Unlike many books on the British Forces in Afghanistan, this one is written by the CO of 3 Para on their first tour in Helmand, and it gives a really good account from the CO's perspective. The author, Col. Stuart Tootal, is the first senior British commander to provide an account of the fighting in Afghanistan and personally, I didn't put it down until I'd finished it. It's an erudite, well-written and balanced account by a CO who displayed real leadership and integrity throughout his time as CO and I'd recommend it highly.
Lieutenant Colonel John Stuart Craig Tootal (DSO OBE) had already enjoyed a successful military career when he was awarded command of the British Army's Parachute Regiment 3rd Battalion, or 3 Para as it was more simply known. In April 2006, the 1200 soldiers of 3 Para left England for the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, just across the border with Pakistan. Danger Close is their story. The two best things about the story, in my opinion anyway, are the way Col. Tootal paints a good picture of events on the ground and also exposes the many flaws of the faceless ministers and bureaucrats who are making a sham of fighting the conflict.
Commanding in the field is, Tootal admits, an imprecise science. Critical decisions must often be based on incomplete information and implemented without the luxury of prevarication. New troops coming into the conflict are often young and inexperienced - one group shown in the book had to wait at home after their basic training to turn 18 before they could go to war. The books quite well balanced in that it gives both low level experiences that you would get from an on-the-ground soldier and the higher level picture of trying to do the right thing by your men while dealing with the politics and cost-cutting from above.
Reading the book, you can feel his frustration as political mission creep imposes more and more difficulties on him and his overtasked Battalion. You can feel his pain as his men are killed and wounded as the Battalion becomes embroiled in ceaseless combat with the Taliban. Tootal is scathing about the way the wounded are treated once back in UK. The final chapter covers this in detail: "Fighting the Peace" is the moving story of the return of 3 PARA to the UK, and particularly of the MOD's treatment of the injured (now that the MOD shares existing National Health Service facilities rather than using dedicated military hospitals), and fighting to ensure that soldiers who have been disabled or mutilated in the service of their country aren't just kicked out of the Army. Lastly, although we have been well aware of post-traumatic stress disorder for decades now, the chapter outlines that the facilities and procedures in place for dealing with it are laughable at best.
Tootal displays what's best about the British Army - the dedication and committment of many of the officer corps to the welfare of their men, both before, during and after combat missions. This comes through very strongly in the book, even more so when you learned he resigned from the Army shortly after 3 Para's 1st tour of Helmand, partly in protest at the lack of support for British Soldiers involved in the fighting - lack of equipment and training and the poor support for the wounded being his primary issues. However, this does not appear to have coloured his memoir. Throughout, he writes with nothing but respect for his men and for his superiors in the field.
Read in conjunction with Patrick Bishops 3 Para about the same tour, written by a journalist embedded with 3 Para for the tour.