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Book reviews: In shock. In awe. In Uruzgan.

Nov. 13, 2012 - 02:07PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 13, 2012 - 02:07PM  |  
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‘The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan’

By Michael Hastings, Blue Rider Press, 417 pages, $27.95; e-book available

‘The Valley’s Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban’

By Daniel R. Green, Potomac Books, 246 pages, $29.95; e-book available

‘All In: The Education of General David Petraeus’

By Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb, The Penguin Press, 346 pages, $29.95; e-book available

Published in the March 12, 2012, issues of Military Times.

Afghanistan from three disparate viewpoints:

All In: The Education of General David Petraeus

All work. That's the life of the Army general whose Kabul "hooch" of four 8 feet-by-20 feet Conex containers includes items such as an exercise bike, printers, computers and "an old mattress."

U.S. Military Academy graduate Broadwell "draws on hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with Petraeus" and others for this positive profile of a man whose Afghanistan day includes "20 meetings, briefs, appearances and visits," including 30 with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in one month. After Petraeus visits troops, a lieutenant colonel recalls "feeling the morale of his men almost palpably surge."

This biography, with a tone similar to "Tell Me How This Ends" (2008), follows a "preternaturally gifted" boy who grows up seven miles from West Point and becomes director of the Central Intelligence Agency because he wants "to continue to serve and felt very privileged to have been provided such an opportunity."

The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan

Broadwell, author of the Petraeus book, refers to Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal's "demise at the hands of Rolling Stone."

Bias aside, this fast and often hilarious book (an outgrowth of the article) could convince a reader that Rolling Stone is the singer and not the song, and the song is a bawdy "April in Paris."

In world capitals, the writer dislikes the war but likes "hanging out" with Team McChrystal, whose daily schedules quote Bruce Lee movies. Crew members follow "their own freewheeling playbook" and request going off the record "only twice."

McChrystal's circle is not alone, however, in what is either naivete or arrogance. On one page, Hastings cites four anonymous sources. On another, he chastises a newspaper for citing unnamed Hastings critics.

Tapes, notes and self-described "fly-on-the-wall" reporting reflect McChrystal as a smart and affable guy, a warrior who "had lost touch with the civilian world," the husband who has seen his wife "fewer than 30 days a year since 2003," and a star tarnished by "abuse at prisons in Iraq and the cover-up of (Spc.) Pat Tillman's death."

The Valley's Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban

In 2005, the author begins a year in Uruzgan with a provincial reconstruction team and three years later deploys to Kabul with the Navy. He has looked at strife from both sides and offers details of interest to readers headed to Afghanistan.

He delivers a display of "positive female role models [including Condoleezza Rice and Halle Berry] that we hoped the children [at a girls school] would emulate" and recognizes that a USAID program is "an unmitigated disaster."

"If the military is often criticized for fighting future wars the way it fought the last war, the civilian interagency can be accused of doing the same."

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