BY JAMES KITFIELD, Basic Books, 2016, 405 pp.
Reviewed by Robert Thompson.
“It takes a network to defeat a network.” That observation, frequently expressed by General Stanley McChrystal as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, led to creation of an integrated network of soldiers, spies, and special agents to combat a highly networked enemy proficient in the use of technology. In his new book, Twilight Warriors, James Kitfield tells a compelling story of how they did it, what they accomplished, and what it means for the future of the global fight against terrorism.
A military trained in doctrines of maneuver warfare adapted to a new kind of enemy by developing innovative and collaborative counterterrorism measures. Special Operations Forces, conventional forces, and precision air assets worked together more seamlessly than ever before. The military was joined in the fight by intelligence and law enforcement agencies — CIA, FBI, NSA, DEA — as equal partners. Turf-conscious organizations with diverse cultures learned to cooperate. Intelligence gathering and analysis that once was an important adjunct to military operations became the primary mission of a new warfighting machine. Centralized command and decentralized execution made it fast-moving and responsive.
This densely networked counterterrorism force, developed within the Joint Special Operations Command, was part of the broader counterinsurgency strategy championed by General David Petraeus in Iraq, first as 101st Airborne Division commander and later as commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq. It was replicated in Afghanistan in 2009 when General McChrystal assumed command of all U.S. and coalition forces there. The unprecedented collaboration among military, intelligence, and law enforcement in Iraq and Afghanistan progressed rapidly and effectively on the battlefield. That it did not result in final, decisive victory was due to, according to Kitfield, corrupt governments in Baghdad and Kabul and political decisions taken in Washington. Yet Kitfield holds out hope for its continued viability as American involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts winds down and terrorist activity elsewhere intensifies.
Author James Kitfield has reported and written on defense, national security, and foreign policy for more than 20 years.* Twilight Warriors is a journalistʼs reportage, based largely on interviews the author conducted and his earlier published articles. Far from being a dry treatise on military strategy and tactics, it is full of anecdotes and insights into the character of the large cast of military personnel and civilians who drove the network. Aspects of the story have been told elsewhere, sometimes in greater detail, but Iʼve found nothing that describes as clearly and comprehensively the new warfare that evolved from the 21st Century conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Warfare has never been a static enterprise. It adapts and evolves as technology and threats change. James Kitfield has drawn a lucid picture of a new American way of war, conceived in a long twilight struggle against foes in dark shadows.
* James Kitfield is the only three-time winner of the Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He was the featured speaker at a Tucson Committee on Foreign Relations event in September 2016, addressing the topic “ISIS Update: Importing and Exporting Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
Robert Thompson is a retired lawyer and international business executive. He currently is president of the Tucson Committee on Foreign Relations.