Most of the time, war is complicated — but sometimes, it is not. On the morning of October 3, 2009, the situation for 53 American soldiers could not be simpler, or more dire. Combat Outpost Keating, in the largely forsaken mountains of eastern Afghanistan, was being overrun by perhaps 400 Taliban who poured down into the valley where the base had inexplicably been placed by U.S. Army commanders.
The attack took place on the day after the birth of Tapper's first son (the reporter was not present for the battle). That began a quest for Tapper, who was then ABC's senior White House correspondent, to understand what happened: why CO Keating was placed in a deep valley where it seemed to have no strategic value, who the eight Americans killed that day were — and what their mission had been only 14 miles from the border with Pakistan.
The result was The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, perhaps the finest book we have thus far about the conflict in Afghanistan. But the publication of the book does not mean that Tapper's quest to understand the plight of CO Keating is over; tonight, CNN presents "An Unlikely Hero," which airs tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern time. It is the story of Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, who stands to receive the Medal of Honor from President Obama on Monday. (Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha earned the same for his defense of CO Keating in February.)
In an intriguing aside, Carter is a testament to the power of second chances; he'd already been discharged from the Marines (honorably) when he joined the Army, having found little purpose back in the world.
You can also read an excerpt from The Outpost on Carter here; the official Army narrative is here. While it is not clear how much Tapper's reporting contributed to Carter's and Romesha's awards, it is indisputable that his book has attracted the attention of both military brass and the politicians whom Tapper has made a career of covering.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have allowed reporters like Tapper to remove themselves from the trivial intrigues of Washington and report on far more trenchant topics. And he is one of several who have written exemplary works about the conflict; David Finkel's The Good Soldiers, about the fraught mission in Iraq, was hailed by The New York Times for "[bringing] the art of storytelling back to the drama of war" (a portion of that excellent book can be read here). Tapper does much the same for a neglected nook of Afghanistan where people nonetheless risked their lives. Why? We still don't really know.