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Danger Close: Tactical Air Controllers in Afghanistan and Iraq

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“America had a secret weapon,” writes Steve Call of the period immediately following September 11, 2001, as planners contemplated the invasion of Afghanistan. This weapon consisted of small teams of Special Forces operatives trained in close air support (CAS) who, in cooperation with the loose federation of Afghan rebels opposed to the Taliban regime, soon began achieving “America had a secret weapon,” writes Steve Call of the period immediately following September 11, 2001, as planners contemplated the invasion of Afghanistan. This weapon consisted of small teams of Special Forces operatives trained in close air support (CAS) who, in cooperation with the loose federation of Afghan rebels opposed to the Taliban regime, soon began achieving impressive—and unexpected—military victories over Taliban forces and the al-Qaeda terrorists they had sponsored. The astounding success of CAS tactics coupled with ground operations in Afghanistan soon drew the attention of military decision makers and would eventually factor into the planning for another campaign: Operation Iraqi Freedom. But who, exactly, are these air power experts and what is the function of the TACPs (Tactical Air Control Parties) in which they operate? Danger Close provides a fascinating look at a dedicated, courageous, innovative, and often misunderstood and misused group of military professionals. Drawing on the gripping first-hand accounts of their battlefield experiences, Steve Call allows the TACPs to speak for themselves. He accompanies their narratives with informed analysis of the development of CAS strategy, including potentially controversial aspects of the interservice rivalries between the air force and the army which have at times complicated and even obstructed the optimal employment of TACP assets. Danger Close makes clear, however, that the systematic coordination of air power and ground forces played an invaluable supporting role in the initial military victories in both Afghanistan and Iraq. This first-ever examination of the intense, life-and-death world of the close air support specialist will introduce readers to a crucial but little-known aspect of contemporary warfare and add a needed chapter in American military history studies.


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“America had a secret weapon,” writes Steve Call of the period immediately following September 11, 2001, as planners contemplated the invasion of Afghanistan. This weapon consisted of small teams of Special Forces operatives trained in close air support (CAS) who, in cooperation with the loose federation of Afghan rebels opposed to the Taliban regime, soon began achieving “America had a secret weapon,” writes Steve Call of the period immediately following September 11, 2001, as planners contemplated the invasion of Afghanistan. This weapon consisted of small teams of Special Forces operatives trained in close air support (CAS) who, in cooperation with the loose federation of Afghan rebels opposed to the Taliban regime, soon began achieving impressive—and unexpected—military victories over Taliban forces and the al-Qaeda terrorists they had sponsored. The astounding success of CAS tactics coupled with ground operations in Afghanistan soon drew the attention of military decision makers and would eventually factor into the planning for another campaign: Operation Iraqi Freedom. But who, exactly, are these air power experts and what is the function of the TACPs (Tactical Air Control Parties) in which they operate? Danger Close provides a fascinating look at a dedicated, courageous, innovative, and often misunderstood and misused group of military professionals. Drawing on the gripping first-hand accounts of their battlefield experiences, Steve Call allows the TACPs to speak for themselves. He accompanies their narratives with informed analysis of the development of CAS strategy, including potentially controversial aspects of the interservice rivalries between the air force and the army which have at times complicated and even obstructed the optimal employment of TACP assets. Danger Close makes clear, however, that the systematic coordination of air power and ground forces played an invaluable supporting role in the initial military victories in both Afghanistan and Iraq. This first-ever examination of the intense, life-and-death world of the close air support specialist will introduce readers to a crucial but little-known aspect of contemporary warfare and add a needed chapter in American military history studies.

30 review for Danger Close: Tactical Air Controllers in Afghanistan and Iraq

  1. 4 out of 5

    Norbert

    Interesting tactical air controller view of CAS and other things

  2. 5 out of 5

    Scottnshana

    I often wondered as a young officer how mid-level staffers received accounts of the events they witnessed from the periphery. If, for example, you were not at the big table (i.e., instead sitting in the seats along the walls) when LBJ’s cabinet met, what would the experience of reading H.R. McMaster’s “Dereliction of Duty” be like? Or if you were present when the RAF weather officer was updating Eisenhower on conditions for sailing across the Channel in early June 1944, what would you think of I often wondered as a young officer how mid-level staffers received accounts of the events they witnessed from the periphery. If, for example, you were not at the big table (i.e., instead sitting in the seats along the walls) when LBJ’s cabinet met, what would the experience of reading H.R. McMaster’s “Dereliction of Duty” be like? Or if you were present when the RAF weather officer was updating Eisenhower on conditions for sailing across the Channel in early June 1944, what would you think of Michael Korda’s narrative in “Ike”. As one of those in the seats along the wall in the Close Air Support (CAS) community, I found a lot of great material in this book. There are, for example, some great CAS war stories in “Danger Close”—my favorite being the dispatch of B-52s to a beleaguered SOF team near Konduz in Chapter 2 (Integrating the Team), a fine exhibit in making the case for the synergistic effects of putting USAF Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) personnel into special operations missions and the units performing them. Call writes that this phenomenon “was a melding together of two areas of American advantage—what Washington insiders would call ‘asymmetric strength’—and it drew on the inherent strengths of each while mutually masking disadvantages. Significantly, it was hammered out by practitioners in each field who were not only experts but also creative thinkers and who remained solely focused on drawing out the best capability to accomplish the mission.” The book is not exactly kind to General Hagenbeck or his recollections (which he put in writing) on his interactions with the USAF CAS apparatus when he led Task Force Mountain in 2003 (full disclosure: I was part of Mountain’s Air Support Operations Center at Bagram). I believe, though, that there will be a perpetual discussion on the interservice tensions and intraservice command and control relationships (i.e., the Combined Air Operations Center located in Saudi Arabia), and I think the level of interest in Sean Naylor’s “Not a Good Day to Die” (which Call cites in the book) and the book on ANACONDA from Les Grau and Dodge Billingsley (which he does not) is a testament to that. In contrast to this complicated situation at Bagram, though, Call implies in his chapter on the 2003 Iraq invasion that the ideal CAS relationship was shared with Major General Buford C. Blount’s staff at the 3rd ID. As 15th Air Support Operations Squadron commander Byron Risner recalls: [Blount] basically came up to me and said, "Listen, I want you to brief the entire staff on lessons learned from Anaconda so we don’t repeat those same mistakes," which I thought was a large step forward for the army to come and ask me to do that… I think you’re seeing leadership in the Army from the two-star level… I [briefed the staff] and it was amazing how many folks really did not know the truth; a lot of myth passed around—"the air force is this," "the air force is that." But I basically took pieces of what Hagenbeck put in his article and countered them with the truth. So “Danger Close” in the narrative about the pertinent developments encompassing ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM proposes an increasingly-improving relationship between a ground force needing fire support (and the Rumsfeld-Franks decision to deploy no organic artillery support to Afghanistan with the Task Forces is described in the book) and the USAF command and control apparatus that could live and fight alongside it to provide that support. His descriptions of the parochial hindrances to this ideal relationship are spot-on and his reporting on the leadership that leaned forward to overcome those roadblocks (e.g., both Blount and 18th Air Support Operations Group commander Colonel Mike Longoria) are nicely complemented by the first-person accounts of TACPs talking air-delivered munitions onto hostile targets under fire. Part of that process is minimizing the possibility of fratricide, and these accidents are, in my experience, one of the aforementioned hindrances; the ground-based customer sometimes focuses on what Call refers to as “the lowest points”—one of which he describes in his prologue, the accident at Kuwait’s Udairi range that killed 6 and wounded 5 from the team controlling the strike. I personally think the book would have benefited from a couple of other CAS fratricide examples like World War II’s operation COBRA, or the JDAM that almost killed Hamid Karzai in the early days of ENDURING FREEDOM. I believe these events and the subsequent progress made in avoiding similar incidents as we move left on the timeline are essential to discussing CAS and its best practices in the Joint fight. To tie the sack shut, I believe that this book does a fine job of handing off the “Inside Baseball” accounts of this combat enabler—from the NCOs and CGOs juggling a radio handset and an assault rifle under pressure to the senior decision-makers who had to bend some rules and sell the capability to their own superiors as U.S. forces moved downrange. I have recommended it not only to other USAF CAS alumni but to my friends in the SOF community as well.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jens

    As put forward in the introduction, this is the story of TACP's told by themselves through interviews. The bigger part of the stories is simply war, not so much controlling air, but there were some interesting techniques and insights on how to employ those assets to achieve the best effect. As put forward in the introduction, this is the story of TACP's told by themselves through interviews. The bigger part of the stories is simply war, not so much controlling air, but there were some interesting techniques and insights on how to employ those assets to achieve the best effect.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven Hildreth Jr.

    DANGER CLOSE is a very educational read as to the evolution of the Tactical Air Control Party career field in the early days of the Global War on Terror. Steve Call does an excellent job in highlighting the challenges TACPs faced, how the TACPs were considered outsiders both to their own branch of service and to the Army soldiers to whom they're attached, and how they had to overcome institutional inbreeding and develop SOPs on the fly to defeat the enemy and keep their comrades safe. It also sho DANGER CLOSE is a very educational read as to the evolution of the Tactical Air Control Party career field in the early days of the Global War on Terror. Steve Call does an excellent job in highlighting the challenges TACPs faced, how the TACPs were considered outsiders both to their own branch of service and to the Army soldiers to whom they're attached, and how they had to overcome institutional inbreeding and develop SOPs on the fly to defeat the enemy and keep their comrades safe. It also shows how the ROMAD (Radio Operator, Maintainer, and Driver) evolved from being a pack mule for the Air Liaison Officer to becoming the primary effort of the TACP team. The old way of thinking that only officers were qualified to control aircraft quickly went to the wayside when it was revealed that there were not only not enough officers to control all the air, but that the ROMAD that did the job day in and day out was best qualified for the job. This was especially important in the early days of Afghanistan, when the primary efforts were SOF-driven and backed by close air support. It's a fascinating read and recommended for any modern military historian.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Roger Knizat

    Mandatory reading for anyone wanting to be a TACP, FISTer, CCT, or any other tactical air controller. Steve Call describes and discusses the importance of CAS through the history of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. He also writes about the Air force and Army conflict on use of JTACs as a battlefield entity in the early days of the career field.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Super detailed and technical book but informational and highly informative. I know someone in the field. the info in this book tripled my respect fro the work they do.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rex Fuller

    Great detail on critical special operations tactics.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Own

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    I learned a lot of stuff from those TACP's, man they must hate life, but makes me want to get to Afghanistan soon. I learned a lot of stuff from those TACP's, man they must hate life, but makes me want to get to Afghanistan soon.

  10. 5 out of 5

    R

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sinjin Bane

  12. 4 out of 5

    Josh C2

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steve Horning

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul Matheson

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Delaney

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alex Asay

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jim Mccormick

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hope

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brian Arsenault

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cain

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo M Leon

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erik

  25. 4 out of 5

    Colby-Tait Africa

  26. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike Molinari

  28. 4 out of 5

    Miranda

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robby

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jason Castleman

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