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Book Review: Zero Six Bravo by Damien Lewis

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It was 10 years ago that the second Gulf War erupted. Much has been written on the subject. Many people claim the issue should have been fixed the first time. The allied forces should have not driven the Iraqis back, but should have moved on to Baghdad and dealt with Saddam Hussein once and for all. 2003 ushered in what would prove to be a decade long war of attrition within the borders of Iraq.

zero6bravocoverZero Six Bravo focuses in on one single mission that occurred at the onset of the 2003 war – a mission that in hindsight was doomed to failure. Send 60 highly trained special forces men from the British elite SBS (Special Boat Service), SAS (Special Air Service) and a sprinkling of American Special forces personnel (branch unnamed, but possible Delta Force) against the 100,000 strong Iraqi 5th corp. It sounds like the plot for a really bad grade B movie, but that is exactly what happened.

It goes without saying, the mission did not go as planned. On the bright side, all 60 men made it out alive. On the downside, the mission became a propaganda tool for Saddam, parading a couple of the Pinkies (British based Army Land Rovers in Desert Camo) through the streets of Baghdad. Even worse was what happened to the very brave 60 men who took on the mission.

War isn’t just about guns, it is about intelligence, and secrecy. The net result was that the British government, and to a certain extent the US government refused to release the actual details of the mission. The press essentially invented their own version of the events, the men were vilified and branded as cowards who had run away from the Iraqis. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Success in war relies on intel. There was a huge breakdown. Even with satellites, Human, and electronic sources, no-one seemed to know where the 5th Corps were hiding out! It is one thing hiding a pack of cigarettes or a six pack of beer from your mother, it is a whole different deal hiding 100,000 troops and heavy armament. This is not something you can put in your backyard and cover with a $20 tarp from Walmart!

The intel said that the Iraqi 5th Corps were disgruntled, they were low on firepower, had not been paid for months, were out of food, and quite honestly, just wanted to quit. All M Squad had to do was drive up and take their surrender. Of course even if they had, what was the next plan? How were 60 men going to deal with 100,000 hungry mouths?

There is little doubt that had the Iraqi 5th Corps surrendered, Northern Iraq would have become a more peaceful place, and maybe have shortened the decade long war.

Reality is that 60 men took on a mission that was impossible, bad intel, and what turned out to be bad air support, put 60 men in a terrible position. The Iraqi 5th Corps were not in surrender mode, and neither were Saddam’s elite Fadyeen militia. It did not take long before the hunters became the hunted. Seriously outgunned, the 60 needed to get out of Dodge.

The Brits had no air assets to help, and the US was unwilling to take an active role, the possibility of friendly fire killing the British forces was too high.

The 60 men had succeeded in traversing 1000km into enemy territory with little more than a handful of Land Rovers and a bunch of Quad-bikes, before they were set upon by the massed ranks of the 5th Corps. This was Mission Impossible in the real world! I do not know any of the 60 men, but they are welcome at my dinner table any day.

I have reviewed several of Damien Lewis books previously and indeed interviewed him, I reached out to him to see if a Sunday Times #1 bestseller author might talk to a lowly reviewer. He did!

damien_and_laraDamien Lewis spent 15 years as a War Correspondent before getting sidelined by a medical issue. He turned his attention to writing books. Although on occasion he tinkers in fiction his main thrust is factual books that explore aspects of modern global conflicts.

I was curious as to why Damien Lewis selected the failed efforts of M Squad as the subject for Zero Six Bravo? The story had been covered in the press, 60 men had run away from the Iraqi army, what more was there to say? His reply surprised me:

“I knew some of the blokes involved from earlier op’s. There was no way they were cowards who would run away from a fire fight. I talked to them, and decided it was time to set the record straight”

At this point many US readers are thinking, why wait 10 years? Books about the Bin Laden operation were in print, and names named within weeks. While the US and UK are close friends, they have very different laws, particularly about the publication of books that talk about Special Forces or Intelligence Services operations.

The MOD (Ministry Of Defense) Is a huge hurdle. Without their blessing a number of things can happen, none of which are really helpful to sales of your book. In order to get Zero Six Bravo into print Damien had to make a few changes for operational security reasons – including the names of the operatives had to be changed. This makes sense: some of the people involved in the mission are still active. He was also asked to ‘blur’ some specific locations, again to protect security of on-going operations.

It was the third ‘rider’ that caught my attention. You shall not discuss the specialized equipment used, Even though these events are a decade old, there is a need to protect the technology that was involved.

Listen to my interview with Damien Lewis.

Zero Six Bravo is a great read and understanding the background behind it makes it even more compelling.

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