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Fortress 26: Afghanistan Cave Complexes 1979-2004

by Mir Bahmanyar, illustrated by Ian Palmer

Published by Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-776-X, 64 pages.


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With current world-wide operations against terrorists in the news every day, this book is certainly topical, especially since it concentrates on the type of combat that is occurring in the nearly forgotten mountain wastes of Afghanistan, rather than the war being waged in Iraq. The author, a former US Army Ranger (with a few previous Osprey books to his credit), is certainly well enough qualified to tell the story, although I would say that there is a certain bit of bias displayed on his part, which at times gets in the way of his telling the story.

The text begins with an overview of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan and a briefing on its history, which is ably complimented by a chronology stretching back to the second century, BC. The geology of the country, which is especially relevant to the book’s main topic is also briefly outlined, something which I found to be quite interesting and which allowed me to better understand the difficulties that have been traditionally encountered by anyone who wished to subdue the people of that war-ravaged land. The text then continues with descriptions of what the locals based their underground lairs upon, be they natural features, man-made, or even the local underground irrigation systems (called “Karez”). The defensive and offensive uses of these systems are also detailed. Then, with the advent of the Soviet invasion, the author discusses their methods for attacking and neutralizing (however temporarily) these systems.

With coming of the post-9/11 era, where the initial US-led efforts to eradicate world-wide terrorism centered on Afghanistan, the author begins by detailing the technology being used to counter these well-used facilities. So, there are photos and technical details of US aircraft and their weapons, as well as photos of US troops from the various services, on the ground. More text describes US and coalition methods and some combat situations.

Of the 60 color photos in the book, several are satellite images that show just how rough the country is, as well as detailing some of the larger cave/tunnel complexes, and how some of them can be easily identified by certain characteristics. The single color map shows the entire country and its surrounding areas, while the 10 pages of color CAD art details cave complexes (both “typical” and “actual”), bunkers and “Karaz” irrigation systems. There are some CAD diagrams that detail a few key actions, and a final group of CAD renderings, which graphically details the US military’s combined arms operational matrix, officially known as the “Battlefield Operating Systems” (BOS).

One thing that perplexed me was the author’s repeated statements that the US has failed both in Afghanistan and Iraq. He makes no bones about his opposition to US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s techno-centric method of waging warfare, even going so far as to use a less-than-flattering photo of Rumsfeld, coupled with a caption that heaps ridicule upon the Secretary. This is understandable, since the author probably has former comrades who are currently in action, and obviously feels that they have been short-changed. To buttress his contention, the author has only used as examples, operations that have not been successful. I find it hard to believe that there have been no successes. Furthermore, his statements to the effect that the overall mission has been a failure are, in my estimation, rather premature. The “Fat Lady” has not yet had time to stretch her vocal chords!

The bibliography will reward the reader who wishes to delve further into this fascinating topic. The author has also made this book unique in that he has gathered an extensive list of web sites where the reader can further explore this subject. In fact the web site list covers nearly three-dozen private and government sources, something that will keep a researcher busy for quite some time.

The bottom line here is that there is some information of value to modelers, especially those that create vignettes or model figures. And, overall, the information presented is first-class, although a bit un-balanced.


Frank De Sisto

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