Reviewed by Norrie Sanders
There is something gripping about a true story that is hard to match in fiction. Knowing that the events took place and that real people experienced them, brings an edge to the narrative.
The more so for The Rescue because it is recent history and many of the central figures are still around. The British Prime Minister in 2012 – now best known for bringing Brexit to the world – appears in the background and is notable in this book for making a risky decision with alacrity.
Andy McNab’s story is billed as True on the cover, although with the interesting rider that names and tactics have been changed and it is based on fact, and you won’t read anything that hasn’t occurred in real life [vii]. News stories of the day and a later documentary offered a variety of different versions. For example, some media reports erroneously referred to the kidnappers as Taliban.
The story is simple enough, but the repercussions and costs are international in scale. It was 2012 – a decade after the “fall” of the Taliban and a decade before the American troop withdrawal. Four women – two Afghan, one Kenyan and one British – are travelling with donkeys through the poor and mountainous region of northern Afghanistan near the Tajikistan border. The women are volunteers who tend to seriously ill children and move from village to village without any security escorts. A group of armed men covertly observe as they travel and decide to make money from ransom demands.
Captured without resistance and eventually taken to an isolated cave, a large extortion claim and other demands follow. The British government claims not to negotiate with terrorists and it is quickly apparent that a military rescue is the only way out. In the version in this book, an elite force of British and American special forces is assembled, although a number of reports at the time mentioned NZ and Afghan operatives as well.
The book follows one rescuer in particular – a Scot – who is introduced in the first chapters. Two years earlier, he was part of a “failed” hostage rescue attempt in which the captors were found and “neutralised”, but the hostage was accidentally killed. This is front of mind when he is called on for the 2012 attempt. The only definition of success is freeing the hostages.
The narrative structure is fairly typical of the action thriller genre – starting with scene setting then, as things hot up, moving rapidly between command headquarters, the special forces operations, the kidnappers and their hostages. It works well to maintain the pace and tension, with occasional forays into character information that allow the reader some respite. And the tension is palpable. The difficulties of rescuing defenceless people from highly trained and armed bandits deep inside single a cave cannot be overestimated. Knowing that it actually happened lends a credibility that is nothing short of gripping.
In terms of the hostages, media coverage generally gave details only of the British and Kenyan hostages, with the two Afghan women very much in the shadows. Andy McNab’s version brings one of the Afghan women to centre stage and we are left with a profound respect for her courage and leadership. The Rescue also takes us into the realm of the kidnappers – though the dialog is obviously a formulation of the author.
It is no secret that the operation was successful and there has been well-deserved pride in the outcome. The rescue was necessitated because of the greed of a few men, who paid no heed to the fact that the women were there to help local Afghan children. Despite all of the efforts by NGOs and soldiers to protect Afghan people over two decades, we know that the Taliban would eventually stroll into the vacuum left by America’s withdrawal. But that in no way diminishes what is a triumphant story, skilfully crafted.
Andy McNab was ….as a member of 22 SAS Regiment and was involved in both covert and overt special operations worldwide. 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: …..Bravo Two Zero, Immediate Action and Seven Troop. …..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.
by Andy McNab
ISBN: 978 180279 686 5
$34.99 (RRP Paperback); 343pp