22. March 2005 · Comments Off on Book Review: Delta Force/Operation Michael’s Sword · Categories: General, GWOT, Military

I had gone nearly halfway through this book, thinking that one of the “friendly fire” encounters as described and upon which the plot turns, was grotesquely contrived, terribly unlikely…. And then there was the incident at a checkpoint near the Baghdad Airport, where a car with a freed hostage and an Italian special agent was fired on by American troops, under circumstances so murky and uncertain that we may never know why it all happened the way it did. Only that there are deep-laid plans, an impenetrable veil of secrecy, and taking the fight to an elusive and vicious enemy were all mixed up in it, and after the real-world tragedy, the fictional one seemed, sadly, much more believable.

The story opens on the morning of September 11, 2001, with Army officer Connor Tyler on a flight departing New York, looking out the window by his seat— and watching the first hijacked aircraft smash into the World Trade Center. Tyler knows at once that something horrible has happened, that in an instant everything has changed, and events will soon cascade, faster and faster. At the Pentagon that morning after a third aircraft smashes into the outside ring, Tylers’ boss, Major Spangler, is the man on his feet and on the spot with a long-prepared, deep-laid plan to take the war to the terrorists… and thereby hangs the rest of the book. It is the first of a projected series, so the story arc is a little more taken up with establishing the characters, the situation and the ground rules than with the title mission itself… which is to go after Bin Laden and Al Quada with a specially selected and trained counter-terrorist force. Spangler has the go-ahead from the highest level to tap whatever resources he needs, and build a unit which will take America’s war with terrorists where it needs to go. Spangler recruits, among others, Gunnery Sgt. Robert Night Runner from the Marine Recon Force, and Capt. Ramsey Baker out of Delta Force and Connor Tyler himself.

In a way, this is the kind of story which was told in the war movies of the 2nd World War, telling is what the war was about, what was happening (sort of) at the front, and what we would have to do, who our heroes were, and what we valued. This story, written by an Army veteran goes a little farther than those movies, or other military genre adventures do. It touches not on just the physical risks and dangers of a life lived at full-throttle at the tip of America’s military sword, but on those other, subtler hazards; wrecked marriages, loss of a lover, of one’s self-respect, of self-confidence, of comrades, the fall-out from bad decisions, and finally, the very real risk of slipping over the line and becoming the terrorist, the monster you are fighting against.

Baker, a fluent Arabic linguist— and of whom it can be said if it weren’t for bad luck he would have no luck at all— is sent by an elaborate scheme to the camp of an Afghan warlord who may—or may not be a Bin Laden ally. It is Baker’s advantage in this war, and his misfortune, as well, that he does not look in the least like what he really is. Meanwhile, Tyler screens and trains the teams that will go into Afghanistan and hunt down Bin Laden, training that so rigorous and realistic that it is only a hair less hazardous than the actual mission will eventually be.

Mr. Harriman writes a gripping and credible yarn, drawing on many years of military service, with an acute ear for the way that soldiers and military commanders talk, to each other and to the troops.

Later note: Part 3 of Mr. Harriman’s “Warrior to Warrior” is here.

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