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Fighting for Afghanistan: A Rogue Historian at War

Fighting for Afghanistan: A Rogue Historian at War by Sean M. Maloney. Naval Institute Press, 2011, 326 pp.

Dr. Sean Maloney’s Fighting for Afghanistan has captured a sense of the emotions that take place in warfare with a tactical “ground eye” view of the actions of Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan in 2006. An associate professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, the author has a keen eye for detail as a historian but still provides his personal outlook and range of emotions during a particularly difficult time in the Afghanistan war. Obviously he was granted extraordinary access to both the planning and execution of operations, gaining the perspectives of both senior leaders and soldiers on the ground.

Several themes reverberate throughout the book, one of which involves the difficulty in fighting a war with coalition partners, each with disparate capabilities and objectives. The inability of Canadian forces to obtain air support—for lift as well as fire support—at critical times during engagements proved especially frustrating. The reasons were just as bothersome: prior political decisions by the Canadian government; the higher priority that special operations forces always received, regardless of need; caveats from different countries, which left aircraft idle; and bureaucratic red tape. All of these factors prevented the availability of needed support, which put lives at risk. Another theme, unity of effort, addresses disconnects caused by changes in the command structure to integrate the International Security Assistance Force and the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom in 2005–6. Such problems made the coordination and integration of operations difficult at best.

Dr. Maloney’s access to troops on the ground offers insight into the good, bad, and ugly parts of warfare. He experiences the camaraderie of being part of a unit when he unwittingly shifts from observer to participant. The author earns his moniker as a rogue historian by writing, “How the hell can I write and lecture about this stuff if I haven’t been exposed to it too???” (p. 266). Unfortunately, he also feels grief and a sense of loss when his comrades become casualties.

Dr. Maloney’s extraordinary access to and familiarity with operations in Afghanistan are responsible for a possible weakness in the book. Specifically, readers will find the acronyms and level of operational detail hard to follow at times. No doubt this level of detail will prove valuable as a historical record, but it makes perusing the book more troublesome for nonmilitary individuals. Nevertheless, Fighting for Afghanistan is well written, well researched, and relevant for military audiences. For those who have served in Afghanistan, it will be particularly interesting.

Col Jack D. Kem, PhD, USA, Retired

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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