The Snake Eaters

Title: The Snake Eaters: Counterinsurgency Advisors in Combat
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Authors: Owen West
ISBN13: 9781451655933
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In this riveting narrative, U.S. Marine Major and acclaimed novelist Owen West puts readers into the boots of an isolated band of American advisors and Iraqis fighting together in tumultuous Anbar Province, where the people they are trying to protect and the insurgents who are trying to kill them are indistinguishable.

All roads out of Iraq and Afghanistan lead through the deployment of U.S. advisors, yet Americans have scant understanding of what these men do. President Obama, for example, has several times distinguished between combat troops and advisors, when the exact opposite is true: advisors succeed by setting the example in combat. The Snake Eaters follows one team of underprepared reservists and National Guardsmen who arrived in Iraq unprepared for the reality of the mission, built an Iraqi battalion from the ground up, and plunged into battle side-by-side.

In 1972, Bing West wrote the classic account of military advising in Vietnam: The Village. Forty years later, his son Owen, a third-generation Marine, was deployed as an advisor to Iraqi Battalion 3/3-1, the “Snake Eaters,” who became the first Iraqi soldiers granted independent battle space. With a novelist’s flair and a warrior’s eye for combat detail, West takes readers inside the poisonous city of Khalidya, where violence came often and suddenly in the ongoing quest for intelligence about an enemy that was closely mixed in with the population and no one dared speak the truth.

The young American and Iraqi soldiers on patrol and the local townspeople come alive in The Snake Eaters, revealing war as a series of human acts. From Major Mohammad, the Snake Eater who draws the greatest respect from the Americans precisely because he likes them the least, to the big-hearted Sergeant Blakley, a medic stalked by a sniper sworn to kill him, the people West writes about are as complex as the war that changes them.

Battalion 3/3-1 succeeded in pacifying their territory, making West’s exceptional book as instructive as it is impossible to set down.

Owen West is donating his net proceeds from The Snake Eaters to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and to the families of fallen advisors and fallen Iraqi “Snake Eaters.”


“Every deploying adviser, and every American interested in how we are fighting our wars, should read Owen West’s gripping and important book.”
— Max Boot, Wall Street Journal

“Gripping, disturbing . . . an unholy combination of Black Hawk Down and Catch-22. . . One of the better reflections on the war in Iraq, with enough sense of on-the-ground combat reality to hold disturbing portents for future ‘small wars.'”
— Kirkus

“West makes a convincing case for the importance of military advisers who train indigenous security forces to fight insurgencies.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Outstanding study of the advisers’ role in Iraq.”
— Booklist

“An eminently useful and readable account of an advisory team in Iraq that should make\ us question the conventional wisdom about counterinsurgency, advising, and what works and what does not.”
– Marine Corps Gazette

“West smoothly carries readers into Khalidiya, placing us into the streets, schools, and homes of supporting civilians the 12 were trying to protect.”
– Leatherneck Magazine

“A momentous page-turner about an unlikely group of Army reservists, Iraqi soldiers, and Marines who faced down a reign of terror in an Iraqi city. It will make you swell with pride at plain old American ingenuity and courage. Read it! You will never again hear the words ‘handing it over to the Iraqis’ in the same way.”
 — Karl Marlantes, bestselling author of Matterhorn

“The single most important book to come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. West captures the courage and competence, the brilliance and bumbling, the hopes and horrors, of a generation of warriors: combat advisors. They are our Lawrence of Arabia, our unsung heroes who turned the tide in Iraq and show us the way to success and survival in the generations to come. This should be required reading, inspiring and informing our military, our politicians, and the citizens of our nation as we face the challenges of the 21st Century.”
— Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing and On Combat

“Stunning in its portrayal, this highly personal book conveys a tremendous sense of time and place, set in a wickedly complex war zone that our young men faced in a foreign land, coaching a foreign force, in a type of combat foreign to those who have forgotten that war is ultimately a human endeavor. Vivid and honest, it holds true the real lessons of counter-insurgent war and is essential reading for those who seek to understand what we demand from those we send to fight for us.”
— Four-star General James Mattis, Commander of the U.S. Central Command

“Of all the Iraq books, this stands alone. It’s an action-packed narrative that should be read by everyone, whether it’s military advisors, the generals or politicians who send them to faraway lands and anyone interested in military stories. As a fellow advisor, I stand alongside West and the rest of our tribe and shout that advising is fighting, first and foremost, not training. His account will be timeless.”
— Dakota Meyer, former Marine advisor and 2011 Medal of Honor recipient.

“Owen West has written a brilliant and insightful account of battle in Iraq. The unique and complex experiences he witnessed are recounted in an exciting and moving style that makes The Snake Eaters an exceptional read. This book is chock full of superb lessons learned that make it required reading for all those who truly want to understand the complicated nature of today’s conflicts.”
— General Anthony C. Zinni USMC (Retired)

“Owen West’s The Snake Eaters is a searing combat tale from the darkest days of the Iraq War, but it’s also much more. Combat advisors training indigenous security forces to fight their own wars must have a key role in American defense policy in the 21st century. This book shows how it’s done.”
— Nathaniel Fick, author of One Bullet Away and CEO of the Center for a New American Security