Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq by Mark Urban

There is no doubt that the special forces of the United States have been heavily involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars since those wars’ initial stages.  However, many do not know how much assistance the Americans received from its allies, particularly the British.  Mark Urban highlights the efforts of British special forces to assist American special forces in taking down Saddam’s forces and the insurgents of al-Qaeda and Shia in his book Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the Secret Special Forces War in Iraq.

Here is a brief summary of the book from the publisher’s website:

When American and British forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, select teams of special forces and intelligence operatives got to work looking for the WMD their governments had promised were there.  They quickly realized no such weapons existed.  Instead they faced an insurgency—a soaring spiral of extremism and violence that was almost impossible to understand, let alone reverse.

Facing defeat, the Coalition waged a hidden war within a war.  Major-General Stan McChrystal devised a campaign fusing special forces, aircraft, and the latest surveillance technology with the aim of taking down the enemy faster than it could regenerate.  Guided by intelligence, British and American special forces conducted a relentless onslaught, night after night targeting al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

Urban provides a solid chronological history of the British special forces in Iraq.  Many people may see this book  as a dry history, but I would counter that it is not because Urban includes many details of the war that I thought would be top-secret.  For example, he describes how the American tracking of cell phones in Iraq helped the American and British special forces to find targets for their operations.  These operations eliminated or captured leaders in the insurgency.

Urban also explores the tension between the leadership of British regular and special forces.  The special forces wanted to work more closely with the Americans and be very aggressive in their operations whereas the regular forces commanders wanted to be more cautious (in fact, they were accused of just biding their time for the order to withdraw from Iraq).  This tension often led to open arguments between the two branches.

It is fascinating to read about the individual operations run by the special forces.  These operations evolved throughout the war.  Initially, there were not as many operations because of an emphasis on over-planning.  However, this changed when British special forces commanders made an effort to coordinate their operations with the Americans under General Stanley McChrystal (commander of Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq).  McCrystal revolutionized black operations in Iraq.  His demand for continuous operations against the insurgency’s leadership put so much pressure on al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Shia insurgents that they cracked.

Finally, Urban writes in an easy-to-read prose that keeps the reader engaged throughout.  The book is 320 pages with two eight-page color photograph inserts.

This is an excellent book if you want to learn about some of the inner workings of the special forces war in Iraq.

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