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Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, The Taliban and the Battle that Saved Afghanistan

Bones26

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Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, The Taliban and the Battle that Saved Afghanistan by Chris Wattie, 298 pages, published by Key Porter Books Limited 2008 (Military, Canadian Army)

Whereas in my last book review (The Patrol – Seven Days in the Life of a Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan) I noted that for those perhaps interested in more of the flash & bang of close contact at the pointy end of the spear, that they may need to look elsewhere... please allow me to introduce you too ‘elsewhere’. This riveting account of a major running engagement involving Canadian forces and the Taliban will surely fill that bill and then some.

In the summer of 2006 (May through August), a Canadian army patrol travelling through Afghanistan’s Panjwayi region a densely packed maze of villages, fields and vineyards west of Kandahar surprised an unexpectedly large force of Taliban fighters. The soldiers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) had stumbled into a hornet’s nest. The largest buildup of Taliban forces in the region since their regime had fallen in 2001, and who had massed in the region in preparation for an offensive whose intended goal was to break NATO’s tenuous resolve in the country and demoralize the politicians 'back home' by occupying Kandahar, even if however briefly.

The Canadians who fought and eventually defeated this offensive found themselves up against opponents who were suicidally brave, cunning at planting mines and roadside bombs, and experienced at disappearing into the scenery whenever they chose. And as the Taliban commanders threw more and more fighters into what became a grueling, drawn-out struggle, the troops of the battalion`s Charlie Company found themselves at the forefront of every firefight and ambush in what became a desperate, two-month pitched battle. The 150 soldiers of Charlie Company suffered more casualties and earned more decorations for bravery than any other Canadian unit since the Korean War and came into contact with the enemy so many times they became known simply as "Contact Charlie."

In Contact Charlie, the author offers an intimate and harrowing look at the series of battles that would eventually take the lives of seven soldiers, including FOO Captain Nichola Goddard, Canada`s first female combat casualty, and veteran soldier Sergeant Vaughn Ingram, who died trying to save one of his young troops. Based on Wattie’s own experience in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of post-tour interviews with the men and women on the ground, Contact Charlie is a rare piece of military writing, providing readers with a behind-the-scenes look at the stories that made headlines that summer.

While many journalists try to write about military life, few possess the ability, eloquence and sheer grasp of the fleshy reality of war and soldiering that Wattie brings to bear in his account of this engagement. This is reporting, military history and political analysis of the first order, and I would most definitely recommend it as a must read for anyone interested in this conflict and / or of the soldier’s reality of contact at the pointy tip of the spear.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

CHRIS WATTIE was a senior national reporter with the National Post, and one of the first Canadian reporters embedded with the army when he accompanied Canadian troops on the International Security Assistance Force mission in Kabul in 2003. Wattie at the time of publication was also a reservist and junior officer in the making in the Governor General Horse Guards, armoured regiment in Toronto.
 
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