"Masterful, complex, and heartfelt, from the deeply personal to the critically strategic. Captures many lessons on many levels." —Ambassador Hank Crumpton, former senior CIA officer
An award winning journalist reveals the dramatic true story 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.