Top critical review
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Passionate individual, pedestrian book
on 28 July 2011
There have been many, many books written on Britain's most recent conflict in Afghanistan; Colonel Stuart Tootal's Danger Close is the first to be written by a senior commander who was actually there.
Many of the books already written on the subject, despite being well-meaning, are often rather mundane to read and can be viewed at best as a source for future historians (books like Patrick Bishop's 3 Para and Ground Truth come to mind, though are by no means unique). These books are often dry and get rather repetitive; Tootal's, whilst being somewhat familiar (Helmand, 2006, biggest engagement since Korean War, Sangin, Kajaki Dam et cetera) is differentiated by providing the reader with some of the conflicts that a command position throws up, such as when to call in casualty evacuation helicopters at risk of being shot down, versus how long wounded troops can survive on the ground. These challenges bring to the foreground a different form of combat stress, one that I would like to have seen explored further.
What shines through most emphatically is Colonel Tootal's passion for his troops under his command - a genuine and heartfelt protectiveness is clearly a commendably strong determinant in his personality, one that you hope is widely shared by others in similar senior positions. What else becomes clear from this book, again, like many other books on the subject of Britain's war of choice, is that almost nothing was actually accomplished. Tootal naturally tries to put the best spin on the subject: that 3 Para established a dominant foothold against the Taliban and won the break in the war, allowing for a greater NATO expansion in the province - but the mission was to provide a defensive force that would allow nation-building projects to be completed. No projects were completed at all, not even the plumbing in of a washing machine in a hospital. Elsewhere, Tootal names Afghanistan as the "cradle of 9/11" but the Taliban had no involvement with that atrocity - most of the hijackers were from an allied country, Saudi Arabia; the hijackers might have "trained" in Afghanistan but then the London 7/7 bombers "trained" in Wales and we're certainly not bombing the Welsh countryside.
So dogma aside, Colonel Stuart Tootal's Danger Close is an interesting read from a different perspective than most of the books written on the same subject; the man is clearly passionate but the book never reaches beyond mere interesting.