BOOTS ON THE GROUND: The Fight to Liberate Afghanistan from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, 2001–2002
It’s difficult to write an accurate history of a war as it unfolds, but historian and former combat veteran Marine Dick Camp succeeds brilliantly with his latest book, Boots on the Ground. Immediately following 11 September 2001 (9/11), the United States needed to strike back, but against whom? Osama bin Laden? The Taliban? Al-Qaeda? All were names unknown to the majority of Americans, including many in government in Washington, DC. While Bin Laden’s attack on the United States was based on his extreme Islamic views, Camp explains how his launching the attack from Kandahar was due to reasons dating back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and subsequent U.S.-Pakistan-Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI)-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-Taliban relationships.
After Afghanistan’s civil war, the country destabilized to the point where the Soviet Union feared the violence would affect the southern “‘Stans.” The Afghan Army was incapable of halting the violence, so over the protests of the Soviet General Staff who saw that the mountainous campaign favored guerrilla warfare and that the tribes were fierce fighters, the Soviets invaded. Perhaps prophetically, while the Soviets suffered only 24 killed in action in an invasion that was planned to last only a few months, Camp reminds the reader they stayed 9 years and lost 15,000-plus troops.
Once the Soviets departed, Camp writes, the Afghans began warring amongst themselves. Within a month of the Soviet withdrawal, government forces and Afghan warlords fought, with the government forces winning. The resulting peace lasted 2 years, until the Soviet Union collapsed and its cash support abruptly ended. The resulting years of chaos and Pakistan’s ISI’s support of the Taliban set the stage for the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan. America’s response to the Taliban’s ascension to power in 1996 was a State Department statement that said, “The United States finds nothing objectionable in the policy statements of the new government, including its move to impose Islamic law,” which set the stage for Mullah Omar’s rise to power, the Omar-Osama connection, and the subsequent 9/11 attack. Camp has an understated style that works well in explaining how the symbiotic arrangement between the two enabled Osama to pursue his attacks on the United States while under the protection of Omar.
But it’s Camp’s research that separates Boots on the Ground from other books on Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Describing the immediate turf battle between the CIA’s George Tenant and the Department of Defense’s Donald Rumsfeld, Camp offers details on the uneasy truce between the two that enabled the CIA to insert its first team into Afghanistan only 2 weeks after 9/11.
The 2001–02 fight in Afghanistan was accomplished “on the cheap” by the CIA, a small contingent of U.S. Army Special Forces, a U.S. Marine task force, and unlimited American airpower. But different from the books already published, Camp combines both the strategy and tactics as he brings the story to life with an excellent collection of photographs, maps, and quotes from the main characters. “The first time these bastards run into United States Marines,” Camp quotes BGen James N. Mattis, the Task Force 58 Commanding Officer, “I want it to be the most traumatic experience of their miserable lives.” Additionally, in a prelude to the problems emanating from Kabul today, Camp also discusses Hamid Karzai and how as long ago as 2001, Karzai would rather negotiate than fight.
While Boots on the Ground details the remarkable campaign that initially drove the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, its real value goes beyond. Boots on the Ground is a comprehensive study of recent Afghanistan history, the courage and ingenuity of the American fighting men, and the continued importance of “small wars” styled personal relationships in an otherwise high-tech world.