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Roberts Ridge: A Story of Courage and…

Roberts Ridge: A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain,…

by Malcolm MacPherson

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I read this book while in Iraq, and like many of the other books I read about soldiers serving in the War on Terror, inspired me to keep my head about me and keep a good perspective on my situation.It is well written; there were many times I myself felt the frustration and exhaustion of fighting clueless bureaucrats in the rear, the daring of the soldiers involved, the fatigue from fighting at 14,000 feet, and the exhilaration of the rescue depicted. An outstanding story of courage, adventure, and daring. ( )
  kislam | Nov 28, 2009 |
This is an account of the events that took place on “Roberts Ridge” as part of Operation ANACONDA in Afghanistan in March 2002. An extremely brief summary follows:

The battle began with a failed attempt to land a small SEAL team on a mountaintop, who would then call in fires on Al Qaeda elements in the valley below as a supporting part of the broader campaign. Due to some initially minor mishaps, the SEALs had to be inserted directly onto the mountaintop via helicopter as dawn was breaking. Unfortunately, the landing zone had not been properly surveilled and a dozen or two Chechens had a small bunker complex right there. The helicopter was ambushed as it was landing, one SEAL fell off the back ramp and was left behind, while the shot-up helicopter limped away. The remnants of the SEAL team went back to rescue the fallen SEAL and were promptly trapped there as well. The SEALs took heavy casualties and the survivors started limping down the mountainside. A Ranger quick reaction force was sent to the same landing zone with virtually no information, and became pinned there with heavy casualties. Eventually more Rangers were sent to relieve the first batch and helped fight off a brief counterattack, but then none of them could be extracted until nightfall. It was a horrendously bad operation from start to finish.

It would probably be both unproductive and inappropriate to “Monday Morning Quarterback” the decisions made throughout the operation, so I won’t do that here, but I will say that the operation can provide insights into some of the problems experienced in modern combat. For example:

* The relentlessly “can-do” attitude adopted by most US soldiers and officers can have disastrous consequences -- commanders must afford subordinates the ability to say “sorry, sir, it can’t be done given my resources and constraints;”
* Overly complicated command, control, and communications arrangements can also cause serious problems;
* Murphy’s Law (call it Clausewitzian “friction” at the tactical level if you must) is alive and well, and still fully capable of wreaking havoc on the advanced technologies used by US troops;
* The effects of this friction can be at least partially mitigated by proper intelligence preparation of the battlespace (which did not occur in this instance);
* Technology is wonderful when it works, and disastrous when it doesn’t (but then again, any computer user has already learned that lesson many times over).

So are these problems unavaoidable? Are they simply an inevitable consequence of the “American way of war” (if such a thing exists)? I’m not sure, and ROBERTS RIDGE provides no real set of lessons learned, just a cautionary tale of what happens when things go very badly. It is also a tale of unimaginable bravery on the part of most of the US combatants, and, I think, a tale of moral cowardice by some of their military commanders, who failed the men on that mountaintop very badly.

So: it’s a good book. It’s not without its flaws though. I would have liked to have a better sense of the operational context for the events described in ROBERTS RIDGE. Here I am thinking something along the lines of how Mark Bowden began BLACK HAWK DOWN: a brief description of the overall campaign, followed by a narrative that provides an overview of Operation ANACONDA. Readers will have to find that elsewhere, as the book plunges into the action as the first helicopter loaded with SEALs is about to take off. While that immediate jump into the action provides an engaging way to start the book, as the various rescue operations unfold, it rapidly becomes clear that the reader needs a better sense of what else was going on simultaneously and why the resources that were allocated to rescue and relief operations were so constrained. Without this information, the reader can only ask why were the combatants so ill-prepared, and why were they allowed to suffer for so long before there were exfiltrated. Better maps would also have helped, as would a list of the individuals and callsigns involved in the operation. The author has provided a brief annotated bibliography that is useful.

The official DoD “executive summary” account of the battle is reprinted as an appendix in the book, but is also available online: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/May2002/d20020524takurghar.pdf

The book was a quick-read, no real analysis, just a factual account of a small operation that went very, very badly, interspersed with characterizations and backgrounds of many of the key players. Recommended if you are interested in accounts of recent combat operations in Afghanistan.

Review copyright 2009 J. Andrew Byers ( )
  bibliorex | Nov 13, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553586807, Mass Market Paperback)

Afghanistan, March 2002. In the early morning darkness on a frigid mountaintop, a U.S. soldier is stranded, alone, surrounded by fanatical al Qaeda fighters. For the man’s fellow Navy SEALs, and for waiting teams of Army Rangers, there was only one rule now: leave no one behind. In this gripping you-are-there account–based on stunning eyewitness testimony and painstaking research–journalist Malcolm MacPherson thrusts us into a drama of rescue, tragedy, and valor in a place that would be known as...


For an elite team of SEALs, the mission seemed straightforward enough: take control of a towering 10,240-foot mountain peak called Takur Ghar. Launched as part of Operation Anaconda–a hammer-and-anvil plan to smash Taliban al Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan –the taking of Takur Ghar would offer U.S. forces a key strategic observation post. But the enemy was waiting, hidden in a series of camouflaged trenches and bunkers–and when the Special Forces chopper flared on the peak to land, it was shredded by a hail of machine-gun, small arms, and RPG rounds. A red-haired SEAL named Neil Roberts was thrown from the aircraft. And by the time the shattered helicopter crash-landed on the valley floor seven miles away, Roberts’s fellow SEALs were determined to return to the mountain peak and bring him out–no matter what the cost.

Drawing on the words of the men who were there–SEALs, Rangers, medics, combat air controllers, and pilots–this harrowing true account, the first book of its kind to chronicle the battle for Takur Ghar, captures in dramatic detail a seventeen-hour pitched battle fought at the highest elevation Americans have ever waged war. At once an hour-by-hour, bullet-by-bullet chronicle of a landmark battle and a sobering look at the capabilities and limitations of America’s high-tech army, Roberts Ridge is the unforgettable story of a few dozen warriors who faced a single fate: to live or die for their comrades in the face of near-impossible odds.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:43 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Drawing on the words of the men who were there-- SEALs, Rangers, medics, combat air controllers, and pilots-- this harrowing true account, the first book of its kind to chronicle the battle for Takur Ghar, captures in dramatic detail a seventeen-hour pitched battle fought at the highest elevation Americans have ever waged war"--Jacket.… (more)

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