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tv   Wesley Morgan The Hardest Place  CSPAN  December 29, 2021 8:58am-10:28am EST

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became representative of the larger whole, which was essentially the defection of 6 million african-americans from the south to the north to the midwest and the west, from 19155 until 1970 when the south began to truly change. >> on this episode of booknotes+, booknotes+ is available on the c-span now out or where ever you your podcasts. >> will weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday american history tv documents america's stories, and on sundays with tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies and more including spotlight. >> the greatest is a place to call home. spotlight it's our home and right now we are all facing the greatest challenge.
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that's why we are working around the clock to keep you connected working hard to its a little easier to do yours. >> sparklight come along with the television companies support c-span2 as a public service. >> thank you for joining us. i'm david sterman, st, senior py analyst or new a america with te international duty program. we're here today to talk about this new book from wesley morgan who is the author, and the book is "the hardest place: the american military adrift in afghanistan's pech valley" ." to discuss the book within we have emma sky, as a senior fellow with the jackson institute for global affairs, also author of in a time of monsters, and with that i turn it over for a discussion. we'll take your questions via
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the q&a box at the bottom. thank you both for doing this. >> thank you, david. wes, congratulations on your book. it's really a superb piece of writing, and people willea lookt the war in afghanistan and wonder how it was that u.s. troops were sent to remote places, rotation after rotation, achieving so little in a great cost in terms of blood and treasure. .. than the details, and you're deeply researched account of american troops in the pech. when you were a 20-year-old freelancer and and you look about 15, i wonder what is his child doing in the war zone, so
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what made you want to be a war reporter? >> thanks, emma. and i remember our meeting vividly in the green zone in 2008. i was a military history nerd growing up and september 11th happened when i was in the 8th grade and kind of made it all current and real. from then on, kind of my goal was get over and see these conflicts and the obvious path was to go into the military. i started rotc when i got to college, but then thanks to an opportunity presented by general david patraes. and this was a much more immediate way to see the wars during the critical phase, and also, i think wound up being
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much more i was interested in doing, getting to the bottom of what was going on in the conflicts. >> and in afghanistan since 2009. when did you decide you wanted to write a book and what it would take for the study of a specific valley, the pech, through every rotation of u.s. forces? >> sure, so, i had the idea of the study in the part of the country coming out of the trip i took in 2010. in 2010, the summer of the surge that president obama announced in west point in 2009 and i spent that summer bouncing around the country. visiting towns involved in tough fighting and see what was the toughest places the surge was coming up against and one of those visits was to the pesh
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or where troops were engaged in difficult fighting and other places where u.s. troops were. the pech stuck with me and that i wound up going back there my senior year of college and ended up writing a senior thesis, and doesn't hold up, it seemed like a nice ending to the pech story, and they went out and then they wound up going back in and one of the new chapters that the story is taken up with. in 2012 i pitched the book in random house, and let's look an as it represents many of the threads to the broader war, although in the all of them and try to do this in detail. and rewind to the first outpost being established and as close as we can to talking to guys who establish those outposts and then up as far as we can into the present. >> for someone who is reading
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the book, what really came over as the dedication of the u.s. military to the mission and to each other. and you've already described the harsh conditions, the incredible sacrifices they made, and the book is a testament to the dedication of the american soldiers. and yet, you dedicate this book to the -- why to them? >> so, afghanistan is a place where i think the u.s. military and intelligence community have often found themselves lost. this is one the early parts of the book, trying to find their ground and who to trust and many of them having a very, very time and this is the case
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throughout afghanistan, but in many of the american provinces, there's additional problem of it being a linguistically difficult area. and there are valleys into the pech, the valleys that have their own languages and in some cases, they have their own languages, it's optimal for the u.s. forces to penetrate and they became reliant on the interpreters, often served there for years and years at a time working for one commander after another so they wound up being valuable sources for me as well. in some cases, the afghan ip interpreters and kept them
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alive bear responsibility for success, as short-lived as it may have been. >> now, you-- in 2010 asking the question, why are we here? are we building a nation? are we chasing terrorist sns is it counter insurgency or counterterrorism ct as coined by ct and after you got special forces that are undermining conventional, do you feel in writing this book, you discovered the question, why are we here? >> what i discovered is the reason that u.s. forces were in the pech were quickly swallowed up in new logic, ever einvolving logic of what they were doing there.
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in 2010, the first time i visited the pech. he was at the moment there. and it wasn't clear anymore. the counterterrorism threat or the counter insurgency or nation thread and both continued to be emphasized that it was, and in that moment, 2010. his command had different points of emphasis on this matter. and president obama in that period made clear that he reason he wanted to stay in afghanistan and do the surges was to prevent al qaeda from having a safe haven, which is the counterterrorism threat and what they embraced was the counter insurgency against the taliban. in many parts of the country, you'd encounter one of those at a time and in the district in hellman, you're fighting the taliban. in pech, you were fighting
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both. there was always al qaeda up there, trainers, essentially working alongside local fighters and who remained a source of persistent interest for the cia. so all along it's wound up with the counter insurgency of the pech and often wound up that way in many, many other districts. >> so another character that you say in the book is 0sland the command. 173rd the airborne and you described him an optimist who believed in the movement. and the afghans that they have a pick a fight. they have to choose between the government and the insurgents and yet, at some point there
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seems to be a realization that the population in the insurgency can't be separated because they've become one and the same. so when you look at the experience of u.s. forces in the pech valley, do you think doctrine is flawed and not feasible for a country such as afghanistan? >> let me put the basic question about the doctrine and the question how these battalions were operating. a succession of battalions really were doing what we came to know as the counter insurgentry doctrine in iraq. and the infantry battalion, building roads, and, in 2006, the commanders decided this is
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the way to go. it seemed like the appropriate strategy to them. the colonel replaces them and continues to do strategy, although in a somewhat more ambitious way and by that time, working off the published and that's the orthodoxy in 2007-2008 when that unit is in the pech valley. the problem with it, the pech complex structure in place, any cookie cutter template for it you're always going to run into huge problems. >> and the idea that the population became inseparable. and that's in the case in one of the side valleys, chris and his company were entangled and suffered casualties and
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subsequent units after them. it was something that each unit had to learn once again and own cost, and the native insurgency. there were taliban fighters present, certainly, and they had been placed in the taliban hierarchy, but it was an insurgency and often the elders were talking had a nephew, two nephews for nephews and a son fighting it. in it was complicated and often the case the fighters that were you duking it out in in the pech. were firmly in the pech. there's a character i track throughout the book, he's a wealthy residents, and around the town for years and years and years, but that's not to
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say that in the pech itself that it was hostile. >> many were receptive to american help. and were excited about it. and willing to forgive and forget a lot of earn m mistakes, but has things moved along, there's just, the population turned cold is the way that a lot of guys would put it. the accumulated scar tissue of so many deaths from both sides, stuck in the middle and eventually that's the population, unwilling to stick its neck out much for either side and that made the job for the colonel who felt like he had to get, move the population and in particular, the official for the district governor to ais your that they were on the right side. and that made his job really frustrating and i would say very futile. people were there long after he leaves, they weren't going to
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pick a side the way they wanted to pick a side. >> the sheer complexity of the environment made that counter insurgency approach very, very difficult in the pech. and obviously, more foundational problem in the pech is that they stated all of this is going to have to be handing it over to government forces and the afghan government of the united states was working with, up in the pech, was not a government that many people there viewed as legitimate and even if he viewed it as legitimate, they often viewed it as predatory and distracted or they wanted to have much to do with. so, i think that was kind of a foundational flaw that up in this part of the country, it was trying, often kind of half heartedly to the military and police forces, that it was not making its main effort to stand up and wish the population themselves, a great distrust and suspicion.
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>> when you spoke to many afghans during the time covering the war. did you get a sense of the general view that people had of americans? did they think that americans had come to afghanistan to help? or did they think they are evil, stupid? >> i think that the view of americans, there are probably as many views of americans as there are afghans and a tremendous range of the people that people perceived americans. i tried to speak to district governors, interpreters, local businessmen, people who had persistent relationships not just with one american unit, but he'd seen them come and go and had personal relationships with many american officers, whether it was a lieutenants, a series of lieutenants that they worked with or a series that they worked with.
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and one thing that came to mind, an old man i interviewed at one point about the american experience and he almost-- he prefaced his whole talk with me comparing americans positively to the soviets saying look, the soviets in 1978-1979, before the soviet involvement kicked off and there were just soviet advisors in here, they were involved in massacres, killing hundreds. the united states never did anything like that, it was almost like sort of establishing that he was not anti-americans, until the detailed critique of the americans experience and whole american involvement that he had seen. now, there's another guy, early in the book, there's another elderly man from the valley north of the pech who i end the book with, and end the book with some of his comments,
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different comparison to the soviets ap he says the soviets were wrong and godless, but they built things that lasted longer. and the americans they didn't finish building things, what had they left us with except for the taliban, the daesch and al qaeda. >> and this was weak before 2001 is. this was not taliban controlled territory and after the u.s. involvement that taliban was stronger and brought in to help the local insurgency to fight the americans. so in some ways, there are places in the valley that did
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not see at all in 2001 and are now governed by the taliban. and there are areas south of pech that are run by the islamic state, a group that didn't exist before the american involvement. there's a great deal of bitterness, americans connelling with good intentions, but not fulfilling their promises and in some cases leaving things worse than when they started. >> okay. the americans, it certainly calls us to look at national security in a different light. how much of a threat do terrorist groups in afghanistan really pose to the u.s.? >> it's a really difficult question to answer and i think the long and short of it is
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that the united states is going to have to make that decision without even knowing the answer and that's always been the case all along the way. these are closed organized that don't want us to know what they're up to and do a good job of preventing us from knowing what they're really up to. what is our best guess about the threat that isis in the valley opposes or such and such al qaeda leader poses. this is a question to be grappled with all along the way. >> there was a thought that they were hunting in 2002 and later in 2010. an egyptian militant who had been in kumar, since the '80s. he had kind of-- he had never left after the soviets and just worked himself into the fabric of society.
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but at some point, after the u.s. intervention and after the u.s. troops arrived there, he was a key figure in establishing the anti-government insurgency in the province and he became-- he's an egyptian with links to al qaeda and he became the al qaeda liaison. and because he had a high profile, a well-known local figure. he become a flashing lights that the u.s. pursued for years, but the reality is, in retrospect. at no point was an international terrorist figure involved in plotting. you look at people at also an egyptian figure who was running around the province about the same time who indeed was involved in plotting external operation in the early 2000's. but he was operating without the military knowing about it. he kept a low profile and
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became distracted by another al qaeda figure who was not what we believed him to be or feared that he was. this whole dynamic played out again in the late obama administration, centered on an al qaeda figure, qahtani. and this is a guy who wound up ensconced in the mountains of the pech and the seals in may. 2011 when they sought bin laden, and he had known about and aligned himself and had given orders to establish a new al qaeda sanctuary in the mountains north of the pech. so he bim a-- he became a figure in the commands and drone campaign trying to get him.
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but as far as how much of a threat he really posed. that's a question to answer. there were some that come in, suggesting okay, he's been linked to bringing pakistani nationals to ports and training them for something. that suggests international terrorism. how much would you be able to do with them, but on the other end of the spectrum if he's stuck up there, hunkered down and trying to survive and avoid the drain campaign? and then it maintains that state of affairs. if you're not going to-- in the case of qahtani, they did eventually kill him, but years of effort. and these little pockets is how much-- i mean, how much resources-- how many drones, how many, you know, troops at the station bases are appropriate for
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keeping the lid on, you know, a guy, a couple of guys, a group of guys surrounding a guy and in the case of the islamic state in coo you mar. the question is more complicated because of the islamic state's firing attacks rather than directly plotting them. you start to wonder, okay, maybe they had a sanctuary they had a guy on a laptop, but that's true in north mozambique. and how many resources are you willing to commit against that kind of problem. >> so 2000 americans lost their lives in afghanistan and 20,000
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wounded and here we are almost two decades. 100,000 afghans met violent death. the u.s. government is seeking to withdraw all troops in afghanistan with a -- with the taliban. how do u.s. veterans, if you know, feel about this? >> as complicated about the war in afghanistan among u.s. veterans as i do among afghans and again, i think it's an incredibly personal thing that runs the gamut on every possible fake -- take on the war that you can imagine. >> and i certainly know american veterans who have come away from this experience, with the idea that the united states will leave afghanistan and coming away, if we had tried harder, continued a key moment
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we wouldn't be where we are today. there will be afghans that are sticking around and in the continued military support to prevent the country from falling and following through and the many, many promises and certainly in the perspective i hear often. i often hear the perspective that this has been a waste, just be done with it. we've seen throwing everything against the wall and it hasn't stuck, nothing has stuck. why should we expect better results now when we're at the smallest military commit that we've had since the opening weeks of the war in late 2001, early 2002. so what's the point? and there's a part of the epilogue of the book that describes how in a particular part of the kumar province over the past couple of years, especially in the six months leading up to the doha
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agreement last year, the special operations task force in afghanistan, eventually leaving the drone strikes in a way to support the taliban against isis. the taliban and isis were fighting each other in the same old valley and where american troops used to fight. and i actually have it-- there's a sergeant first class, who i know that fought in cornwall as a young man back in afghanistan in 2019 and happened to stumble across the drone feed, happened to see isis and taliban fighters duking it out on a hillside that he used to spend a lot of time onment and he shared on facebook, look, isis and the taliban are both on our old hunting grounds and basically his take was, man, i wish i could be back there, taking it to both sides at once and in the middle of the trend that resulted, a lot of these
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expressed for this. and in the lives that i'm sure was miserable. 15 months in living on a shoe string and they felt nostalgia for this war. we learned later in the year that the special operations task force was trying to tip the scales in that part of the country. even as it's continuing to bomb board the taliban and everywhere else in the country, here it's trying to figure out how can we help, by hitting this isis motor poe position. and that's so much more complicated feelings from him and i think the idea that we are helping now or in partnership now with the group that has killed so many americans, certainly it's frustrating to a lot of people. and i understand why.
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but as the some of the special operations veterans, well, current special operations guys from the task for was telling me as i was writing the passage. he said basically, look, we all want to fight the war still. but we understand something different is needed. and that's a fairly common view among guys who are still at it. yeah. >> one more question for you before we start taking questions from the audience, the audience members, start shooting in the questions. this week or this weekend i read an article that wrote in the new yorker and in reading that it seems that the taliban and the government of afghanistan really don't want to share power. and afghani says he was
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democratically elected and why did he give up sharing with the taliban. and so reading this, it made me wonder, and ask you this, do you think it will turn to civil war in afghanistan is really inevitable? >> i think, you know, if we see a return to civil war, but there's a war going on in afghanistan right now, a very, very bloody one. it's-- whether it's some kind of peace can come out of the doha process or that the biden administration is attempting to impose on top of that, i don't know. you know in kumar, the afghan government and the taliban have found ways to accommodate each other. instead of -- there were local
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cease fires arranged by the afghan national army and coordinated so on and cease fires with the taliban during which actually these forces, the forces wound out cooperating with each other in some fairly concrete way. the advisors in kumar at the time, bringing in kind of centrally militants, their a-stations who have been wound, can you help this guy, he was a scout, and taliban was using as a bird dog. and because there was the islamic state at the time. the islamic state controlled a significant amount of territory and some of the valley between the pech and kumar rivers. and the two sides could set aside their differences around and as far as reported in, you know, a couple of years ago, the taliban also provided
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security in some villages way out in the western pech valley, provided security for the election of the afghan government almost hard to believe. and you read that and you think, okay, maybe there is cooperation, if possible, but the missing ingredient there, everybody was united against isis in that moment. and that's not a -- that's not an ingredient that exists in the rest of the country. >> well, congratulations again for a really, really excellent book and i highly recommend to everybody who read it, it's so detailed and this is well-researched, but it really release the big questions. over to you. >> definitely. thank you both. we have a bunch of questions coming in, right into them. and the first question we asked is do you think this u.s.
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sources in the pech valley was inevitable or is inevitable? >> over to you. >> that's a hard one. it's tempting to say no that it wasn't inevitable. there are parts of the book where they seemed like they were going well. an example that i give, in 2004, the first green beret teams out in the pech after the camp was established. 19 forces group out of utah, they were largely mormons, older guys than a lot of the active duty green berets and they had a phenomenal relationship with the people in the valley. people still remember them there. they remember commander ron is what they called the 18th captain. and they remember them as being really some of the best partners, american partners they remember working with. towarded end of that--
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of that 18th deployment. the captain mistakenly shot a local man and killed him. essentially a ricochet, the captain had to shoot a wild dog coming at him and the round went through the dog, ricochetted hit the man and killed the man, it was a tragic event that the captain was very concerned would blow up his relationship with the town. in fact, this transferred the relationship they'd built in the town that some of the local government infrastructures handled the problem and made clear to people it was a miss take by someone they personally knew. >> and that, too, was a good place. a new special forces team came in after them and made a lot of decisions and took a different approach. they really-- their idea was let's get out and let's fight.
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in retrospect seems to be careful clear that that escalated to the violence that wound up sucking in american forces and being one of the toughest nuts, tough nuts to crack and dragged americans down in the province and crippled their efforts in the pro since. so, it's tempting to say, look, if that-- hadn't taken that approach and continued the approach of the first a-team, then things could have gone better. but i don't know if that's true. and of course we don't know if it's true because that happened. but the first team was operating in a window, kind of a grace period. when that captain killed that local man, that was the first time the town experienced an event like that. but events like that are inevitable. no matter how well meaning the units and commander are, it's war and they're are going to be
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some killed in the cross fire inevitably. and that it's to put up with that so long and are only going to be willing to write it off as mistakes for so long before they get really, really fed up. and so, i mean, the american efforts were in pech. then perhaps might not have been doomed, but if the course was always going to be a long, long involvement to vo slowly get an afghan force on its feet. then, yes, i would say it's doomed. >> and also, you have a question here while we wait for more people to fill out a question, one of the things i think is valuable for your book, you begin the beginning which is now some 20 years
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almost ago, and there's a lot of discussion on wars, the forever wars and often that's the sunset, the u.s. was chasing something that was so expansive, destruction of various groups across the middle east, yet, i believe in my reading, what happens to this particular valley is the u.s. gets drawn in in the precise way -- and a rather narrow objective in some ways, as finding bin laden. have you talked about the expaniveness of objectives and seeming more tactical aims end up drawing the u.s., other objectives and broader conflicts? >> sure. so the way the afghan war is run now on the u.s. side and run during the second term of
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the obama administration and during the trump administration is a very high level way. every decision is being made in kabul and washington. and every decision of great consequence on the american side, but that's not the way it was in the early years. in the early years, in the rural districts is kind of when the tone was set and when the mission was declined. and defined by much lower level commanders than it seems reasonable to us now, should have been making this decision. there were small teams, infantry battalions, infantry brigades that were responsible for huge chunks of the country and their commanders had to make a decision how to procedure. we can now in retrospect see these in a long, long, escalation, were not decisions made by a national government in a capital, but by a major a
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lt. colonel or a colonel. very often quickly on the battlefield, in had the course of a deployment. and for instance, the idea that we went in there and just looking for al qaeda and looking for a wide variety of other people and array that included everything to genuine militants, that's something that happens, not -- no one on the american side made the decision for that to happen. but in the course of its initial essentially fruitless hunt for al qaeda operatives in 2002 and 2003, the u.s. forces made enough enemies that just through two self-defense and meetings to keep their own personnel safe, they wound out fighting a broader array.
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and also the mistakes, getting involved in the timber business without meaning to and the conflict brought it and that's something that was happening at a provincial and moment by moment. >> and building on that, a question, to what extent the war have you chased over, almost two dick kadz, change with administration, and how much did it change across administrations and administration policies and within them. what's driving the biggest strategic or shift in the character of the war? >> sure. so, in the pretty narrow area that i looked at, the pech valley, you can go for years without there seeming to be this strong hand of the u.s. administration directing at the way the war is going there.
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i mean, the bush administration, he wanted to get usama bin laden, and the taliban was not focused purely on getting osama bin laden, and then it was to pick up the trail of bin laden. and the presidential decision carried out through the cia director tenet that led to the influx of troops into the pech valley in 2003. and they flowed into the pech called operation winter strike, due to this tacking in washington and that left behind a patrol base and that was a change in strategy and tactics that were not mandated by washington or something that anybody, you know, at those
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high levels in the white house or the pentagon would be aware of. it's an out post that's left behind and behind at the outpost and their job was how to figure out how to fight the war there. similarly, you see in the obama administration, as the ground roll reads, as u.s. forces on the ground leaves, you see the administration all the-- fairly involved in a high level decisions like when does a certain operating base close? the forward operating base was a ceo base and to close it in 2014 was a subject of serious and extended debate within the obama administration, but the operation drug campaign that special operations forces were carrying on at the same time were not--
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the white house micromanagering, when you hear about other drone campaigns outside. and they had a freehand and not having to comply with the 2013 presidential policy guidance on drone strikes, for instance. so you kind of see -- you see the effects trik down and sometimes you see the effects directly, but it's hardly a massive shift because a new administration has come in. >> and we have a question about to what extent was the war driven by officers desiring to get into the site and i'll add onto the question, does it change overtime. people seeking combat, is the importance of that or people's desire to seek combat shift over the course of the war? >> i guess i was not exactly
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as, you know, officers desiring to see combat. i mean, i think, especially after 2007 or so, all of these units rotating in are commanded by, you know, rhett advance with extensive combat experience in the war already. what you do see is as they rotate through, the approach changes and so a unit that's decided to disengage from a certain valley is replaced by a unit that's aggressive in the valley and that kind of schizophrenic approach just bouncing back and forth between disengagement and more aggressively and trending a. and focus on the u.s. only operations, something that's played out over and over again. a period in 2011 after the personnel division has pulled out and the first battalion takes over the reins for the headquarters for the east. and one of the generals there
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is concerned about a security vaccine and so without wanting to go back in and reestablish all that americans have nuss left. he did want to continue to hurt the enemy up in these areas and launched a series of big operations, i would say of immediate valley, but that often came across soldiers beneath them that this is the -- air assault for air assault's sake. learning over and over and over again or not being learned at all. >> we have a number of questions about what do you see as the future of afghanistan, the impact of potential u.s. withdrawal, what are things that are going to happen and what in particular that the u.s. were to leave afghanistan,
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what would the impact on the country would be? >> who is that question for? >> the group of questions for you both, you should-- one of you start us off. >> all right, and i think that the bigger question of, you know, what will become of human rights and women's rights in afghanistan is not one that i tackle in the book. the book ends in 2020. it ends with u.s. forces still in the country, but, you know, in a vastly scaled back capacity. what i can talk about is what the plane was beyond pech at that point and what i learned from afghans who would come down and visit me on a path from the taliban, their
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parliamentarian or something like that, was that many, many taliban-governed districts, often under harsh conditions, but under conditions that was vital quite a bit in terms of whether taliban allows these to stay open. it seems like a patch work of decisions between local governments and local taliban governments. >> i think there's a little risk of afghanistan going back into civil war in the u.s. troops withdraw and that will have an impact from refugee outflows and have an impact on u.s. allies and damage even
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further the reputation of the u.s. that the u.s. promotes of democracy. undermine the u.s. as it tries to pivot to greater competition with china. so, i think the hope of this administration is that both iraq and afghanistan just be kept as calm as possible. so not to cause more difficulties with neighboring countries and not to undermine the u.s. even further as it takes on the great strategic challenge, which is great competition with china. >> one thing that sort of runs through the book and of course,
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the special order-- tell us about whether you get that vibe not only from americans you talked to and the broader societal discussion. is there something similar or talks about in the word growth or on the afghan side. in particular, among those in a particular area? >> yeah, i mean, what i would often hear talked about was not more, but people would remind me that the war has been going on for 40 years for them. where we can go from the afghan war. the for us it begins in 2001. for them, there's a longer conflict, unless the peace process results in genuine peace, a conflict that will be thereafter we leave.
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so, i think that afghans live a forever war in a far more real way than the way that the americans use the phrase. >> and we have a question here about how you see the book in deep dive, unquote, the conflict including such examples as war comes in and internet war, and also tell us what other-- in that genre point into what you view this book as fitting into or that you found particularly while writing it? >> sure, war comes there and the intimate war especially taken together. you read them side by side. and the books that we recommend to people reading about
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afghanistan. and i think in some ways, between those, it's a direct participate in the conflict that they're writing about. he has kind of a level direct and granular knowledge that they're not enveloped by. and mine also, i think i tried to draw it out a little more. despite focusing on this individual small place, especially the beginning and the end of the book, shows how to fits into the success of the administration's deliberations over the conflict, but to hear the idea of hearing my book mentioned in the same breath with other books, you know, is very-- makes me very happy. i hope that it can live up to anything like their example. as far as other books, i mean, there is a-- one of the things i was doing
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after writing the book, there's a tremendous amount written about things that happened in the pesh valley and operation redwing in 2005, the subjects of extensive writing. many fellow journalists spent time embedded in the valleys and produced very vivid in details writing from them. there are quite a large number of memoirs, either by guys who fought there or bits and pieces of memoirs. several memoirs include pieces set in kumar. so there's a lot out there on this region specifically. a lot of them is within the context of individual deployment. so, what i tried to do is mind that earlier, find the most-- find the best, most telling stuff in it and try to tie it into the bigger concept how dos
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it compare with the next units. and it's slight and subtle differences between the units and not difficult to the people who saw the one unit. to that end, i mean, people like on occasion who had spent a lot of time in the course, and units coming and going, there was a worker who was a contractor who was kind of legendary among troops in pech who played a role, almost chorus chiming in periodically and describing going back there and so did the interpreters people who put the snapshot that we'd gotten from many accounts, over individual periods of the war there to help tie them together. >> we have a series of
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questions about short rotation sometimes, whether a wider rotation would have made a difference, what the difference is between the rotations where-- can you talk about that? >> yeah, that's a great question and that's something that in the course of this book, i heard so many kind of different proposals and series of look, we did it this way, but this other way might have been better. several ways were applied in pech. there were six month deployments up there. there were units that did 12 and 15 and even 16-month deployments up there. there were in some cases, the cases of 503 infantry, rotated back to the same province which is something that the army floated for a while, but broadly was not able to through
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contextual forces. and in the units themselves. years later, there are people who are still there from a previous deployment. but in the third time, no, there's not going to be that many more. and the two year deployments, as you see the unit for two-year deployments or three-year deployments being more effective somehow, but to think about the toll that that would exact on the military. it's hard to imagine it being a practical solution. and kind of a creative proposed solution, one was a guy proposing when the battalion goes home, its company commanders stay behind and attached to the next unit as advisors to the afghan national
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army. the idea being that would put expertise and authority into the afghan army training mission that wasn't really there otherwise, in addition to providing an overlap of knowledge between the outgoing and incoming units. >> and in all of these models, potential help of the army and importance of succeeding into war, whatever that may mean and i think throughout, you can tell that for the u.s. army, the help of the army was always a big consideration. the army over the war in afghanistan. >> there's a question, i think for you both, about what the scaleable lessons of the particular valley is for, i think, the war in afghanistan more probably, or also for america's other counterterrorism wars and the broader sort of track of the
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militaries that are tasked with these types of wars. >> i'm going to give a very unsatisfying answer to that one. there's a guy who appears in the book who is a foreign service officer who has been working up on instruction during the peak period of the war. but he also had, he easily could have been a ph.d. student who did his ph.d. field work in the valley in the late '70s, and he's one who i leaned on about the effects of u.s. military on the place. and with the experience he was in the middle of a dynamic where the military always needs to act. it doesn't have time to deliberate and deliberate and deliberate every the decisions it's giving. what i'm paraphrasing is, some
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of these, the year that you're working in, and they ask you to understand what the consequences of your actions are going to be. it becomes overwhelming and you realize there are so many potential second and third order effects, it's never possible to predict it. and you're taking the lesson and don't do anything, and not anything that you do there will back fire and it's true to some extent, but it's not always possible not to do anything. so, i guess, yeah, a lesson is simply, yes, be aware of how many more layers that there typically are to whatever situation you're wading into. whether it's with a strike or an advisory mission or what have you. >> a lot of this is changing and it's changing rapidly. and so the bigger question is
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really how important is counterterrorism to the u.s. today? and we can think about how for you how we got sucked into the wars and our energy that came as a cost to pay more attention to the rise of china. more attention to the disinformation of the russians. that russia may have a weak kind of cause, and china's got really different ideas about, you know, the way that world works and about world order. and recently, listening to an indian diplomate, and the last decades we've watched america fighting and not winning, and we've watched china winning and not fighting. we can question whether that's true or not, but i think we got
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really sucked in these counterterrorism wars and the amount of blood and treasure that we spent on them was immerse and look at the outcomes and it's really not satisfactory. it's not letting the tactical be the enemy of the strategic. and how to put things in the right perspective. >> if i could add just a little more onto my answer on that one. i think that a comparison to make and a place to look at is somalia, where over the past several years, the u.s. military scaled up small, but essentially scaled up the kind of terrorism mission and combat advising mission that it was doing there and now largely has ended it. you know, i used to see more parallels and you hear about a casualty incident, where a team of seals or marine raiders have
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been working as the violencen intelligence amid a tribal conflicts they weren't aware of. they sounded like sad echoes of especially the early years in afghanistan. and i hope they understand the risk of this is. the last administration, president trump largely pulled the plug on somalia. we are going to see the cost of leaving versus -- is too high. whether al-shabaab imposes the kind of international threat that a could be looked on without a presence in the country. >> we have a country different counterterrorism, counter insurgency, how they played out and whether they were in
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competition or made each other more difficult in the pesh pech valley. how they got organizationalized into such activity. sure. ... but they were, the activities of the conventional military were often intentions with the activities of special operations forces and the intelligence community. at the red room you see the relationship change and very standoffish way were nobody's talking to anybody about what they are doing. in 2005 afghan becomes a becomes a good example of both the
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operation and the long and interest for career operation that all the helicopter shootdown. becomes a pretty vivid example of how important it is for these different units to talk to each other. rather than pursuing these parallel wars that can really create serious consequences on theon american side. later in the war and you see a lot more cooperation between specialla operations mission. there's a time in 2009 and 2010 when the joint special operations joint task force in afghanistan run by the rangers and the seals and is part of the country we're talking about really shifted what they were doing so the targets they were hitting were smalltime local militants. so at that point you might look what they were doing as counterterrorism and since
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they're containing do the same kind of direct action rate that always been doing a really never be dismayed in counterinsurgency at that time. they were participating in a direct action way. there are times when essentially the counterinsurgency mission was used, that's what happened in 2006 with a big push to build the outpost gun the initial couple have been built in 2002 and 2003. that happened in large part because the cia was encouraging the u.s. military to expand its activity so it itself could do more intelligent collection there on the third this could help us figure out develop sources who could then work acrossll the border into adjacet areas, figure out where osama bin laden had gone. that was a hidden motivating
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factor in the launch of the counterinsurgency strategy in 2006, was this kind of counterinsurgency in pursuit of counterterrorism aim approach. they have always been blended together in ways where some basically, sometimes they step on eachso other's toes but thats not the only tension on the u.s. for the allies side. the conventional source, going out infield, patrolling and fighting that was in great can change with the efforts to train and advise afghan security forces. i would say that was just as great and just as much counterproductive activity and thatat balanced attack as there was between conventional and soft. at issue do you wish you could have covered in this part but either you didn't have to face two or the
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nature of the recording you were doing what issues do wish you good covered in this book to make sure the reporting you were doing did not allow you to access those sources that you like to see other people write on to expand the story of what happened in the pech valley? >> by far the biggest one is the other side. s that these and access to afghan military units that flip up there. i was able to talk to a lot of local people but the degree to which i was able to gain insight into the opposing side, the taliban and other military groups fighting out there was quite limited. i was able to talk to some, vampires, former taliban fighters that were, there were documents i could use, intelligence summaries from interrogations and thingslike that . i can ask people about militant leaders who they knew but i was not able to sit down and talk to abu flaws i believe is in at nds
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prison somewhere, i would love to have talked to that guy because he has as much long-term institutional knowledge of the war in june are as anybody. so to the extent that it's possible i hope someone will be able to get the opposing side of the opposing force. and sometimes in the years ahead. >> so one of the things that really is impressive about the book is the number of characters and people you meet along theway . being actually there fighting in the stories that come through. can you tell us about what you seem about howthe war people once they leave the war , how people react to the war itself impacts the actual fighting on them and your experience of being there.
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>> certainly, this is the intensity of the fighting up in places like core and all has been crushing for some people. there's a soldier who i returned a couple times in the book who was a young interim fee infantry pilot in the cornwall valley with one unit . he hated it. it was a miserableexperience . the redeployed home. the army at the time was offering an option where if you reenlisted you could choose your next duty station so he did that and he chose the next duty station with an eye towards i don't want to go back to that kind of life so he showed the duty station in texas that at the time wasn't really sending troops to afghanistan. he's sending troops to iraq for a different kind of war but then the afghan surgeons. and the army suits, new unit that lined up and wound up going back to that same valley and he went to the valley 50 months after he left and for him this was a
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devastating experience. his presence was helpful to soldiers in his unit because he didn't have quite the same learning curve that they did. he'd been there before but it was horrible. he wound up being in a helicopter out for his leave on that second deployment was shot down. and he survived the shootdown , but essentially during his leave army declared him unfit to go back. the intervening years for him been a lot of ups and very serious downs that he struggled with the things that he went through in the valley and he struggled with on substance abuse and all kinds of things. and now he's in this story, just in the intensity of the experience but i think the war has certainly damaged a lot of lives. very seriously. now, there also are guys who loved it. i think there's i talk about
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this but then in the prologue of the book, there are a number of characters who found their way back to cunard. not through some kind of unfortunate circumstance like the soldieri just described but through their own efforts . there are soldiers who tried to return there because they been fascinated by it. but by the type of fighting which was so different from fighting and they encountered in southern afghanistan or iraq . guys got hooked on the thrill of it. there were guys who got interested by the local people and wanted to keep going back. there's another guy who wound up and angling away back to the same place basically because he thought he could help. he thought that the way that they did it the first time had been flawed and if you could wind up in this next unit, he could impart some of the lessons you learn and then do a better job which i think he did.
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he wound up being the perfect kind of guy to beadvising the afghan national army . but yes, i think i'm biased because i studied the depeche mode more carefully and talked to farmore veterans in those places . then i have two veterans of other tough districts around the country area but the tune are a hard place to forget for a lot of reasons but that goal from just the terrain. just what the place looks like. it's incredibly striking. it's so jagged. the vegetation doesn't look like many other places that you see in afghanistan and as a result of that the type of fighting is quite different. everything is long distance firefights, huge amounts of ordinance and firefighter, the artillery in those mountains was's just very almost very
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distinct from the kind of war of the sort of patrolling an ied's and the dread that you have all the time. patrolling in places like new orleans or kandahar, you never see your enemy but always knowing the next step might be your last one. >> there's some serious questions about demographics of players of other taking decisions, educational levels and also various leadership qualities, who was actually fighting the war and which qualities seem to be associated if any the troops. >> the hard part aboutthat question is what is success ? units that seem to have had a successful tour may not really have contributed to a larger success in the valley but i'll try to answer it in the context of what seemed like success of time.
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when these units were deploying , and i'll answer it speaking about the company, the commanders here because those are, that's the level of leadership focus on those in the book. the characters who rotate through in those roles in some ways are all very much the same. gone is the same resources of commission, rotc, officer candidate. they're all officers, the oldest ranger school often across in many units. they spent time in the ranger and their resumes are similar . minneapolis is. we had a to become commanders in a row who had i believe and ideally masters degree followed by a top masters degree. i mean, there's a lot in these resumes of these commanders is common to each other. and yet they wind up eating
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in very different ways especially interacting with afghans in different ways this is something that would come out in my conversations that commands themselves also in? conversations with their interpreters district governors. i think the quality that these commanders needed was being comfortable with ambiguity. and with understanding how, the limits of their knowledge the limits of how much they could affect the situation that was something some commanders grasped intuitively. it was something some commanders learned over the course of multipledeployments . in commanders it just wasn't in her nature . an alley the army selectively trained for that i wouldn't venture a guess as to that. that's a pretty thorny problem that i know the army has certainly been rattling with for some time especially in recent years
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it sent out his new security forces in the verde . >>. >> for both of you the sense of me needing to define what is excessive, that changing overall view of us centers is not changing, changing ranking, what is your sense of what the various us enemies understanding of their interests and in particular in part of afghanistan was, do they see themselves as having succeeded? is there sort of a parallel to course not being a superpower but similar questioning of the end goals. >> i am not privy to whatever conversations may have been had an al qaeda ranks about success or failures. i would love it if i were.
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you gain little bits of insights into that based on interrogation reports for information about what a certain player was doing at the time of his death and for al qaeda which had soft itself in even as evidence flowed in other provinces, he was doing two things. it was making itself essential to the local militants fighting in the area. in return it was creating a itself where it could have a safe haven of some sort. that's something you learn from the abadabad documents telling his second-in-command he could establish a sanctuary forsenior leaders to relocate to . what they do with that sanctuary, that's the
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question that probably the intelligence agencies have the best idea about that there is probably imperfect as well. as far as the idea of a place like the helgal valley being a place for watching international attacks, i understand theskepticism . what are they getting out of that place that they're not getting after a safe place of the fairly large territory that's controlled by al qaeda franchises in inland andsyria . but that's a question where what is this place to the enemy? when were talkingabout international terrorists , there is a persistent main part of us forces. the answer to that question has a lot to do with the bigger international context of what's going on with al qaeda. when al qaeda as the city of
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idlib in syria the significance of the valley might be different than it was in 2010 and 2011 when it was being hammered in was theorist and looking for other nearby places that could hold up. >> i think the taliban still, they just have to wait out the americans, that they have one. and you see that around the negotiations with this essential triumphalism. so for them, if you could imagine back to 2001, 20 years ago. you said that within 20 years , america would be doing a deal with that's how i would be coming back inpower, you will be . seems. my the way things and.
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and that the government of afghanistan that we spent so long trying to prop up has proven disappointing to say the least and not very capable so i think you can see the presence of afghanistan as very very concerned. and i think the general perception really is the towel and one by all not losing, why not being in a position where they're coming back in our insolvency. >> coming towards the end of our time to let me out some included questions for you both. to respond and allow you to have some time to make any concluding remarks . if we gather again say 10 years from now, what do you
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think would be the most optimistic discussion of afghanistan and the state of the war and in fact on people, what do you think would be most pessimistic and then as the second question, what is the thing about wars, since we're in the valley over the two decades, that you think people don't know that need to know for would be most interesting for people? >> i'm not even going to venture a guess on the first one. my experience in afghanistan has been best venturing to make predictions is dangerous in a place like kuhn are it's so, get it but because i don't have to i'mnot going to . many other people don't have that luxury, people and governments who have to deal with these problems rather than understand and describe
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them.just for what something ihope people learn , that's not widely understood, i guess i would say i think it's the role of a generation of officers and ncos, the guys who paid these companies and italians, a middleman of these units. i think because of embedded reporting memoirs and the role that generals lay in public life fairly good understanding in the american public in some ways what a junior soldier does during their deployment. at least in some places in some training of the war i think there's an understanding of what is generals do. there's this generation of officers who served as company commanders operations officer executive who me
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usually consequential decisions. probably far more strategically consequential americans understand people have to pay grade to have anything. and i hope that something that readers of the book will come away appreciate. the gravity and early of the job that these guys, this kind of middle level of leadership that isn't always as easy to cover as the platoons in the field.>> do you have any concluding comments western mark. >>. >> sorry. >> whether any concluding comments? >> just if you say once again
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how much i really did enjoy reading this book. it's a big book. and it's one that i can down, i read from page to page. i found absolutely fascinating. i think you really do well in describing all the characters as they see themselves. so with what they believe, what they hoped, what they thoughtthey were doing . so in a way a stenography of the usmilitary . in this very long war. and you've done exceptionally well and really describing that. one of the questions asks did we not send good people, were they not educated enough what you're talking about people who are really well-educated, who are totally committed to the mission that they were sent on.
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the question is was the mission doable? when you're reading this book you think after a while, so many separate costs. where is the failure in leadership? we always have this thing leaders must be optimistic. when when does optimism become delusion. and constantly telling soldiers were fighting here in afghanistan in order to keep america safe. he's eating these monstrous at we're keeping americans safe with stopping them from cominghere failure is not an option . failure is an option. really, people, we're never going to come to america so i think that question often asked. the incentive is always there to be optimistic.
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but i think in the more recent years during the war, you had commanders say that we're putting the men first and the mission second. because after 20 years, they're not going to believe whatever that means. >> i can add on to what emma just said personal and hearing the for the kind words about book. i received i think you're onto something with the idea of the military pushing optimism. the idea works years, commanders be disillusioned and being more interested in protecting their singer mission is you see our battalion commanders user in the past. you have to understand that mold and we had on saturday on the path to the general officers and very high in the past. the aim for the stars think they can rose over the backs
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of bounties. the officer kind calls bs on this and says this stuff is impossible. in fact as a lieutenant colonel is not from this mold . there's retired now retired colonel jason who was the guy was on alternate list for becoming command, a commander create more. not this general stars type of a-list officer. but it was he who looks at the cornwall valley and saw what i believe for a was which was a sunk cost. that's definitely something to think about it over the officers who were to make these kinds of calls in the moment.versus the ones who are you, these conclusions much later time were so interested in getting done what the mental. for a when they should stay
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totheir chain of command this isn't something that should get done or could get done . >> with that, we're pretty much out of time. people >> well, with that, we are pretty much out of time. thank you both for a great conversation. i. highly recommend the book. pick up the book which is not today. it does cover the previous 20 years in details that have been to many of those who were even there or have been following it will find a lot that may have been forgotten. and with that, thank you. ♪ ♪ ♪ >> american history tv saturdays on c-span2 exploring the people and events that tell the american story. >> at two p.m. eastern on the presidency a look at
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