I heard about a book called “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command” in early September. Pentagon officials were not thrilled that author Sean Naylor wanted to shed light on the Herculean efforts required to keep Americans safe. Given that special operators tend to work in the shadows, the Pentagon’s position makes sense — but I bought the book anyway — and found myself relentlessly reading it until the finish.
It is incredibly hard to review a book that spans the entire history of JSOC. Perhaps the best way to approach the book is to say how painful it was to read of all the many successes these elite operators had since Sept. 11, 2001, only to see much of their work squandered since 2008.
Towards the end of the book, Naylor discusses the rise of the Islamic State group and what its gains in Iraq meant to JSOC.
The list of Iraqi cities the Islamic State had taken by the end of the summer was a roll call of places where the JSOC task force had engaged in hard, vicious fights to dislodge Saddam Hussein’s forces and then to eviscerate Al Qaeda in Iraq: Haditha, where the Rangers withstood a fearsome artillery barrage to take a vital dam during the 2003 invasion; Tikrit, where Task Force Wolverine and Team Tank fought it out with the Fedayeen; Fallujah, where Don Hollenbaugh had earned his Distinguished Service Cross by holding off an insurgent assault single-handedly in April 2004; Rawa, where Doug Taylor’s Delta troop had impersonated farmhands to snare Ghassan Amin in April 2005; Al Qaim, where Delta operators Steven Langmack, Bob Horrigan, and Michael McNulty had died in the bloody spring of 2005; and Mosul, where the Rangers killed Abu Khalaf in a perfectly executed assault in 2008. (Sean Naylor. Relentless Strike. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015, 437)
By the time this summery occurs, the reader has been familiarized with details of every one of the hard-fought battles mentioned. It is tough to read without wincing.
The vast majority of Americans will never comprehend the amount blood, sweat, and tears shed by special operators. Naylor’s work, as prolific as it is, scratches the surface in terms of heroic tales known only to a select few.
Regardless, if nothing else, “Relentless Strike” makes it obvious that while millions of Americans are watching cat videos on YouTube or mindlessly uploading selfies to their social media page, shadow wars are raging all around them.
There is a thin veil of peace and tranquility over most Americans’ eyes, and it is only kept in place by the rough hands of those who are willing to fight and die on the other side of the globe.
I highly suggest “Relentless Strike” for anyone who wants to know what, exactly, it takes to provide national security to 350 million Americans on a daily basis.