"John Carney is one of the few heroes I have."
-LT. COL. L. H. "BUCKY" BURRUSS, USA (Ret.)
Founding member and Deputy Commander of Delta Force
When the U.S. Air Force decided to create an elite "special tactics" team in the late 1970s to work in conjunction with special-operations forces combating terrorists and hijackers and defusing explosive international emergencies, John T. Carney was the man they turned to. Since then Carney and the U.S. Air Force Special Tactical units have circled the world on sensitive clandestine missions. They have operated behind enemy lines gathering vital intelligence. They have combated terrorists and overthrown dangerous dictators. They have suffered many times the casualty rate of America's conventional forces. But they have gotten the job done-most recently in stunning victories in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, which Carney calls "America's first special-operations war." Now, for the first time, Colonel Carney lifts the veil of secrecy and reveals what really goes on inside the special-operations forces that are at the forefront of contemporary warfare.
Part memoir, part military history, No Room for Error reveals how Carney, after a decade of military service, was handpicked to organize a small, under-funded, classified ad hoc unit known as Brand X, which even his boss knew very little about. Here Carney recounts the challenging missions: the secret reconnaissance in the desert of north-central Iran during the hostage crisis; the simple rescue operation in Grenada that turned into a prolonged bloody struggle. With Operation Just Cause in Panama, the Special Tactical units scored a major success, as they took down the corrupt regime of General Noriega with lightning speed. Desert Storm was another triumph, with Carney's team carrying out vital search-and-rescue missions as well as helping to hunt down mobile Scud missiles deep inside Iraq.
Now with the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, special operations have come into their own, and Carney includes a chapter detailing exactly how the Air Force Special Tactics d.c. units have spearheaded the successful campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Gripping in its battle scenes, eye-opening in its revelations, No Room for Error is the first insider's account of how special operations are changing the way modern wars are fought. Col. John T. Carney is an airman America can be proud of, and he has written an absolutely superb book.
Colonel John T. Carney Jr. is the first commanding officer of the U.S. "special tactics" units. Ably assisted by West Point graduate and veteran Ranger Schemmer, he has written a timely book that's part memoir and part history. Carney was an air force officer whose career was going slowly until he was assigned to Combat Control School. A descendant of the WWII pathfinders the men who jumped first and marked the way for paratroopers the combat controllers were an overlooked bunch in the air force. Stationed on a base in Texas, the hardworking Carney turned his lackluster command into a top-flight outfit that soon got noticed. Nicknamed "Brand X," Carney managed to get his command attached to the new Delta Force only after a lot of infighting among the services. After even more rigorous training, the combat controllers were an integral part of the failed rescue attempt of the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980. Carney pulls no punches in strongly criticizing official stories of the success of Operation Urgent Fury, which liberated Grenada. By 1989, when American forces overthrew Manuel Noriega in Panama, the special forces had learned even more from their operations and acted more in unison, even though some army units still didn't want any of Carney's men attached to their units. (Carney is quick to point out how these units foundered when his men were kept out of action.) Carney's men were used to locate Iraqi Scuds during the Gulf War with varying success; operations in Somalia and Haiti, among others, reinforced the need for special operations units such as those Carney describes. His dramatic tales place special operations history in perspective, particularly as the war in Afghanistan has been led by special forces units. Of America's 277 combat deaths in six major operations since 1980, 36% were special forces.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 29, 2003
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Excerpt from No Room for Error by John T. Carney
The first war of the twenty-first century quickly became America's first special operations war. President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism," triggered by the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, began on October 7 when Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced the first U.S. air strikes against forces of the repressive Taliban regime and al-Qaeda terrorists in northern Afghanistan as part of Operation "Enduring Freedom." Within a few weeks they would announce the first two raids by American Rangers and other special operations forces in Afghanistan and acknowledge that small, clandestine teams of American special forces and special tactics units had begun operating directly with Afghan anti-Taliban tribesmen.
Air Force special tactics, Army special forces teams, and Army Rangers, Rumsfeld said, were targeting Taliban forces for long-range U.S. air strikes supporting Northern Alliance troops, gathering on-the-spot intelligence, and conducting unconventional hit-and-run raids on key targets. Soon after the Army-Air Force teams had infiltrated Afghanistan, Navy SEAL units also began operating there.
A brave young Afghan described the role that these special operators played in that war during a fierce firefight in eastern
Afghanistan in January 2002, when an American special forces and special tactics team leading anti-Taliban forces came under such withering fire that his comrades fled the battleground. Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters had depressed their antiaircraft guns on the hills and mountains surrounding the U.S.-led troops and were inflicting gruesome losses. But this particular Afghan stayed as the Americans held their ground and Sergeant William "Calvin" Markham, a special tactics combat controller, radioed for close air support strikes to suppress and destroy the enemy weapons. In the midst of this raging and bloody battle, the Afghan flung himself to the ground directly in front of the American sergeant to protect him from incoming rounds. Markham yelled at him, "What are you doing?" The Afghan replied calmly, "Sir, if they kill me, I'll be replaced. But if they kill you, the airplanes will go away."1
Except for such air strikes, however-blurred images of which appeared almost nightly on TV news for weeks after the president's and Rumsfeld's October announcements-little progress seemed evident in the war in its early days.
As American special operations troops in the country increased from "a few" to "less than a hundred" (actually, fewer than fifty by November 4) to "several hundred" (actually, fewer than three hundred of them), TV pundits and op-ed columnists complained that President Bush's war on terrorism had bogged down into a stalemate or "quagmire." TV screens were filled with images of precision-guided bombs-dropped from long-range B-2 bombers flying two-day, round-trip missions from the United States and B-1 and B-52 bombers flying twelve to fifteen hours and some 5,500 miles from and back to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean2-exploding on fuzzily pictured mud huts or barren, rugged terrain, but there was little sign and no word of progress against the Taliban. What would come to be known as "America's first special operations war" seemed to be off to an inauspicious start.
The Washington Post, for instance, headlined on November 2,
Big Ground Forces Seen as Necessary to Defeat Taliban; Bombing Has Left Militia Largely Intact
and reported, "The attacks have not eliminated any measurable number of Taliban troops. Northern Alliance forces have made no important gains against the Taliban . . . a major chunk of the 50,000 Taliban army and much of its arsenal are pretty much intact after three weeks of bombing."3
Dr. Andrew Bacevich, a West Point graduate and former armor officer who became director of Boston University's Center for International Relations, noted that ". . . the war's first weeks offer little cause for comfort" and complained about "inflated expectations about the efficacy of air power."4 By the time Bacevich's article appeared in print, however, half of Afghanistan had fallen to the U.S.-led anti-Taliban forces, and it was clear that a new type of war was being fought.