When the Royal Marines Commandos returned to a chaotic Helmand in the winter of 2008, they realised that to stand any chance of success they would need to pursue an increasingly determined Taliban harder than ever before. This time they were going to hunt them down from the air. With the support of Chinooks, Apaches, Lynx, Sea Kings and Harriers, the Commandos became a deadly mobile unit, able to swoop at a moments notice into the most hostile territory. From huge operations like the gruelling Red Dagger, when 3 Commando Brigade fought in Somme-like mud to successfully clear the area around the capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gar, of encroaching enemy forces, to the daily acts of unsupported close-quarters 360-degree combat and the breath-taking, rapid helicopter night assaults behind enemy lines - this was kind of battle that brought Commando qualities to the fore. As with the "Sunday Times" bestselling "3 Commando Brigade", ex-Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Southby-Tailyour brings unparalleled access to the troops, a soldier's understanding of the conflict and a visceral sense of the combat experience.This is the real war in Helmand as told to him by a hand-picked band of young fellow marines as they encounter the daily rigours of life on the ground in the world's most intense war zone.
The book opens with a dedication to those who lost their lives during Operation Herrick 9. A depressingly long list, and one that just covers this particular operation. It is a sad thought that the lists of the dead and injured from previous and subsequent forays would fill a good-sized book in themselves.
However, the account by the author of the time spent in Afghanistan by 3 Commando Brigade is a compelling and comprehensive read. The manner of writing and the “voice” adopted by the narrator drags the reader along at a fair clip, but there are breaks for catching one’s breath.
The content is by necessity mixed, with individual accounts, quotes and comments by the bootneck on the ground and with insight and anxiety in the ops tents.
The period covered, in the main, is the months between September 2008 and April 2009, the mission statement is laid out and the hopes and ambitions of the Brigade, the staff and the soldiers are all clearly identified. Right up to the point that –as we all know – everything goes wrong. It was fascinating to see the larger picture, from the point of the staff, as well as individual and small-unit snapshots and to realise that marines are very much the same as real soldiers, apart from their strange usage of language and inability to recognise that a land-based training establishment, on soil and earth is not a ship!
The courage and determination of these people is not and cannot ever be in doubt. They react in the same way that all squaddies to adversity; grumble, complain and show tremendous courage in frightening situations.
I enjoyed the book, although I have to be honest and admit that at times I found it a little slow. There is, again by necessity, a fair amount of time spent in ops tents planning the operations, and in follow up meetings to analyse how things went. It’s probably because I have a short attention span and much prefer to get onto the hardware and the action, but it was extremely illuminating to be admitted to the thoughts and actions of the planners as well as the implementation of these plans and the actions of those taking part.
The author has produced a comprehensive and very readable book, an account of a turbulent time in a turbulent place, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone with even the slightest interest in what is happening in Afghanistan. A definate four stars from me on this one and a worthy follow up to the previous novel by the same author.
3 Commando: Helmand Assault by Ewen Southby-Tailyour