This month, the NVMM Guest Experience team highly recommends adding “The Outpost” by Jake Tapper to your reading list. This October marks the 12th anniversary of the Battle of Kamdesh at Combat Outpost (COP) Keating in Afghanistan. COP Keating was established as a base of operations for U.S. Army personnel in 2006 in an attempt to stop the flow of soldiers and munitions arriving from nearby Pakistan and as a place to direct and support counterinsurgency efforts in nearby villages.
“The Outpost” helps readers gain an understanding of the harrowing battle that ensued. In more than 700 captivating pages, Tapper shares the otherworldly experience that is life stationed in a small U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan. Through a collection of interviews with soldiers who were stationed at the Outpost, he describes in detail their experiences from 2006 through October 2009. He highlights the pattern of doubt present throughout the interview process, noting a consensus among the interviewees and their families that the Outpost was ill-conceived, as it was located in a militant-infested valley surrounded by looming mountains.
This location resulted in a vicious enemy attack on October 3, 2009, known as the Battle of Kamdesh. The author describes how 53 Americans became responsible for securing American Combat Outpost Keating against nearly 400 Taliban fighters. Outnumbered, outmanned and under incessant fire from all directions, it should have been impossible for anyone to make it out alive. However, as Tapper details throughout “The Outpost,” these courageous men were able to prevail.
Throughout the book, Tapper uses the natural suspense of positioning to build anticipation leading up to the battle. It was known to many beforehand that the risks of building an outpost in such a vulnerable area far outweighed the benefits. In addition to the cause-and-effect structure of the book, the action sequences throughout each chapter are well-crafted, describing the events in detail without over-sensationalizing this tragedy. In particular, this book highlights the experiences of the two Medal of Honor recipients recognized for their actions at Outpost Keating; Ty Carter and Clint Romesha, who saved the lives of many comrades. The author does an excellent job of writing this book as an expression of gratitude for their actions.
This book is jam-packed with information and insight regarding COP Keating. While there are several important takeaways, the prevailing theme throughout the book is “the deep-rooted inertia of military thinking.” This phrase is one that Tapper uses to describe some of the larger problems faced by American soldiers throughout the war, and it is important to gain full comprehension of “The Outpost.” He exhausts the issue of insufficient resources and lack of proper communication among those in positions of authority and lists these as the main causes for the October 3 attack.
The Battle of Kamdesh was the deadliest conflict in 2009. To make things worse, four days after the battle’s conclusion, Pentagon analysts concluded that there were no valid reasons behind stationing the troops at Keating in the first place. Thanks to those 53 remarkable men, the outcome was not nearly as disastrous as it could have been. Reading Tapper’s description of these soldiers’ experience gives a remarkable amount of insight as to what it’s truly like to experience that feeling of being trapped, the disappointment in authority and the sheer terror of hearing the words “enemy in the wire” over the radio. This book is truly a testament to the bravery of the men involved, and an honor to the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As a perspective-shifting novel, Jake Tapper’s “The Outpost” will almost certainly leave a lasting impression on your perception of the military experience.