War on Two Fronts: An Infantry Commander's War in Iraq and the Pentagonby Christopher Hughes
Shortly after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war in Iraq became the most confusing in U.S. history, the high command not knowing who to fight, who was attacking Coalition troops, and who among
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Winner of The Army Historical Foundation's Distinguished Writing Award for Excellence in U.S. Army History Writing- Journals, memoirs and letters, June 2008
Shortly after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war in Iraq became the most confusing in U.S. history, the high command not knowing who to fight, who was attacking Coalition troops, and who among the different Iraqi groups were fighting each other. Yet there were a few astute officers like Lt. Col. Christopher Hughes, commanding the 2d Battalion of the 327th Inf. Regiment, 101st Airborne, who sensed the complexity of the task from the beginning.
In "War on Two Fronts" Col. Hughes writes movingly of his "No-Slack" battalion at war in Iraq. The war got off to a bang for Hughes, when his brigade command tent was fragged by a Muslim sergeant in the 101st, leaving him briefly in charge of the brigade. Amid the nighttime confusion of 14 casualties, a nearby Patriot missile blasted off, panicking nearly everyone while mistakenly bringing down a British Tornado fighter-bomber.
As Hughes' battalion forged into Iraq they successfully liberated the city of Najaf, securing the safety of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the Mosque of Ali, while showing an acute cultural awareness in doing so that caught the world's attention. It was a feat that landed Hughes within the pages of Time, Newsweek and other publications. The "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne then implemented creative programs in the initial postwar occupation, including harvesting the national wheat and barley crops, while combating nearly invisible insurgents.
Conscious that an army battalion is a community of some 700-plus households, and that when a unit goes off to war the families are intimately connected in our internet age, Hughes makes clear the strength of those connections and how morale is best supported at both ends.
Transferred to Washington after his tour in Iraq, Hughes then writes an illuminating account of the herculean efforts of many in the Pentagon to work around the corporatist elements of its bureaucracy, in order to better understand counterinsurgency and national reconstruction, which Lawrence of Arabia characterized as "like learning to eat soup with a knife." To read this book will help understand the sources of mistakes made-and still being made-and the process needed to chart a successful strategy.
Written with candor and no shortage of humor, intermixed with brutal scenes of combat and frank analysis, this book is a must-read for all those who seek insight into our current war in the Mideast.
Although his battle memoir is conventional, Hughes also offers an insightful review of our problems in Iraq as a loyal supporter of President Bush who does not conceal his opinion that the war is a disaster. The first half of his book adds little to the flood of patriotic battle accounts pouring off the presses. Readers are introduced to Hughes's men in the 101st Airborne as they pack their gear, bid good-bye to their wives and travel to a freezing desert encampment to await the invasion. Plunging enthusiastically into battle, they fight with courage and skill against an enemy Hughes describes as having no skill whatsoever. His unit apparently took its objectives with no casualties. After Hughes rotates home to serve in the Pentagon and attend the National War College, his book becomes genuinely thoughtful as he concludes that, while America was absolutely right to invade Iraq to depose an evil dictator, our ignorance of that nation's history and religion has led to chaos. He concludes with a familiar-sounding program for stabilizing the nation that includes specific benchmarks and a timetable for withdrawal-which he suspects may take years. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Hughes commanded an infantry battalion of the 101st Airborne Division in the invasion of Iraq. He was invited to visit Grand Ayatollah Sistani at the Mosque of Ali; his actions there defused a near riot and were widely publicized as a model for the invading army. After his command tour, he spent some time in the Pentagon. After that assignment he attended the National War College, where he and other Iraq veterans began writing about their experiences. This battle narrative gives a clear and candid overview of how a leader deals with combat. Hughes is direct and explicit in his criticism of L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and equally direct in conveying his frustrations in dealing with the Iraqis. Likewise, he is clear about what he feels the strengths and success of the army are, both in Iraq and institutionally, noting where things have gone right. The book concludes with his plan for a phased, event-driven strategy for leaving Iraq. Very much an insider book, this should be popular with readers although they will have to wade through some obscure terminology. Recommended for most libraries.
Edwin B. Burgess
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Meet the Author
Col Hughes is a 1983 graduate of Northwest Missouri State University with a B.S. in Political Science and an M.A. in Business Management from Webster University and an M.S. in National Security Srategy from the National War College in Washington DC. He has served in numerous command and staff positions in infantry and airborne units across the Army and Joint Staffs
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