This account of the war in Afghanistan - "The Stan" to the troops - is as gritty as the sand the patrols cover and as explosive as the IEDs the Taliban bury in pathways and roads by night. It is not a book for the squeamish or for little old ladies who disapprove of soldiers' vocabularies. It is, however, a book that should be read by Canadians and as many Americans as might care to pick it up. It will change some minds and some attitudes. The author, Rob Semrau, once a captain in the Royal Canadian Regiment, is no novice to war. His final tour in Afghanistan was his fifth. He had seen action with NATO in The Balkan War.
The book might never had been written had it not been for a series of events that saw Semrau charged with a battlefield murder which drew International interest. The charge was 2nd Degree murder, a charge so unfair it is astounding it was ever contemplated. Semrau had humanely ended the life of a young Taliban fighter who had been cut to pieces by machine-gun bullets fired from an Apache gunship. His intestines were hanging from a branch of a nearby tree and witnesses testified the Taliban was "98% dead" when Semrau's bullet hit him. Others said they thought he was already dead. The courts martial jury also believed the incident was a "mercy killing" and delivered a verdict of Not Guilty. However, they found him guilty on the "catch-all" charge of "Prejudicial Conduct". This charge is tagged onto most military charges in case the serious ones are dismissed. It ensures some punishment can he rendered if DND so decides. Capt. Semrau was indeed punished by being reduced in rank to 2nd Lt. Then, several months later, he was discharged from the Army for "Disgraceful Conduct". The "catch-all" charge had caught up with him. This development, obvious to most Canadians, was an appeasement to those who vocally opposed Canada's involvement in the war. This group of Politically Correct protesters included several major politicians, one of whom, now deceased, showed open emphathy to the Taliban - and was tagged in military circles with an uncomplimentary nickname because of it.
Semrau, however, does not dwell on his misfortunes, the trial, the so-called murder or his unjust dismissal from the army he obviously loved. He could easily have employed the defence of PDST but did not. Instead he chose to make no excuses or give reasons why he shot the dying Taliban fighter. The reasons remain between him and the dead Taliban fighter. It is as if he bears no ill-will whatever but wishes only to describe the horrendous conditions he and his small force endured while trying to mentor a segment of the ANA (Afghanistan National Army). And describe it he does. He only makes a few passing criticisms of indecisive commanders of outposts and mentions a few acts of cowardice displayed by "behind the wire" types. He also mentions a Dutch major who refused to send some of his troops to aid a "pinned down" Canadian force. The major was afraid some of his men "... might get hurt." In these cases he employs fictitious names to protect the cowardly.
As noted above this is a gritty account of Hell written in the gallows humor often employed by men in combat. The descriptions of wounded and dying men are hard to take at times - they are that realistic. The narrative will often grate on the niceties of readers who may be faint of heart. The "naughty" words can be glossed over by those of prudish bent. The book will remain with the reader for some time and might cause a bad dream or two over the course of several weeks.
I noted above the book should be read by Canadians and Americans. It will give Canadians who have never served in the miltary - and certainly those who have never been "outside the wire" where the action is - a first-hand decription of the Hell that combat can be. Combat 101 as it were. For American readers it will inform them their own troops were NOT the only ones fighting in Afghanistan. The south-east sector, known as The Panjwai, the most dangerous part of that entire woebegone nation, spreads south of Kandahar City to the Pakistan border. It was the Sector of Combat for the Canadians during their entire time in a combat role - over five years. From time to time they were relieved by Aussies, Brits and Americans. The other NATO troops mostly stayed in the more peaceful north.
For readers unfamiliar with military slang and acronyms the book includes a four page List of Abbreviations. The book would also have been well served had an Index been included.