One Day in the Surkhagan Valley
We aren’t home yet, Major Paul Darling reminds his team at the end of a sixteen-hour day. “Two more miles and we are done. We have pissed off a lot of Taliban today, and they are going to want payback.” Shortly, the major will find himself sitting on a concrete basketball court next to the bunker where the day started so long ago, talking by satellite phone to his wife on the other side of the world. When she asks, “What happened?” there is too much to say. But one day, he promises himself, he will put into words what it was like–one day in the life of a combat soldier in Afghanistan in 2009.
This is the story of that day. In crisp prose and sharp detail Darling offers a moment-by-moment account of a one-day mission to track down and kill Taliban insurgents in the Zabul Province of southeastern Afghanistan. A rare day-in-the-life narrative that is also a page-turner, his story captures the mundane realities of deployment—the waiting, the heat, the heavy gear, the 0345 wake-up—along with the high-octane experience of crossing foreign terrain where every turn, every decision might have life or death consequences. The living accommodations, reporting up the chain of command, the bureaucracy, and the almost insurmountable challenges of functioning effectively in two cultures—all become intimately real in Darling’s telling as he balances the imperatives of his mission and the skills of his men against the ever-multiplying unknowns, the unpredictable and dangerous Afghan “allies,” and the elusive enemy: the unseen IED and the possibility of fatal miscalculation.
“What is it really like to fight on the ground in Afghanistan? In the tradition of David Halberstam’s Vietnam War classic One Very Hot Day, Major Paul Darling takes you along on a perilous mission in treacherous Zabul Province. He’s been there. He knows. When you read Taliban Safari, you’ll know too.”
—Daniel P. Bolger, US Army lieutenant general, retired, veteran of Afghanistan and author of Our Year of War: Two Brothers, Vietnam, and a Nation Divided and Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
“I led a platoon in combat in a different war, in a different country. Yet I know this voice. It rings familiar and true. Major Darling appreciates the complexity of his situation but writes straightforwardly about it. He strikes a fine balance between an officer engaged in a mission, focused on the task at hand, and one reflecting on the experience. Taliban Safari tells us what it was like to be there coordinating a motley collection of soldiers and police as well as the moral calculus of the leader on the ground.”
—Alex Vernon, author of Soldiers Once and Still: Ernest Hemingway, James Salter, and Tim O’Brien and coauthor of The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War
“A gripping account of modern close combat in an ancient, far-off land. Paul Darling provides a gritty, close-up, and personal account of a day in the life of an infantry adviser to Afghan forces as they hunt and finally corner their Taliban foe. Provides the personal reality of modern counterinsurgency better than any other book out there.”
—Lester W. Grau, author of Operation Anaconda: America’s First Major Battle in Afghanistan and The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War
“Having been on my own year long “Taliban Safari” as a mentor to the Afghan National Army in Eastern Afghanistan, I can vouch for the straight shooting writings of Darling. His storytelling captures the real ingredients of the Afghan war: determination, chaos, and a dash of humor to make it all go down. Taliban Safari is a great example of what war is like for the American soldiers assigned the impossible mission of mentoring and leading the Afghan National Security Forces.”
—Benjamin Tupper, Major, Infantry (USA RETIRED) and author of Greetings from Afghanistan: Send More AmmoSee fewer reviews...
In the midst of the soldier’s everyday drama of never quite knowing what comes next, Darling’s moments of humor and reflection put the chaos and uncertainties of combat into a larger perspective. The story is about one man and the ethical choices and compromises he has to make as a leader—a man who has promises to keep: to family; to country; to his soldiers, both Afghan and American; and, ultimately, to himself.