*****First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan. By Gary C. Schroen; published by Ballantine Books, www.randomhouse.com (Web); 379 pages; $25.95.
It is rare that a former CIA agent recounts personal experiences that changed the course of history. First In is one of those uncommon cases. In it, author Gary C. Schroen offers a fascinating firsthand account of the logistical and operational planning behind the CIA’s implementation of the war on terror in Afghanistan.
Schroen does more than recount events, however; he explains why he thinks they mattered. His central point is that al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan had to be engaged quickly and decisively, as they were in late 2001. It may sound simplistic, but Schroen demonstrates that the success which the United States enjoyed in Afghanistan was the result of early entry by CIA and U.S. special operations troops. Had those forces not been imbedded with friendly Afghan units, providing guidance for strategic bombing strikes, the war against Taliban strongholds may have cost conventional U.S. military units dearly.
Schroen paints a complete picture of CIA and State Department achievements in all aspects of dealing with the Taliban and al Qaeda. But throughout the book, he also recalls the political resistance he and his team encountered when they pressed for military action against specific “high-value” Taliban targets.
Schroen also recalls the tactical and logistical challenges of positioning Afghan commanders during the march to Kabul, and determining who received priority food, weapons, and money to buy goods on the black market. Prior to 9-11 Schroen dealt personally with key figures like Ahmad Shah Masood, the late commander of the Northern Alliance, and several of his counterparts.
A fascinating, readable book, First In will appeal to intelligence experts and security professionals interested in Afghanistan or terrorism. It is an excellent book and is one of the best accounts out there of the initial weeks of war in Afghanistan.
Reviewer: Mark Beaudry, CPP, is a senior security professional with IBM-SWG in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a member of ASIS International.