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Assignment Selous Scouts: Inside Story of a Rhodesian Special Branch Officer Paperback – June 1, 2006
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
Assignment Selous Scouts illuminates the day-to-day horrors of the bloody and brutal terror war that was fought in the former Rhodesia against Marxists guerrillas. ZANLA targeted white civilians, particularly farmers, to drive them from the land as well as tribal blacks to bring them onside using a strategy of murder, torture, rape, arson and other horrible acts of terror. They laid landmines indiscriminately on public roads. By the war's end there had been 21782 recorded terrorist incidents in the country (7996 in Hurricane, 5398 in Thrasher, 5676 in Repulse and 2712 in Grapple and Tangent between them). There were 1276 landmine detonations that caused 7283 casualties. Although involved in the conflict earlier while a regular policeman, the author stepped back into the Rhodesian Bush War in mid 1977 when as a farmer and a Police A Reservist he was appointed as a Special Branch liaison officer with the Selous Scouts at their Chiredzi Fort in the Lowveld. Much of what he has written in this book has come from his personal knowledge and experience. What Jim Parker didn't know then was that on 20 July 1977 the Security Force chiefs at Combined Operations had told Prime Minister Ian Sm
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The book begins with coverage of the war in general up until the author joined the Special Branch Selous Scouts including some basic coverage on the war, Selous Scouts operations, and some interesting information on the Operation Repulse and Operation Thrasher areas and events occurring there. This is one of my gripes with this book - namely the coverage of the general war. While the coverage of Selous Scouts operations is entertaining it is overwhelmed by basic information on the bush war that could be found elsewhere. As the reader goes along the information on the Operation areas becomes more plentiful, but again the information is not always related to Scouts operations. Eventually information on Scouts Chem/Bio warfare, and the day to day operations of the Scouts in the later years of the war comes to light, but again, this is information on the Special Branch of things, which is vastly different than information on the Army Scouts. There is also some brief discussions of attacks on religious missions, and opponents of the regime - which has likely caused so much of a stir due to the author's lack of documentation to prove that these were sanctioned ops rather than rogue ones. It's difficult to prove some of these claims due to the country changing hands and the likely destruction of documentation, but the author should qualify these statements a bit more then. Its difficult too when one of his major sources for the book Mac McGuiness later denied saying some of the information attributed to him the book
The book's latter quarter covers the Scouts and their South African allies attempts to prevent the ZANU-PF from gaining power, then assassination attempts against Mugabe before he can take power. Again, the claims are interesting, but not well proven. Naturally, claims of things like attacks against UANC, etc supporters by Scouts dressed as ZANLA in an effort to get the Brits to disallow the ZANU from the elections, poisonings, etc. do not paint the Scouts in a good light and is bound to elicit vehement denials, but the author should have known to back up his claims strongly or soften them a bit more than he does by saying "I am not sure, but I have good belief based on evidence X and Y to say that the higher ups knew about Operation A or B."
Overall, it's a decent read, though needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The author adds to the limited information on the Scouts from the perspective of Special Branch, but should have done more (and perhaps his editor as well) to explain some of his more fantastic claims and spent fewer pages on a general accounts of the war. At the same time,his (albeit brief) discussion of SADF Paras a Fireforce units towards the end of the war, the use of Recce's as "D" Squadron RSAS, the use of SADF "Rose" mines (and the attendant dangers to the user as well as the target), and the integration of SAS and Selous Scouts into the South African Recce Commandos is of definite use to those interested in SADF and Rhodesian special units.
Probably worth the money if you really want to learn as much as possible about the Selous Scouts. Otherwise, I suspect Top Secret War by Ron Reid-Daly would be a better choice. Having not read it (at this point) I can't say this for certain, but there's a much more affordable book by Peter Baxter that came out in 2011.
This book is an important read in understanding the history of the Selous Scouts and the unit's full spectrum of operations. The book covers the direct involvement of the British South African Police (BSAP) Special Branch (SB) which played a major role in all Pseudo-Operations undertaken by the Selous Scouts. The Selous Scouts was basically established as a joint BSAP and Army unit. The SB was responsible for "turning", training and re-introducing the newly "turned" terrorist to the Selous Scouts for operations against their comrades. The SB function is often over looked or given a cursory look it other works/books on the Selous Scouts (as in Reid-Daly's "Pamwe Chete" and other titles on the Selous Scouts).
Now, you must know there is some major controversy associated with this book. The Selous Scouts Association (SSA) has distanced it self from this book. The SSA said that there are some extraordinary claims as to what the Selous Scouts did during the war and the SSA has described the major claims in the book as "total fiction". The SSA also claim that Parker was not an attested member of the Rhodesian Special Branch and he was not a member of the Selous Scouts Special Branch. Rather that he was in fact a Police Reservist. But Peter Stiff, the publisher of the book, has stated that the above claims are not true and that the Parker, was a Reserve Detective Section Officer with SB Selous Scouts at Operation Repulse virtually fulltime as an A Reservist during the last years of the war. All I can say as a avid researcher/historian on Rhodesian matters, I have learned most former Rhodesian Spec Ops types are very closed mouth about their "operational" past and today still remain security conscious. So I feel the "real" truth of the matter will never be known for a long time if ever.
Over all this book is well documented and has extensive endnotes and bibliography, as well as many never before published photographs.
With the controversy aside the book still is a required read for the military/intelligence professional.