The Last Platoon: A Novel of the Afghanistan War
“Bing West has written a novel that really captures the complexities of the Afghan War in a highly engrossing page-turner.”
What’s it like to go into combat in a war that has been largely forgotten, has no strategy, and where you can’t be sure who the enemy is? Author and historian Bing West explores all these questions in this new novel, no doubt inspired by his numerous histories of America’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The narrative spans a week of action for a Marine platoon providing security for an artillery firebase in the contested Helmand Province of Afghanistan. West packs plenty of plot twists into the storyline as a CIA covert operations team shows up to complicate their mission with a manhunt for an Iranian operative and the Marines find themselves in the middle of the annual opium harvest that funds the Taliban and other nefarious groups in the region.
Anyone who’s served in the military will recognize the basic cast of characters: the battle-weary company commander torn between duty and his family; the surly sergeant trying to assert his authority; the careerist colonel trying to get promoted to general no matter what the cost; and the CIA operatives serving with the Marines but keeping their own agenda. However, Mr. West manages to make them more than just cardboard characters and as the reader becomes more familiar and opinionated about these characters, the story continues to build to the inevitable final battle over the firebase.
The author’s experience as a historian also comes through with his subtle but highly accurate description of the atmospherics of the Afghan conflict, with its shifting allegiances, corruption of Afghan soldiers and government officials, and the weariness of Afghan farmers and townspeople caught between the warring sides. The book really centers on the Afghan opium trade, a central feature of the U.S. war effort for nearly a decade.
When the story reaches its climax, the reader will no doubt rapidly turn the page, vividly imagining the shock, uncertainty, and fear of close quarters combat where split-second decisions can mean the difference between life and death. This is the narrative where Mr. West’s own combat service really pours onto the page and draws the reader into the scene of action.
Of course, politics and war are inseparable and are also incorporated into the story, showing how decisions thousands of miles away from a battlefield can have severe ramifications for the troops on the ground. America’s 30 years of Middle East wars have produced many great histories, but few really outstanding novels. Bing West has written a novel that really captures the complexities of the Afghan War in a highly engrossing page-turner.