U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations in the Bala Murghab, Afghanistan
Saint Martin’s Press, New York, 2016, 336 pages
Book Review published on: May 12, 2017
Michael Golembesky is a former Marine staff sergeant who served in 2009 and 2010 as the tactical air controller assigned to Marine Special Operations Team (MSOT) 8222—call sign “Dagger 22”— in the vicinity of Bala Murghab, a village in northwestern Afghanistan’s Badghis Province. In Dagger 22, Golembesky chronicles the challenges faced by this elite twenty-two-man MSOT as it trained members of the Afghan National Army.
Golembesky provides an interesting bird’s-eye view of daily life and operations at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Todd, home for MSOT 8222 in Afghanistan. The author describes how FOB Todd’s remote location, harsh environment, and Spartan living conditions amplified the loneliness of its inhabitants. Although MSOT 8222 initially had the mission to train Afghan National Army soldiers, its mission quickly evolved into countering the Taliban presence and the threat that enemy posed to MSOT 8222 and to nearby 82d Airborne and Italian Army forces.
The Marine Corps officially became a component of U.S. Special Operations Command in 2006. Subsequently, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) teams maintained a brutal operational tempo in Afghanistan, where there was a strong demand for teams to train and operate alongside Afghan forces. MSOT 8222’s initial higher command was Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) 72, a battalion command and staff out of the 7th Special Forces Group. SOTF 72 was soon replaced by SOTF 81, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion. SOTF 81 was the first MARSOC unit to serve as a SOTF and, as such, it was also the first Marine Corps headquarters to command and control Army Special Forces teams.
Golembesky’s describes endless frustration in gaining SOTF 81’s approval for mission requests. SOTF 81’s disapproval limited MSOT 8222’s ability to counter the Taliban’s presence and influence in the region. MSOT 8222’s frustration peaked when SOTF 81 denied requests to attack Objective Fiesta, a Taliban position that posed a significant threat to FOB Todd. However, MSOT 8222 became creative in gaining approval for mission requests, enabling it to challenge the Taliban presence and assist other nearby U.S. and coalition forces.
General Stanley McChrystal’s restrictive rules of engagement were an equal source of frustration for MSOT 8222. These rules included a high-level commander’s approval for using aircraft-delivered munitions on buildings, structures, and compounds. For MSOT 8222, the SOTF commander located some 160 kilometers away was the approving authority. On several occasions, MSOT 8222 found itself decisively engaged with Taliban forces and unable to use air support circling overhead due an inability to verify if Afghan civilians were nearby.
Dagger 22 chronicles the moral courage of a medevac pilot to launch without SOTF 81 approval in order to evacuate a critically wounded marine on a hot landing zone, the spirit of cooperation shared with nearby Italian Army and 82nd Airborne elements, and MSOT 8222’s comradery. Dagger 22 provides valuable lessons in leadership and counterinsurgency operations. This book is a must read for professionals, students, and historians with an interest in special operations and the war in Afghanistan. It would make a great companion to Golembesky’s New York Times bestseller, Lever Zero Heroes.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas