Gerald Seymour writes about contemporary issues and this one is no exception, being published in 1984 at the height of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.This version is 'tenth impression with a new cover, 1990'.
SAS Captain Barney Crispin is meant to train Afghans to deploy Redeye rockets against a Soviet killer Mi-24 helicopter, with the intention of bringing back to the UK secret parts of the crippled craft. Sadly, their mission goes catastrophically wrong and the guerrillas are killed. Driven by guilt and bloody-mindedness, Barney determines to disobey orders and infiltrate Afghanistan and do the job himself – with the aid of Gul Bahdur, a teenage Afghan boy as guide, and a couple of donkeys. This foray into danger is well told, so we can feel the privations suffered by Barney – and the Afghans he meets.
In parallel with his mission is the dilemma of the Soviet commander in charge of the Mi-24s, Major Pyotr Medev, who is tasked with clearing out the Afghan villages without losing any craft. So far, he’s managed this (and thousands of refugees in Iran and Pakistan attest to it): until one of his aircraft is shot out of the sky…
Another protagonist is Italian nurse Mia Fiori who spends her leave helping the guerrillas in the Panjshir Valley. Unfortunately, this time around she is baulked before she can get there…
Lastly, there’s disenchanted ex-sergeant Schumack, a soldier of fortune who is intent on fighting for the Afghan cause until he dies.
Their paths will cross and they will be in great danger. Pressure pushes Barney to use his Redeye missiles to down a helicopter and retrieve the vital parts before the snows block off half the country. He only has eight missiles. He is begrudgingly accepted by the Afghan fighters, though he has to walk a knife-edge between total rejection and death at their hands. It’s a battle of wills and wits, leading to a tense showdown.
Research and detail piled on detail lend credence to the story. We feel we were there, in the Soviet airbase at Begram, the dangerous streets of Kabul, the treacherous mountains and passes of Afghanistan.
Seymour never disappoints, though I sometimes feel he unfairly condemns his heroes and heroines in the final stages. I won’t say what happens to the hero of this one; it’s worth reading to find out!