AÂ TimesÂ Political Book of the Year 2022
A powerful and revelatory eyewitness account of the American collapse in Afghanistan, its desperate endgame, and the warâ€™s echoing legacy.
Elliot Ackerman left the American military ten years ago, but his time in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marines and, later, as a CIA paramilitary officer marked him indelibly. When the Taliban began to close in on Kabul in August of 2021 and the Afghan regime began its death spiral, he found himself pulled back into the conflict. The official evacuation process was a bureaucratic failure that led to a humanitarian catastrophe. Ackerman was drawn into an impromptu effort to arrange flights and negotiate with both Taliban and American forces to secure the safe evacuation of hundreds. These were desperate measures taken during a desperate end to Americaâ€™s longest war, but the success they achieved afforded a degree of redemption: and, for Ackerman, a chance to reconcile his past with his present.
The Fifth ActÂ is an astonishing human document that brings the weight of twenty years of war to bear on a single week at its bitter end. Using the dramatic rescue efforts in Kabul as his lattice, Ackerman weaves in a personal history of the war's long progress, beginning with the initial invasion in the months after 9/11.
It is a play in five acts with a tragic denouement. Any reader who wants to understand what went wrong with the warâ€™s trajectory will find a trenchant accounting here. And yetÂ The Fifth ActÂ is not an exercise in finger-pointing: it brings readers into close contact with a remarkable group of characters, who fought the war with courage and dedication, in good faith and at great personal cost. Understanding combatantsâ€™ experiences and sacrifices demands reservoirs of wisdom and the gifts of an extraordinary storyteller. In Elliot Ackerman, this story has found that author.The Fifth ActÂ is a first draft of history that feels like a timeless classic.