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Two new books look at the war in Afghanistan

By Tony Perry

Los Angeles Times

Published: Sunday, Dec. 30 2012 3:30 p.m. MST

"When I got home in December, I felt like I had landed on the moon," he writes. "Some guys really go nuts when they come back, and I wasn't in danger of that, but I could feel the kinds of crazy things that maybe got the better of them. You are over there long enough, and under such constant battle stress, that it resets all your settings way into the red and they are very hard to set back."

Tapper follows soldiers who, like Meyer, were beset with troubles even months after arriving safely at home.

"The outpost never left him," he writes of a young soldier, months after leaving Afghanistan, "(he) would stay up late at night watching insurgents' videos on YouTube. He told a friend from 3-61 Cav, Brian Casey, that he heard gunfire and saw Taliban on a daily basis … At the end of July, Ed Faulkner Jr. ran naked into the street, yelling that the end of the world was coming."

Days after Faulkner died alone in a filthy apartment of acute methadone intoxication, an office worker from the Department of Veterans Affairs called Faulkner's father: "Would you let your son know that he's late for his appointment?"

Tapper's voice is understated, not polemical — just a good reporter letting the facts speak for themselves. He quotes one of Faulkner's friends: "I kinda think he was the ninth victim of Keating. And I honestly don't think he'll be the last."

Meyer, in telling his own story, is blunt in his assessment of what happened at Ganjigal: "We weren't fighting a war: we were holding a few acres of dirt while the war swirled around outside our barbed wire."

In both Combat Outpost Keating and Ganjigal, a military investigation was launched to see why troops on the ground were not better supported before or during the enemy attack. The result boiled down to "mistakes were made" — an explanation that the authors of "Into the Fire" and "The Outpost" dismiss as a feeble excuse.

In an epilogue, West, a former assistant secretary of Defense and chronicler nonpareil of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in books like "No True Glory," "The Strongest Tribe" and "The Wrong War," writes that, "In its ferocity, valor, treachery and bungling, Ganjigal was extraordinary. (Meyer's) story stands as a metaphor for the war. It illustrates three themes: a frustrating war, a misplaced strategy, and the grit of the American warrior."

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