Grey Wars

A Contemporary History of U.S. Special Operations

N. W. Collins

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An analysis of U.S. Special Operations, at the center of America’s twenty-first-century wars

This original and accessible book is a comprehensive, authoritative analysis of U.S. Special Operations. U.S. Special Operations Command trains and equips units to undertake select military activities, frequently high-risk missions, often for the purposes of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. Since 9/11, impelled by an attack on U.S. soil, these forces have been a central instrument of America’s military campaign—operating in about one hundred countries on any given day. This fight—neither hot war nor cold peace—was launched and executed as a new type of global war in 2001 and has since splintered into a spectrum of regional conflicts. The result is our nation’s grey wars: hazy and lethal. This contemporary history, incorporating extensive interviews and archival research by security studies expert N. W. Collins, delves deeply into the transformation of these forces since 9/11.

N. W. Collins is a senior fellow of the Modern War Institute at West Point. Collins is the chair of the Defense and Security Seminar at Columbia University. Collins has received fellowships and grants from, among others, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, the Rockefeller Foundation, Yale University, and the Wilson Center.

“U.S. Special Operations Forces are often the subject of films, books, and articles. But they are seldom understood. N.W. Collins brings a deep understanding to her extensively researched history of the operators from the catastrophe of Desert One in 1980 to more successful recent operations against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Her history is accurate, engaging—and indispensable.”—Max Boot, author of Invisible Armies: A History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present Day

Grey Wars provides a gripping account of how U.S. Special Operations Forces carry out their tasks and deal with the daunting stresses and dangers. Collins combines important insights with vivid portrayals to yield what is not only a most informative history, but also a great read.”—Robert Jervis, author of American Foreign Policy in a New Era

“Somewhere between Lawrence of Arabia, Iran, and Somalia, the Bin Laden mission and ISIS, special operations exist. They are an important tool in America’s arsenal, defending, protecting, and keeping the peace. Thoughtful warriors who are expeditionary, unconventional, self-sufficient, mobile, flexible, and highly-trained. N. W. Collins does a wonderful job of telling the special operators’ story. A must read for any student of these forces.”— Letitia A. Long, Fifth Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

“Going beyond the myths surrounding our special forces, Collins skillfully captures their culture and roles in this clear-eyed, relevant work. Grey Wars is a unique addition to understanding Americas security in the dynamic, post 9-11 world and, notably, those volunteer warriors giving 100 percent to our defense.”—General (ret.) Jim Mattis, U.S. Marines, the 26th Secretary of Defense

“Fascinating and deeply-researched, covering the defining moments in modern special operations; Grey Wars is a must-read for anyone interested in the post 9/11 world.”—Admiral William H. McRaven, USN (ret.), Ninth Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command

“Special operations have dominated U.S. military action more than ever in history after 9/11 but remain vague and mysterious to most Americans. Grey Wars, a riveting book by Collins, based on research among the practitioners, unveils much about what they do in a remarkably readable way.”—Richard K. Betts, author of American Force and Enemies of Intelligence 

“An honest, fascinating look at forces that are so often written about and portrayed in films—yet as just as often misunderstood. Nancy Collins brings into focus the professionals who are already shaping future battlefields upon which they may well be called to fight.”—Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Army (ret.), Tenth Commander of Joint Special Operations Command

“This highly readable book captures how special operations became a key element in American foreign policy and a force multiplier for American diplomacy. Collins demonstrates how the flexibility and creativity of our special operators have enabled them to combat the increasingly sophisticated grey area attacks of our adversaries.”—Anne W. Patterson, former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, and Pakistan

“Grey Wars is for anyone who wants to understand today’s fights. Collins has done a great service by providing a well-sourced, clear, and insightful look into the missions and activities of U.S. special operators. Highly recommend.”—Mike Thornton, USN Seal (ret.), Congressional Medal of Honor, and co-author, By Honor Bound

“An extraordinary look into the forces who carried one of the heaviest loads in our post 9-11 conflicts. N. W. Collins not only highly captures their past contributions but helps us understand why the culture and skills they possess will be essential going forward. Great reading for everyone who strives to understand unconventional security challenges.”—General (ret.) Joseph L. Votel, Former Commander of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command

ISBN: 9780300198416
Publication Date: June 29, 2021
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
8 b/w illus.