The author of this book commanded a company in the Rifles in Sangin, northern Helmand Province, at the time one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan. Their task was to try and win control of an outlying part of Sangin from the Taliban, to provide some protection for the centre of the town.
We start before the deployment with a very impressive speech given by the author to the men of his company. Next comes an interesting account of the unit's training in the UK, including exercises in a model Afghan village, and the inevitable muddle. We then follow the hand-over in Helamdn which went fairly smoothly despite an IED hit. It quickly became very clear that the unit had a very difficult task and they were virtually under siege in their base. All movement was difficult, and one gets the impression that there were never really enough boots on the ground.
Although the British losses during this period weren't high by the standards of earlier wars, each one is covered in some detail here, so we feel them more keenly. One particularly tragic incident was a case of friendly fire, which we are taken through step-by-step here, demonstrating why that sort of incident can happen without it really being anyone’s fault.
The author offers several well supported criticisms of the British military and the overall strategy in Afghanistan. His main target is British procurement planning, which sometimes provides the right equipment, but often not enough of it, while the newest equipment was often only available in theatre, so it wasn't possible to train with it. Some of his other comments are very familiar from other periods – units training together but then serving apart (as happened fairly often in Normandy in 1944), an apparently random allocation of units, with companies from one battalion ended up under the command of another (his company from 4 Rifles ended up under the control of 3 Rifles in the field) or senior officers with little understanding of the nature of the current conflict.
His main criticism of the overall strategy is inconsistency – each time a new unit arrived in an area the plan changed, making it hard for any plan to succeed, and the change from UK to US control comes across as particularity ill judged. Sadly his pessimistic predictions of what would probably happen next have since come true. What makes this extra frustrating is that it is clear that the work being done by the author's unit was actually working, and the Taliban were slowly losing their grip on the Sangin area.
This is a very valuable account of this most recent of conflicts, and rather more thoughtful than many books written this soon after the events it covers.
1 - Salaam Alaikum
2 - Training: Darwin's Theory will apply
3 - Training Part 2
4 - Leave, Leaving, Left
5 - Heeellloooo Hellllmand
6 - How on earth did I end up here, and what the hell am I going to do about it?
7 - Buckle Up
8 - Reality Bites
9 - Afghans
10 - The Road into Hel(mand)
11 - Hellfire and Ressurection
12 - Afghans on the March
13 - Return to Hell
14 - Honourable Warriors
15 - Coming Home
Author: Richard Streatfield
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military