Wednesday, December 05, 2007

3 Para

There's an interesting book review in this month's newsletter from the Frontline Club. Anthony Loyd, The Times's war correspondent, reviews Patrick Bishop's 3 Para, the story of the six month long Parachute Regiment deployment in Helmand last year. I've been reading 3 Para, and it's a good story, mixing the fruits of extensive interviews with the soldiers involved with a nice analysis of the problems that the battalion and its support units faced. The main of these was overstretch. The book's line is that the Paras coped admirably with the shortage - showing immense grit against the odds. I have no doubt that that is true, though the consequences of the force the soldiers used to protect themselves on the local population goes largely unremarked.

Loyd's take on the book is interesting. Seeing the guiding hand of the Ministry of Defence behind the cooperation of so many soldiers with the book, he points out that Bishop lays much of the blame with Mohammed Daoud, then governor of Helmand province. It was Daoud, according to Bishop, who urged the British to abandon their original inkspot strategy, which would have concentrated limited British resources on creating a safe zone near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, and instead deploy to isolated and vulnerable platoon houses the length of the province. Certainly this marks a departure from the original British view that Daoud was the best man available and the widespread disappointment when he was moved from Helmand by President Karzai a year ago, though the news took some days to get out. Daoud has, incidentally, since publicly criticised the speed of Britain's reconstruction effort in Helmand.

Perhaps the most interesting endnote to the book is the fact that 3 Para's commanding officer, Lt Col Stuart Tootal, recently resigned from the army, apparently in protest at the "shoddy" treatment of his men by the Ministry of Defence.

Before announcing his resignation, Tootal appeared at the Frontline Club, where he was interviewed by Bishop. That evening he stuck carefully to the script. I was sitting in the audience behind a couple of people who had evidently worked for the Department for International Development, whose work in Helmand has been widely criticised. Judging by the snippets of sotto voce whispering I heard, they too are capable of producing an account of Britain's engagement in southern Afghanistan which would differ from the version of events that Bishop was evidently encouraged to produce. A full account of the ongoing Helmand deployment, mixing the soldiers' views with those of other British government officials and the Afghans themselves, has yet to be written. It would make a fascinating and educational read.

No comments: