For those who enjoy the "war book" genre, this is a stonking good read. It is finely crafted, with a well-structured narrative and a good mixture of characterisation, description and fact to keep the reader turning the pages to the very end. It also provides an account of - as the blurb puts it - "an at times horrifying story of a war which has gone largely unnoticed back home."
The reason it has gone "largely unnoticed", of course, is that the MoD not only avoided telling anyone about it, but put a security block on the official publication of details, which left the MoD website devoid of information, with journalists contacting the Taleban on their mobile telephones to get details of the operation.
Courtesy of Grey, we now know that there were several reasons for the MoD's reticence, one being the co-incidental visit of Gordon Brown to Camp Bastion. With the largest operation then to have been mounted in Helmand Province and with the outcome far from certain, officials were concerned that news of the operation might detract from the prime minister's visit, especially if there were casualties.
But the major reason, Grey tells us, was that both the British and the Americans had decided that this was to be an I/O - an "information operation" - otherwise known as a propaganda exercise. The intention was to convey to the outside world that this was an operation led by the Afghanis, assisted by coalition forces.
As a result, we had the bizarre scene of the "capture" of the town centre being photographed by the MoD's Defence Combat Camera Team, showing jubilant Afghani troops raising their national flag. To achieve this, British and US forces, who had fought their way into the town, after periods of intense combat, were forced to hide their vehicles and keep out of sight for the fiction to be perpetrated.
The fighting by the coalition forces, the lead up to the operation and the political background, are well-described by Grey, leaving the reader under no illusions that this major operation was almost entirely a coalition effort, made possible by the injection of massive US forces, including elements of the US 82nd Airborne Division, which paved the way for the assault with a daring, if risky, helicopter assault.
Behind this operation are the political machinations, both Afghani and military, which lends a conspiratorial overtone to the book, lifting it above the ordinary "war book", giving it more depth than would be expected from this genre.
With a highly informative account of the history of Helmand to open the book, this makes this a rounded narrative, which culminates in a short analytical chapter which tries to set the operation in the broader context of the counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan.
Of special interest is Grey's detail of the number of mine strikes suffered by British forces, one of which he witnessed, giving a moving and personal edge to the account, which benefited from Grey's presence as an embedded reporter and his personal knowledge and friendships with some of his subjects. He also notes that the King's Royal Hussars were equipped with Mastiffs, with the squadron taking fourteen IED hits, suffering no serious injuries - although does not link the two issues.
There is also a graphic and detailed account of the intervention of USAF AC-130H Spectres in the final stages of the assault on Musa Qala, a role which Grey describes as "decisive", confirming the utility of these airborne gunships as a battle-winning weapon - something of which British procurement officials should take note.
If there is a small criticism, Grey is perhaps over-reliant on the opinions of those he interviews - of which there are an impressive number, in excess of 200. Despite his access to top-ranking military officials, he makes very little use of them - and we thus do not see enough of Grey's own thoughts in terms of evaluating their responses. Perhaps that is for another book.
That notwithstanding, this is a well-written historical narrative, in which Grey the journalist excels, aided by superb maps, illustrations and photographs. It is a valuable and important addition to the growing library of works beginning to emerge from the Afghani campaign and is an essential read for anyone who seeks a better understanding of what is indeed "a war which has gone largely unnoticed back home."