Clark comment: Schroen and his JAWBREAKER team were truly "first in," leaving the U.S. for deployment to Afghanistan on 19 September 2001. He recounts the story well, in serviceable language that keeps the pace of the book moving along briskly. The success of the CIA-led war against the Taliban certainly makes the decision not to give all covert operations to the military look pretty good. The speed at which the CIA was able to move and the flexibility shown in responding to the ever-changing situation is impressive. Schroen's First In should be read in conjunction with Gary Berntsen and Ralph Pezzullo, Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander (New York: Crown, 2005). Berntsen replaced Schroen as commander of JAWBREAKER in early November 2001, and tells the story through his replacement in mid-December. Taken together, the two books are a stunningly detailed view of a major paramilitary operation.
Bass, Washington Post, 29 May 2005, comments that this "astonishing new book tells the story of how a handful of CIA agents ... led the initial post-Sept. 11 charge against al Qaeda and its Taliban patrons.... The staggering detail in these pages ... makes First In unlike any other CIA memoir." The book is "seriously weakened by several lengthy passages in which Schroen,... offers purportedly verbatim recreations of dialogue he never heard. But this is still a stunning book -- both an essential document about the strange and oft-forgotten war against the Taliban, a withering policy critique and a proud memoir from an aging man who risked life and limb to try to kill al Qaeda's masterminds."
For Moore, Studies 49.4 (2005), this work "speaks eloquently of the CIA's flexibility and ability to react in a crisis." The Northern Afghanistan Liaison team (NALT) "deployed nine days after the 9/11 attacks," while the first special forces teams did not arrive until almost a month later. Schroen tells the action part of his story well, but his "foray into the policy realm ... struck th[e] reviewer as a stretch."
DKR, AFIO WIN 21-05 (30 May 2005), finds that the author "leads the reader through events that range from the exhilarating to the terrifying to the frustrating.... Schroen is critical of the Bush administration's shift of interest to Iraq before the task in Afghanistan had been completed."
Latif, Parameters, Summer 2006, finds that "[t]he chapters are short and the book moves briskly, as the author writes in clear, crisp, matter-of-fact sentences that require no embellishment." Schroen describes his work to gain the Northern Alliances allegiance to the U.S. effort "through a combination of financial inducements and delicate diplomacy among the various warlords." This work "adds a riveting account to the already rich martial history of Afghanistan and is destined to become a classic tale of CIA exploits in the war on terror."
[CIA/00s/Gen; MI/Ops/Afghanistan/Books; Terrorism/00s/Gen]
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