Author and former Marine Owen West recounts the heroic and harrowing stories of U.S. military advisers and the local forces who helped turn the tide of the Iraq war in his new book, “The Snake Eaters, An Unlikely Band of Brothers and the Battle for the Soul of Iraq
.” In the book, West also makes an argument on behalf of his fellow advisers for the vital role they play in modern warfare.
“They chose the name ‘Snake Eaters’ after a patch that was on their shoulder depicting a hawk grabbing a snake. And it was appropriate for trying to root out insurgents as they were doing,” West explained to Newsmax.TV during an exclusive interview.
West joined the battalion as an adviser and casualty replacement in the fall of 2006 at the height of the Anbar rebellion in Iraq.
Watch the exclusive video here.
“Marine command had just issued a report saying that al-Qaida in Iraq essentially controlled the every day lives of people in Anbar province and four months later the war was over.
“I began to go through the patrol logs of my predecessors who had advised this Iraqi unit ahead of me, I realized that their combat had been much tougher than mine.
“The performance of the Iraqi unit was so good by the time I jumped atop the horse that I felt compelled to write that history,” the author told Newsmax.
West, who took leaves-of-absence from his Wall Street job to serve two tours in Iraq, takes the reader into battle by telling the stories of the brave U.S. reservists who left behind their own families to work in one of the most hostile areas of Iraq — a village named Khalidya.
He also introduces the reader to the Iraqis who fought side by side with U.S. troops to take back the streets of Khalidya from insurgents who had perfected the ability to blend in with innocent civilians. That includes the story of a young interpreter West calls “Alex the Terp.”
While he was patrolling with U.S. Marines, a group of insurgents ransacked Alex’s home in Baghdad and found a Marine flag hanging on his wall. They tortured and killed his brother.
“[Alex] still feels very guilty about that today,” revealed West.
He also said the stories in the book are aimed at clearing up the “great misconception” about the work of military advisers.
“Most Americans . . . picture advising as training in a secure base, marching foreign troops around, teaching them how to shoot Ak-47’s. And the problem is, most politicians and generals believe this too.
“That’s just incorrect. The advisers first job is to fight and set the example and without that nothing else follows.
“I think the lesson is — after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan — U.S. troops basically can’t do this alone. That is, local forces must put down their own insurrections. Only the local forces can figure out who the guerillas are who are blending with these complicit populations.
“Instead of sending hundreds of thousand of troops at a cost of over a trillion dollars, we really need to employ the adviser model, which had become antiquated because we had dismantled it after Vietnam,” West said.
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