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Discussion of “Bravo Two Zero” Patrol in Iraq


During the First Gulf War in January 1991, a troop of British Army Special Air Service (SAS) landed in Iraq having a particular task in intelligent service. Bravo Two Zero was the code-name of the SAS operation. According to one of the theories, the patrol targeted to destroy Scud rocket launchers. Subsequently, Bravo Two Zero realized they had to operate in harsh conditions of a plane and vast desert territory with inadequate communications equipment functioning meeting impediments when following the exfiltration route plan. Eventually, three of eight men died, four were imprisoned and tortured by Iranians, one succeeded to escape through the Syrian border. All members signed the confidentiality treatment with the Ministry of Defence, claiming no information leaking.

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However, the first revealing of the patrol occurred in 1992 by lieutenant-general Peter de la Billère in his book Storm Command. Later, the commander of the troop, Steven Mitchell, under the pseudonym Andy McNab, released Bravo Two Zero in 1993. The book became a bestseller and attracted the interest of millions of readers. Later, Colin Armstrong, under the pseudonym Chris Ryan, wrote a book, The One That Got Away, released in 1995. Both books represent subjective interpretations of Bravo Two Zero’s events, outcomes, and reasons for the operation’s failure. Armstrong criticized the leadership behavior of Mitchell; however, both authors were using a negative and accusing tone towards their colleague, Sergeant Vince Phillips, who died during the operation.

In fairness, Michael Asher, a reserved veteran of SAS, could not give credibility to unmatching circumstances narrated in both books and decided to make his investigation. Asher traveled to Iraq following the steps of the soldiers interrogating at least ten witnesses of the actions described in books.1 Asher found information gathered during his trip astonishing, especially the blame put on Vince Phillips that turned out to be a scapegoat. The factual causes for Bravo Two Zero’s failure cannot be judged by one subjective interpretation, and before claiming which argument is more relevant or convincing, one should evaluate material sources and authors’ behavioral model.

Sources of Information Used in Both Works

Collecting the facts from various people and assessing them persuades the reader stronger than following a literature story. McNab’s work is easy and entertaining to read; still, when considering actual events, he presents merely his judgment and how he perceives things. Vince Phillips, especially in Ryan’s work, is shown as an incompetent and weak member of patrol making various inaccuracies, some of which were fatal. Estimating reasons for the operation’s failure, McNab and Ryan, both members of Regiment, were well-trained and experienced, put most of the guilt on their companion.2 Both authors seem to be lost in a will to achieve success and acknowledgment as brave heroes. They express their attitude to the causes and origin of events in a highly subjective way.

Michael Asher, on the opposite, shares his views along with making an investigation gathering information from witnesses of the actions. Asher was not the participant in the operation, making the reader believe he provides more objective data than Bravo Two Zero’s members. Frequently, in stressful circumstances, humans lack attention; forget and interpret facts diversely due to the strain level and experience. Moreover, Asher provides evidence from people he met in Iraq and from other survived participants of the patrol, Mike Coburn and Mal, who, under oath, claimed McNab and Ryan distorted realities in their books.3 When assessing the trustworthiness of data, it is essential to observe how many judgments and sources the writer gathered before releasing it publicly. McNab and Ryan mostly share literature with the reader that contains fantasy, while Asher provides research trying to get closer to factual events. If the work did not have a stamp “true events”, there would not be any claims and investigations. However, McNab’s book was incredibly popular, and in 1999 BBC showed to the population a new eponymous film that spread deceptive information further on.

Authors’ Behavioral Model and Ethics

Each military procedure, like Bravo Two Zero, has codes and rules to follow and live by. Some are protected by law and signed in treatment; some are unspoken but never less essential. After reading Bravo Two Zero and The One That Got Away, an impression of the firm will of confirmation and acknowledgment remained coming from both authors. Indeed, McNab and Ryan became popular, and their books ended to be bestsellers, both reworked into films. Yet, ignoring respect to colleagues, McNab and Ryan demonstrate their unprofessionalism. This attitude leads to mistrust and contempt for both authors as even if there were several missteps done by their companion, laying guilt at him cannot be honest.

As mentioned, the operation’s failure had multiple reasons leading to unsuccessful outcomes and lives loss: difficulties with communication equipment, rescue plan, and environmental conditions. Mike Coburn’s work, Soldier Five: The Real Truth about the Bravo Two Zero Mission, explains why some details in McNab’s work are not accurate that is why he defenses his deceased companion, Vince.4 Coburn said that his partners betrayed SAS by these actions, loyalty, honesty, and straightness.5 Respecting the ones that ended their lives bravely following the mission is essential, they deserve respect and silence. No soldier earns guilt, offense, and blame as he cannot answer back. The causes of the operation’s failure cannot be put on one man’s shoulders.

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That is why McNab and Ryan lose respect in the reader’s eyes, and their works do not sound convincing. Following principles of ethics is indispensable in any circumstances, at war or in peace. Vince Phillips was a decent, well-trained soldier; he merits the same regard and honor people give to popular books. Military actions are frequently unfair, and people in threatening conditions can be weak or desperate. What is more critical in finding the truth is to study the operation mistakes to prevent them in future times.


From his military service experience and witnesses’ testimonies, Michel Asher made a more comprehensive observation of the events. He sounds more convincing than McNab, and Ryan’s literature works. Gathering and synthesizing information from different sources, defending the honor of a dead soldier, Asher is more likely to persuade a reader and prove the facts from various perspectives. Despite the existence of the easy and attractively written story of Bravo Two Zero, it lacks reliable data and can play the role of entertaining belles-lettres but never an autobiography.

McNab and Ryan received fame and acknowledgment, distorting actual events and showing their companion in an inferior position. Walking overheads can never lead to continued success and fame, and SAS commanders criticize both writers. Asher shows that McNab’s and Ryan’s disrespect and attitude to Phillips are inappropriate and unfair movements that should be noticed and reacted back by media and society. That is why The Real Bravo Two Zero needs to be spread as it gives a broader explanation and can prevent further misinterpretations by individuals.


Asher, Michael. The Real Bravo Two Zero. Hachette UK: The Orion Publishing Group Limited, 2011.

Coburn, Mike. Soldier Five: The Real Truth about the Bravo Two Zero Mission. United Kingdom: Mainstream Publishing, 2004.

McNab, Andy. Bravo Two Zero. New York: Dell Publishing, 1993.

Ryan, Chris. The One That Got Away. United Kingdom: Arrow Books, 2011.

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  1. Michael Asher, The Real Bravo Two Zero (Hachette UK: The Orion Publishing Group Limited, 2011), 6.
  2. Chris Ryan, The One That Got Away (United Kingdom: Arrow Books, 2011), 39.
  3. Asher, 14.
  4. Mike Coburn, Soldier Five: The Real Truth about the Bravo Two Zero Mission (United Kingdom: Mainstream Publishing, 2004), 23.
  5. Asher, 11.

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