter – along with a number of Silver and Bronze Stars), heroic actions, supreme sacrifices, coupled with stupid mistakes, errors of judgment, and momentary weakness, which all come together to illustrate that the soldiers who were there were supremely human, doing the best they could given the circumstances, dealing with situations that no one should have to deal with. These tales would be worthy of a Homer telling, except that they are painfully and poignantly real.
The epilogue is a good wrap to the story of Outpost Keating. It does not point fingers to any one person who should shoulder the blame for the creation of the outpost in that location, but presents all the pieces in their places and you can draw your own conclusions, depending on your point of view and how you perceive the ‘big picture’ vs the details that make up the picture. As the author states:
“I did not write this book to convey lessons to be learned. I wrote it so that you as the reader (and I as a reporter) might better understand what it is that our troops go through, why they go through it, and what their experience has been like in Afghanistan. […] But one conclusion I cannot escape is that the saga of Combat Outpost Keating illustrates, above all else, the deep-rooted inertia of military thinking.“ – Jake Tapper
Nevertheless--and as a testament to Army training and the basic qualities of these troops--when their backs are against the wall, they fight. Most fight well and many fight courageously. Deprived of their commanding officer, who is stuck at another outpost removed from the fight, the soldiers fall back on secondary leadership, obey orders and fight for their lives. The enemy has most of the advantages--superior numbers, terrain, local knowledge, secret stockpiles of men and weapons, some disloyal Afghan troops--but the U.S. forces have one major ace....Air Power. If the troops on the ground can manage to stay alive, it is inevitable that coalition aircraft will tear huge chunks out of the enemy.
Evidently, the Army has changed training methods since WW II. After the War, and studying troop effectiveness, it was recognized that the Germans had been doing some things very right, and we [the Americans] some things very wrong. Knock out the officers and top NCOs of a U.S. Army platoon during WW II, the remaining, leaderless men became combat ineffective. This wasn't true of the Germans. Knock out the German command structure and the remaining men would break up into smaller fighting units. If the entire platoon was virtually wiped out, individual soldiers were still dangerous. It looks like we've learned lessons from WW II. Our combat soldiers--no doubt because of training--are dangerous fighters down to the last man.
Still, it probably never had to be. The 'Outpost' is located in one of the most indefensible positions imaginable. It's in the bottom of a bowl surrounded by high mountains. There are literally thousands of locations from which attacks can be launched on the unfortunate U.S. and Afghan troopers. Inevitably, working with the locals and sometimes the locals, themselves--the enemy has a far more intimate knowledge of local terrain than we do--and most of that terrain is higher ground! Madness. Some of the initial command justifications for locating 'the outpost' in such an untenable place seems to be 1. We were trying to limit enemy activities in Nuristan 2. There was a nearby large Nuristani village [win their 'hearts and minds' etc.] 3. There was a nearby mountain road offering the possibility of resupply.
I'm sure many of us have traveled on narrow, windy, dangerous mountain roads. I'm reminded of one in Mexico between Durango and Mazatlan. It is called 'El Espinoso del Diablo' [The Devil's Backbone] for good reason. For most of the 60 mile distance there are sheer cliffs of thousands of feet both above and below it. It is narrow, in many places admitting only one vehicle. Meet another vehicle and somebody has to back up. It is also twisty with hairpin curves. At each curve, crosses are lined up like picket fences as mute testimony to those who have gone over the side and died. I can well imagine that the supply road for 'The Outpost' was worse than this. At least 'El Espinoso' is paved and is probably marginally wider. Also, and most importantly, enemy forces weren't trying to ambush you on 'El Espinoso'. [This might have changed now with the growing power of criminals and the drug cartels in Mexico].
In any event is was STUPID to envision supplying 'The Outpost' along such a supply road. A kid with a BB gun could stop a supply column, at least for awhile. Gradually, slowly Army Brass recognized the inevitable and decided to supply The Outpost by helicopter....but...The Outpost was in a hole. It was easy to shoot helicopters from the safety of the surrounding mountains. Therefore the resupply helicopters had to become increasingly nocturnal, which has its own problems.
The only salvation for The Outpost was U.S. combat aircraft and the overall poor quality of the enemy troops. Tapper goes into the life story of virtually every American soldier killed at Keating but, overall, given the incredible tactical situation and the fact that enemy attacks are numerous, relatively few coalition soldiers die. Why? The author never quite explains it. It is probable that most of the time, the enemy was firing from very long range. It is also probable that the bulk of the enemy troops are poorly trained as marksmen. A number of times Tapper mentions troops being shot at, and sometimes hit, by 'snipers'. The one time he mentions the direct observation of a 'sniper', the guy is standing up and firing. Some sniper.
Lessons learned? Afghanistan is the 'Wild East' and the multiple tribes are more akin to the tribal subdivisions of the American natives 250 years ago than to a cohesive nation. Just like some of our native Indian tribes, warfare is a masculine, honorable activity. This is probably especially true in societies in which women do most of the real labor [just like many of our American Indian tribes]. The men, with time on their hands, are free to engage in blood feud and vendetta. Anybody who tries to centralize/nationalize such people is in for some real disappointments. Probably few of them want or even understand 'nationhood'. Why should they want to be in a nation that includes the tribe over the next hill that they have fought since time immemorial?
Enter the 'organizers', be it the U.S., Soviets or even the Taliban. Many tribesmen will fight for or against them just to be fighting. Many tribesmen will lie to them just to be lying. Many tribesmen will take their 'gifts' because...why not? If your side seems to be winning, many tribesmen, feeling the direction of the wind, will support you. If your side seems to be losing many tribesmen, feeling the direction of the wind, will betray you. Why not? Islam? Sure Islam is important but few of these folks are radical fundamentalists. The Taliban will try to convert them to their form of Islam, in which case they will have achieved something like victory. If they try to back religious convension with a centralized fundamentalist Caliphate, they will likely fail, too.
Top reviews from other countries
I feel sorry for the bereaved families.
To chase the oil in Iraq Bush abandoned Afghanistan and left his own forces over stretched and poorly supported. This has yet to come back and bite him but God knows it bit far too many of the men who lived and fought for their country in Afghanistan.