independent

Friday 25 April 2014

Briton led private army to hunt for Taliban

A FORMER soldier ran a US-backed private army to hunt down the Taliban in Pakistan in a secret war in 2003, a book has revealed.

Lieutenant Commander Howard Leedham, an ex-Royal Navy pilot, led a 25-strong force of specially-recruited Pakistani soldiers raiding Taliban camps, hunting down kidnap victims and detaining suspected al-Qa'ida militants.

Eight years after leaving the country, Lt Cdr Leeham has broken his silence to describe a programme he believes offers a model for securing Pakistan's borders against the militant threat.

While he was at work in the tribal badlands that border Afghanistan, the US State Department programme was a closely guarded secret – even from US and Pakistani officials. Under a one-year contract, Lt Cdr Leedham was granted use of an American fleet of seven helicopters and two fixed-wing planes to conduct anti-terrorist operations in support of local troops from a base in Quetta, capital of the restive province of Baluchistan.

Rules

To do it he had to persuade a Pakistani general to allow him to recruit a handful of local Pathan soldiers. "For a moment in time there was a group of Pathans, there were some Pakistani military officers, there were American mechanics, there was me," he said. "Did we break a few rules on the way? Yes. But if we didn't, the people who would have got the advantage were the bad guys."

Lt Cdr Leedham tells his story in a new book, 'Ask Forgiveness Not Permission'.

He had left the British military – after a career as a helicopter pilot for Royal Marine Commando and "special forces type operations" – and was working with an executive air service in the US when he was approached to take over a failing State Department programme in Pakistan.

Lt Cdr Leedham returned to the US at the end of his one-year contract at the age of 46. Today he lives in London and works in the financial world.

The story will cause unease in Pakistan, where conspiracy theories circulate about secret Western forces running amok and where the US today uses a classified drone programme to hunt militants. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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