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Posted on Mar 17, 2005 in Books and Movies

Leave No Man Behind – Book Review

By Carl Wells


Leave No Man Behind: Us Special Forces Raids and Rescues from 1945 to the Gulf War
David C. Isby
George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2004

The reader may or may not be familiar with author David C. Isby unless you have been reading military publications or subscribe to a number of the ‘Janes’ web sites or magazines. Back in the early and mid 80’s he began writing for the ‘Janes’ series of intelligence publications, military magazines, and books. He was also the Soviet Affairs editor for Soldier of Fortune magazine, focusing primarily on the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. In that capacity Isby made a number of cross border trips with ‘muj’ fighters into Afghanistan.


Leave No Man Behind is not merely a depiction of most of the US military POW snatches and rescue missions since 1945. Isby also goes into the military and political decision cycle behind each of the raids. This gives an unusual insight into the genesis of the raid at the National Command (NCA) and Theater Level. Often this is a portion of the raid planning sequence that is not readily addressed in books or articles on such operations. This thorough examination of the decision cycle and political climate allows the reader to better understand the historical context in which the operation took place.

While the book delves somewhat into the planning of the raid from an operational context, it also discusses the intelligence support that was, or in some cases was not, available to the raiding forces. While obviously not delving into sources or methods, the book enables the reader to gain insight (often very specific) of the strengths and shortcomings of the intelligence the missions were based on. This is a crucial part of any raid plan and as the book will attest often lead to the success or failure of the operation.

The depiction of the operations as they unfold is not the riveting prose that you might expect in popular magazines, but a more scholarly examination of the operation. Thankfully the book does not read like a military after action report either. This certainly saves the publishers from liability of readers falling asleep and breaking their noses’ on the tabletop or floor.

In discussing the political context of the missions Isby also gives a history of the development of the Special Operations community dating back from the Second World War. This is important as he discusses the hesitancy to use Special Operations Forces through the 70’s to today. I found this to be some of the most interesting parts of the book as Isby discusses the hesitancy of senior US military leadership to conduct operations that NCA were receptive to running. Isby traces this back to the senior leadership of the US military now being predominately Vietnam veterans or those that maintain a distrust of Special Operations Forces.

If you have an interest in contemporary military history and operations I believe you would find the book interesting and thought provoking. It’s a good read.