Linda Robinson’s One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare (Public Affairs, 344 pp., $28.99) is an excellent and well-organized look at special operations in the war in Afghanistan. The author—a special ops expert who is a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation—has taken a very complex war and made it understandable. Robinson makes only a few references to the Vietnam War, but to the student of that conflict similarities between it and Afghanistan jump right off the page.
Lack of strategic planning, disagreement among high-level officers, support of questionable Afghan leaders, and a general ignorance of Afghan culture have factored in making this the longest war in U.S. history. Perhaps the greatest mistake, Robinson contends, was making it an American coalition war instead of an Afghan war.
Robinson has done an admirable job describing the heroism, tenacity, and selflessness of American Special Ops men and women. She takes the reader through the provinces in Afghanistan and shows how small groups of dedicated fighters and neighborhood planning can make a difference. Descriptions of combat and death rival any work of fiction.
She includes several quotes that this writer won’t forget, such as this one from T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia): “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”
One can easily substitute “Afghanistan” for “Arabia.”
Another quote that hit me was from a female soldier standing at attention while caskets were loaded into a plane: “There are so many,” she says with pain in her voice.
Linda Robinson’s final sentence reminds us to remember all those killed and their families in such wars. I would add that it’s especially important for those who are quick to advocate for war but do not wish to put their own sons and daughters in harm’s way to remember the lost.
Robinson writes that she started out two years ago to chronicle America’s special operations forces’ largest initiative since the Vietnam War. She clearly has accomplished that goal.