Ask Forgiveness Not Permission

By Howard Leedham MBE

Fifty Pathan tribesmen – Ten American helicopters – One British former special forces officer operating against all the odds… 


Frederick Forsyth writes in his Foreword:

“The hitherto unknown story that Howard Leedham has to tell could have come from the Northwest Frontier of Rudyard Kipling’s time… The year described in these pages cost him his marriage and (several times) almost his life… Somehow it happened.  Somehow, on a shoestring, the helicopter-borne, night fighting intervention force began to frighten the black turbans out of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and opium barons… And his Pathans…Those fifty dark featured, tough, lean, hard warriors, as dangerous as the land that made them… for a few months led by an infidel Britisher, they terrified those whose only language was terror. Kipling would have loved them.”


After reading chapter one about the author's commando training at Lympstone and of him experiencing severe cold, I could understand exactly what he had gone through. I am an ex Royal Marine and also under took the very same training a few years earlier. I received my green beret in the 1960's and later also under took an acquaintance SBS course. To survive that training gives me a little insight of what he would have put himself through in order to obtain a first class result. It would not surprise me that failure was not part of his vocabulary in whatever subject he would try his hand at. In fact reading of the many challenges that he set himself speaks volumes for the guy. Even to the point of proving his father wrong.

With this in mind I found this story very exciting and believable. The way in which he throws himself into a situation is what I would suspect is normal for him. He certainly did not waste time climbing the ranks and seemed to thrive on the constant challengers that were thrown at him. He has a way of working through a plan stage by stage, while leaving nothing to chance. As he says, if you routinely plan for the worse scenario there is a chance that you won't need it, and if you do, well you have a backup plan to work to.

As a military historian even I learnt something new about what was going on in Colombia, where he seemed to have undertaken an apprenticeship of sorts. He certainly has very good negotiations skills and has the charisma and knowhow to wrangle his way in to meet just about anybody, no matter what rank they hold. Towards the end of the book I got the impression that his success had gone ahead of him, as even more doors were opened where ever he went. As others tried to jump on his band wagon, hoping that some of his success would rub off on them or that they might take some of the credit.

His military knowledge seemed to be easily passed on to others in a simplified version and the one thing that helped with this success was the trust that his subordinates place in him. If he told them that they would not be left on the battle field, they knew he would be a man of his word. While those above him also trusted that if he said he could achieve something, they knew he would in some way or other succeed.

When foreign troops are asked to serve under a complete stranger to their customs and way of life it is rare to see such leaderships genuinely succeed. I would think that by now other military units are now using these same methods to this day?

The introduction set the pace for the book that I enjoyed, sadly it slowed down a little as we were told the story of how it all came about, and so I guess I must not be to critical about that, because training and logistics are a little boring some times, but essential to the final result and outcome to any plan. You can't have one without the other. I'm a reader who likes action most of the time, like Howard I'm what is known as an action junkie. However, there are many other readers who like to work their way through a story slowly understanding every little minute detail, and there is plenty in this story for them. Where as I can always read it for a second time, as I do with what I call a good story, this is one such book.

I found myself living the experience and even to the point of thinking how I would have solved the many problems that faced him all the time. Although I have to accept that in almost every occasion his solving of the problem was correct, were as I have that wonderful tool known as hindsight, sadly he did not.

I found it an excellent very exciting read that came across in print, which is quite hard, as many other writers would agree with me, it is a hard skill to obtain. It left me wanting more, but I guess I'll have to wait for his next book, don’t leave it to long!

One wonders how he coped in the banking world during 2008?

Terry Aspinall