Maj. Rusty Bradley spent six years as an enlisted man before getting into Officer's Candidate School. He earned his Ranger tab and made it through even more difficult Green Beret training. Reading "Lions of Kandahar," it becomes clear early on that he is a smart, honest, straight-talking warrior. These qualities make this one of the most important documents to emerge from the war in Afghanistan.
It covers the period of August- September 2006. Bradley, then a captain and commanding a special forces company, participated in Operation Medusa, "the largest NATO offensive in history," intended to push the Taliban out of Kandahar Province.
That Medusa was necessary was symptomatic of what is wrong with U.S. policy in the country. This was Bradley's third rotation there.
At the end of his last tour -- just seven months earlier -- the Taliban were chased out of the area. But Canadian forces replaced U.S. troops, concentrated on "setting up reconstruction teams and less on combat and maintaining security," allowing the Taliban to return in force.
And here was Bradley, once more tasked with sending the Taliban scurrying, retaking ground taken less than a year earlier. Why? One major problem: "There was no centralized national military strategy for Afghanistan."
Instead, officers in the field received ever-changing orders from generals based seemingly on personal whims. Before Medusa, "a general somewhere in the chain of command moved up the attack without conducting a reconnaissance."
Had he done so, he might have discovered beforehand the information radioed to Bradley out in the field: "Here is your situation: The enemy count is not dozens (as you expected), but hundreds, maybe even thousands. Do you copy? Over."
Bradley writes some of the most graphic battle descriptions I've ever read. Rockets hit a fortified building about 100 yards away. Dazed Taliban stumble out and are gunned down. "Good kills usually fall like rag dolls, as these did."
He describes war in a country that "smells like an open sewer running past a pine wood fire." It is so hot the soldiers get heat rash and blisters over their entire bodies, making it painful to put on and take off body armor.
Afghan soldiers can't be trusted. A group of reinforcements get back in their trucks and flee at the first sight of battle.
The Taliban regularly hides behind women and children. Every day, Americans "accept enormous risks to prevent civilian casualties." Yet armchair quarterbacks look the other way.
Bradley writes that he had no intention of causing "controversy or pointing fingers." I don't see how it can do anything but create controversy. This book filled me with rage and pain -- for the parents who lost sons and daughters, the children who lost parents, the men and women who lost spouses.
On the day of the biggest battle, Bradley vows: "If they wanted blood today, it would be theirs and it would flow like a river." It did. The Taliban were decisively defeated. And yet ...
To prove that no mistake isn't worth repeating, last September U.S. and Afghan troops began still another offensive to clear the area of Taliban. As late as this past May, the Taliban was able to paralyze Kandahar City with a combination of small-arms fire and suicide bombers.
Curt Schleier is a book reviewer in New Jersey.