The Only Thing Worth Dying For

The Only Thing Worth Dying For:
How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan

By Eric Behm
Harper, $25.99, 375pp.
Review by David Forsmark

If you Google “Karzai” and “corruption,” you are given somewhere around 6,650,000 results.  In fact, when you Google the name “Karzai,” Google’s autocomplete function gives you “Karzai corruption” as the 4th choice.

But you can complete the search parameter for “Karzai courage” without Google’s autocomplete ever kicking in– even when you get as far as, “Karzai courag.”  And the search results tend to be either articles that encourage the President of Afghanistan to show some, or are at least 5 years old.

But as Eric Behm’s terrific new book, The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan, illustrates, the warriors of the Special Forces A-Team ODA 574 would offer a completely different assessment.

It’s also hard to find a good word from President Obama about Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.  Before his visit this week, the Administration treated Karzai with the contempt they usually reserved for right of center Israeli Prime Ministers.   But while Hillary Clinton had kind words for the Afghan leader, Obama, in the words of ABC’s Jake Tapper, delivered his smiles through “clenched teeth.”

Obama’s media microphone have picked up the refrain, using words like “puppet” and acting as though Karzai played no role in the liberation of his country other than acting as our surrogate after we did all the hard work.  Chris Matthews, (ever on the lookout for the Vietnam or Watergate comparisons which are the touchstone of his life) recently compared Karzai to South Vietnamese President Diem.

I wonder if any of the cavalier commentators have a clue that Hamid Karzai went into the Kandahar region solo– while the Northern Alliance and Special Forces A-Teams waged war in the north– to rally tribes and towns against the Taliban.  Or that Karzai put himself in such danger that Delta Force had to rescue him; and later assured victory in the south and probably headed off a civil war in Afghanistan by going back with an 11-man Special Forces team and routing the Taliban while uniting the tribes to the liberation cause.

More importantly, I wonder if Barack Obama knows it.

Behm does a nice job with the warrior camaraderie of the Special Forces Team in the book’s subtitle; but the central relationship in The Only Thing Worth Dying For is between Hamid Karzai and Army Captain Jason Amerine, commander of OD-574.  Together, they form an almost (but not quite) Washington and Lafayette team, as Karzai rallies the populace and Amerine calls in the heavy firepower.

Unfortunately, thanks to the success of the Horse Soldiers in the North, the same Army brass who had to be cajoled– if not tricked– into letting the Special Forces handle the war in Afghanistan, decided it was time to get involved and share in the glory.

Just as victory was almost in hand, Amerine was saddled with a dozen rear-echolon types who arrived in camp, outnumbering the members of OD-574, themselves.  The Pentagon was nervous at just how much the War in Afghanistan in general– and the effort concerned with Karzai who was on track to be the next leader of Afghanistan in particular– was being managed by captains and non-coms.

All the while assuring Amerine that he still had control over the operation on the ground, the brass couldn’t resist taking their own turn at calling in air strikes, while the frustrated Amerine tried to decide if it was worth the trouble—or even possible—to reign them in.

The devastating result, however, gives new insight into why Hamid Karzai might have a particular aversion to collateral damage and misguided airstrikes.

The book also puts the Karzai presidency in context.  By showing the fragility of the alliance among the tribes, and the light touch required from Karzai to make it happen, one can’t help think that the very qualities that the Obama Administration is ripping Karzai for today are what make a central government in Afghanistan—for all its admitted weakness– even remotely possible.

Karzai was selected by the international community and a coalition of Afghans precisely because of his light touch, along with his credibility on the ground.   A heavy-handed effort at “reform” is likely to not only fail, but lead to a splintering of the coalition, if not outright rebellion in the wild outlying regions.  One could argue that Karzai has been exactly what we needed him to be, rather than what utopian perfectionists pretend he should be.

Some might perceive some irony in the title, as the heavy price paid by OD-574 was not caused by the enemy.  The press and politicians seem to treat “friendly fire” casualties as somehow more of a waste than a noble sacrifice.  But professional soldiers know they are an inevitable part of the chaos of combat—no matter how avoidable they seem in hindsight.  Behm—and the Green Berets—appropriately honor their dead in the same way they would had they been killed in a massive Taliban counter-attack.

Victor Davis Hanson regularly writes that one of the great strengths of the United States military is the ability of the soldier on the ground to make combat decisions.  A Special Forces master sergeant has more authority to call in an airstrike, for instance, than a Russian full bird colonel.  The Only Thing Worth Dying For offers a prime example of that attribute—and a cautionary tale of what happens when the warriors on the scene are not given enough autonomy.

The Only Thing Worth Dying For is not as action-packed as Horse Soldiers, or Kill bin Laden, nor is it as controversial as Jawbreaker; but it stands with those three fine books as a must read for anyone who wants to understand the war in Afghanistan.

Best of all, it’s also a terrific story of valiant men at arms, and exceedingly well told.

  • USMCSniper

    I prefer General Patton's ideas, "You don't win wars by dying for your country!! You win wars by making the other silly son of a bitch die for HIS country!!

  • 9-11 Infidel

    I prefer Sun Tzu: "Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

  • Jim C.

    Why the need for partisan games, here? Conservatives haven't called Karzai corrupt? Pleeeaase. But a soldier writes a book and now it's all pieties for Karzai? Give me a freakin' break. Grow up.

    I'm sure it's a good book. I love stories from the ground. But the reality is, leave Afghanistan, tape a note to the door that says "You're welcome! And don't make us come back."

  • Pendra Lee Snyder

    Call me cynical but the plan for a massive mosque to be built near Ground Zero of the 9-11 Islamic terror attack on New York City stinks. I've listened to the "moderate" Islamic clerics talk about how they just want to be part of the community and show the world that they are just like the rest of America.Well, individually, a lot of Muslims are just like the rest of America, hard working, caring for their families, trying to live the dream. BUT the undercurrent in all the nice rhetoric is the goal of Islamic expansion by taking territory one piece at a time. Look at Israel. Look at Europe. America HAS to wake up to the reality that each and every mosque built on American soil is a statement in the minds of Muslims that they are winning the war against the infidels.

    Putting a Mosque near the site of the worse attack on American soil by people who want to kill Christians and Jews and destroy the American way of life is a statement that screams VICTORY by the attackers and their associates. The act is no different than planting a flag on a hill taken by the winning side in war. Actually this is a greater act because a hill can be re-taken and a new flag raised. This is a building of massive size and in Islamic thinking, once they have a physical foot hold on a territory that place is Islamic and under Islamic rule.

    9-11 families, firefighters, rescue workers, police, all those directly touched by 9-11 are outraged. Where is the outrage in the rest of America? We are being taken over piece by piece, first, physically by allowing "peaceful" "moderate" Muslims to build more and more mosques on American soil, by politically active "jihad" motivated Muslims using our Constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms for their benefit and our detriment, by our extremely vulnerable soft underbelly of political correctness and "tolerance" as CAIR and associates work withing our schools and universities to impose their extremist beliefs on left trained students who have no clue until one day they wake up and find all that one sided"tolerance" gone.

    Somebody in New York City better start telling the truth. The Muslims are going to build a memorial to their victory on 9-11 and we are letting them!

    • Gary Rumain

      Some are trying to mount a resistance:

    • John Campbell

      I agree with your assessment. The Holy Land is littered with examples where the Muslim invaders built mosques on top of Christian Holy sites. When I visited the magnificent Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth recently, I was told that Muslims tried to build an even bigger mosque right next to the Church to overshadow it. Fortunately the land in question was controlled by the Catholic Church and Pope JPII interverned to prevent it occurring.

      Would that our government showed the same courage.

    • matthew lipka

      Well said Penny.

  • DavidForsmark

    There is a huge difference in how the last 2 presidents have treated Karzai– and all of our allies, for that matter. Obama saves his nice talk for Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Kim.

    • Jim C.

      We HAVE done all the heavy lifting and we (the USA) have given Karzai a LOT of financial, political, and military assistance. Saying "Where's the beef Karzai?" is being a steward of OUR national interests in a cause we can't be entirely sure is all that germane to those interests. Karzai himself knows we're probably not going to find anyone better, so If Karzai wants to pout and preen, go for it, but don't expect only pats on the back.

      The trope that Obama only loves our enemies gets old.

      • DavidForsmark

        The point is asking him to do the impossible is pointless.

  • Gary Rumain

    The big trouble with fools is that they know nothing and don't know it. So, in answer to the question I wonder if Barack Obama knows it the answer is no.

  • darkmorrow

    It'd be nice if someone would tell the truth about the poppy fields. Nobody finds it odd that we showed up, kicked ass in like 20 minutes, the next year opium production is up 97%. Every year since, opium production has stayed up above record levels. Funny thing too…the price of opium based medications has dropped dramtically over the last 3 years in particular. Oil isn't the only natural resource we need to take advantage of.

    • coyote3

      Well, I hope so.