As the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) comes to a close at the end of this year, it may serve as a model for successful peacekeeping, as well as a prototype for the UN’s new emphasis on peacebuilding.
- From UNAMSIL: A Success Story in Peacekeeping, from “End of Mission Press Kit”, December 2005,
A book review, by Jamie Arbuckle, for Peacehawks:Operation Barras: the SAS Rescue Mission, Sierra Leone 2000, by William Fowler, Cassell, London, 2004. 211 pp, $9.95 (pb)


In the summer of 2000 things just couldn’t have been much worse for the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). Since February, 1998, nearly 650 persons – peacekeepers, relief workers, priests, nuns, diplomats, and normal people whose luck had run out – had been kidnapped, and 19 of them had been murdered. 575 of those taken were Blue Berets, the equivalent of a whole battalion. By late summer of 2000, about 600 persons had been released, including all of the UN peacekeepers. But about 50 were still captive and, when 11 British soldiers were seized on 25 August, things were getting pretty serious. Yet, less than two years later, the civil war had ended (and seems to have stayed that way), and in 2003 the Kimberly Process virtually ended traffic in the “blood diamonds”, which had been used to finance the rebels. In 2004 the disarmament of the rebel factions was completed and a war crimes tribunal was convened. At the end of 2005, just five years after that nadir of 2000, the peacekeeping mission was being phased out to a peacebuilding mission, and the close-out briefings in New York were presenting this as the poster child of a successful mission.

What happened to make such a difference so quickly to such a dismal situation? Well, a lot of things, but the main thing was that about 600 British soldiers happened, and they made most of that difference in a matter of a few short weeks. This book, Operation Barras: the SAS Rescue Mission: Sierra Leone 2000, by William Fowler, is about what and why and how they did all that. Fowler seems well equipped and prepared for this work: he has been writing on defense policy and technology issues since 1972, and his writings have appeared in international defense magazines. He is the author of a previous book on the Commando action at Dieppe in 1942. He has been a long-serving officer with the British Reserve Army, and served in the first Gulf War.

It must be said at the outset that we found it difficult to determe just what was the author’s central thesis – why was this book written? The author tells us only that “This book is about a post-Cold War African conflict.” We thought that Operation Palliser was about much more: we thought it was a striking example of how economical and decisive military action might be, and indeed should be – but commonly is not, and the contrasts between Operation Palliser and UNAMSIL needed more consideration than they have been given – in this book and generally. Throughout this review, then, we will be drawing lessons and conclusions which the author did not – which is just why we thought this review was necessary.


This is a book review, not a history of Sierra Leone, but some sort of chronology might have been more helpful of our understanding, than Fowler’s “novelistic” cutting and chopping, backwards and forwards in time for dramatic effect – and confusion. Chronology might also have been a better way to introduce the players and their intended parts. (An index would also have been a big help, but we again find none in a book we are trying to review.) So we need to digress now, to set the principal events of this book into a context which is altogether lacking in the structure of the book.

Establishing context is not easy here: events such as coups and interventions and counter-revolutions recur with dizzying frequency and similarity. It is no wonder that the Duke of Wellington disparaged attempts to write a history of the Battle of Waterloo, saying, “The history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball.” However, events in Sierra Leone in the last decade of the last century were slightly more important for who did what, than on exactly what date the event occurred.

We can start with independence for Sierra Leone on 27 April 1961. As the initial optimism waned, Sierra Leone began for the next thirty years the all-too-common trajectory into indigenous misgovernance, with coups and counter-coups and extra-judicial executions and elections more bitterly contested in their outcomes than in the actual campaigns. The denouement came with the eruption of more or less full-scale civil war in 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began a campaign against “government corruption.” The RUF campaign was characterized by a degree of brutality unusual even for the setting, and was supported by Liberia and by Libya, and paid for by the RUF in blood diamonds, the RUF having largely secured to themselves the diamond mines of Sierra Leone.

In 1990, as the civil war in Liberia spread into Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) proved largely ineffective. A Nigerian-led ECOMOG (Economic Council of West African States Observer Group) force, already in Liberia, entered Sierra Leone under the terms of a mutual defense agreement. However, the Nigerian forces were over-stretched and over-committed, their campaigns were costing Nigeria a fortune they could not afford, and they were soon forced by their government to withdraw from Sierra Leone.

In 1996 after another of the nearly countless coups, the “veteran politician” Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected in an internationally supervised election said by observers to have been “as fair as you could expect.” Kabbah had been a colonial administrator under the British, and had subsequently been employed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) until 1993, serving in New York, Tanzania and in Lebanon. (He was said to have become a friend of Kofi Annan.) There followed then a period of uneasy stalemate, maintained after their fashion by a private security firm, Executive Outcomes (South Africa), who had been operating in Sierra Leone since 1995.

In November 1996 Kabbah succeeded in negotiating a cease-fire with the RUF on the condition, inter alia, that the private security firms would leave Sierra Leone, and Executive Outcomes left the country in January 1997. Their Parthian shot: “Rest assured, in less than a hundred days, the RUF will welsh on the deal”, was only slightly off: a violent coup on 27 May 1997 toppled the Kabbah government and ended 16 months of democracy in Sierra Leone. This set the stage for what was to happen for at least the next five years, which may be seen generally as an international effort to restore and sustain the Kabbah government.

With that brief background, we can turn now to who did what, and with and to whom. (This information is scattered among the 19 pages of endnotes which are nearly 10% of this book. Many will find this somewhat inconvenient; such important information would have better been presented in the body of the text.)

African Interventions in Sierra Leone

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), acting under the auspices of the (then titled) Organization for African Unity (OAU –now known as the African Union – AU) fielded various “observer groups” in Sierra Leone, starting in 1990. These forces were led by and largely consisted of Nigerians. Nigerians were prominent and extremely violent in their enforcement of a 1997 UN embargo of oil and arms being brought into Sierra Leone. Nigerian forces attacked suspected blockade runners with naval gunfire, and warehouses and ships in harbour thought to be holding contraband were attacked by aircraft. These attacks caused widespread damages and civilian casualties, and led to an exodus from Freetown of over 200,000 frightened civilians.

In February of 1998 the former President Kabbah was reinstated as the President of Sierra Leone and the ECOWOG force handed over to a United Nations peacekeeping force.

During most of the period of its ECOWOG operations, Nigeria was under suspension of its membership in the British Commonwealth due to its human rights violations.

The Sierra Leone Army (SLA)

The SLA had never been a very effective force for anything but the aggrandizement of its various commanders and their aspirations, but was completely ruined when in 1991, in an effort to increase its strength, the government began to recruit drug addicts, unemployed youth, rural and urban vagrants and petty criminals.

The British Army began the training of the SLA in July, 2000. Initially, they trained individuals in basic infantry skills; by mid-2001 they had trained 8000 troops and officers. Their problem was to instill public confidence in a force best known for corruption, abuses and coups. As well there were shortages in vital equipment, the command structure was deficient, and there was virtually no logistic support capacity.

This, worrisome as it was in so threatened a society, still does not fully describe the magnitude of the problems of training a force with nowhere to go but up. The author of this book seems to accept at face value the numbers trained; we cannot, for there is far more than this to training an army.

While soldiers can be basically trained in about six months, it really takes at least a year to produce an infantry soldier, and at least another year to produce any of the array of specialists needed by even the most basic force. In that same two year period, one can, if selection criteria are carefully enforced, train junior officers. Advisors such as those British officers can substitute, discreetly, for the field officers and staff officers which it will in fact take the best part of a decade to produce. But, even with all that in place, they were only half-way there, because there was at the outset of the training almost no NCO corps, and without them – and they must be indigenous  and it would also take almost a decade to produce them – there just was no army. So from the time the training began – and those clocks seem to have begun running in 2000 – it would have taken until about now to have a reliable force.

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF)

The RUF began its campaign ostensibly as “anti-corruption”. Like the SLA of the period, it had no real political goals and was contesting only for the spoils of chaos. Wide-spread poverty and unemployment plus frequent defections from the SLA provided an almost inexhaustible source of recruits. Initially trained in and supported by Libya, they quickly gained control of the hinterland of Sierra Leone, which also meant control of the diamond fields. At one point they were stealing and selling to pay their supporters in Liberia and in Libya 90% of the diamond revenues of Sierra Leone.

To broaden their recruiting base, the RUF recruited “Small Boy Units”, of children as young as seven years of age, but usually with “adult leadership.” One of the most notorious of these was The West Side Boys (WSB); they were the kidnappers of the 10 British and one SLA soldiers on 25August 2000, and it was they who were attacked in Operation Barras on 10 September.

United Nations Forces in Sierra Leone

Following upon the successful reinstatement of the Kabbah government, in July 1998 the UN approved an observer mission to Sierra Leone, to be known as the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). Its authorized strength was initially set at 70, which was later raised to 210. However, fighting broke out again in December, forcing the evacuation of UNOMSIL; ECOMOG returned and again reinstated the legal (Kabbah) government.

In May of 1999, President Kabbah was able to open negotiations with the rebels, and a cease fire went into effect on 18 May. On 7 July the Lome Agreement was signed, with provisions for power sharing, a constitution, a military structure, human rights and implementation measures. One of the required implementation mechanisms was thought to be a stronger UN presence. In July 1999 the Security Council approved the establishment of a peacekeeping force, initially with a strength of 11,000 personnel, later raised to 17,500, to be known as the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The mandating Security Council Resolution was enacted specifically under Chapter VII of the Charter; this was in very plain fact a peace enforcement mission.

UNAMSIL troop contributors were Bangladesh, Bolivia, Canada, China, Croatia, Egypt, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Sweden, Tanzania, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Zambia. Police contingents were contributed by Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Canada, Gambia, Ghana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Sri lanka, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In the course of its five-and-one-half year deployment the force suffered 192 fatalities.

However, by the spring of 2000, and barely nine months into their mandate, the UN force was in serious trouble. Kidnappings were widespread and seemingly set to continue without relief. The RUF again predictably reneged on their Lome undertakings. Naturally morale in the UN force was very poor: the Force Commander complained that his troops simply lacked the moral fortitude for their mission, and tended to surrender either their equipment or themselves under any threat, thus allowing the rebels a moral ascendancy and emboldening them to take further liberties. Despite efforts made to promulgate rules of engagement, the Nigerian government later claimed that it believed itself to be functioning as a classic, Chapter VI peacekeeping force, thus eschewing the more powerful responses which were in fact available to and expected of a peace enforcement mission (these were the people who just three years before had bombed and strafed indiscriminately in enforcing the UN embargo on Sierra Leone). And the RUF was once again advancing on Freetown.

British Forces in Sierra Leone

In 2000 the British launched two combat operations in Sierra Leone. These were:

Operation Palliser: 7 May to 15 June. About 600 men of the Parachute Regiment landed at Freetown to secure the airport and to evacuate British and Commonwealth civilians. The Paras were replaced on 26 May by about the same number of Royal Marine Commandos, who had arrived with an amphibious force.

Operation Barras: Of the eleven British and one Sierra Leonean taken prisoner on 25 August, six Brits and the Sierra Leonean remained in captivity on 10 September when a combined Para-SAS rescue mission was launched. The operation was completed in just over two hours. The actual rescue, which was completely successful, lasted only 20 minutes.

We now need to review in a bit more depth the events leading up to these two operations.

British relations with Sierra Leone had never been simple. Freetown was purchased and built by the British in 1787 to resettle freed slaves (the British having themselves just given up the trade) and, over the next nearly two centuries the country progressed through the stages of Crown Colony (1808), Protectorate (1896), to independence and membership in the British Commonwealth (1961). That Commonwealth membership was suspended from 1997-98 during one of Sierra Leone’s several periods of military rule.

And with the young UNAMSIL in such a tailspin in May 2000, the Secretary General of the UN informally requested troops of France, the U.S. and Great Britain. As it turned out, they thought he was asking rather a lot.

The issue of national contingents operating in tandem with but not under the control or command of a U.N. mission was (and is), to put it simply, fraught. The American Ranger/Delta Force operating almost completely at cross purposes with but almost entirely unknown to the U.N. force in Somalia in 1993, had developed into a legendary cock up with considerable loss of life. The French Operation Turquoise operated in a very similar mode, and equally to the detriment of another troubled UN force, in Rwanda in 1994. And Turquoise exemplifies another awkward issue which was, and still is, the perceptions, internationally and locally, of a former colonial power returning in arms to an African theatre.

All three countries declined the Secretary General’s request.

The British had second thoughts, however – at least the Foreign and Defense Secretaries did. There were a large number of British and Commonwealth citizens in grave danger in and around Freetown, and the government of Sierra Leone was in no position to offer them any protection. This could be made to fit Annan’s plea that Britain would provide only technical and logistic support to the UN forces. The British would launch a non-combatant evacuation mission, but there was (perhaps deliberately) nothing said about what, if anything, the British force would do when that mission was accomplished. And so, on 5 May 2000, on the very day when a Zambian battalion of UNAMSIL was ambushed and captured with all its equipment, it was announced that Britain’s recently formed Rapid Reaction Force would be dispatched to Sierra Leone for the evacuation of threatened non-combatants. Operation Palliser, as it was named, was underway.

48 hours later, 600 paratroops of the Parachute Regiment, with two Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopters, arrived in Freetown and secured Lungi Airport and a nearby hotel where many had sought refuge. By 12 May, over 350 persons had been evacuated, and a further approximately 450 elected to remain. There seems to have been only one serious clash when, on 17 May, a group of about 40 RUF attacked a platoon of Paras, leaving twenty rebel dead and no Para casualties.

The initial deployment of the Paras had been a difficult decision for the British. Airborne forces possess great strategic mobility – they can be moved long distances at short notice and in very little time. They lack tactical mobility, however – once on the ground, their relative lack of firepower and paucity of service support render them vulnerable, and that vulnerability increases sharply over a relatively short time. Full combat effectiveness for the longer term is actually realized more quickly by seaborne forces, who travel much more slowly and take longer to arrive, but once deployed are much more flexible and sustainable than are airborne forces.

But the situation in May 2000 would permit no delays, and the Paras would clearly be “firstest with the mostest.” At the same time, on 7 May, the British warned and prepared the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which consisted of the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean with 600 men of 42 Royal Marine Commando embarked, the frigate HMS Chatham, a resupply ship and two landing ships. The Group, then at anchor in Marseilles, carried a total of ten helicopters. They sailed immediately, arriving in Freetown on 13 May. Meantime, on 9 May the British Foreign Office reiterated that the British forces were not combat troops, and were there only to evacuate non-combatants and to secure the airport for the arrival of the promised 3,000 UN reinforcements. The Royal Marines came ashore to relieve the Paras on 26 May; the Paras were withdrawn to the U.K.

In the meantime, further announcements from the British Foreign Office and MOD were including such off-hand phrases as “performing protective operations” and “provision of aid to UNAMSIL.” The troops’ “position” would be evaluated on a “day-to-day” basis, and British officers were being integrated into the UNAMSIL command structure, providing clearly sorely needed guidance and expertise. How could the British leave? And what would happen, to Sierra Leone and to the UN force, if they did? But British public opinion was very much against a long-term commitment of this sort, and the Prime Minister was under considerable pressure to limit the deployment and bring the troops home. The compromise was to terminate Palliser, which was done on 15 June 2000, but without a total withdrawal of British forces from Sierra Leone. A stand-by force of 200 Royal Marines remained embarked offshore, a 90-person team continued the training of the SLA, and the British established a Joint Headquarters “permanently” in Freetown, operating separately from but in close cooperation with the UN force HQ.

It is perhaps typical of operations in that part of the world that knowing who the players are is a challenge; in this case even knowing who the outsiders were is neither easy nor simple. It is to his credit that Fowler is able to keep the Paras, Royal Marine Commandos and Special Air Services reasonably straight, but the relationship of the various British Forces to each other, and to the United Nations Forces and the UNAMSIL mandate was, to say the least, not very clear. The issue was perhaps deliberately obscured by the Secretary General of the UN and by the British Government. Regrettably, this book doesn’t do much to sort out “the friendlies.” Just who, for example, were those British soldiers who were captured on 25 August? Almost as soon as their capture was known in HQ UNAMSIL, the Force Commander (probably with thoughts of “Blackhawk Down” dancing in his head) contradicted the British Forces statement that they were on an “authorized mission” – whatever that might have been. He added, “ … the British may have a tendency to shift the blame onto the UN troops …” However, the Force Commander was right: those soldiers were in fact not members of his mission, but were part of that British Army Training Assistance mission which had been left in Sierra Leone when the British terminated Operation Palliser on 15 June.

Throughout the British deployment in Sierra Leone, neither the UN nor the British government showed any inclination to question or to explain publicly the British role in Sierra Leone. We can speculate that the UN was embarrassed at having to watch a large peacekeeping force being rescued by a very small British force, and for sure the British government wished not to draw public attention to their deployment of Paras, Commandos and SAS in “support” roles. Later, in the aftermath of Operation Barras, the rescue operation which is the subject of this book, the British government went to extraordinary lengths to conceal altogether the role of the SAS in the rescue. An issue of the magazine Soldier, the demi-official journal of the British Army, carried a full account in the SAS role in Operation Barras. The British MOD ordered the magazine recalled, and about 90,000 copies were pulped. A censored version, with no reference to the SAS, was then distributed; to this day many think the rescue operation was carried out by the Paras.

The UN says of the Operations Palliser and Barras only that “The United Kingdom, which had sent a force to restore peace following RUF’s breach of the ceasefire, later started restructuring the army while UNAMSIL and other international partners concentrated on training the local police force.” Aside from cryptic references such as this to the British Army’s training role in respect of the SLA, there is no further mention by the United Nations of the British forces in Sierra Leone; it seems the British were not unhappy with the omission.

And so a force of never more than 600 light infantry, whether Paras or Commandos, in seven weeks rescued a peacekeeping force, but more than that, they rescued a peace process and an entire country – rescued them from failure, disgrace, renewed civil war, and delivered all those to cessation of fighting, maintenance of democratic processes, disarmament of belligerents – peace. 600 soldiers and seven weeks – how was that possible?

Lessons Learned, or Déjà vu all over again?

Christopher Bellamy of Cranfield University has written:

To ensure the success of … peace support operations, armed forces with the ethos and physique of war-fighting soldiers have to be recruited and trained. No-one else can be relied on if peacekeeping suddenly regresses into civil war, .. and no-one else gets the necessary respect from the people … the warrior ethos must remain, … imbued with flexibility and humanity … It is possible to mix combat readiness with humanity, and that is the challenge for … armed forces … (see NATO Review Library, On-Line Edition, Vol 49 Nr 2, Summer 2001, p9-11, accessed 24.04.2014) 

As these modern peace forces deploy into a fragile peace, or no peace at all, and must restore even a limited security, they must be able to restore the monopoly on force lost by their “hosts”, as governance failed or may have deceased altogether. They will do so only to the extent that they are generally able to seize, restore and maintain that monopoly, against any challenges, from any and all “parties”. Clearly and self-evidently having that capability, they may be the less called upon actively to exercise it. To the extent that that capability has been denied them, and that falsity in their position quickly and widely perceived, their lives will be the nightmare of 1990s enforcement operations, and their memories will be of similar humiliations and failure.

The willingness to use power is as important as the capability, and is just about as quickly known to the local parties, as demonstrated by the distinctly aggressive behavior of the RUF in the face of the Nigerians’ apparent confusion over their rules of engagement

In Operations Palliser and Barras, it was just because these Paras and Commandos were so obviously capable, that they were so infrequently challenged. This overwhelming impression of their capabilities actually allowed them to minimize the force they were required to use. But it was those British forces, operating outside the UN structures, limitations and culture, who were the true enforcers of the peace, and it took astonishingly few of them an incredibly short time to succeed, where so many have failed. Fowler summed up the moral ascendancy of the British troops on Operation Palliser: the operation “had been a demonstration of military power untrammeled by the UN’s rules of engagement and complex and inflexible chain of command. … the RUF and other militias realized that the British Forces in Sierra Leone were not to be provoked or humiliated.” And as he later said of Operation Barras, “Realizing that they were not up against the nervous or compliant UNAMSIL troops but rather the overwhelming but controlled violence of professional soldiers, many of the West Side Boys fled …” and they have never come back.

Looking Ahead

William Fowler tells us little about the true aftermath of the events of 2000 (his book was published in 2004). His “Aftermath” chapter is largely devoted to the British efforts to suppress the role of the SAS in Barras, and the long wrangle to secure a widow’s pension for the partner of the only British fatality. But we will have noticed the almost clock-like regularity with which things in Sierra Leone have fallen apart just after an intervention, and we will have noticed as well how little the previous interventions, whether by ECOWOG or Executive Outcomes, cared about nation or even institution building. And now the whole audience must be asking, “Was this one any different? How? Why?” True peace is not just the absence of fighting, and we will have to look well beyond the frame of this book to see how – and if – things are still being worked out.

In May 2002 there were presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone. There was no violence, the voter turnout was 81% and the elections were supported by UNDP and monitored by the EU, OAU, ECOWAS and the Carter Center. The incumbent, Kabbah, was re-elected.

By 2004 the Sierra Leone diamond industry, which in 2000 had sunk to production worth only USD 10 million, had soared to over USD160 million, now controlled and legitimized by the Kimberly Certification Process. Also in 2004 the War Crimes Commission commenced the trials of the first of 13 indictees.

In 2005 the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission completed its work. In that year the completely re-formed and re-trained National Police Force reached its pre-civil war strength of just over 900, of whom 15% were women. Also in 2005 a public opinion survey conducted by Yale and the Community College of New York, having polled nearly 1000 persons, reported that 100% said that the security situation had greatly improved, 71% wanted UNAMSIL to remain (it was due to cease operations at the end of 2005), 84% approved of the disarmament process and 98% reported the work of the UN in Sierra Leone as good or very good. All those polled were lavish in their praise of community development and repair projects undertaken by agencies and individuals.

At the end of 2005 UNAMSIL completed its mission, and handed over to the United Nations Integrated Office for Sierra Leone, UNIOSIL. That office had as its general mission to help the Government to strengthen human rights, realize the Millennium Development Goals, improve transparency and to hold free and fair elections in 2007. (The elections were held on 17 September, and Ernest Bai Korona, formerly leader of the opposition, was elected president.) The UN office was also to work together with other UN missions in the sub-region and provide security for the Special Court. It continues to date to discharge these functions, and works closely with the UN Peacebuilding Commission, promoting good governance and the rule of law, combating illicit drug trafficking, and addressing youth unemployment.

And this is peacebuilding: building and maintaining indigenous capacities, mentoring, assisting, advising – all the soft power measures of true nation building. What nations and societies recovering from violence and terror need to maintain their recovery is the sort of power which does not grow out of the mouth of a gun, but which takes root and grows in the hearts and minds of the people. The hawks gave peace this chance, but hopefully their time is past in Sierra Leone, and the real challenges of building a society of laws, of education, of poverty – these will best be addressed by the people of Sierra Leone, who will nevertheless need all the help they can get. As they say, “It’s your United Nations.”


This book suffers from a number of weaknesses. The scrambled chronology, the long and overly detailed end notes and the lack of an index, make this book difficult to use as a reference. The structure of the book, centered on a single incident which lasted about two hours and has little to do with the larger issues with which such a book ought to be concerned, is disappointing. In Operation Barras, the world’s finest soldiers attacked and defeated a lightly armed mob of mostly children. There was a lot more going on in Sierra Leone in 2000 and shortly thereafter, but this author does not synthesize these other events and wider issues, and leaves us to infer the larger lessons which the events of that year and its aftermath ought to illustrate.

This is a blinkered book – the information is all there, but there is no “so what.” Only if we read carefully and diligently between the lines, might we see that the way to peace in Sierra Leone was opened not by doves, but by hawks. We just wish someone would write that book.

Mao Zedong famously said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” This linkage of armed force and politics is not new, but the lesson cannot be taken for granted. The power of those with the weapons cannot be ignored, nor may it be conceded to the Tigers and the Technicals and the Attaches and the West Side Boys – or we all stay home and let the blood flow and the flames roar – as we more or less have done in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia, or as we might as well have. We must not concede the moral low ground so easily to aggressors and spoilers. So the lesson here seems to be: in emergencies, act quickly, powerfully and in good company – and don’t screw it up.

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