Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Review - Fighting for Afghanistan by Sean Maloney

In his third book about his visits to Afghanistan, Sean Maloney records his experiences and observations on the operations in which he participated when he travelled to Kandahar province in the summer of 2006. The book is divided into three major parts related to the time he spent there: first, with Task Force Aegis, the brigade headquarters for Regional Command (South) at Kandahar Air Field; then with Task Force Orion, the Canadian battle group built around the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, carrying out suppression and clearing operations; and finally as he traveled with Orion’s tactical headquarters during the intensive combat actions of late summer.

Because he knows many of the senior Canadian officers and other ranks on a first name basis, this “rogue historian” lives up to his nickname by gaining full access to discussions both at Aegis’ Joint Operations Centre and at meetings with senior Afghan government officials, as well as when he joined the battle group tactical headquarters whenever it headed off into remote parts of Kandahar and Helmand provinces. The vote of confidence accorded him by the fighting troops is very evident when, as the battle group prepares to head out on one key operation, Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hope calls out to him to get his kit. “You’re coming with us on this one.” This rare access, probably not provided to such an extent to any other historian or journalist, allows Maloney to describe the events in all these operations better than any other source has done, even quoting statements made by participants at critical moments. For example, to get the record right, he even makes notes during a night fire fight by the light of a red-filtered flashlight on a field message pad in a lightly-armoured G-Wagon.

Sean Maloney earns the military’s respect by easily sharing the dangers on operations and as a result has more than one close call with death or injury. He was especially lucky to survive the last one. On returning from a major operation in a northern district of the province, the G-Wagon in which he was travelling struck an Improvised Explosive Device on the edge of Kandahar City. Maloney’s luck held and he escaped this one only with temporary deafness, although two Canadian soldiers were seriously injured and nine civilians killed.

The reader is rewarded by this unconventional historian by his ability to bring together the most complete picture yet recorded of the how the Canadian military met the challenges it faced in developing its ability to wage a counter-insurgency war in southern Afghanistan. The year 2006 was probably the most dynamic period of Canada’s combat mission, as it sought to establish an effective multinational headquarters while deploying a keen but untried battle group into a region rife with tribal politics, undefined power struggles and a cunning insurgency. How well did we do? Sean Maloney answers these questions through his personal experiences and keen analytical eye.