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About Toby Harnden
Toby Harnden, author of First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11, is a winner of the Orwell Prize for Books. A former foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times of London and the Daily Telegraph who reported from thirty-three countries, he specializes in terrorism and war. Born in Portsmouth, England, Harnden was imprisoned in Zimbabwe, prosecuted in Britain for protecting confidential sources, and vindicated by a $23 million public inquiry in Ireland. A dual British and US citizen, he spent a decade as a Royal Navy officer before becoming a journalist. He holds a First Class degree in modern history from Oxford and is the author of Bandit Country: The IRA & South Armagh and Dead Men Risen: An Epic Story of War and Heroism in Afghanistan. Previously based in London, Belfast, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and Washington, DC, he lives in Virginia.
Harnden was Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times of London from 2013 to 2018. In 2013, he was reporter and presenter of the BBC Panorama Special documentary "Broken by Battle," dealing with suicide and PTSD among British soldiers. The program was shortlisted for a Royal Television Society award, won the Mind Media Award for Speaking Out, and was the closing film of Prix Bayeux.
Previously, Harnden worked in a variety of roles for the Telegraph over the course of 17 years, based in London, Belfast, Washington, Jerusalem, and Baghdad, finishing as US Editor from 2006 to 2011. Harnden was US Executive Editor of Mail Online and US Editor of The Daily Mail during the 2012 US presidential election campaign. He has reported from all 50 US states and traveled from coast to coast four times. He made several reporting trips to Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010, culminating in his second book Dead Men Risen, about the Welsh Guards in Helmand, Afghanistan, which won the 2012 Orwell Prize for books, Britain's most prestigious award for political writing.
Harnden was The Sunday Telegraph’s Chief Foreign Correspondent from 2005 to 2006. He has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Austria, Italy, Estonia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, United States, Colombia, and Thailand. In 2005, he was imprisoned in Zimbabwe for 14 days after being arrested and charged with "practicing journalism without accreditation." He was subsequently acquitted, deported, and banned from Zimbabwe.
Harnden was Middle East Correspondent of The Daily Telegraph from 2003, based in Jerusalem but traveling throughout the region. He spent much of 2004 and 2005 covering the war in Iraq. He was a "unilateral" reporter during the siege of Najaf in August 2004 and three months later was embedded with the US Army's Task Force 2-2 during the battle of Fallujah.
From 1999 to 2003, Harnden was The Daily Telegraph's Washington bureau chief. He was in Washington on September 11th 2001 and reported extensively on the aftermath of 9/11. He joined The Daily Telegraph in 1994 as a home news reporter before being posted to Belfast as the newspaper's Ireland Correspondent in 1996. He subsequently covered the Good Friday Agreement and the Omagh bombing of 1998 as well as numerous explosions, ceasefires, shootings, riots, marches and political crises.
The culmination of Harnden's work in Northern Ireland was the publication of Bandit Country: The IRA & South Armagh (Hodder & Stoughton 1999), which sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide and is considered essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the Irish Troubles. Harnden was held to be in contempt of the Bloody Sunday tribunal for refusing to identify two confidential sources he had quoted in a 1999 article. He faced prosecution and was threatened with jail but declined to break his promise to grant anonymity to his sources. The case against him was dropped in 2004 after a five-year legal battle. In 2013, the Smithwick Tribunal concluded that controversial allegations contained in Bandit Country were true. In Bandit Country, Harnden had alleged that collusion with the IRA by an Irish police had been behind the 1989 killings of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, the two most senior RUC officers murdered during the Troubles. The tribunal's verdict, reached after an eight-year inquiry costing €15 million ($23 million), 'absolutely vindicated" Harnden's allegations 14 years after they had been made.
Harnden was born in Portsmouth in 1966 and grew up in Marple, Cheshire and Rusholme, Manchester. After leaving St Bede’s College, Manchester in 1984, he was commissioned into the Royal Navy and attended Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. He then went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was elected president of the Junior Common Room in 1987 and awarded a First in Modern History from Oxford University in 1988. He received a College Prize for academic work and the Miles Clauson Prize for contribution to college life. Harnden retired from the Navy in 1994 as a Lieutenant after service ashore in Rosyth and Plymouth naval bases and at sea in the assault ships HMS Fearless, and HMS Intrepid, the minesweeper HMS Itchen, the destroyers HMS Manchester and HMS Edinburgh and the frigate HMS Cornwall. During his training he was an exchange officer with the Royal Norwegian Navy, helping transport reindeer on troop landing craft. His final naval appointment was in the Ministry of Defence as Flag Lieutenant to the Second Sea Lord.
He began in journalism as a theatre reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe and as an obituary writer before becoming a full-time news reporter with The Daily Telegraph, based at its headquarters in London. Harnden has also worked for the Leith Leader, The Scotsman, the Western Morning News (Plymouth) and The Independent. He has been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Sun, Evening Standard, The Spectator, Literary Review, Naval Review, East End Life, Oxford Student, Conde Nast Traveller, Grazia, the American Spectator, Washingtonian, Soldier of Fortune, Zoo and Men's Health.
Harnden has appeared on CNN, PBS, Fox, MSNBC, CNBC, C-SPAN, BBC, Sky, GMTV, Channel 4 News and the Radio 4 Today program as well as outlets in the Republic of Ireland, Canada and Australia. He has spoken at Harvard and Oxford Universities, Shrivenham Royal Military College, the British-American Business Association and the Hay, Lichfield and Dartington literary festivals.
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An award-winning journalist reveals the dramatic true story of the CIA's Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11.America is reeling; Al-Qaeda has struck and thousands are dead. The country scrambles to respond, but the Pentagon has no plan for Afghanistan—where Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack and is protected by the Taliban. Instead, the CIA steps forward to spearhead the war. Eight CIA officers are dropped into the mountains of northern Afghanistan on October 17, 2001. They are Team Alpha, an eclectic band of linguists, tribal experts, and elite warriors: the first Americans to operate inside Taliban territory. Their covert mission is to track down Al- Qaeda and stop the terrorists from infiltrating the United States again.
First Casualty places you with Team Alpha as the CIA rides into battle on horseback alongside the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. In Washington, DC, few trust that the CIA men, the Green Berets, and the Americans’ outnumbered Afghan allies can prevail before winter sets in. On the ground, Team Alpha is undeterred. The Taliban is routed but hatches a plot with Al-Qaeda to hit back. Hundreds of suicidal fighters, many hiding weapons, fake a surrender and are transported to Qala-i Jangi—the “Fort of War.”
Team Alpha’s Mike Spann, an ex-Marine, and David Tyson, a polyglot former Central Asian studies academic, seize America’s initial opportunity to extract intelligence from men trained by bin Laden—among them a young Muslim convert from California. The prisoners revolt and one CIA officer falls—the first casualty in America’s longest war, which will last two decades. The other CIA man shoots dead the Al-Qaeda jihadists attacking his comrade. To survive, he must fight his way out against overwhelming odds.
Award-winning author Toby Harnden gained unprecedented access to all living Team Alpha members and every level of the CIA. Superbly researched, First Casualty draws on extensive interviews, secret documents, and deep reporting inside Afghanistan. As gripping as any adventure novel, yet intimate and profoundly moving, it tells how America found a winning strategy only to abandon it. Harnden reveals that the lessons of early victory and the haunting foretelling it contained—unreliable allies, ethnic rivalries, suicide attacks, and errant US bombs—were ignored, tragically fueling a twenty-year conflict.
"Masterful, complex, and heartfelt, from the deeply personal to the critically strategic. Captures many lessons on many levels." —Ambassador Hank Crumpton, former senior CIA officer
Bestselling author Toby Harnden describes how men from the coal mining valleys and slate quarry villages of Wales found themselves in the most intense combat faced by British troops for a generation. Underequipped and overstretched, the fighting prowess of the Welsh Guards in the killing fields of Sangin and Nawa awed the U.S. Marines. NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal, who was awaiting a response to his urgent request to President Barack Obama for more troops, hailed their "burn-in-your-gut passion."
Harnden was on the ground with the Welsh Guards in Helmand in 2009. He gained access to a trove of secret military documents and conducted nearly three hundred interviews in Afghanistan, England, Wales, and the United States to produce this timeless and profound account of men at war.
Commanding the Welsh Guards was Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, a passionate believer in the justness of the war who was dismayed by the military and political incompetence surrounding it. In chilling detail, Harnden reveals how and why Thorneloe—the first British battalion commander to die in action since the 1982 Falklands War—was killed by an IED during Operation Panther’s Claw. By the time the fighting was over, almost no rank had been spared.
From the searing heat of the poppy fields and the mud compounds of Helmand to the dreaded knock on the door back home, the reader is transported there. Harnden weaves the experiences of the soldiers, their historical forbears and the flawed NATO strategy into a masterly narrative. No other book about modern conflict succeeds on so many levels. Dead Men Risen is essential for anyone who wants to understand the reality of the Afghan war for the U.S and its allies.