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on 30 April 2009
Stephen Grey's book gives an excellent, sympathetic impression of what it is like to be at the 'sharp end' of operations in Afghanistan - and a severely critical view of Kharzai's government ! It's a rattling good read - and has excellent maps and graphics to explain the complications of modern warfare. If you want to find out what it's like to be a soldier in Afghanistan, with all its frustrations, then this is the book for you.
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on 15 July 2009
A truly excellent narative which tells a soldiers story of just how this latest war is being fought. As a veteran of desert warefare I can assure readers that Stephen Grey has captured the very essence of excitement, fear, danger, elation, frustration and sadness in a well paced and easily read narrative. This book is a real 'page turner' that covers the soldiers, politicians and civillian actions that they, in their own sphere, hope will make a difference.
I would give this book the highest accolade and recommendation in that soldier and civillian alike will find it easy to follow and so realistic as to make you wince, smile and cry.
One more thing - is Stephen Grey going back to do a follow up? I for one certainly hope so.
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on 11 April 2009
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."
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on 28 April 2009
I was encouraged by a friend to buy Operation Snakebite by Stephen Grey.
I have been very shocked reading the account that it relates of the differing aims and objectives of our partners in the Afgan war, and of the Government there. Our appalling military shortages, and the duplicity of the politicians.
The book is a facinating and readable insight into the life of our soldiers out there.
No-one should miss out on this book.
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on 29 March 2009
Fortunate enough to get a copy of this book a couple of days ago in Hatchards. Unable to put down until finished. If you like war accounts then this is a trully gripping account of another fierce, brutal firefight with lives torn apart. Bloody and nasty battle worn soldiers getting down to a job that had to be done. Operation Snakebite is everything a reader wants from a war book. Sadly though this is not fictional and like so many accounts of a war against the Taliban the outcome is always so unpredictable. Many soldiers come home without colleagues and some without limbs. If you enjoy the book as much as I have please ensure you make a donation to help for heroes as these accounts could not be written without our boys and the enormous courage they have.
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on 18 April 2009
If you want to gain a better understanding of modern warfare, the impact of military/political strategic planning or just want to get an insight into the lives of soldiers in combat, then read this book; it covers all this and more. I consider that this is one of the most accurate, complete and compelling accounts of conflict ever written. I know, as I was there.

I was somewhat sceptical that any book would be able to capture the fullest extent of the UK campaign OR the battle for Musa Qaleh, or indeed that it would be in any way true, but Stephen Grey has managed all of this in superb fashion.

This book is a moving and well thought out narrative, drawing upon the experiences of scores of soldiers and officers 'on the ground'. Altogether a well balanced and thought provoking read.
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on 7 June 2009
I wanted to know a bit more about the war in Afghanistan, this was easy reading covering what was going on at the Sharp end as well as the politics in Kabul.Also broached the difficulties of attacking the enemy without killing civilians.
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on 15 June 2009
Amazing account describing the bravery,comradeship sometimes fear and un -ashamed tears shared by a unit in the heart of a battle lasting several days. Stephen Grey writes an open account of how it was, recalling events as told by many persons who endured them. An explosive read but one must not forget the reality of our brave soldiers living and serving in those horrendous conditions.
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on 25 July 2013
You can always tell immediately that a book has been written by a journalist, rather than a serving or ex soldier. The proof readers must have it easy. Although journo's are more observers than participants they still get across the thoughts and emotions of the men involved. There is also the benefit of their prose and grammar.
This book reminded me a little of Al Santoli's To Bear Any Burden in the way it's composed: it reads like a collection of diary extracts in places, but is none the worse for it. I interrupted another book to read this, but not for long as I kept picking it up. It mainly tells the story of a, largely, British protracted operation to retake and restabilise the town of Musa Qala, and the restrictions that were mostly self-imposed on the senior officers who didn't just want to occupy the town, but to rebuild trust and deny the town to the enemy in the long term by making it an Afghan move.
It also deals with the short sighted lack of planning for Afghanistan and the lack of cohesion between the various ISAF countries in the way they operate, and their ideas on what they are doing there.
Particularly telling are the opinions of all the service personnel, on their strategic mission, their equipment at the time, and their lack of enough boots on the ground to do what is expected of them, and not to have to repeat missions because they cannot stay around in most towns to prevent the enemy's return.
There is also the question of the Afghan leadership, and their personal agendas which are having a negative effect on operations and have undoubtedly cost lives. This is discussed here also, in a way which sounds informed.
But it's the personal accounts which are, as ever, the most absorbing. Nobody is blowing their own trumpet here, but the bravery, fear, confusion of war, and emotions are all here laid bare.
I cannot see how this book could disappoint anyone, no matter what opinions they may already have on this campaign. Soldiers like to know why they are fighting and dying, and they don't always know in this war, but here they all seem to want the best for the civilians who are often caught in the crossfire, military and political.
A very interesting and informed account of one region's difficulties, which we can expect is repeated elsewhere in this tribal land.
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on 10 April 2010
Great book! I was apart of the mission that held place in Musa Qala. It has some small flaws to the story, but for the most part it was accurate. Page 212 mentions my name. I just wish they would have mentioned more of what we went through. That would be a book in its self. Enjoy it. It's worth the time to read. Thanks Steven Grey for helping put our part in history out there!
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