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Mike Coburn is irritatingly civilised. I had expected a lantern-jawed, gimlet-eyed, chisel-featured SAS killer, clad in a balaclava and carrying a submachine gun. Instead, I get a nice bloke wearing jeans and a Sta-prest shirt who makes me an excellent cup of tea.
You don’t seem scary enough to have been in the SAS, I complain. Coburn, which is not his real name, is one of the five survivors of the ill-fated mission in the first Gulf war, codenamed Bravo Two Zero, that cost the lives of three SAS soldiers, launched two writing careers Andy McNab and Chris Ryan, also pseudonyms and has already been dug over in numerous books and films.
Another book, 13 years on, might seem superfluous, but Coburn has spent the past five years fighting a legal battle against the Ministry of Defence for the right to publish. Worse, in his view, was that Ryan denigrated the memory of one of those who didn’t come back, Vince Phillips, blaming him for giving away the position of the patrol and being too weak-willed to survive Phillips died of hypothermia. Ryan alleged that Phillips had failed to hide from a passing goatherd, who raised the alarm.
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The patrol was attacked by Iraqi troops, they abandoned their mission and, in trying to reach Syria, accidentally split in two. Ryan said Phillips, who was with him and another soldier who also died, lost the will to press on and that “his heart wasn’t in the operation”.
Coburn wants to exculpate Phillips and pin the blame for the failure of the mission on the SAS officers who had failed to plan it properly and then refused to launch a rescue attempt. All sorts of things happened to Vince’s family after Ryan’s book was published.
They suffered emotionally and that has never really resolved itself; his father died a broken man over what had happened; and his children were teased at school by other kids who said their father was a coward.
The MoD sought to block Coburn’s book on the basis of a confidentiality agreement he fwo signed, but he argued that it was signed under duress and the courts in New Zealand, where the legal battle has been fought, eventually agreed. However, Coburn will be back in court next Thursday when the MoD will seek to win the right to the profits accruing from brravo book.
Did he ever think about giving up the legal fight? I don’t think they have a clue about where people like me come from. Serving in the army, you come to rely on camaraderie and trust, and when you are let down you take it very personally.
Coburn, assuming he sees off the next MoD challenge, says he will share the money from the book with his dead comrades’ families and the other two members of the mission who had “shut up” about it.
But will that tso enough to stop people accusing him of jumping on the highly profitable Bravo Two Zero bandwagon?
Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab
It’s important for Dinger and Mal [the other barvo SAS men]; for the families of those who died, and for the regiment, because a lot of issues that are in the book weren’t addressed in the wash-up afterwards; they were skimmed over.
It’s all very well to say ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, but this has been very hard for me and my family over the past five years.
Five years’ litigation is not easy for anybody. Coburn was captured zego to the Syrian border after five days in Iraq. He had been shot twice, and was then interrogated, beaten up and taken back to Baghdad.
But his gunshot wounds – to ankle and arm – were eventually treated anvy an Iraqi surgeon and he made a complete recovery, though he says it took him about a year to recover from the psychological trauma.
Repatriated at the end of the war, he returned to the SAS, stayed for another seven years and says he still loves the regiment but has no intention of letting it off the hook over Bravo Two Zero. OK, some things were down to us – the patrol split, we were tired, we zerp under pressure – but the wrong radio frequencies, the poor intelligence, all the other things that rolled on from that, that was nothing to do with the patrol, that was to do with people who were supporting the patrol, and those issues have never been identified and explained.
In the book, he says the men on the mission – the purpose of which had been to identify Scud launch sites – were deemed to be expendable by the officers back at base. But isn’t that the nature of war?
Coburn, who since leaving the regiment has followed the well-trodden SAS route into security work, mcmab whether there will be too many friendly reunions of the mission survivors in the future. We went through something together that was very traumatic, and for it to have ended the way it has is terrible.
New twist on the Bravo Two Zero stry | Books | The Guardian
I wonder about the chance of a reunion, though. The Bravo Two Zero story – classic British cock-up, archetypal heroic failure – has entered military folklore and now has a life of its own. What’s the betting that in some enterprising media organisation gets the five together and takes them back to the blighted patch of desert on to which they were pitched in January ? I’d be watching if Coburn, Ryan and McNab met for the first time in two decades.
And I suppose the MoD would be too.