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New Book: THE SNAKE EATERS by Owen West

The Snake Eaters by Owen West 

Just received a review copy yesterday, courtesy of Simon & Schuster.  Full disclosure, by happenstance, I am on a private listserv with Major West, but you can take data point that alongside the fact that until today I hadn’t realized he was also the son of Bing West.  🙂

Judging from West’s already accomplished biography, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Flipping through briefly, this book seems to be part high octane action story, part memoir,  part COIN treatise by other narrative means. The “novel-like” format appears to be an emerging trend in military and national security publishing distinguished from traditional, eye-in-the-sky, synthesizing, narratives like Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars.  Pre-publication materials sent described The Snake Eaters, thusly:

….The Snake Eaters takes readers into the streets, schools and homes of Khalidya [Iraq] – where the people WQest’s team were trying to protect were indistinguishable from the enemy they were trying to kill, and the the Iraqi battalion they mentored was both amateurish and hostile….By the end of the mission, the Snake Eaters was the first Iraqi battalion granted independent battle space, the insurgency was wiped off the streets of Khalidya, and peace was restored

Ok, that is just PR stuff which can be taken with a grain of salt, but the respected Bill Roggio of  The Long War Journal was embedded with the Snake Eaters in Iraq 2007 in the deadly Anbar province, when they were under Major West’s tutelage:

….Instead of moving out on Humvees, the Snake Eater’s platoon of scouts, accompanied by 5 MTTS and myself, struck out on foot from the battalion base, which sits on a hill overlooking Khaladiya, and moved into the city. The patrol moved through the desert hills between the base and the town. This approach is dangerous, particularly during the day, as soldiers are silhouetted behind the sky when coming over the hills, perfect targets for the snipers in the area.

On the march into Khaladiya, we overheard four mortars fall into one of the bases in the distance. The mortars were blind fired and we were told they didn’t hit a thing. The ever present semi-wild Iraqi dogs howled in the distance, and their howls grew louder as we approached and they shadowed our patrol. The insurgents couldn’t ask for a better early warning system.

This group of Iraqi Army scouts were the most disciplined and tactically proficient Iraqi soldiers I have seen while accompanying Iraqi troops outside the wire. They moved sharply, covered dangerous intersections and rooftops, effectively used hand and arm signals, and maintained their intervals. The scouts clearly embraced the idea of the “predator-prey” relationship. On the streets of Khaladiya, they were the hunters.

That doesn’t hurt the street cred (though TTP is way, way outside my area of expertise – I’ll leave that for folks who know what they are talking about to assess).

Incidentally, the FID/advisory/transition ops theme of The Snake Eaters is likely to make it very relevant reading in 2012 -2013.

A review will be forthcoming – have a bit of a backlog of reviews that I need to clear  (The End,  All In and The Hunt for KSM)

One Response to “New Book: THE SNAKE EATERS by Owen West”

  1. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Zen,
    This looks pretty good and we look forward to the review!
    Know what you mean about being behind in reviews; I’ve a few drafts behind the curtain that need to be finished… 

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