Fifty Pathan tribesmen – Ten American helicopters – One British former special forces officer operating against all the odds…
True story just published by Howard Leedham MBE. FAAOA member and former 845NAS pilot.
On retirement from an unusual military career Howard Leedham settled in the USA with his American wife and successfully flew executive jets until...he was recruited in 2003 by the US State Department's Airwing (which operates an international fleet of aircraft engaged in counter-terrorism and anti-narcotics operations). Despite being British, the author had the unusual skills they required. Howard's specific brief was to activate a fleet of anti-terrorist helicopters given to the Pakistan armed forces but which had been embargoed and never properly used. This was easier said than done. Howard had to win over opposition from inside the State Department and in particular from their Islamabad Embassy, and also dispel the suspicions of the Pakistani Armed Forces. The helicopters were released and brought up to the high standard of mechanical and operational maintenance required - no mean achievement in itself. Despite finding doors closed to senior Pakistani officers and being constantly told that the appropriate general was much too busy to see him, Howard made his mark by offering to stand outside the general's toilet door and tell him about his plans! This tactic worked, he had his meeting (not in the toilet) and he was given command of twenty-five Pathan soldiers to train in Special Forces tactics and helicopter skills. Next he had to win his soldiers' confidence. Howard did this with great success and he was given a further 25 Pathans. They became an amazingly loyal team and the book describes in detail several very successful discreet operations; and the occasional failure or withdrawn patrol - often because of leaked information. Howard had to do all this while under great personal threat. How could he tell who was a friend and who was a foe - even among his own troops? His ultimate success in anti-terrorist operations can be measured by two factors: 1. The US State Department, with Congressional and Embassy approval, allocated more helicopters. 2. His farewell party in a desert tent for just his Pathans and his helicopter crews had over 1,500 soldiers guarding the perimeter. All this came at a personal price - on completing his mission Howard's marriage broke up and he was nearly killed by a bomb on a subsequent visit to Islamabad.
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.”