Midnight in Some Burning Town –a Review

I actually enjoyed reading this book, even though it wasn’t the book that I thought I was buying. I had ordered it expecting that it would tell me about the various special forces missions that UK forces had been up to between the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and when it was published (in 2004).

It sort of covered that, but there was no real detail to much of the early stuff, for example the Sierra Leone mission is dealt with in a couple of pages. I’ve seen some other (much more detailed) accounts of the events (from the point of view of the Paras and the kidnapped Major).

However, where it does come into its own is when it explains the issues around Kosovo and Macedonia. The author obviously had a strong interest in this period (possibly based on working there as a journalist) and had clearly spoken to several involved parties (or done some very good research). The writing style is very easy to read, clearly articulates the issues and the motivations of the various parties and also explains the background to the situations very well. You get a lot of the flavour of the conflict and the terror of villagers in the Balkans from the book. It also explains some of the behind the scenes bits that the NATO forces were involved in (not just SF types, others as well). In fact if the book had been billed as an in-depth look at Kosovo and Macedonian conflict in 1999-2004 then it would perhaps have been more honest (although perhaps with fewer sales).

There is a reasonable treatment of the early Afghanistan operations, although there wasn’t apparently much going on there from a British point of view up to 2004 (we got heavily involved in 2006, two years after the book was first published). It also covers the effect on the SAS of the expansion in operations since 9/11 and also the Iraq war (which is part of the proof that the author has spoken to some of the SF community or those closely connected to it as he knew in 2004 of the impending manpower crisis that the explosion in PMC work in Iraq caused).

One of the more interesting bits is a speculative section near the end on what an operation to capture Radovan Karadzic might look like and who it might involve. This was the sort of thing that you might expect from a book about special forces missions (albeit non-speculative narratives of actual missions based on interviews with those involved).

Overall, if you are interested in the Balkans conflicts this is well worth reading, although perhaps shorter on that than a dedicated book might be.

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