JUST WEEKS AFTER the attacks of September 11, 2001, a small number of elite special operators were inserted into northern Afghanistan. The Degüello, by Special Forces veteran Scott Zastrow, tells the story of the first unit to deploy: ODA 555, or ‘Triple Nickel,’ an A-Team from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky’s 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Accompanied by an Air Force combat controller, the ten-man team infiltrated northern Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley by helicopter shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Their mission was to link up with Northern Alliance fighters, train and prepare them for an eventual advance on Kabul, and prep the battlespace for a follow-on invasion of coalition forces.
Though titularly a work of historical military fiction, The Degüello’s content is made up almost entirely of truth hidden behind a paper-thin veneer of slightly altered events and identities (a necessity for operational security reasons). Within the relatively short (238 pp.) text, Zastrow recounts Triple Nickel’s exploits and experiences, from 9/11 to the capture of Kabul, in the fast-paced and personal style of a writer who personally experienced the events he is writing about.
THE TEXT IS broken up into two parts, each of which is made up of several short, highly-readable chapters, and which primarily take place in two geographic locations. The majority of the first 89 pages takes place on Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and encompasses the events of 9/11 and the team’s isolation and preparation for deployment. Zastrow delivers a detailed recounting of team members’ reactions as they learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as of the rampant speculation that resulted from a handful of A-Teams, Triple Nickel among them, being sequestered in 5th Group’s Isolation Facility (ISOFAC) in preparation for mission briefing and deployment. In addition, the departure scenes he includes – one of a single soldier, and one poignant scene of a soldier who is leaving behind a young family – afford the reader a brief look inside the personal lives of the men who make up the ranks of this elite career field.
Part 1 concludes with the team’s departure from Karshi-Khanabad (K2) air base in Uzbekistan in MH-47 helicopters bound for Afghanistan, where the remainder of The Degüello takes place. Triple Nickel’s struggle to communicate with and train Northern Alliance fighters is realistically and often humorously portrayed, as are the team’s efforts to eliminate key Taliban targets and personnel in the vicinity of Bagram air base – efforts that include everything from air strikes and small arms to a cleverly-implemented improvised explosive device (IED). Zastrow vividly describes several combat scenes, recounting everything from the sights and smells of close quarters combat, to the risk of friendly-fire casualties, to calls for emergency close air support. Part 2 culminates in the assault on Kabul, the rescue of foreign missionaries who had been taken captive by the Taliban, and the retaking of the long-abandoned U.S. Embassy compound.
THOUGH THIS SUBJECT matter has been covered in differing depth by other writers, the first-person knowledge and passion Zastrow brings to the narrative makes this portrayal of Triple Nickel’s exploits unique. One particular area where the author excels is his depiction of Special Forces soldiers as people – incredibly competent and deadly people, but people all the same. In an interview with Digital Book Today, Zastrow characterized the team’s members as “a group of guys from the ‘Isle of Misfit Toys’ who can go from Jackass to Professional at the drop of a hat when the situation calls for it.” By not shying away from his characters’ relationships, interactions, strengths, and frailties, he successfully demonstrates the range of roles and behaviors that Triple Nickel’s members were capable of. The end result is a portrayal of these elite soldiers that almost any reader will be able to relate to in some form.
The few issues with The Degüello largely stem from its status as a self-published book. Typos and small punctuational and grammatical errors that would have been caught by a professional editor are present, and the absence of pictures and maps noticeably contrasts with the book’s visual nature, geographic references, and specific mentions of photographs being taken by and of team members. Such errors and omissions, which are products of the limited budget with which self-publishing authors are frequently saddled, would likely be remedied in the event of a second printing or of the book’s purchase by a major publisher, and they do not take away from the story itself or the skill with which Zastrow tells it.
FAST-PACED AND engaging, The Degüello is a must-read for anybody who is interested in Special Forces, the war in Afghanistan, or the events immediately following the 9/11 attacks on America. It is available in both hard copy and Kindle formats, and is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime war story that readers will not be able to put down until the last page has been turned.
The Degüello by Scott A. Zastrow (ISBN 055781541X; $32.99 hardcover, $9.99 Kindle) is published by Lulu.