Peter Nealan’s ‘Task Force Desperate’: a Great Read

EDIT: I’m going to repost a couple of articles that went live during the great no-commenting debacle of 2012. This was originally published in early January. Please give it a read if you haven’t had the chance – it had over 500 likes the first time around, but no one could discuss it. I’d like to fix that, mostly because I enjoyed the hell out of the book. DR


I came off the porch, one hand going for my gun while I pressed the push-to-talk with the other. “Wildfire, wildfire,” I sent, as my Springfield cleared holster and shirt. My off hand met the grip on the way up and out, and the tritium sights settled on the squatting man pulling and AKS out of the straw. My finger was already taking up the slack on the trigger as the gun came to full extension, and i fired,the .45 roaring in the evening quiet. The first round took him high in the chest, the second in the throat, and he crumpled back against the fence, his hand held uselessly to his throat to try to stem the spray of arterial blood. from Task Force Desperate

From a souk in Djibouti City down the Avenue Gamal Abdel Nasser to a vessel called the Frontier Rose off the coast of Socotra to the Al Hisrah power plant in Yemen, Task Force Desperate is the aptly named story of a group of operators from the PMSC company Praetorian Security in and around the Gulf of Aden the the Horn of Africa. What starts as a mission to scout a rescue of US military personnel (TF Horn of Africa) by JSOC assaulters turns into a mission to actually perform the mission, then goes very, very sideways.

Task Force Desperate is the debut novel of writer Peter Nealan, whom you may recall reading on here before. Nealan is a former Reconnaissance Marine who left the Marine Corps last year. Beginning his service with the Reserves, he quickly went active duty, then to Bravo 1/3 Recon BN. He wound up with Delta Company 1 Recon BN in 2008 before it changed to Force Company I MEF, spending the rest of his service there.

Nealan didn’t start writing the book until 2011 during a training period at 29 Palms, but the idea started in 2007 when he was in Iraq. It is, as you might expect, influenced by his experiences in combat overseas.

The book takes place in the ‘near future’, at a time when the United States (and other countries) are in a state of decline after the “Greater Depression”. The ability of the United States to project power is badly degraded. Helos from a MEU can’t fly due to a lack of spare parts, vehicles aren’t committed because of a lack of fuel…the United States military is “as bad off as the Russian Army in the 90s…” Back home half of Arizona is now under the effective control of the Cartels, with Phoenix in the center of a shrinking American-controlled area and a demarcation line in place south of Sedona. Other places are having similar issues, like the French Republic, which is Other places in the world aren’t any better. France is “….overrun with Arabs and Algerians…Entire tracts of Paris are off-limits to infidels…”

This is not a post-apocalyptic novel, nor is the technology and weaponry anything you won’t recognize, but the world is definitely in a darker place. That may be one of the reasons the political background of the book strikes such a nerve, particularly with the current political and economic situation at home and abroad. Is it speculation or augury? Nealan explains,

“There were a lot of novels out there about catastrophic, near-future war, but they were all political thrillers…what was happening in the White House…I wanted to see what was happening from a Grunt’s Eye view, so I developed my own near future view of events….”

Sometimes things get a little complicated, with players involved from the African Union, Lashkar al-Barbar, al-Shabaab, AMISOM, the NFPS, Hizb-ut-Islam, Socotran pirates, Somali pirates, the political ramifications of the Jubaland Initiative and Kalifah Alliance, Buur Hakaba,  connections with the Egyptian Mukharabat, the declaration of an Islamic Emirate of Somalia, Kenyans, Ethiopians, the Central Intelligence Agency, hell the 13TH Demi Brigade of the French Foreign Legion has a presence.

Peter Nealan’s debut novel, TASK FORCE DESPERATE

The political and religious situation providing the backdrop is hauntingly realistic, and the tactical scenes (particularly the fights) are both well described and visceral. This isn’t terribly surprising, given the author’s background and experience, but I’m happy to report it never goes to far into “inside baseball”. As far as the politics go, the savvy reader will note the parallels between events in TF Desperate and how Mogadishu in ’93 helped lead to the events of 9/11.

The realism of the novel, which took  about a year to write, really is impressive.  Much if it is so well written you have to wonder…are there really that many crocs in the Juba river, does it actually make a hard turn two months north of Baardheere and if so, is it really that had to get a HiLux across?

I asked Nealan about the writing process, and his emphasis on reality occasionally worried him.

“Some of it was, there’s so little information coming out of that part of the world because it’s so incredibly fucked up…I had to keep telling myself it’s fiction, it’s okay if it’s not entirely accurate…I had to basically say it’s good enough, drive on.”

In addition to some other SOF personnel who looked the book over for a sanity to check to make sure the protagonists weren’t doing anything intolerably tactically stupid and to correct some continuity issues (one character had an HK416 then a different weapon entirely 50 pages later), Nealan spent a lot time discussing the region with friends whose various SOF-related backgrounds and experience helped to provide context and atmospherics. This sort of subject matter expertise helped with the flavor and verisimilitude of the novel.

The characters are well trained and ruthlessly pragmatic while remaining ‘good guys’. They’re accurately clannish, tactically proficient if on occasion the camamaraderie becomes just a little stilted it’s by no means enough to impact the quality of the read. Most of the characters are at least partly based on real operators from the author’s life, which made it more than a little difficult to write the scenes where they were wounded or killed. Our hero himself, Jeff Stone, (the book is relayed from the first person) is a former Marine 0317 whose last tour was in the Philippines before he left the military and helped found Praetorian Security. Though there are obvious parallels to Nealan himself, he made it a point to say that the chaos in TFD is by no means representative of what he did overseas, and makes no representation that it was autobiographical (his deployments included Iraq and Afghanistan).

There are four more books planned in the series, plus some spin-offs (“Things are going to get worse,” he says, “I know where the series is going.”) but he’s still looking for some solid civilian work that pays better and more consistently than writing. The first draft of Book Two is about a third completed, with some 52,000 words complete, and will include some survivors of Book One plus some new faces.

Nealan’s blog (also well worth reading) is at TF Desperate is on Facebook at and of course you can get a copy (hard copy or Kindle) on, at


“For all we get characterized as soulless mercenaries, getting our kicks and hefty paychecks off of human misery, we really were still the same guys we’d been when we were in uniform. We couldn’t walk away from this. It wasn’t about the pay anymore. We’d find a way.

We’d find a way.”

About the Author

Kilgore & Call
Richard Kilgore and Jake Call have been writing on and off for for many years now. You can reach them at or follow them on Instagram at @breachbangclear or Tumblr at
  • Atlatl

    I’m going to read this book, but correct me if I’m wrong, Marine Scout Snipers, RECON, and Force RECON are not in USSOCOM and therefore not technically SOF personnel.

  • jim

    I had the misfortune to get this book on Kindle, damn thing kept me up all night and I missed out on my much needed beauty sleep.

    I read it in one sitting and I’ve not done that with a book for a while, now hurry up and write another one!

  • Brandon

    ATLatl, You are fairly correct in your observation but it is confusing. Scout Snipers are just that. They are qualified as scouts and snipers which is no different that an Army infantry soldier that is Sniper. Being a sniper doesn’t make you SOF. Recon has the ability to conduct special operations but not on the scale that you see SEALs, SF and the like doing. They primarily do recon work similar recon units in the Army. Force Recon on the other hand actually has more direct action roles and capability to conduct special operations as we would have traditionally considered them. The big thing to remember is that they do not answer to SOCOM and therefor wont receive missions from the very top of the food chain unless they are the closest unit and the mission needs to be done before SOCOM units (JSOC in particular) can get there. Given the alert status of JSOC units, SF CIF companies as well as units within the 75th this is rare. Another way to look at it is SF CIF companies are to theater commands like CENTCOM as Force is the Commander of a Marine Expeditionary Forces. A lot of insertion and extraction capabilities, SERE qualified, very fit and highly trained dudes. MARSOC on the other hand receives SOCOM money and now makes Force Recon appear to be less “special operations capable”. I honestly feel that the Marines should do one or the other. Either devote all resources except for regular recon to SOCOM or don’t be another redundant unit in SOCOM simply for the money stick to the their traditional recon set ups.