Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One of the Best Ever Memoirs of What Battle Is Really Like

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

One of the Best Ever Memoirs of What Battle Is Really Like

Article excerpt

WE WERE WARRIORS: ONE SOLDIER'S STORY OF BRUTAL COMBAT by Johnny Mercer (Sidgwick & Jackson, PS18.99) ROBERT FOX THE summer of 2010 was a bad and bloody season for Johnny Mercer, now the re-elected Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor but then in command of a three-man fire control team deep in the heart of Taliban-infested Helmand.

He was on his third tour, and it turned out to be by far the grimmest. British and American troops had pushed into the district round Marjah, heart of the regional command of the Taliban. According to commanders and service chiefs in the field and at home in the UK and US, it was just a matter of mopping up. The enemy, whoever they might be, was on the back foot. Afghanistan was about to reach a new level of stability, said Mr Cameron and Mr Obama, and the boys could come home. The degree of self-deception by the brass and the politicians was egregious, as Mercer shows with ruthless precision.

The audit today is that the Taliban in its manifold forms is again rampant, and so too are Islamic State and al Qaeda affiliates. Much of Helmand is in Taliban hands, including the great drug junction of Sangin, where more than 100 British soldiers died and many more were injured. In Kabul politics remain crapulous and corrupt.

Though all the spin at HQ was that peace was about to break out that summer of 2010, the fighting on the ground was relentless, and frighteningly unpredictable. Mercer's team was devastated when Lance Bombardier Mark "Bing" Chandler, his close aide or "ack", was felled next to him by a single shot.

Later he found himself alone in a field under fire from several positions as the British and Afghan infantry soldiers of the patrol legged it. Even so, he managed to organise a rescue helicopter to come in under fire to rescue the injured, almost certainly saving their lives. …

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