- - Tuesday, October 4, 2016



By Michael Golembesky

St. Martin’s Press, $26.99, 314 pages

Michael Golembesky was one of those idealistic young Americans who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 to fight the war on terror. He saw combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, serving in his first deployment as a provisional rifle company squad leader, and in his fifth and final tour in Afghanistan as a joint terminal attack controller for Marine Special Operations Team 822 (MARSOC) in the Bala Murghab River Valley, during the bitter Afghan winter of 2010.

The men of Dagger 22, his elite special ops team, inspired in part by the famed Marine Raiders of World War II, complete with Raiders patch, are charged with keeping the Taliban from hibernating in the valley during the winter, resting and laying plans for launching their traditional spring offensive.

The Marines themselves take a somewhat more expansive view of their mission. For them, the primary objective should be to drive the Taliban from the valley altogether. Writing proudly of the effect the Raiders’ patch had on the Taliban, identifying its wearers as warriors to be feared, Staff Sgt. Golembesky adds a qualification: “We didn’t want our enemies to fear or respect us, we wanted them dead.”

This was a task often made difficult by the rules of engagement reinforced by a remote high command, which had to be informed of every maneuver and attack — a charge leveled by many Afghanistan veterans, to whom their military leaders increasingly seemed to be attempting to fight a politically correct war.

At times, what Dagger 22 viewed as arbitrary and counterproductive restrictions on their operations clearly undercut morale — for instance, because of the proximity of compounds, being forbidden to call in a strike on several Afghans clearly planting an improvised explosive device in the middle of a dirt road, one of whom is identified as a top Taliban bomb maker.

But along with Italian and Afghani troops and various coalition forces, through frequent raids and firefights (not always approved), the Marines of Dagger 22, fighting through the winter, successfully keep the Taliban off-balance. Finally, with the advent of spring, the Marines are joined by a force including U.S. Army special forces and Afghan commandos, launching an offensive that drives the heavily entrenched Taliban force from the valley.

After the victory, writes Staff Sgt. Golembesky, one of the many that were being won throughout the country, “I felt a real sense of accomplishment . This was a victory for everyone to revel in . The spring offensive in Bala Murghab had been completely disrupted.”

“It was now up to the Afghan government to ensure that those who lost their lives did not do so in vain . It was now their responsibility to fill the void that the Taliban once occupied and prove to the people of Bala Murghab that stability and hope is something that can be achieved with their lifetime.”

However, that wasn’t to be. In 2012, writes the author, coalition forces began transferring responsibility for the war to the Afghan army and national police. “They weren’t up to the task.” Throughout the country, regions pacified through years of patient work and sacrifice fell back under Taliban control.

“The pace of this turnover increased as political pressure to end the Afghan War intensified. In early 2013, the full withdrawal of NATO troops shifted into high gear. In Bala Murghab, many of the combat outposts were either taken over by the Taliban or deserted by Afghan forces… . Almost overnight the Taliban returned to the valley . All the progress NATO units had made there was lost in a matter of weeks.”

Bala Murghab is once again a Taliban stronghold.”

One of the unfortunate results of the politicizing of our wars is the consequent disillusion among the young men and women we depend on to fight them.

Staff Sgt. Golembesky, a young man who enlisted in the Marine Corps to defend his country, now puts it: “Those standing on the ramparts will do so only because of trust in our leaders and love from our country.” Not many of the Marines he served with, he writes, after the Afghanistan experience, felt that was still the case.

A clear, crisp and realistic narrative of special operations combat, “Dagger 22” is a model of its kind. And beyond that, there’s a message here from an intelligent and thoughtful patriot for those men and women who presume to lead us.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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