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First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11

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This dramatic true story reveals the secret mission of the eight members of the CIA’s Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11. America is reeling; Al-Qaeda has struck and thousands are dead. The country scrambles to respond, but the Pentagon has no plan for Afghanistan—where Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack and is pr This dramatic true story reveals the secret mission of the eight members of the CIA’s Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11. America is reeling; Al-Qaeda has struck and thousands are dead. The country scrambles to respond, but the Pentagon has no plan for Afghanistan—where Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack and is protected by the Taliban. Instead, the CIA steps forward to spearhead the war. Eight CIA officers are dropped into the mountains of northern Afghanistan on October 17, 2001. They are Team Alpha, an eclectic band of linguists, tribal experts, and elite warriors: the first Americans to operate inside Taliban territory. Their covert mission is to track down Al- Qaeda and stop the terrorists from infiltrating the United States again. First Casualty places you with Team Alpha as the CIA rides into battle on horseback alongside the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. In Washington, DC, few trust that the CIA men, the Green Berets, and the Americans’ outnumbered Afghan allies can prevail before winter sets in. On the ground, Team Alpha is undeterred. The Taliban is routed but hatches a plot with Al-Qaeda to hit back. Hundreds of suicidal fighters, many hiding weapons, fake a surrender and are transported to Qala-i Jangi—the “Fort of War.” Team Alpha’s Mike Spann, an ex-Marine, and David Tyson, a polyglot former Central Asian studies academic, seize America’s initial opportunity to extract intelligence from men trained by bin Laden—among them a young Muslim convert from California. The prisoners revolt and one CIA officer falls—the first casualty in America’s longest war, which will last two decades. The other CIA man shoots dead the Al-Qaeda jihadists attacking his comrade. To survive, he must fight his way out against overwhelming odds. Award-winning author Toby Harnden gained unprecedented access to all living Team Alpha members and every level of the CIA. Superbly researched, First Casualty draws on extensive interviews, secret documents, and deep reporting inside Afghanistan. As gripping as any adventure novel, yet intimate and profoundly moving, it tells how America found a winning strategy only to abandon it. Harnden reveals that the lessons of early victory and the haunting foretelling it contained—unreliable allies, ethnic rivalries, suicide attacks, and errant US bombs—were ignored, tragically fueling a twenty-year conflict.


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This dramatic true story reveals the secret mission of the eight members of the CIA’s Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11. America is reeling; Al-Qaeda has struck and thousands are dead. The country scrambles to respond, but the Pentagon has no plan for Afghanistan—where Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack and is pr This dramatic true story reveals the secret mission of the eight members of the CIA’s Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11. America is reeling; Al-Qaeda has struck and thousands are dead. The country scrambles to respond, but the Pentagon has no plan for Afghanistan—where Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack and is protected by the Taliban. Instead, the CIA steps forward to spearhead the war. Eight CIA officers are dropped into the mountains of northern Afghanistan on October 17, 2001. They are Team Alpha, an eclectic band of linguists, tribal experts, and elite warriors: the first Americans to operate inside Taliban territory. Their covert mission is to track down Al- Qaeda and stop the terrorists from infiltrating the United States again. First Casualty places you with Team Alpha as the CIA rides into battle on horseback alongside the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. In Washington, DC, few trust that the CIA men, the Green Berets, and the Americans’ outnumbered Afghan allies can prevail before winter sets in. On the ground, Team Alpha is undeterred. The Taliban is routed but hatches a plot with Al-Qaeda to hit back. Hundreds of suicidal fighters, many hiding weapons, fake a surrender and are transported to Qala-i Jangi—the “Fort of War.” Team Alpha’s Mike Spann, an ex-Marine, and David Tyson, a polyglot former Central Asian studies academic, seize America’s initial opportunity to extract intelligence from men trained by bin Laden—among them a young Muslim convert from California. The prisoners revolt and one CIA officer falls—the first casualty in America’s longest war, which will last two decades. The other CIA man shoots dead the Al-Qaeda jihadists attacking his comrade. To survive, he must fight his way out against overwhelming odds. Award-winning author Toby Harnden gained unprecedented access to all living Team Alpha members and every level of the CIA. Superbly researched, First Casualty draws on extensive interviews, secret documents, and deep reporting inside Afghanistan. As gripping as any adventure novel, yet intimate and profoundly moving, it tells how America found a winning strategy only to abandon it. Harnden reveals that the lessons of early victory and the haunting foretelling it contained—unreliable allies, ethnic rivalries, suicide attacks, and errant US bombs—were ignored, tragically fueling a twenty-year conflict.

30 review for First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11

  1. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Braden

    This is THE story that needs to be told about Afghanistan - especially today. The author does a wonderful job of re-telling the secret lives of the CIA's first in-country teams. These stories are powerful, heartfelt and REAL. These are life stories that deserve to be shared. These men entered in Afghanistan, covertly, and remained there, largely unknown and unsupported with three simple missions: 1) exact revenge for the 9/11 attacks 2) prevent any other/similar attack and 3) return home alive. M This is THE story that needs to be told about Afghanistan - especially today. The author does a wonderful job of re-telling the secret lives of the CIA's first in-country teams. These stories are powerful, heartfelt and REAL. These are life stories that deserve to be shared. These men entered in Afghanistan, covertly, and remained there, largely unknown and unsupported with three simple missions: 1) exact revenge for the 9/11 attacks 2) prevent any other/similar attack and 3) return home alive. Much like our next twenty years in that country, many elements of this plan go awry and test them in ways they never quite imagined. This story needs to be told as we learn much about what could have been for Afghanistan, for America, and specifically for men and women of the CIA's very first teams in-country. There are important lessons in here for all of us.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

    I started reading a few lines of the first page and couldn't put it down. Very informative book. Spann and Tyson and others in the Team Alpha, The ODAs and British SBS were all brave patriots. This books honors Mike's death and their service. This is a very well written, and consequently easy to read, yet meticulously researched book about a critical part of modern history. It's also a great story, packed with fascinating information due to the author's diligence, research on the ground, and dee I started reading a few lines of the first page and couldn't put it down. Very informative book. Spann and Tyson and others in the Team Alpha, The ODAs and British SBS were all brave patriots. This books honors Mike's death and their service. This is a very well written, and consequently easy to read, yet meticulously researched book about a critical part of modern history. It's also a great story, packed with fascinating information due to the author's diligence, research on the ground, and deep access to the military and intelligence veterans who obviously trusted the author. A must read. Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2021 Verified Purchase This is a book for the times: about the first American to die in Afghanistan in 2001 after 9/11, but sadly not the last. Harnden’s book is brilliantly written - as we are taken into Afghanistan with the CIA and Green Berets on their lightning advance, to a fort where Al Qaida prisoners are held - prisoners who will turn against their captors and trigger a battle that will test everyone to their last ounce of strength. A great read with many lessons for us twenty years on. 9 people found this helpful Helpful Report abuse David 5.0 out of 5 stars A well-told and important story Reviewed in the United States on September 19, 2021 Verified Purchase This is a very well written, and consequently easy to read, yet meticulously researched book about a critical part of modern history. It's also a great story, packed with fascinating information due to the author's diligence, research on the ground, and deep access to the military and intelligence veterans who obviously trusted the author. It also strikes the right balance between concisely providing 'big picture' context and zeroing in on the real life adventure story, the battle at Qala-i-Janga, and the human protagonists.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This book covers the most interesting period of the post-9/11 Afghan war: the first weeks, where CIA and Special Forces were on the ground, working with local allies, and rapidly taking territory from the Taliban and isolating Al Qaeda. It was during this stage where we had many choices -- a quick and relatively low cost victory against Al Qaeda, imperfect but pro-American local allies with their own extensive military forces defeating the Taliban and ruling the country, vs. nation-building, and This book covers the most interesting period of the post-9/11 Afghan war: the first weeks, where CIA and Special Forces were on the ground, working with local allies, and rapidly taking territory from the Taliban and isolating Al Qaeda. It was during this stage where we had many choices -- a quick and relatively low cost victory against Al Qaeda, imperfect but pro-American local allies with their own extensive military forces defeating the Taliban and ruling the country, vs. nation-building, and CIA vs. DOD. In retrospect, we seem to have largely made the wrong choices, and I think it was obvious even at the time how bad the paths we were taking were. Most of the focus of the book is the CIA/SF partnership with Dostum to fight to Mazar-i-Sharif and the prisoner revolt/false surrender at Qala-i-Jangi which led to the death of the first American combatant in the war, Mike Spann of CIA, and those around him, especially David Taylor, also of CIA. The administrative and political issues (CIA vs. DOD, how much to trust allies, human rights concerns, Rumsfeld, light vs. heavy footprint, "combat zone tourists". etc.) all remained issues for the following 20 years, but they were very clear during this early stage.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Who knew. This is the other side of the story. Not the one hawked for money by the press or hawked for other gain by the self-serving or poorly advised politicians, but the one that sets it all up and the brave souls who died trying to get the job done speedily and right. This is the real deal, warts and all. Should be on military required reading list. I requested and received a free ebook copy from Little, Brown and Company via NetGalley. Thank you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andy Blanche

    Such a long conflict that these early stages are easily forgotten. A fascinating look at westerners as the insurgents, displacing the Taliban before these roles were reversed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Clark

    This book was fantastic and a must read for anyone who wants to know the real deal on how the wars after 9/11 started, and the political BS that happened behind the scenes. Lots of details, stories, and shocking moments. An absolute must read for any military enthusiast

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    A real eyeopener. Details, details details carefully researched and documented. This reader gained a much better understanding of the complexities of war. Our brave members of our defense teams are to be cherished for their service to our country. An intense and emotional read. A VERY GOOD READ.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jez

    OK. big fan of Toby Harnden, who wrote two fantastic books - "Bandit Country" about the Northern Ireland troubles, and "Dead Men Risen" about the Welsh Guards in Afghanistan. As such, I admit I did go into this book with high expectations! Were they met?? oh yes. If you're wondering what happened in the first three months of the near twenty year involvement of Western nations fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghnaisation , then you need to read this book. Fantastic account of key characters OK. big fan of Toby Harnden, who wrote two fantastic books - "Bandit Country" about the Northern Ireland troubles, and "Dead Men Risen" about the Welsh Guards in Afghanistan. As such, I admit I did go into this book with high expectations! Were they met?? oh yes. If you're wondering what happened in the first three months of the near twenty year involvement of Western nations fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghnaisation , then you need to read this book. Fantastic account of key characters who were on the ground from the CIA, Green Berets and others. Highly Recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Wray

    It must be twenty years since I read Toby Harnden's earlier book Bandit Country (now unfortunately out of print), and it is still one of the best books I've read about The Troubles. This book, about the earliest days of the US military campaign in Afghanistan and the events that led to the first American casualty of the war, is every bit as good. He recounts the immediate response to 9-11, and particularly the CIA teams that were formed and inserted to assist the various warlords and tribal leade It must be twenty years since I read Toby Harnden's earlier book Bandit Country (now unfortunately out of print), and it is still one of the best books I've read about The Troubles. This book, about the earliest days of the US military campaign in Afghanistan and the events that led to the first American casualty of the war, is every bit as good. He recounts the immediate response to 9-11, and particularly the CIA teams that were formed and inserted to assist the various warlords and tribal leaders who sought to overthrow the Taliban. Like something out of a thriller, these mixed groups of case officers and paramilitary operatives flew into the middle of nowhere with nothing but their kit and a few sacks full of cash. Remarkably, the result was the rapid collapse of the Taliban regime. The risks these men took are almost unbelievable; you know when Army Special Forces are withdrawn for health and safety reasons that you are into some very sketchy territory. Equally, the events that led to the death of Mike Spann are terrifying. Poignantly, Harnden points out that while Spann's star is the 79th on the CIA Memorial Wall, by 2021 a further 56 had been added. If you are at all interested in the politics and history of the West's intervention in Afghanistan then this book is for you. Whatever you think about it, it is difficult not to admire the courage of these men. Toby Harnden doesn't glorify their story, but tells it fairly and sticks to the facts. Highly recommended!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Thrillers R Us

    Theorizing about gravity in the 1600s, both Kepler and Newton could've probably never anticipated or imagined what would unfold at the turn of the millennium and its ensuing plight. In a vague application of gravitational theory, what was once started must eventually end. The same inevitability will produce works that seek to explain the goings-on in Afghanistan from 2001 towards eventual US withdrawal twenty years later. FIRST CASUALTY is the first of such books following the final marker o Theorizing about gravity in the 1600s, both Kepler and Newton could've probably never anticipated or imagined what would unfold at the turn of the millennium and its ensuing plight. In a vague application of gravitational theory, what was once started must eventually end. The same inevitability will produce works that seek to explain the goings-on in Afghanistan from 2001 towards eventual US withdrawal twenty years later. FIRST CASUALTY is the first of such books following the final marker on 8.31.2021, and is a book of firsts; first in to start the fight, first US casualty in the GWOT & the first American captive (an American Taliban to boot) in the War on Terror. Following 9/11, a mass-murdering terrorist attack aimed at symbols of American power, there was anger, certainly, and a desire for vengeance. The self-indulgent complacency of the 1990s was over, as was American innocence and the way of life in general; replaced by a swelling patriotism and a yearning for vengeance. Thus, things were set in motion to "rid the world of evildoers in this crusade, this war on terrorism." FIRST CASUALTY is the story of Team Alpha, 8 Americans--CIA--and the first to fight behind enemy lines after 9/11. This was war directed on the battlefield, not from the skies or from DC. In the swirling moon dust, it soon becomes evident that Afghan priorities would not always align with America's and re-establish that Afghanistan is and was and always would be a land of murky intrigue and changing allegiances. The violence was fed by ethnic identity, tribes, clans, feuds, honor, and vengeance. Americans would always be interlopers in an Afghan world. Thus, this is then the backdrop for a fascinating look showcasing how much lawyering & legalese goes on and seeps into military and paramilitary efforts (overseas). FIRST CASUALTY is as much part of Americana as are the many movies that are referenced in its pages. And that is the power of the narrative and the skill of Toby Harnden, relating an important part of (recent) US history and keeping it light, relevant, and accessible. There is something for everyone as The Untouchables, The Last of the Mohicans, Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction, The Lord of the Rings --to name a few-- make an appearance. The light must, however, be balanced with the stark, and as the title suggests, FIRST CASUALTY is also, and purposefully about just that, America's first casualty in the Global War on Terror that made its baby steps on or about October 17, 2001. CIA officer Mike Spann was the first to give his life in the herculean effort to wrench justice from the grasp of global terror, and deservedly occupies a good portion of the tale. The trials and tribulations of what it took to get the first Americans behind enemy lines accompany the timeline and is dotted with reminders of how the gains made on the ground were apparently countermanded by constant pessimism & white papers aimed at sabotaging the CIA & Team Alpha by the now deceased SecDef Bacardi Rumsfeld. What FIRST CASUALTY is and what it isn't, a comedy of errors or a comedy of firsts, will in the end be up to the reader. Toby Harnden has taken a host of events, items, and persons that emerged out of the chaos of 9/11 and woven an utterly readable tale that set the force marker for a journey that would take 20 years to complete. FIRST CASUALTY is required reading for anyone looking to get a better understanding of what it took to mount the gargantuan effort to eventually take UBL off the board. Along the way are reminders of sacrifice, American grit, military might, and the contributions that everyday Americans make and often remain anonymous. While the topic and incidental events are infernal and harrowing, Harnden keeps it interesting, factual, and enthralling with insightful nuggets like Islamabad Bob, Devil's Water, faba, Fertilizer Electric, Rockford turns and the Sarajevo shuffle. Shy of having been on the ground in Afghanistan in those crucial weeks and months, FIRST CASUALTY is compulsory, informative, and entertaining. A must must read!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    This is a well researched book about what happened after 9/11. The CIA was sent to Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden. I found this book full of information I did not know. Mike Spann and David Tyson and others in Team Alpha were sent to the northern provinces to help the locals remove the Taliban. They befriended the local leaders and helped them formulate plans to retake their cities. Things did not always go as planned In the book we can see the disorganization and the first person killed in This is a well researched book about what happened after 9/11. The CIA was sent to Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden. I found this book full of information I did not know. Mike Spann and David Tyson and others in Team Alpha were sent to the northern provinces to help the locals remove the Taliban. They befriended the local leaders and helped them formulate plans to retake their cities. Things did not always go as planned In the book we can see the disorganization and the first person killed in our 20 year war in Afghanistan. I highly recommend reading this book. I learned so much about the country and how the leaders are all working for their own territories. It was definitely and eye opening read. Thank you to #goodreads, @TobyHarnden, and @LittleBrown for a copy of this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brian Leakway

    ★★★★★ It’s easy to draw comparisons between “First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11” by Toby Harnden and “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton. Horse Soldiers focuses on a small band of Special Forces soldiers in the fight against the Taliban to capture the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif. First Causality centers on the small teams of CIA operatives in that same fight. The chapters describing the uprising of 400 al-Qaeda prisoners during The Battle of Qala-i-Jangi, during ★★★★★ It’s easy to draw comparisons between “First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11” by Toby Harnden and “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton. Horse Soldiers focuses on a small band of Special Forces soldiers in the fight against the Taliban to capture the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif. First Causality centers on the small teams of CIA operatives in that same fight. The chapters describing the uprising of 400 al-Qaeda prisoners during The Battle of Qala-i-Jangi, during which CIA officer Mike Spann became the first American to be killed in combat during the invasion of Afghanistan, are particularly gripping.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lourdes

    Oh wow, I was so happy to win this book through Goodreads as this book talks about history. So well written, so much knowledge. I would definitely recommend picking up and reading this book. This is a well-researched book about what happened after 9/11. The CIA was sent to Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden. I found this book full of information. I'm very happy to have this book. Thank you, Goodreads. Oh wow, I was so happy to win this book through Goodreads as this book talks about history. So well written, so much knowledge. I would definitely recommend picking up and reading this book. This is a well-researched book about what happened after 9/11. The CIA was sent to Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden. I found this book full of information. I'm very happy to have this book. Thank you, Goodreads.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lee Murdock

    excellent telling of an important story. A well written look behind the headlines at the people and sacrifice behind America’s first forays into payback for 9/11. A must read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Giles

  16. 5 out of 5

    J.w. Larrick

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Miller

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Pratt

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Kennedy

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Flaherty

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Childs

  22. 4 out of 5

    Roly Woods

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matti Paasio

  24. 5 out of 5

    MR CHRISTOPHER

  25. 4 out of 5

    A

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wes Cleveland

  27. 4 out of 5

    REGINA MCNALLY

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sydney Stockton

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie Kettle

  30. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Elliott

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