“Gripping…a terrific action narrative.” -Max Hastings, The Sunday Times
An award winning journalist reveals the dramatic true story of the CIA’s Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11.
First Casualty places you with Team Alpha as the CIA rides into battle on horseback alongside the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. In Washington, DC, few trust that the CIA men, the Green Berets, and the Americans’ outnumbered Afghan allies can prevail before winter sets in. On the ground, Team Alpha is undeterred. The Taliban is routed but hatches a plot with Al-Qaeda to hit back. Hundreds of suicidal fighters, many hiding weapons, fake a surrender and are transported to Qala-i Jangi—the “Fort of War.”
Team Alpha’s Mike Spann, an ex-Marine, and David Tyson, a polyglot former Central Asian studies academic, seize America’s initial opportunity to extract intelligence from men trained by bin Laden—among them a young Muslim convert from California. The prisoners revolt and one CIA officer falls—the first casualty in America’s longest war, which will last two decades. The other CIA man shoots dead the Al-Qaeda jihadists attacking his comrade. To survive, he must fight his way out against overwhelming odds.
Award-winning author Toby Harnden gained unprecedented access to all living Team Alpha members and every level of the CIA. Superbly researched, First Casualty draws on extensive interviews, secret documents, and deep reporting inside Afghanistan. As gripping as any adventure novel, yet intimate and profoundly moving, it tells how America found a winning strategy only to abandon it. Harnden reveals that the lessons of early victory and the haunting foretelling it contained—unreliable allies, ethnic rivalries, suicide attacks, and errant US bombs—were ignored, tragically fueling a twenty-year conflict.
About the Author
Toby Harnden is a winner of the Orwell Prize for Books. A former foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times of London and the Daily Telegraph who reported from thirty-three countries, he specializes in terrorism and war. Born in England, Harnden was imprisoned in Zimbabwe, prosecuted in Britain for protecting confidential sources, and vindicated by a $23 million public inquiry in Ireland. A dual British and US citizen, he spent a decade as a Royal Navy officer before becoming a journalist. He holds a First Class degree in modern history from Oxford and is the author of First Casualty, Bandit Country: The IRA & South Armagh, and Dead Men Risen: An Epic Story of War and Heroism in Afghanistan. Previously based in London, Belfast, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and Washington, DC, he lives in Virginia.
A Good Morning America September Buzz Pick
"Harnden skillfully interweaves dramatic action sequences with the backstories of the book’s central figures, and briskly highlights the failures of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Readers will be swept up in this little-known chapter of America’s 'forever war.'"—Publishers Weekly
"A gripping, perversely old-fashioned cowboy story."—Max Hastings, Airmail News
"First Casualty is the closest most readers will come to really knowing a spy; Harnden intimately portrays who these men were and are as America attempts to extract itself from its longest war."—James Pekoll, Booklist
"The book’s core revolves around the gripping, bloody, days-long fight against the group of Taliban prisoners that erupted in the prison uprising that led to Spann’s death...First Casualty is rife with heroic moments...This book is compelling, sometimes disturbing, but in a necessary way. This is war sometimes stripped of heroism to reveal."
—Philip Mudd, The Cipher Brief
“The heart of Harnden’s readable book is the Battle of Qala-i Jangi, a bloody, six-day revolt of around 400 al Qaeda prisoners in a 19th-century fortress designed by British engineers during earlier imperial adventures in northern Afghanistan…Harnden’s scoop is to have convinced the CIA to give him access to its key men from those early days.”—Justin Marozzi, The Spectator
“First Casualty reads like a Tom Clancy thriller, yet every word is true, and painstakingly researched. This is modern warfare close-up and raw: the pity, the heroism, the cruelty, and very occasionally some moments of glory too, as human beings are pushed to their furthest limits of endurance, and beyond. Harnden tells the extraordinary story of the battle of Qala-i-Jangi with verve, intelligence, acute analysis and flashes of ironic wit. It would make a terrific movie.”—Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny
“Very powerful and important” -Praise for Dead Men Risen—Jake Tapper, author of The Outpost
“Extraordinary in its research, scope, empathy, and raw emotive power” -Praise for Dead Men Risen—Bing West, author of The Wrong War
“Toby Harnden’s remarkable book…is both compelling and visceral” -Praise for Dead Men Risen—Orwell Prize statement
“Courageous journalism and compulsive reading” -Praise for Bandit Country—The Guardian
“Harnden has done a masterful job…A triumph” -Praise for Bandit Country—Irish Times
“A formidable achievement…Essential reading” -Praise for Bandit Country—Sunday Business Post