The Furious Battle That Saved Afghanistan from the Taliban
David Fraser and Brian Hanington
McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 2018, 272 pages
Book Review published on: November 30, 2018
Canadians David Fraser and Brian Hanington offer a detailed account of the events leading to and the conduct of Operation Medusa. Led by now retired Maj. Gen. Fraser, Operation Medusa was the name of a NATO operation for the second battle at Panjwai, a Taliban stronghold in the Afghanistan war. The objective of Operation Medusa was to defeat the Taliban in and around Panjwai in order to maintain freedom of movement along Highway 1 and uphold the security of Kandahar City. Canada had not fought a major combat engagement in over fifty years, and Operation Medusa was destined to test its mettle.
The night before Fraser and his staff were about to enter a fight—which would the largest for NATO in over seventy years—they learned of the Taliban’s intent to initiate offensive operations. For fifteen days in September 2006, members of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, and elements of the International Security Assistance Force engaged in intense close combat, supported by elements of the Afghan National Army and a team from the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), and augmented by A Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division. In addition, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark also provided support. According to Evan Dyer of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Operation Medusa was the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO at the time.
There is no question as to the credentials of the authors. Fraser was commander of Operation Medusa; it is hard to discount the first-hand knowledge he provided. Hanington, a ten-year veteran of the Canadian navy, has published more than a dozen books and written for Canadian prime ministers, cabinet ministers, bishops, admirals, and Pope John Paul II. Their motive in writing the book was simple—they wanted to tell a story of intense combat, fought by an army and nation that had not seen major combat operations since the Korean War, and supported by a government that was intent on making a valuable contribution to NATO and the mission in Kandahar Province. Fraser and Hanington did not betray their readers.
In great detail, Fraser and Hanington chronicle the events leading up to the fighting (part 1), and the tactical actions of Operation Medusa and the fight for the Panjwai District from 2 September to 17 September 2006 (part 2). Fraser and his troops were in an unenviable position as the Taliban knew the terrain. They had spent months preparing their defenses with pre-positioned supplies, landmines, and improvised explosive devices. The enemy, protected by corrupt officials, amassed a worthy fighting force and were ready to face the freshly arrived troops who had never seen combat. Fraser and Hanington meticulously describe the combat actions beginning with the loss of a Royal Air Force Nimrod surveillance aircraft with fourteen crew members (only four hours into the fight), and ending with the clearance of Objective Baseball and the Taliban fleeing the area of operations. After fifteen days of fighting, NATO declared victory, and stability operations commenced on 17 September.
The strength of the book is the ease at which Fraser and Hanington inform readers of strategic implications of Canada assuming responsibility for Kandahar Province and the lead-up to Operation Medusa, followed by close, intimate descriptions of the fighting in and around Panjwai and Zhari. Students of the Afghanistan war, NATO operations, Canadian history, and military operations, as well as those with an interest in battlefield histories will find this a great read and a noteworthy addition to their library.
Book Review written by: David D. Haught, Fort Belvoir, Virginia