• First Casualty

  • The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11
  • By: Toby Harnden
  • Narrated by: Dan Woren
  • Length: 14 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Military
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (260 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

"Harnden skillfully interweaves dramatic action sequences with the backstories of the book’s central figures, and briskly highlights the failures of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Readers will be swept up in this little-known chapter of America’s 'forever war.'" (Publishers Weekly)

This dramatic true story reveals the secret mission of the eight members of the CIA’s Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11.

America is reeling; Al-Qaeda has struck, and thousands are dead. The country scrambles to respond, but the Pentagon has no plan for Afghanistan - where Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack and is protected by the Taliban. Instead, the CIA steps forward to spearhead the war. Eight CIA officers are dropped into the mountains of Northern Afghanistan on October 17, 2001. They are Team Alpha, an eclectic band of linguists, tribal experts, and elite warriors: the first Americans to operate inside Taliban territory. Their covert mission is to track down Al-Qaeda and stop the terrorists from infiltrating the United States again.

First Casualty places you with Team Alpha as the CIA rides into battle on horseback alongside the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. In Washington, DC, few trust that the CIA men, the Green Berets, and the Americans’ outnumbered Afghan allies can prevail before winter sets in. On the ground, Team Alpha is undeterred. The Taliban is routed but hatches a plot with Al-Qaeda to hit back. Hundreds of suicidal fighters, many hiding weapons, fake a surrender and are transported to Qala-i Jangi - the “Fort of War”.

Team Alpha’s Mike Spann, an ex-Marine, and David Tyson, a polyglot former Central Asian studies academic, seize America’s initial opportunity to extract intelligence from men trained by bin Laden - among them a young Muslim convert from California. The prisoners revolt and one CIA officer falls - the first casualty in America’s longest war, which will last two decades. The other CIA man shoots dead the Al-Qaeda jihadists attacking his comrade. To survive, he must fight his way out against overwhelming odds.

Award-winning author Toby Harnden gained unprecedented access to all living Team Alpha members and every level of the CIA. Superbly researched, First Casualty draws on extensive interviews, secret documents, and deep reporting inside Afghanistan. As gripping as any adventure novel, yet intimate and profoundly moving, it tells how America found a winning strategy only to abandon it. Harnden reveals that the lessons of early victory and the haunting foretelling it contained - unreliable allies, ethnic rivalries, suicide attacks, and errant US bombs - were ignored, tragically fueling a 20-year conflict. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Toby Harnden (P)2021 Little, Brown & Company

Critic Reviews

"Run, don’t walk to pick this up. Toby Harnden has done a masterful job.... What a powerful read." (James Gagliano, former senior FBI officer)

"This is Afghanistan's Black Hawk Down.... Harnden’s account is both well-informed and panoramic." (Daily Telegraph)

"The hard-to-imagine drama, in the hands of another narrator, could easily turn overwrought; in this book, it is not. First Casualty is rife with heroic moments. But it is the variety of the human reactions in those moments, and afterward, that separates this book from others. Fear, combat fatigue, and sadness appear often in the narrative.... This book is compelling, sometimes disturbing, but in a necessary way." (Philip Mudd, former senior CIA officer, The Cipher Brief)

What listeners say about First Casualty

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Deeply researched

This is a riveting account not just of one battle at the beginning of a long engagement in Afghanistan, but how and why the CIA was leading the fight in Afghanistan in the days after September 11. I appreciated the background that the first third of the book afforded.

The Trojan horse revolt of al-Qaeda prisoners that resulted in Mike Spann’s death was a griping account and clearly the author did a lot of research and apparently even interviewed Dostum.

The Audible reader comprehends the topic and I found him to be easy to listen to at fast speeds.

7 people found this helpful

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Arguably the best narrative, a blunt and honest account

I’d say this is a great book or amazing writing. But in all fairness, that’d be an injustice. Having deployed to that region, losing time with family, seeing casualties, absurd waste of American tax payer’s money and experiencing some of the same anger and frustration, this narrative brought back a lot of those same feelings as depicted in the book. This is a direct testament to the excellent writing and research in this book.
In today’s American society, I’d argue there are a lot fewer people like Johnny Michael Spann. If a similar war were to be reignited today, there won’t be as many young people willing to leave their families behind to end up dead in some land far away. Many reasons for such lack of faith are everything this book covers, to include lack of purpose, honesty, and courage displayed by our leaders during America’s conflicts in the past 70 plus years. Popularism politics is the direct cause of decades lost, so many never to come back, all for what purpose? Politicians change their mind on behalf of the American people every four years, the sacrifice of so many becomes nullified as priorities change. One has to ask him/herself did Spann really had to die? What was the purpose for Mike Murphy’s sacrifice? Or thousands others who died, and thousands more who even though survived, came back missing pieces of their soul and bodies. Yet John Walker Lindh and Bowe Bergdahl will get to live out their lives in relative peace. Taliban will have its Afghanistan and so on.

American society is conveniently moving on from those who chose to believe in God and Country. Like Vietnam, Afghanistan is an ugly memory to be locked away in the attic. Something American society doesn’t want to talk about. Well this book breaks that silence, it speaks for those who sacrificed for that same society.

Sadly, the ultimate price is not just paid by those who went “over there” but also by those who are left behind. This book does an incredible job towards speaking for those survivors, people like Shannon and her children, and so many others.

This book is an intimate account of betrayal, gratitude, sadness, courage, and loyalty of so many who volunteered when their nation needed them.

If i ever have a chance to meet Johnny on the other side, I’d have a beer with him. We’d talk about a lot of things, but one thing I’d never bring up would be Qala e jangi. Not because its an ugly experience, but because it doesn’t define Johnny Michael Spann. There would be a lot more interesting and valuable things to chat about.

Though our shameful withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete, the war is far from over. And I hope to God we don’t repeat the same mistakes discussed in this book.

God bless America and God bless Johnny Michael Spanns of our society.

3 people found this helpful

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Great telling of the first contact in Afghanistan

reads like an action thriller, couldn't stop listening to it. had to step back a few times and tell myself this isn't fiction.

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Thank you-A Must Read

Fascinating. I recommend this book to everyone who wishes to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for what people are willing to do for freedom. The intricate and broad interaction between individuals and groups from very different cultures is incredible.

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  • MP
  • 04-23-22

Definitely worth a read.

I’ve read a few books from this era and about this particular conflict and its early days. This book was very well researched followed a chronological order and laid out some interesting previously unknown facts even if they were very raw. The fact that it was centered around a small group of people made it easy to follow and made it feel more personal. I would definitely recommend it as a read.

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what a story! great read

I suggest you read "Nevermind, we'll do it ourselves" and "Roberts Ridge".
They are both directly correlating stories of the same event in different areas and different people in and outside the CIA. It really makes it hit home when you have the story and info of all 3 books.

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great listen

listened to this in one shot on a long drive. great story, well written, and kept me interested all the way through. just a peek of the amazing job done by true patriots to let the rest of us live in freedom and safety. highly recommend.

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Afghanistan

Great story of the early days in OEF. A good read for folks who enjoy current military history.

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Good read on a little known history

Appreciate the focus on how the CIA worked during the initial days of the war. The author did his research and the story is well written.

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Must Read !

The “ tip of the spear” in the American /Afghan conflict, this story and the personnel involved should be on everyone’s LPD reading list on understanding complex environments and thriving in ambiguity. Great read!