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American Spartan

by Ann Scott Tyson   

What It's About:

Recounts Army Special Forces Major Jim Gant’s controversial strategy to embed U.S. troops with Afghani tribes.


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  • American Spartan

  • Author(s): Ann Scott Tyson
  • Release Date: March 25th 2014
  • Pages: 384
  • Format: Hardcover
  • SKU: 000000000001387451
  • ISBN: 9780062114983

Some have called him “Lawrence of Afghanistan.” To the local tribesmen he is “Commander Jim.” He is Army Special Forces Major Jim Gant, who argued for embedding autonomous units with Afghani tribes to earn their trust and transform them into a reliable ally. The military's top brass, including General David Petraeus, approved Gant’s controversial strategy.

Veteran war correspondent Ann Scott Tyson first spoke with Gant when he was awarded the Silver Star in 2007—and began to share his vision. Risking her life, she accompanied him to Afghanistan to cover the story, and then they fell in love.

In American Spartan, Tyson tells their remarkable story in one of the most riveting, emotional narratives of wartime ever published.

     “Two tribesmen, Hakim Jan and Umara Khan, shouldered their AK-47 rifles at the end of their guard shift and climbed down wooden ladders to join the other men in the central courtyard of the small camp. They were members of the force of twenty Afghan tribal police that lived in the Mangwel qalat together with a dozen U.S. soldiers. The American mission was simple: to empower the tribe to push the insurgents out. The lives of everyone in the camp depended on it.
     Conditions in the camp were austere. The commander made sure they stayed that way. It had crude outhouses and no running water. All of the men slept on cots in canvas tents. They ate the same food, too, mainly beans, rice, and flatbread. Their commander knew that hardship could bring these strangers together. Soon the men were conversing in broken Pashto and English as they went about their work—cleaning weapons, loading bullets into magazines, repairing vehicles, standing guard.
     Staff Sgt. Robert Chase, a thirty-two-year-old U.S. infantry squad leader, and Pfc. Jeremiah ‘Miah’ Hicks appeared before the assembled soldiers and Afghan tribesmen. They carefully unfolded an eight-foot-long American flag and, each holding one upper corner, unfurled it before the group.
     Then their commander, Special Forces Maj. Jim Gant, wearing a black Afghan tunic and pants with a fitted maroon kandari cap, stepped in front of the flag. The bearded forty-three-year-old Green Beret addressed his men.
     ‘Today, we had our revenge, our badal,’ he said, using the Pashto word for ‘retribution.’ ‘I am proud to fight alongside you,’ we went on. ‘Tonight, in honor of that, I will bleed.’
     Gant drew an eight-inch Spartan Harsey knife, a gift from the father of a fallen Special Forces teammate. As a captain, Gant had embraced the Spartan warrior ethos of sacrifice and courage and used it to inspire every unit he’d commanded. Gant believed in the depth of his being that men had to be willing to die for one another without hesitation if they were to be victorious in battle. He also believed that the ancient code of honor that Spartans lived with was, at its core, no different from the one that underpinned Pashtun tribal law.
     He had carefully planned this meeting to inspire both his American and Afghan men, and he had already asked that a goat be slaughtered and prepared in the Pashtun tradition.
     Gripping the Spartan knife in his right hand, Gant slowly slit long, deep gashes between the thumb and index finger of his left hand—one cut for seven of his friends killed in Afghanistan. The blood ran down his hand and dripped onto the broken ground.
     He stared into the shocked faces of his men.”

American Spartan is a riveting, powerful account of the service of Major Jim Gant, a man seen by many of us as the ‘perfect counterinsurgent’…Ann Scott Tyson had a ring-side seat to observe it all and takes us there in this extraordinary, gripping book.”
—General David H. Petraeus (US Army, Ret.)

“In the half-century since Robin Moore’s classic, The Green Berets, no other account of Special Forces at war could match its range and depth and candor—until now. American Spartan will enlighten and disturb readers with its searing honesty in describing the modern Green Berets’ battle for Afghanistan.”
—Kalev Sepp, Lt. Colonel (ret.) and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations

The Washington Post’s Ann Scott Tyson tells this story not from a news bureau desk, but from the tribal front lines of Konar and Paktia provinces, where she lived it side-by-side with Maj. Gant. This is great, timeless stuff, with implications far beyond one war in one country during one century. If you read only one book this year about war or politics, read American Spartan.”
—Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire