An excellent account of the hardships encountered by 2 Para B Company Commander and his men during their 6 months tour at FOB Inkerman in Afghanistan. It is a 'diary' of the daily events on patrols and the enemy contacts they met along the way. A superb read
This is a full description and appraisal of the leadership of a Para company in an FOB (forward observation post) in Helmond, Afghanistan, over a six month posting.
Russell, the company CO, is intelligent, sensitive to the needs of his men, and honest. But the loneliness of command is paramount. Looking carefully at Major Russell's comments it is possible to dig deep.
Whereas the major British bases in Afghanistan are very comfortable, the FOB at Inkerman was anything but. For one thing it was dirty and unhygienic. Given that the men were on either on patrol, or guard duty, & with some time for essential equipment maintenance, there were only limited resources for the major attention to conditions that the base itself required. (This was later partly rectified by visiting engineer groups).
One result of this was serious infections especially of the bowels, putting many men out of action. The toilets were a just trench in the ground with a shed on top used by 150 men per day. Given the heat and the flies - not solved by disinfectant and fly-killing paint - this was a potential source of problems, discounting the smell. With the infection rife the cookhouse was closed (the men then lived on pre-packed food). To quote Russell "D&V (diarrhoea & vomiting) is on the increase again which is hugely frustrating. We are doing all we can but we just can't get it under control. The FOB is just dirty and unhygienic."
The essential Para task was to patrol an area of a five square kilometres, though patrols were often only of a couple of kilometres. This presence apparently kept the Talban occupied thus allowing more constructive work to take place in nearby Sanguin.
Russell noted that the Americans had a very different approach: their forces travelled in 'very impressive' vehicles and when they encountered the Taliban they called in air strikes. The Americans were amazed that the British used foot patrols.
Of course the Taliban could choose the time for any action: otherwise they merged into the background population. They did not fight at harvest time. So many Para patrols simply 'occupied the ground'. But Para motivation remained high - they preferred action to idleness.
Nevertheless, and particularly towards the close of their six months, Russell found soldiers hoping (not unnaturally) to complete their stint avoiding casualties. Russell found the drive to keep things positive, but this was not easy personally. To quote Russell "The general consensus is that six months in such an austere place, with such a high tempo of activity, is just too much".
Overall there is much to be gained from reading this honest account.
Although Afghanistan/Taliban was hugely more intense than the NI campaign, it took me back to the 70s and similarities with the South Armagh environment. At times dully routine, at others gripping with menace and dread, occasionally exciting and always portraying operational soldiering as it really is, this book should be required reading for every young officer aspiring to be a leader in armies conducting COIN operations.