Operation Snakebite is both an excellent piece of investigative journalism and an example of war reporting at its finest. In December 2007, independent journalist Grey was embedded with a company of British soldiers as they undertook to capture the town of Musa Qala in Afghanistan's Helmand Province.
Grey's account reveals that the genesis for the battle of Musa Qala came from Afghan president Hamid Karzai after an enigmatic Taliban commander known as Mullah Salaam intimated he would be willing to switch sides. The British were skeptical about Salaam's importance, and their frustrations with Karzai's erratic leadership style mounted. Eventually the operation changed from coalition support for Afghan forces and a "tribal uprising" into a massive coalition-led battle with Afghan forces claiming credit.
Grey is unambiguous from the outset about his own viewpoint; he arrived in Afghanistan "an outsider and a skeptic." While his reporting of life under the Taliban's rule prior to 9/11 caused the group's Radio Shari'a to declare him an enemy, after the U.S. invasion he describes himself as "equally critical of the way we had responded to the Taliban and to the terrorist threat." But the book is not a polemic. It asks the hard questions that supporters of the war effort should be considering: If the Afghanistan mission is designed to remove terrorist training camps, has the entire country become "one big training base for them?" How much of a barrier to success is Karzai's impulsiveness, and are his Western backers caving in too easily to his shifting inclinations? How big is the "gulf between tactics that worked and a broader strategy in Afghanistan that seemed to make little sense?"
It remains to be seen how well the Obama administration's strategy for Afghanistan will address the concerns Grey raises. The author notes, through the eyes of Brig. Andrew Mackay: "It was an irony that the more you cared about the Afghan war, the more critical your voice became. Those who hardly cared rarely bothered to dissent." If so, Grey's book is doing us all a favor, supporters and detractors of the Afghan war alike.