Posted in audio book, book review, history, insurgency, Iraq War, Military

History Book Review-Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice by Lt. Col. John A Nagl

Rating: 9.1 of 10

This wonderful audio book is just shy of eight hours. It took me a day then I listened to it again, believe it or not. It is available through RB Digital. I really enjoyed this book because it covers one of my favorite topics: counterinsurgency. It was a great autobiography of the author and an intimate view inside two of the more recent American wars, both taking place in Iraq: Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. All in all he is one of my favorite authors.

John Nagl is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army, is a graduate of West Point, earned a PhD from Oxford in Counterinsurgency (his thesis was turned into a book), the former president of CNAS (Center for New American Security) and is currently headmaster of the Haverford School in Pennsylvania. He is an excellent writer and has the ability to convey the harsh lessons of insurgency warfare (such as the Vietnam war). He makes the material enjoyable, intriguing and kind of makes you wonder what our top military brass was thinking at times when it came to their approach to military conflict.

jon.jpg

LTC John Nagl and Gen David Petraeus

Being an Army tank commander in Desert Storm and an operations officer with the 1st Infantry Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) he offers an intimate view of two technologically different combat zones. I liked the story from Desert Storm when he was awoke by a rocket barrage and said he thought rockets were going off on his chest.

His experience while stationed near Khalidiyah in OIF demonstrated to him that the days of conventional warfare are virtually over or at least not the case in this conflict. Insurgency warfare is the future of combat, we need to address it and take a new approach to how we conduct our war maneuvers in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. So he was tasked co-authoring the book on counterinsurgency warfare while in the midst of these conflicts. This became FM 3-24: the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manuel, 2006.

I can attest to how poorly OIF was planned and executed. My Quarter Master Company was deployed to Iraq and after a couple months shuffling around country were stationed in Mosul. It felt like there was no plan after the three week long war was over. We were so amped up that we had just won a war in less than a month but nobody knew what the next step was so we just kinda hung out.

The situation was made worse due to the fact that the Iraqi Army, police and most civil servants were fired (termed de-Baathification) by Paul Bremer May 23rd, 2003 bringing chaos to the country over night. This event was the birth of the bloody insurgency that followed when disgruntled Iraqis began attacking coalition forces.

 

Some of what I learned:

  1. Desert storm was the first war of the big five: the Patriot missile system, the M270 MLRS (multiple launch rocket system), the M1 Abrams tank, the AH-64A Apache attack helicopter and the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle.
  2. Wars rarely turn out as envisioned by the ones who start them.
  3. The guerrilla wins by not losing.
  4. The word guerrilla is derived from the Spanish word Guerra for “war”.
  5. In 2003 the population of Baghdad alone was over six million. No wonder the military had issues establishing law and order.

 

Posted in audio book, Bin Laden, book review, history, terrorism

History Book Review-The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and War Against al-Qaeda by Ali H. Soufan

Rating: 8.86 of 10

This audio book is about twenty hours in duration. It took me two and a half days to finish. By far one of my favorite books on the subject of terrorism investigations and the attacks on the World Trade Center. This book is replete with info on the build-up to the attacks of that fateful Tuesday morning and the origin of al-Qaeda. It’s edge of your seat entertaining, well written and overtly insightful.

Ali H. Soufan is a Lebanese born former FBI special agent that is fluent in Arabic. He was the lead investigator into the 2000 USS Cole attack. He is mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (refereed to as Al S). He successfully interviewed some very high value targets (HVT’s) such as Abu Zubaydah and Abu Jindal. He discusses their interrogation and confessions in great detail. These interrogations lead to the identification and arrest of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11. He retired from the FBI in 2005 and is CEO of The Soufan Group. 

skm.jpgKSM on the night of his arrest. Doesn’t look very happy!

He makes it clear he was opposed to the EIT’s (enhanced interrogation techniques a.k.a. sleep deprivation and waterboarding) of detainees that the CIA insisted would break even hard-core fanatics. He is more than critical of the CIA and their mishandling of valuable information regarding the growing and serious threat of Bin Laden. He insists if there was more cooperation between governmental agencies at a minimum two of the nineteen hijackers would not have been allowed into the US and the attacks could have been prevented all together. (I have heard this from a few different sources). We cannot blame anyone for the attacks on the WTC other than bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

I loved his cogent and pragmatic interrogation style especially being a fellow Muslim; he gets right into their head with offerings of tea and politics. He seemingly makes them feel a bit of guilt for their crimes against innocents and fellow Muslims.

Some of what I learned:

  1. Talib (of Taliban) is Arabic for “student” or “one who seeks knowledge”.
  2. The US government uses the Barney song (purple dinosaur) on a loop to deprive detainees of sleep.
  3.  Ali H. Soufan worked with special agent John P. O’Neill. Look him up.
  4. Before 9/11 the FBI had all of eight agents that were fluent in Arabic.
Posted in audio book, history

Big history

My current book is forty-five plus hours so it will take me at least three or four days total. Technically this would be my longest book ever. The Outline of History by HG Wells was forty-four hours followed by The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer at forty-one hours.

So we can talk about a book I finished recently. Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present by Cynthia Stokes Brown. This was eleven hours and took less than two days. I was surprised at how detailed this book was, especially regarding the big bang. It’s a great read.

What I learned:

  1. Matter and energy are interchangeable but only at temperatures approaching a trillion degrees. (E=mc²). So matter is energy at rest when not at those ungodly temperatures.
  2. The inverse square law gives rise to the elliptical movement of the planets. This was calculated by Sir Issac Newton and published in his paper Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in 1687.
  3. The Club of Rome commissioned an article entitled The Limits of Growth in 1972. This was a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth.