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ROBERTS RIDGE: A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan Mass Market Paperback – July 25, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
On March 2, 2002, U.S. intelligence launched Operation Anaconda; having noted a concentration of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, they dispatched MAKO-30, a seven-man navy SEAL reconnaissance team, attempted a helicopter landing on Takur Ghar, the highest overlooking peak. Tasked with calling in air strikes, MAKO-30 found its landing zone to be a well-concealed al-Qaeda camp; the team's Chinook helicopter was driven off by withering ground fire. When SEAL Neil Roberts fell out of the chopper, the others insisted on going back for him. With the team pinned down by enemy fire and facing annihilation, commanders dispatched a quick reaction force of army Rangers to rescue them. Thus began a harrowing 17-hour drama every bit as perilous and courageous as the Rangers' ill-fated Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia; novelist (Deadlock) and journalist (The Black Box) MacPherson eloquently captures this gripping tale, based on interviews with many of the survivors and access to the army's after-action report. And while the battle "played no part in the success of Anaconda," and was in fact a distraction for decision makers, the army after-action report cites the troops' "conspicuous bravery" and "countless acts of heroism"—all of which MacPherson captures with aplomb. (Sept. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
This is a real-life thriller with not quite the triumphant ending that fiction often provides, to be sure, but relating a great many hard-won lessons. In March 2002 a team of U.S. Navy SEALs attempted the capture of Takur Ghar, a 10,000-foot-high mountain whose seizure would give the American forces in Afghanistan a key observation post. But the mountain was defended, and when the special forces helicopter reached the peak, it was shredded by enemy fire, and Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts was thrown from the aircraft. His fellow SEALs were determined to bring him out. This is the story of that attempt. Well told and frightening as well as true, this is a book that bridges the breach between the increasingly professional American military and a civilian culture possessing little knowledge or experience of the military. Though not the only such book, one of the best recent ones. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Where this book succeeds is in showing the character of Nate Self, in controlling the fatal outcome of the series of errors that led to the Battle for Takur Ghar.
This book is detailed and works hard to include all the detail from the after-battle report. Sometimes, it gets a little confused at times with the kinetics of the firefight. The author does not glorify the action and appears to try to maintain an honest portrayal of the factors that contributed to the Operators, Rangers, FAC/PJs and Aircrew involved in the contact.
It reads well. For a nonservice person, I would recommend pausing and googling some of the gear and acronyms to better enjoy the book.
A lot of people will be familiar with this event, given it was the biggest loss of US forces in Afghanistan to that date. All the guys involved deserve respect and our thanks for being there, feet in the mud doing their job. What this book will do for the serving and retired reading this is show the SNAFU that has accompanied soldiers since Gaius Julius Caesar, George Washington, Patton and Westmoreland.
The author leads the reader through the critical failures that led to this engagement. From mechanical failures delaying the DEVGRU team to force the insertion at the hot LZ; to the inability of command chain to provide CASEVAC.
Overall, it is a worth reading, when any of the past documentaries on the topic paint the engagement as something planned versus an accidental, series of events putting US forces in an uphill attack, against suppressive fire, without the correct equipment and support.
I was also disappointed with the very limited indexing. There are also some critical inconsistencies in the book.
The Seals came to the area looking for a mission on very short notice. It was apparently not their decision, but from far up the food chain and thousands of miles away in a flat land. There was a failure to appreciate the need to adapt to the altitude.
Control of Takur Ghar was not seen as essential in the plan for the operation prior to the arrival of the Seals. However, the author appears to start with the premise that control was essential, but in the end accepts the view that it was not essential.
The decision imposed on the Seals to make a direct aerial assault on the position after experiencing delays, rather than delay 24 hours, was an imposition from above. One of the grave risks of the new information age is that those (both military officers and politicians) receiving satellite, UAV data and perhaps battlefield video will abandon their roles of strategic planning and information dissemination in favor of making tactical decisions without situational awareness. It's a recipe for disaster.
There's a reason that a great football coach is down on the field while the spotters and perhaps those who recommend plays are high above the stadium.
In some respects the limitations of the book are a reflection of that lack of shared information and situational awareness which plagued the fighters during the events. According to Blaber (The Men, The Mission and Me) he was in contact with the Seal team during their fight and also in contact with the AC-130. This account treats Blaber as being out of contact which appears most unlikely given his role in the overall operation. He was uniquely qualified to provide the Rangers with much needed situational awareness.
Overall it is a worthwhile read but I recommend reading three other books Not A Good Day To Die , The Mission, The Men and Me , and First In to get a better perspective on the war in Afghanistan in 2001-02
I put this book down thinking I had just finished two books, one subpar and the other outstanding. The early sections of "Roberts Ridge," are very weak and in fact caused me to stop reading it for a while. One problem is evident right away: the author drops you right into the action of the first helicopter going onto the mountain, with barely any context at all. He provides a very brief introductory section on the grand plans of Operation Anaconda, but no lead up of events to this insertion. In fact, about 1/3rd of the book goes by before the author backtracks and provides the context that would've helped make more sense of the action. I understand wanting to grab the reader's attention with action right off, but the author waits far too long to explain the twisted circumstances that led to Takur Ghar.
For that issue alone, I would highly recommend that a potential buyer first read "Not a Good Day to Die," which gives all the context on the battle that you'll ever need. That brings me to my second criticism. Once he does delve into the background of the events, the entire section feels either hurriedly written or badly edited. He skips around and glosses over what a reader of "Not a Good Day..." knows are critical points. Some of the transitions between section are head-scratchingly abrupt. What was there felt, to me, like the author summarizing - badly - what he just read in "Not a Good Day..." Since I read that book just before this one, some of the dialogue and descriptions in the contextual sections sounded overly familiar. Presumably, "Not a Good Day..." had not been released while MacPherson was doing his research (indeed, it's not cited as a source here), so I'm not in any way accusing him of plagiarism, but rather it seems the two relied on many of the same sources, leading to what seems like a lot of repetition.
Just as MacPherson described one of the Rangers developing sharply-focused tunnel vision once the bullets start flying, the author does the same. The accounting of the battle on the ground as it unfolded covers the bulk of this book and is by far the best part. The author did numerous interviews with many of the participants and these first-hand accounts really pay off by bringing the reader down into the firefight. You get into the heads of some of the Rangers and other troops on the scene - what they were doing and feeling and why. Even though I knew what happened, it made for exciting reading. It is the skill with which the combat is told that saves this book for me.
One of the things I liked about this that I didn't like about "Not a Good Day to Die" was that he finishes the book out by exploring what happened after the battle. He tells you, in brief, about the outcomes of some of the main characters, and, more importantly, what the meaning of the battle was and what impact it had. He concludes that Takur Ghar was irrelevant to the success of Anaconda, but that the battle for it drew an inordinate amount of resources and attention away from the main effort. In other words, the assault was done for no military gain and was in fact a failure for the Americans, despite overall success in the battle. His conclusions were drawn largely from an after-action report and study done by the military, from which MacPherson quotes at length and is even included in part at the end of the book.
Because of its problems, I hesitate to recommend this book, but if you gloss over the weak parts and watch the guys in combat like a circling Predator drone, you'll enjoy it a lot more.