Military Book Reviews

First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11

First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11 by Toby Harnden (Little, Brown and Company (A division of Hachette Book Group Inc., 412 pages)

An enthralling and harrowing account of the first people to avenge the tragedies of 9/11. This book is the embodiment of both narrow and broad views via a flood of information and accounts of the men and women that were the very tip of the spear into the war on terror. 

Toby Harnden’s extensive background in reporting and specialization in terrorism and war is evident in this book. He’s a man who’s reported in thirty-three countries, been imprisoned and cleared, and spent a decade as a Royal Navy Officer. The author has the ability to deliver information in an almost entrancing way throughout the novel. Often feeling like a “Tom Clancy” novel and a post-action report had a child, this book is gripping in its presentation of the men and women who lead the fight into the heart of Afghanistan; before even the United States military had a plan. Reading this book is definitely an intense ride though, arguably, some of the most important early history in the twenty-year war on terror.  

Key Takeaways

  1. Toby Harnden is a reporter. Therefore, the book is abundantly full of detail, reference, and information. Almost all of it is relevant to deliver the story. That being said, it can be overwhelming keeping track of every person and their role, both friendly and non-friendly.
  2. The attention to detail is also the strongest characteristic of this book. It gives a sense of humanity, a level of almost desperation to avenge the evil of 9/11. It gives you a genuine connection to the men and women in the story and it is what makes you want to continue reading. 
  3. The reader is going to learn things about our government and its dealings in foreign policy that aren’t black and white. If ever a book has painted the fact that warfare is gray, this story would be it. It gives you both a significant appreciation of the men and women involved in the deepest layers of foreign affairs, and a healthy disdain for the things that need to be done to win a war with people practiced in thousands of years of warfare, and no definitive loyalties. 

Why should a military leader read it?

My Military Occupation Specialty Code (MOS) and the nature of my job, has awarded me with situations and interactions of people in almost every plane of warfare and rank up to the one-star level. One thing I’ve observed is leaders who only focus on the scope of the mission at their level rarely have respect as good leaders. I view them as only being able to display a remarkable level of ineptitude, ignorance, and arrogance. The best leaders I’ve had, regardless if I or others viewed their decisions or tactical view as the “best answer”, were the leaders that were educated in both the big and little picture. These leaders studied history. They understood it and realized the importance of knowing your enemy. These leaders used that information to make sound tactical decisions and to educate their subordinates about why their little picture mattered in the big picture, also furthering their understanding of why. My generation loves that question ‘why’. Answering it brings a sense of fulfillment, of understanding, and I wholeheartedly believe that leads to increased morale. I would want to see this book on my leader’s desk because it would lead me to believe that they are a student of history and recognize the importance of the entire picture, not just big or little. I would especially want to see this on my leadership’s desk if they are leading any mission that has to do with the war on terror, 9/11, or the middle east. 

Final Thoughts

This is not a light read. I all but needed a synoptic chart to keep track of characters and their roles. The author is a reporter by trade and it’s clear in his writing style. If you’re a reader who doesn’t appreciate history through facts and stories, this book isn’t for you. 

This book is the first I’ve ever heard of some of these people. Almost like getting the inside scoop. It’s eye-opening and highlights some very important lessons learned from a type of warfare we weren’t proficient in. First Casualty brings to light what happens when we as a country aren’t prepared, but oh how quickly do we wake up and bring the fight. A great read indeed.

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