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Subject: Media on Iraq War (2003) and War in Afganistan (2001) - Anything New and Good? rss

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Christopher O
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I played Phantom Fury last night which has rekindled my long-standing interest in the USA and NATO's more recent conflicts.

It strikes me that it's been a little while since I've looked at the bookshelves on either conflict.

Here are the books I've read already:

Generation Kill, Evan Wright
House to House: A Soldier's Memoir, David Bellavia
My War: Killing Time in Iraq, Colby Buzzell
Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, The Taliban and the Battle that Saved Afghanistan, Chris Wattie
Outside the Wire: The War in Afghanistan in the Words of Its Participants, Kevin Patterson, Jane Warren
Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army, Christie Blatchford

Not read but heard about:

Operation Phantom Fury: The Assault and Capture of Fallujah, Iraq, Dick Camp
We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah, Patrick K. O'Donnell
The Savage War: The Untold Battles of Afghanistan, Murray Brewster
Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds, Rusty Bradley, Kevin Maurer
Fob Doc, Ray Wiss
What the Thunder Said: Reflections of a Canadian Officer in Kandahar, Lieutenant-Colonel John Conrad
The Taliban Don't Wave, Rob Semrau
Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan, Sean Parnell, John Bruning
Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood, Donovan Campbell

Feedback on any of these books would be great.

Movies/TV Series Watched

Over There (TV Series)
Restrepo (Documentary)
The Battle for Marjah (Documentary)
Hurt Locker (Movie)
Gunner Palace (Documentary)

Heard about but not watched:

Armadillo, (Documentary (Danish))
16 Days in Afghanistan (Documentary)

From the Wiki Entry on Iraq War Documentaries

In Shifting Sands (2001)
Back to Babylon (2002)
About Baghdad (2003)
Baghdad or Bust (2004)
Control Room (2004)
Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories (2004)
Iraq Raw: The Tuttle Tapes (2004)
Last Letters Home (2004)
Soldiers Pay (2004)
Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004)
Voices of Iraq (2004)
War Feels Like War (2004)
War with Iraq: Stories from the Front (2004)
We Iraqis (2004)
Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope (2005)
The Dreams of Sparrows (2005)
Alpha Company: Iraq Diary (2005)
American Soldiers (2005)
Gunner Palace (2005) [mentioned above]
No End in Sight (2007)
In the Shadow of the Palms (2005)
Iraqi War: The Untold Stories (2005)
Occupation: Dreamland (2005)
Off to War: From Rural Arkansas to Iraq (2005)
The Dreams of Sparrows (2005)
Why We Fight (2005)
Baghdad ER (2006)
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (2006)
Iraq in Fragments (2006)
The Corporal's Boots (2006)
The Ground Truth (2006)
The War Tapes (2006)
My Country, My Country (2006)
No Substitute / Victory: Vietnam to Iraq (2006)
When I Came Home (2006)
Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq (2007)
Body of War (2007)
Buying the War (2007)
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007)
I Am an American Soldier (2007)
Jerebek (2007) [3]
No End in Sight (2007)
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (2007)
This Is War: Memories of Iraq (2007)
Three Soldiers (2007)
Year at Danger (2007)
Changing Us (2008)
Fighting for Life (2008)
My Vietnam, Your Iraq (2008)
Reserved to Fight (2008)
The Corporal's Diary: 38 Days in Iraq (2008)
Bad Voodoo's War FRONTLINE PBS (2008)
Brothers at War (2009)
Triangle of Death (2009)
The Unreturned (2010)
The War You Don't See (2010)
This is War (2010)
The Tillman Story (2010)

Again, if any of these have been seen and are recommended, a short response would be great.

Thanks in advance for any recommendations, reviews or warnings.
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Niko
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Hi Christopher,

I am not sure if you can access any of the BBC documentary series "Our War", filmed by British troops on tour in Helmand province, Afghanistan. It is highly recommended.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01175hg
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Andrew Laws
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Where Men Win Glory - Jon Krakauer. About Pat Tillman and more generally Afghanistan.

Adam Curtis and his wonderful BBC blog; Kabul: City No.1
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Christopher O
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Thanks to both of you for your suggestions! Thumbed and tipped.

I just found out my local video store has Armadillo in stock. Who knew? I'll be renting it this weekend.


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Morten Lund
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I found Armadillo to be a very sober, fairly objective presentation of Denmark going to war.

It was quite controversial over here, at home, mainly because it really hadn't been covered before like that. Some held that the documentary unfairly exposed the danish soldiers, because they are filmed in the midst of a firefight, when they are high on adrenaline - without any filter

I found it very watchable
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Mike Owens
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HarlemMimeSchool wrote:
Where Men Win Glory - Jon Krakauer. About Pat Tillman and more generally Afghanistan.


Sorry, Andy, but in my opinion this is an absolutely terrible book. Krakauer uses it as an extended bitch about George W. Bush. If I wanted an extended bitch about George W. Bush, I'd watch "Fahrenheit 9/11".

Also, Krakauer's research into Pat Tillman is flawed and contradictory (e.g., he accepts at face value Tillman's griping about Infantry Basic Training without bouncing it off anyone else's experience; and he claims that Tillman was a deep thinking, complex individual -- but Tillman's own journal entries quoted within are filled with terrible grammar, foul language, and a distinct lack of deep thought.) I threw it away just about halfway through.

My recommendations:

"War", Sebastian Junger

"In the Wake of the Surge", Michael Totten

"The Surge" A Military History", Kimberly Kagan

"In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan", Seth G. Jones

"The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan", Bing West (I am meh on this one, but YMMV)

"Forever War", Dexter Filkins (excellent)

"In the Company of Soldiers", Rick Atkinson -- should be titled "In the Company of Generals", and is also a look at the war in Iraq in its infancy, allowing lots of hindsight...





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Chris R.
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Wargame designer David C. Isby, who apparently was the first employee for SPI before SPI was actually SPI, has written or edited 20 books and over 350 articles on national security, including three books on Afghanistan.

He was even condemned by the Soviet government for his writings on the subject as a "bourgeois falsifier of history" and "a CIA agent... with whom accounts will be settled."

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/692/david-c-isby

http://www.davidisby.com/
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j page
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I don't think I saw "Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda" by Sean Naylor
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Andrew Laws
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MikeO wrote:
HarlemMimeSchool wrote:
Where Men Win Glory - Jon Krakauer. About Pat Tillman and more generally Afghanistan.


Sorry, Andy, but in my opinion this is an absolutely terrible book. Krakauer uses it as an extended bitch about George W. Bush. If I wanted an extended bitch about George W. Bush, I'd watch "Fahrenheit 9/11".

Also, Krakauer's research into Pat Tillman is flawed and contradictory (e.g., he accepts at face value Tillman's griping about Infantry Basic Training without bouncing it off anyone else's experience; and he claims that Tillman was a deep thinking, complex individual -- but Tillman's own journal entries quoted within are filled with terrible grammar, foul language, and a distinct lack of deep thought.) I threw it away just about halfway through.


Wellll. He was used as a 'Hero' though. A real all-american boy; NFL star turned soldier, turned dead war hero. He gave it all to fight the 'evil-doers'.

I thought Krakauer mostly bitched about General McChrystal (sic?), but I take your point. I couldn't really care less about American politics so that stuff tends to roll off my back, if you were rooting for either a red or blue coloured background behind your President I guess it might rub you the wrong way.

As for your other points, I don't see that Krakauer has to give a definitive, objective review of US Infantry Basic training c. early 2000s. Basic message: Everyone was younger than Tillman and some Brazilian guy; they got sick of the kids and thought it sucked.

Was Tillman a deep thinker? He was no Sartre that's for sure but anyone who has turned their back on an NFL career to go to Afghanistan has done some deep thinking, whether or not he's been working on his grammar in the off-season.

I guess it appealed to me because soldiers aren't really the lantern-jawed meatheads pumped up on patriotism and domestic lager that they are often portrayed as, neither was Tillman.

Both sides do the portraying though; those against war and those running it. It suited those running the war that Tillman become a motif of American sacrifice, just as it did that Jessica Lynch be 'rescued', from the captives hospital which raped her treated her.

People higher up than the operational level made those decisions, even though to be fair Tillman's death was almost entirely a result of operational and tactical failures. I think Krakauer might be mad that someone who gave his life now has to give his memory as well.

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Michael Dorosh
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MikeO wrote:
"In the Company of Soldiers", Rick Atkinson -- should be titled "In the Company of Generals", and is also a look at the war in Iraq in its infancy, allowing lots of hindsight...


I enjoyed this one a lot, even though it apparently temporarily derailed the "Liberation Trilogy", which is just now being completed!

Also, Canadian Army Journal has some interesting articles, and is available online.

http://www.army.forces.gc.ca/caj/default-eng.asp?view=more

The obvious caveats are in place, about bias and/or technical nature of the articles, but they have articles by academics in addition to 'just' soldiers.

Of perhaps more use, they also have excellent book reviews which may lead you to more resources.
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Sebastian Junger did a great National Geographic documentary on pre-9/11 Afghanistan back in 2000, called "Afghanistan Revealed", where he spent a month with Massoud.

It's out there on Netflix, and is pretty good primary source material on the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, their conflict, and how they saw the future of Afghanistan--and it's all unclouded by 9/11.

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William Boykin
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On the Iraq war, I cannot recommend the following books highly enough.

Tom Ricks' Fiasco, and the follow up on the Iraq Surge, Gamble is essential reading on how the US Army and the political leadership found themselves caught in a quagmire of their own making, and how they struggled to find a way out.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why the Coalition Provisional Authority was a complete and utter disaster.

Darilian
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Piero
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Bookmarked, one day... one day, I'll be able to read this stuff. cool
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Russell/Karen Morse
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There is a lot here. http://www.michaelyon-online.com/
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Hawkeye
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morsecrossing wrote:


There is a lot there, but most should be taken with a healthy dose of salt.It's not that he is without value, but just that you shouldn't rely on him for a single source about anything.
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Ken Crangle
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Michael Yon is a front line photographer who has really put himself in the thick of things. Of course he shouldn't be recognized as the sole source of information on anything.

But I'm wondering why Michael Yon gets called out with a caveat and the other 40+ books/documentaries/movies don't. I know that he's been very supportive of the units he has deployed with and their mission. I also know that you've served in Afghanistan. What is the reason for singling him out with a warning?

I'm genuinely curious.
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THE MAVERICK
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I would recommend all of the following books on Afghanistan:

First In (Gary Schroen) CIA campaign, part I - highly recommended
Jawbreaker (Gary Berntsen) CIA campaign, part II
Not A Good Day to Die (Sean Naylor) Operation Anaconda - highly recommended
The Only Thing Worth Dying For (Eric Blehm) Green Berets w/Karzai in Kandahar
War (Sebastian Junger) Korengal Valley, COP Restrepo - fleshes out the movie

Also of interest: The Men, the Mission and Me (Pete Blaber) provides a personal view of some of the incidents covered in Naylor's book on Anaconda. Blaber relates a number of episodes from his time with Delta Force. Not solely on Afghanistan and Iraq, but still recommended.

On my "to read" list, due to having heard good things about them, are: Horse Soldiers (Doug Stanton) CIA/special forces operations in the north; Robert's Ridge (Malcom MacPherson) Battle of Takur Ghar, Op Anaconda; Outlaw Platoon already on your list; Eight Lives Down (Chris Hunter) UK EOD in Iraq; Cobra II (Michael R. Gordon) invasion of Iraq.

The entertaining documentary TV series Bomb Patrol proves that Murphy's Law is still going strong. Set in northern Afghanistan, it provides an interesting real-life counterpoint to The Hurt Locker.

Finally, PBS' Frontline did an excellent documentary on the decision making involved in the Iraq War. I believe it is titled Bush's War. It's available on Netflix.
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Darilian wrote:
Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why the Coalition Provisional Authority was a complete and utter disaster.


Now that one was excellent.
Not as much of a book as it is an indictment, and rightfully so.

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Christopher O
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LeZerp wrote:
I found Armadillo to be a very sober, fairly objective presentation of Denmark going to war.

It was quite controversial over here, at home, mainly because it really hadn't been covered before like that. Some held that the documentary unfairly exposed the danish soldiers, because they are filmed in the midst of a firefight, when they are high on adrenaline - without any filter

I found it very watchable


Managed to finish watching the Armadillo documentary last night. Very well made - amazingly edited - almost to the point of feeling like a feature film.

Very stark, real portrayal and allows you to make your own evaluation of what has happened, rather than being told in a voice-over or with summary text.

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Darilian wrote:
On the Iraq war, I cannot recommend the following books highly enough.

Tom Ricks' Fiasco, and the follow up on the Iraq Surge, Gamble is essential reading on how the US Army and the political leadership found themselves caught in a quagmire of their own making, and how they struggled to find a way out.


Folks here might also be interested in Ricks' new book, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today.

I'd just finished reading several books on American commanders (from Lee's Lieutenants to Eisenhower's Lieutenants) when this one appeared on my radar.
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Christopher
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There is the TV mini-series "Generation Kill", which follows 1st recon Bn from the USMC in their march to Bagdad in 2003. I liked it. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0995832/)

I've read "No True Glory" from Bing West, about the Battle for Fallujah. It is OK to get a general feel about what was going on there.
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Christopher O
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I just finished The Patrol: Seven Days in the Life of a Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan - anticipated as a action-oriented story of combat (there is one firefight, seen from a distance, and two IED strikes), not terribly exciting; as insight into the day to day routine of combat operations, invaluable. Worth reading, but more for the psychological environment and general "feel" of infantry field operations in COIN operations.

In the same online book order package came:

Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds, Rusty Bradley, Kevin Maurer
The Taliban Don't Wave, Rob Semrau
In the Company of Soldiers, Richard Atkinson
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Darilian wrote:
On the Iraq war, I cannot recommend the following books highly enough.

Tom Ricks' Fiasco, and the follow up on the Iraq Surge, Gamble is essential reading on how the US Army and the political leadership found themselves caught in a quagmire of their own making, and how they struggled to find a way out.


I'm reading Fiasco right now, and it's pretty enlightening. Judging from the title, I expected a lot of high-horse disdain for Bush, Rumsfeld and company. While there is some of that (especially and appropriately for Rumsfeld, Feith, and Bremer), Ricks is mostly concerned with how different approaches to counter-insurgency worked or didn't. Rather than just focusing on Washington, he gives a lot of attention to decisions made by division and even brigade or battalion commanders.

Ricks' follow-up volume, The Gamble, will be next for me.
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Christopher O
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Finished reading:

Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds
, Rusty Bradley, Kevin Maurer

Brief: Special Forces Major with ANA troops and their activities during Operation Medusa.

Lots of combat; the SF certainly got into the thick of it. Interesting to see Operation Medusa from the SF side - most of my reading has focused on the ISAF operations side. Very gripping reading, the amount of action is in stark contrast to Flavelle's "The Patrol". I have to admit that I rankle a bit at the frequent implications that Canadian commanders were plodding and not terribly competent during the battle, and earlier in the book, where he basically expresses the opinion that everyone else but the Americans let everything go to pot in Afghanistan after they left. There's also a fairly strong sense that Bradley believes that SF forces and their ANA units were more or less solely responsible for the tactical success of the operation, something which I'd like to try to verify independently.

The Taliban Don't Wave, Rob Semrau

Brief: Canadian OMLT (Operational Mentor Liaison Teams) Captain and his experiences with mentoring and fighting alongside ANA troops.

Utterly bizzare book - very honest, insightful at times, but Semrau's flippant-to-the-point-of-parody writing style feels like it undermines what he's trying to say. Almost every page is peppered with pop culture references and bad jokes, which brings to mind the mental image of your goofy Uncle Bob telling war stories, making up bad dialogue that he said to his fellow troopers. If I didn't know that this was actually written by someone who was actually there, there are times where I wouldn't believe what was going on. The things he says (out loud) to people around him sound like they were written by a bad Hollywood script hack.

At one point, as nearby friendly forces come under attack, he says that he called out "X-Men, to me!" and then later, to his assembled team "Gondor calls for aid, and we will answer." No, I'm not joking.

If this man, a Captain in the Canadian Army, actually spoke like this in combat, I really wonder if people were constantly shaking their heads in disbelief around him.

On the plus side, his ego isn't as inflated as Bradley and not as deflated as Flavelle's, so maybe it finds the right middle ground. Most of the dialogue that actually comes out of the mouths of those around him sounds (mostly) believable, so maybe he did really talk that way.

I can't recommend this one except that it provides a lot of insight into the psychological motivations of the ANA troops that he works with, and a lot of tactical level jargon.

In the Company of Soldiers
, Richard Atkinson

Brief: Follows the commander and staff of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) into the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.

This is all about strategy and operations, as well as a healthy does of logistics. If that's your research focus, this is a good book - high level (division - up to corps and down to battalion). If you're looking for tactics at the company level or lower (which I was), it's a bust.

I agree with the poster above, this book should be titled "In the Company of Generals" - the generals are soldiers, for sure, but this isn't the story of the troops in contact in the 101st. Quite interesting now in hindsight, given Petraeus' recent fall from grace.
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Christopher O
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I'd like to request specifically recommendations on company/platoon/squad level operations in Afghanistan or Iraq written from the perspective of regular infantry forces (not Mountain, not SF, not Marines, etc.) from the United States and the United Kingdom.

I've got the Canadian viewpoint covered, the US Special Forces covered, and with books coming in about Mountain and Marine divisions, I should have that covered too, but I'd like to hear about US regular infantry (mechanized, light or Stryker) and UK infantry.

I'm going to try to track down that BBC doc series.
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