Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/August 2013/Book reviews

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No Easy Day - "Mark Owen" and Kevin Maurer

Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad two days after the raid

3/5 stars

By Nick-D

No Easy Day is a first-hand account of the special forces raid that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden written by a leader of one of the Navy SEAL teams involved in the operation. It was written under the pseudonym "Mark Owen" in cooperation with the writer Kevin Maurer. The book attracted a lot of attention when it was released last year, and contributed to the excellent depiction of the operation in Zero Dark Thirty, but is it of any interest to military historians? In short: sort-of.

No Easy Day provides an account of "Mark Owen's" career in the elite United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and covers his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan from about 2003 onwards. This material is reasonably interesting, though it breaks no new ground. All of the second half of the book is devoted to the Bin Laden raid, and provides a high level account of the preparations for this operation and a very detailed narrative of the actual assault. This material is well written, and provides an insight into the tactics which were used. I found the author's observation that the Bin Laden raid was an unusually easy operation for his unit to be particularly interesting - he states that it was no more complicated than the operations elite special forces teams in Afghanistan conduct every day, and the planning for the actual assault could have been completed within hours if needed: the only complicated element of the operation was that it took place deep within Pakistan.

The authors stress in the foreword that they've taken pains to prevent any classified information from being published. Unfortunately, they've also left out a lot of detail on special forces operations which has previously appeared in other public sources. For instance, the description of the tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan is greatly inferior to those published by Mark Urban in Task Force Black (which covers the British SAS in Iraq) or Marc Ambinder and D. B. Grady in The Command (about the Joint Special Operations Command). Some details of the Bin Laden raid which have previously been published, such as the use of modified "stealth" helicopters and the preparations for the operation in Colorado, are also not mentioned. While this is understandable given that the author is presumably still subject to official secrecy laws, it's disappointing. The sections of the book in which "Owen" whines about politicians' reluctance to deploy special forces units and the political response to the death of Bin Laden are tiresome, and suggest a worrying lack of political and strategic awareness among members of a unit which is meant to specialise in strategically vital tasks.

Overall, military historians will find No Easy Day to be an interesting read, and it's likely that they'll learn something new about modern special forces operations. However, it's not really a ground-breaking book.

Publishing details: Owen, Mark; Maurer, Kevin (2012). No Easy Day : The only first-hand account of the Navy SEAL mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 9781405911894. 

Recent external reviews

Ando, Clifford (2012). Imperial Rome AD 193 to 284 : The Critical Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0748620508. 

Reynolds, Henry (2013). Forgotten War. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing. ISBN 9781742233925. 

Anderson, Scott (2013). Lawrence in Arabia : War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 038553292X. 

Jager, Sheila Miyoshi (2013). Brothers at War : The Unending Conflict in Korea. New York: W W Norton. ISBN 0393068498. 

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  • 'sections of the book in which "Owen" whines ... are tiresome, and suggest a worrying lack of political and strategic awareness among members of a unit which is meant to specialise in strategically vital tasks'
    — User:Nick-D

    I can only imagine you expect these sorts of servicemembers to appreciate the realpolitik views of the civilian leadership. I would posit that servicemembers who live or die on tactical and operational concerns likely resent any other considerations that curtail military utility. I don't think his opinion indicates a "worrying lack of awareness" though I can see where it detracts from reader enjoyment. On an unrelated point, anything after AD 1600 isn't history, it's journalism. This primary source might be marginally useful to military historians after the issue cools. Chris Troutman (talk) 05:25, 3 September 2013 (UTC)