Tag Archives: Iraq

Book Review – Zero Six Bravo by Damien Lewis

Zero Six Bravo: 60 Special Forces. 100,000 Enemy. The Explosive True StoryZero Six Bravo: 60 Special Forces. 100,000 Enemy. The Explosive True Story by Damien Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I make a point of reading first hand accounts of special forces operations. I started with world war two tales of the SAS and have worked up to the present time. Since the Bravo Two Zero fiasco I don’t expect much from tales of recent events.

This particular book tells the tale of a Special Boat Service mission in Iraq in 2003. It suffers a bit from excessive hypebole, presumably to garner sales. However it is actually very readable, and although much of the outcome is telepgrahed in advance the way it’s done is through a good hook to keep you reading to find out the detail of how/what happens. Well before all the debates in Parliament in 2003 M Squadron SBS were training up for their mission, changing their role from maritime operations to being vehicle borne. They then went into Iraq just before the air war started in 2003 with an attempt to contact a major Iraqui army formation to persuade it to surrender.

You know when you start to read it that the mission isn’t going to go well. In fact without even knowing anything about it I picked up that it must have gone horribly wrong. However I also knew that it couldn’t have gone that far wrong, because otherwise I probably would have heard about it since I have an interest in current affairs and military operations.

The story follows the perspective of one SBS Sergeant who was the lead navigator for most of the mission. Mainly it focusses on what he sees, and the actions of his three man vehicle crew. On the whole it is an interesting narrative and it gripped me enough to read longer than I normally do.

There’s a clear thread running through it of the forebodings, that may well have been how the central character felt, but are laboured to the extent that it comes across as 20:20 hindsight. There are also some rather strained references to Bravo Two Zero and the similarities with that patrol (both seem to have been compromised because they refused to shoot a child goat herder). That doesn’t really wash with me because the goat incident in Bravo Two Zero wasn’t repeated in the other books about the patrol and The Real “Bravo Two Zero” gives another version of events (apparently two Iraqui veterans of the Iran-Iraq War spotted the patrol, not a child goat herder).

Despite this I still think it’s worth a read, especially if you get it for the knock down price of 99p as I did.

View all my reviews

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Condor Blues – British soldiers at war

A very interesting book about the British Army experience from the point of view of two platoons embedded in training the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC) in the aftermath of the invasion (so the first half of 2004 approximately). Both platoons belonged to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, but one was on secondment from the PWRR.

From the content of the book it is clear that it was not authorised by MOD as it is highly critical in places. Also none of the main players come out of it looking terribly good, you see their flaws and the bad side as well as the bravery and the compassion in places (as well as other emotions at other points). For example,  after a severe contact two of the Iraqi insurgent casualties were found to be carrying ICDC identity cards – which spelt the end of the Argylls trying to teach them military skills.

It is a warts and all portrayal, which makes it all the more convincing. Life in the camp appears to be well described, and feels honest in its descriptions of what the Jocks get up to in combating the boredom they suffered from. I can’t be sure not having been there myself, but having grown up in the same area as some of the Argylls (with references to places I went to as a teenager myself) I can see some of the soldiers I met as a territorial 20 years ago in these men. The perceived authenticity of the camp life makes the stories of the contacts with insurgents more believable.

However although there are proper war stories in here, the book is as much a lament to the lost opportunity to get a peaceful settlement and a sort of disbelief that the British Army apparently abandoned its own doctrine and instead pursued a heavy metal retaliation to incidents, which drove the locals to be insurgents.

Definitely worth reading.


Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Defense of Jisr Al-Doreaa

This is an excellent update of an old classic.

Two books in one, the author’s have brought Swinton’s Duffer’s Drift and re-written it for the modern conflicts (which bear more than a passing resemblance to the Boer War). Swinton’s book is in the second half of the volume.  The basis for Duffer”s Drift (if you aren’t familiar with it already) is that a young officer en route to the Boer War has a series of dreams about his first independent command. In each dream it all goes horribly wrong, but on waking he learns some lessons which he then takes with him into the next dream (without remembering the details of the previous dream). Over the course of six dreams he manages to learn enough lessons for a successful outcome.

The scenario is well set out, with appropriate maps and there is a good logical flow through the dream sequences where the young officer progressively learns from the situation. Although the situations and capabilities are not identical, you can easily compare the Boer War situation to its more modern counterpart about a century later. The lessons are broadly similar, and for those interested in how to train young officers or soldiers then it makes a worthwhile read.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Making A Killing, James Ashcroft

Making a Killing: The Explosive Story of a Hired Gun in Iraq

The author is a former British Infantry officer who subsequently became a private security contractor and worked in Iraq for eighteen months from the end of 2003 to the beginning of 2005. It was co-written with a professional author.


Car bombings are a common form of attack in Ir...
Car bombings are a common form of attack in Iraq during the Coalition occupation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An insider’s account of life as a private security contractor in Iraq. In September 2003 the author arrived in Iraq at the start of an 18-month journey into chaos. In “Making a Killing”, Ashcroft provides a first-hand view of the world of private security where ex-soldiers employed to protect US and British interests can make up to $1000 a day. But he also reveals a new kind of warfare where the rules are still being written. Although hostilities are officially over, the fighting goes on. Scores of US soldiers are dying every day, Coalition Forces are struggling to defend their own bases, let alone bring order and every insurgent killed only recruits a dozen more to fight Western forces.

From the Back Cover

The Lure: $1,000 a day as a hired gun in Iraq

The Reality: For every insurgent killed, a dozen more rise up

In September 2003, James ‘Ash’ Ashcroft, a former British Infantry Captain, arrived in Iraq as a ‘gun for hire’. It was the beginning of an 18-month journey into blood and chaos.

In this action-packed page-turner, Ashcroft reveals the dangers of his adrenalin-fuelled life as a security contractor in Baghdad, where private soldiers outnumber non-US Coalition forces in a war that is slowly being privatised. From blow-by-blow accounts of days under mortar bombardment to revelations about life operating deep within the Iraqi community, Ashcroft shares the real, unsanitised story of the war in Iraq – and its aftermath – direct from the front line.

James Ashcroft is a former British Infantry Captain who served in West Belfast and the former Republic of Yugoslavia. He served as a private security contractor in Iraq from September 2003 until spring 2005.


For me quite close as the author was on the commissioning course I would have been on had I pursued joining the Army and some of the
others I know from the UOTC would have been at Sandhurst with him. Makes it more thought provoking when you know it is a career path that chance turned you away from.

Overall I found it a very readable but there were a few points where I wondered if it was an accurate reflection of what actually happened or the temptation of the publishers to sex up the story to get more sales (as was done with Bravo Two Zero, amongst others). Certainly it isn’t a wholesale celebration of war or of the situation in Iraq, and there has certainly been some thought put into why we were there by the author.

It certainly came across as being written by someone who had been there and who had taken the opportunity to understand what was going on and why it was going on, that in itself is enough to make it worth reading for all those that wonder what is going on. The news doesn’t even come close to giving you the side of the story shown here, and it isn’t entirely positive for those prosecuting the war or attempting to rebuild Iraq or maintaining the peace.

The section towards the end of the book (around pg. 210) where he asks a load of US officers why they are fighting the war is priceless, and
possibly the best discussion of the reasons behind the war and the management of its aftermath. Better to spend time reading this book
than watching the news.

ISBN 0753512343