I was rummaging through some boxes of books that I keep in our garage when I came across a tattered, dog-eared book that caught my attention. On the cover was a hand-drawn rendition of what is obviously an insurgent/terrorist attack on what appears to be a U.S. base/outpost somewhere in the Middle East (all of this judging by the sand-colored terrain and mountains in the distance, the RPGs and AKs carried by the attackers, the U.S. flag flying over the base, and the familiar Hezbollah flag—the green logo of the Shi’a political/military organization upon a yellow background with text above and below the logo in green).
I thumbed through H. John Poole’s “Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods,” noting the highlighted passages and notes scribbled along the margins. I started reading just to re-familiarize myself with it, then next thing you know, I had re-read the entire book. After asking some of the other SOFREP writers their opinion on the book, I think Peter Nealen summed it up best when he said, “Most of it should be required reading for any infantryman/NCO.”
According to Wikipedia, H. John Poole is a military author and Marine Corps Vietnam combat veteran. His books focus on the role, training, and skills of the individual infantry soldier and Marine, and on those of the combat NCOs (non-commissioned officers). Additionally, Poole has written on terrorist and insurgent tactics, as well as the counter-insurgency tactics he believes are necessary to defeat them. His first book, “The Last Hundred Yards,” was and still is a bestseller, addressing small-unit infantry tactics, and was widely read by Marine Corps NCOs when it was first published. Two of his other works were also well received, with “Terrorist Trail” arguing that the 4th generation warfare (4GW) of today, blurring the traditional lines between combatants and civilians, war and politics, calls for a similar response from the United States. In “Tequila Junction,” Poole makes the argument that the United States no longer wields a true light infantry force. And in every case, he backs his assertions with excellent examples and sourcing.
“Tactics of the Crescent Moon” was written in 2004, not long after the invasion of Iraq. In a nutshell, Poole believes and argues, “To restore order to Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers and Marines must project less force.” Poole continues, arguing that the United States and many of her allies are fighting a reactive war against Islamist extremists, choosing to ignore what he describes as “wisdom of culture.” He begins with a brief history of Islam and warfare, of the fledgling Ismaili sect and its tradition of secrecy and conspiratorial revolution, and of Hasan bin Sabbah and the adaptation of guerrilla warfare by the fidai (faithful) warrior units. Finally, he touches on the infamous Hasisins, drugged into believing that paradise awaited them if they followed the prophet’s will, and used for assassination missions.
The chapters of the book range from the history of unconventional warfare (Gallipoli of WWI, the Iran-Iraq War, Israel in Lebanon) to the tactics of Islamist guerrillas (Palestinian, Chechen, anti-Soviet and modern Afghan, and Iraq today) and finally how Poole believes that the U.S. can be victorious (using unconventional, 4GW tactics) and still bring peace to the region. I was particularly interested in chapter nine, which deals specifically with how Islamist guerrillas are trained, beginning with how the Qur’an instructs them to fight, then goes on to break down individual groups such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (Sepah) and the Basij, Hezbollah, the Afghan Mujahideen, and finally al-Qaeda (ISIS was but a glimmer in their daddy’s eyes then).
Overall, I enjoyed the book the second time around as much as I did the first time, especially because I have the advantage of 12 years of hindsight since the invasion and aftermath. Obviously, a multitude of changes have occurred, from the death of Osama bin Laden, to the “fading” of al-Qaeda to the background (or did it?), to the rise of ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, whatever) but the foundations of the book remain the same. The book is full of detailed illustrations and maps that flow nicely with the chapters, and the book lends itself as an integral piece in the puzzle of Poole’s other works. As Peter Nealen’s quotation suggested in the beginning of this review, this book should be (and in some places is) required reading, especially for today’s infantry non-commissioned officer, staff non-commissioned officer, and infantry officer. It’s pretty obvious that the lessons still apply.