Authors: Andy McNab
joined the infantry as a boy soldier. In 1984 he
was 'badged' as a member of 22 SAS Regiment and was
involved in both covert and overt special operations worldwide.
During the Gulf War he commanded Bravo Two Zero,
a patrol that, in the words of his commanding officer, 'will
remain in regimental history for ever'. Awarded both the
Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Medal
(MM) during his military career, McNab was the British
Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he
finally left the SAS in February 1993. He wrote about his
experiences in three books: the phenomenal bestseller
He is also the author of the bestselling Nick Stone thrillers.
Besides his writing work, he lectures to security and
intelligence agencies in both the USA and UK. He is a patron
of the Help for Heroes campaign.
Also by Andy McNab
BRAVO TWO ZERO
Real Voices from the Battlefields
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First published in Great Britain
in 2009 by Bantam Press
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Copyright © Andy McNab 2009
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Ranger Jordan Armstrong, The Royal Irish Regiment
I joined up to go to Afghanistan – just as our boys were starting
to go to Helmand province. I wanted to experience the
fighting. I saw it as a challenge. I knew before signing papers
in the careers office that I would go to Afghanistan. I had seen
videos of the boys in Afghanistan. It definitely looked mad
but I still wanted to try it. I always got a nervous feeling just
thinking about it.
We flew to Afghanistan for my first tour on 25 March 2008.
I had been abroad once before – to the South of France for
holidays and that was it. We flew out from [RAF] Brize
Norton [in Oxfordshire] to Kandahar. I was thinking: This is
it. I'm going to do whatever I have to do and hopefully I will
come back. I had butterflies when we were on the runway at
Brize Norton. I thought: I have a long six months ahead of
me. My first impression when I arrived in Afghanistan was of
the heat and dust – and how flat it was. It was flat in Camp
Bastion. I'm an LMG [light machine-gun] gunner. That is my
weapon. I'm trained to fire it. I was in Corporal Harwood's
section. There were eight of us in it.
April 7 was a bad day. The ANP [Afghan National Police]
came back from a patrol to Sangin DC [District Centre]. We
were supposed to go out at the same time that they came back
in – around three [a.m.]. But the FSG [fire support group]
boys were firing off Javelins [anti-tank missiles]. One got
fired and instead of going off into the distance it actually
landed in the camp [Sangin DC]. But it didn't explode so they
cordoned it off. This meant our patrol was delayed. It was
good for us because we were then still at the base to deal with
a major incident.
An RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] being carried in a bag
by the ANP went off inside the camp. I think it was dropped
by mistake. They had been carrying the RPGs in a bag on
their backs. It blew up seven of them. Two of the men were
killed, others lost limbs. It had gone off at the back of the base
– Sangar [small fortified position] Two. It was an ND –
negative discharge. I don't know if it was bad drills or bad
We were nearby unloading. I ran over with the others. I
saw a lot of boys with their guts hanging out. There was one
being carried away with both legs blown off above the knees.
He wasn't screaming. He was quiet. We got them [the
injured] on stretchers and took them over to the med centre. I
had to pick up one of the dead boys. His back was blown out
and I had to throw him up in the truck. It sounds a bit rough
to throw him in the back of a Land Rover but that was what
I was told to do.
I hadn't seen anything like that before [Armstrong was
then just nineteen and only two weeks into his first tour]. I
was actually all right when I saw them [dead and maimed
bodies]. I wasn't sure whether I was going to be sick but as
soon as I saw them I was all right. I thought I would have
been faintish, but I wasn't. We had a good platoon sergeant.
He took control and said: 'Get a grip, boys. Just get the job
done.' Some boys were sick, though – they couldn't handle it.
You don't know how it's going to affect you until you see it.
It's easy to know where to begin my thank-you list. I'm grateful
to all those servicemen and women who have contributed
to this book. Without their offerings – and their time and
patience – there would have been no book. I am indebted to
those who provided the outstanding raw material that I have
simply had to edit.
More than twenty people have contributed three or more
stories to this book. Each has a potted biography detailing his
or her life and career before the first story they tell.
In addition to these servicemen and women, I would like
to thank two soldiers for their single, but nevertheless
The first is Captain Kate Philp, whom I met and interviewed
during my visit to Afghanistan late last summer. She
was charming and fun and I would have interviewed her
again, but on 15 November 2008, the Warrior armoured
vehicle she was travelling in was blasted by an improvised
explosive device. Her left foot was so severely shattered that
it had to be amputated. I salute her courage as she recovers
from her injuries and I thank her for allowing me to publish
her interview from last year. The second soldier I would like
to thank is Fusilier Daniel Wright, from 1 Battalion The Royal
Welsh, who has allowed me to publish the poem he wrote
while serving in Afghanistan.
A big debt of gratitude is owed to the Ministry of Defence
(MoD) for the way it has embraced this project so fully.
The MoD provided me with unparalleled access to servicemen
and women in Afghanistan. In particular, I would like to
thank Captain Dave Rigg MC for his commitment to the
book. Before leaving the Army last year, Dave helped gather
together those who were willing to contribute their stories.
He is one of the 'voices' in the book and he also sat in on
several of the interviews. Sam Harrison, from the MoD's
press office, also helped me greatly in the later stages. Many
other senior military personnel have assisted in numerous
ways, and I thank them all.
This book highlights the courage of those on the front-line.
My thanks go to Mark Lucas, my literary agent at LAW, and
Bill Scott-Kerr, the publisher at Transworld, for being so
enthusiastic about the project from the start and, more importantly,
for bringing it to fruition so quickly.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Tony Lynch, my
business partner in our media company Spoken Group, who
accompanied me to Afghanistan last year. Tony kept me 'on
message'; otherwise I would have sat about with a brew,
waffling on to the troops and going on patrol without asking
them a single question.
This is a book about modern-day heroes fighting a modern-day war: a conflict
in Afghanistan that has so far claimed the lives of some 200 British servicemen
Spoken from the Front
shows the courage of British servicemen
and support staff as they faced the unique difficulties posed by ongoing conflict
in a country ravaged by war.
Last year I had the idea of producing a book based on the
stories of our men and women who have served on the frontline
in Afghanistan. I didn't want to tell their stories for them:
I wanted them to give their own accounts in their own
words. I was fortunate: the MoD liked my proposal and gave
me access to soldiers (of all ranks), pilots, reservists,
engineers, medics, Royal Military Police and a host of
support staff. Their action-packed, moving and, at times,
humorous testimonies are told here through interviews and
diaries, along with letters and emails written to family,
friends and loved ones. These men and women come from
different backgrounds and have various motives for telling
their stories, but they have one thing in common: they have
risked their lives serving their Queen and country on the
Spoken from the Front
is not a definitive history of the war in
Afghanistan. I will leave that to the historians. What I think
and hope this book provides is a fascinating snapshot into life
in the most dangerous war zone in the world. I believe the
strength of this book is its simplicity: some accounts are raw
and horrific, others more matter-of-fact and reflective. But
they are all told by people who were there and witnessed
incidents with their own eyes.
Spoken from the Front
the preparation for battle, the battle itself and its consequences.
The horrors, cruelties, drudgery, excitement and
'banter' of modern warfare become apparent from eyewitness
Rather than tell the story of the war through hundreds of
largely anonymous characters, I decided to tell it through the
voices of around twenty servicemen and women, who appear
several times throughout the narrative. This, I hope, will give
you a real feel for what their lives are truly like in this
deadliest of war zones, and will enable you to follow their
adventures – with their trials and tribulations – as they
unfold. The first-person accounts are told chronologically,
starting in the spring of 2006 and going to the end of 2008.
The date given is when the incident took place – rather than
when the interview was carried out. When the interview was
conducted some time after an event, every effort has been
made to pinpoint the date of the incident as accurately as
As I write, some of the men and women featured in this
book are back in Afghanistan to embark on new tours of duty.
In early 2006, the 'war on terror' took on a vital new phase,
particularly for Britain. The level of commitment required
and the difficulty of the tasks taken on by the UK government
were significantly 'upped' from previous years. As part of the
West's determination to confront the Taliban after 9/11,
Britain had joined the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom
in October 2001. With the help of the Northern Alliance, an
organization of mostly mujahideen fighters from northern
Afghanistan, the Taliban was quickly defeated.
The first UK troops were deployed in November 2001,
when Royal Marines from 40 Commando helped to secure
the airfield at Bagram. A 1,700-strong battle group based
around 45 Commando was subsequently deployed as Task
Force Jacana. For the next four years, Britain maintained a
force in Afghanistan but, with the Taliban having seemingly
melted away, the extent of the fighting was limited. The West
was determined that Afghanistan would not return to being
an ungoverned space that could be exploited by the likes of
al-Qaeda and where the Taliban could regroup.
On 7 December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically
elected president of Afghanistan. The National
Assembly was inaugurated on 19 December 2005 and, in
contrast to the days of the Taliban, women were given a
prominent role with a quarter of the seats held by females.
However, the government's remit did not extend across the
country, much of which was still detached from Kabul and in
danger of falling back into Taliban hands. It was imperative
to persuade the Afghan people that the new government was
a power for good and that, with the help of the people,
Afghanistan could become peaceful and prosperous. The
reconstruction of the country was a vital step in that process.
After more than twenty-five years of conflict much of the
civil infrastructure was barely identifiable. The people
lived in squalor, many without clean drinking water, and
sanitation systems were reserved for only the most affluent.
Afghanistan had plunged beyond third world: in large parts
of the country, it was medieval.
On 26 January 2006, John Reid, the defence secretary,
announced that 3,300 British forces would be deployed to
southern Afghanistan in support of Karzai's new government.
It was left to 16 Air Assault Brigade to form the
backbone of the task force and they were to be deployed to
Helmand province. Reid expressed optimism that 'we would
be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing
one shot'. But history, the terrain, the climate and the possibility
of a Taliban resurgence meant that it was unlikely to be
so straightforward. The British mission was to act as a stabilizing
force and to assist with the reconstruction process,
which had failed to make any real impact in the south.
The first troops to deploy to Helmand were Royal
Engineers from 39 Engineer Regiment, with a security force
provided by 42 Commando Royal Marines. Their task was to
construct a camp for the incoming troops. Camp Bastion was
built in the desert of central Helmand, the biggest military
base built by Royal Engineers since the Second World War. In
May, the troops of 16 Air Assault Brigade began to arrive.
If, on paper, a 3,300-strong force seemed substantial, the
reality was that it was wholly inadequate to enforce any sort
of law and order in Helmand. The British commanders had
just 700 infantry soldiers to play with. Dispersing the force
across the province, as the Afghans wanted, would have
resulted in a precarious dilution of the brigade's combat
power. But keeping the servicemen in the relative safety of
Camp Bastion would achieve nothing. A middle way had to
The scale of the task was truly daunting. Helmand
province is some 275 miles long and 100 miles wide – a total
of about 23,000 square miles. The majority of the country is
flat desert but there are vast mountain ranges too. Then there
is the Green Zone: a thin strip of irrigated land no more than
five miles across at its widest point, which provided a perfect
hiding place for the Taliban. The Green Zone stretches along
each bank of the Helmand river, which snakes its way the
entire length of the province. Helmand province shares a
southern border with the unruly tribal region of north-west
The climate is not for the faint-hearted. At the height of
summer, it is unbearably hot with temperatures soaring to
55°C. In the depths of winter, temperatures in the mountains
plunge as low as –20°C and the area is prone to some of the
loudest and most terrifying thunderstorms in the world.
Previously dry wadis (riverbeds) become raging torrents in a
matter of minutes.
The terrain and the climate had proved too much for many
over the years. In 1842, General Elphinstone's 16,000 troops
had been largely wiped out during the retreat from Kabul.
More than a century on, after the Russian invasion of
Afghanistan, the Red Army had failed to hold Helmand with
an entire division of 25,000 troops – the sort of figure that
British commanders could only dream of having in the
By June 2006, the task force had deployed troops to a
number of Helmand's towns: Musa Qa'leh, Now Zad,
Sangin, Kajaki and Gereshk. The provincial reconstruction
team was located in Lashkar Gah, Helmand's capital. Often
these remote positions were sited in old police stations in the
town centre. The task force's engineers were kept busy
making them defensible and providing basic sanitation.
Before long the platoon houses were attracting Taliban activity
and by midsummer many were under constant attack. The
forces that occupied them were too small to dominate the
surrounding ground so they were forced to sit tight and
weather the storm of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs),
small arms and Chinese 107 rockets. Maintaining the logistics
supply line with the platoon houses was particularly difficult,
with the terrain making resupply by road often impossible,
and the limited landing sites making helicopter resupply
fraught with danger. As the fighting intensified, troops ran
precariously low on ammunition, and extracting casualties
often meant Chinook helicopters having to risk landing in the
midst of ongoing fire-fights.
By the end of August, the brigade had suffered twelve
fatalities through enemy action. Perhaps even more concerning
was that the towns to which it had intended to bring
security and reassurance had become devastated war zones.
Many local people had moved out. Day by day, the situation
in Helmand became more difficult but the British were
determined to pursue their objective despite the odds being
stacked against them. One thing was certain: the challenges
facing servicemen and women going to Afghanistan were
formidable. But from early on all the signs were that they
were determined to meet them.