First published in 2003, Force 5 Recon: Deployment: Pakistan by P.W. Storm is a confusing jumble with whiny marines, witty one-liners, lack of authentic ground realities and too much stereotyping. The story, when ignored of obvious bias, is easy to read and follow. While the reader is able to see and feel through the characters, the lack of authenticity at several places makes it hard to appreciate good writing. Since it came out so soon after 9/11, the story has strong bias against both Pushtoon fighters from Afghanistan & Pakistan as well as Pakistan’s military.
Force 5 Recon: Deployment: Pakistan
The hunt is on for the world’s most feared terrorist, hidden somewhere in the labyrinthine mountains of northern Pakistan, after his “sleepers” unleash a nightmare of fire and death across the length of the U.S. But the cold-blooded mass murderer Mohammed al-Zumar holds a wild card: a hostage American television news crew. An elite team of Special Operatives led by Sergeant Mac Rainey is already in al-Zumar’s backyard. Stranded in a Pakistani no-man’s-land with their cover blown and their extraction copter shot out of the sky, Force 5 Recon sets off to find and free the captives on their own and exact a righteous revenge — five U.S. Marines against a merciless criminal and his terrorist army in one of the world’s most inhospitable regions. But these are exactly the odds Rainey and his men were trained to confront … and to conquer.
The story follows a group of best-in-the-world Marines from US military who are on a reconnaissance mission. The team is led by Sergeant Mac Rainey, a Colorado man who has given his best years to the military and is now nearing his service to the Force 5 Recon team. His Assistant Team Lead is Sergeant Terry McAllistar who hails from the same area as Rainey and his family runs a funeral home.
Other members of the team include Corporal Jimmy Vance (sharpshooter, scout and obsessive fisherman), Corporal Bradley Houstan (replacement for Corporal Matt Thomas, best shot in the team and not on good terms with his rich businessman father) and Corpsman Genroy ‘Doc’ Leblanc (field medic, Recon & infiltration specialist and believes in fire superiority). From the start of the story the team fails in its recon mission with a shot fired and enemy alerted when Houstan is surprised by a Pushton youth. The story gets rolling right from the start with team trying to evade the enemy and attempting to reach extraction point.
The plot involves an Osama Bin Laden/Mullah Omar type figure, a young terrorist by the name of Al-Zumar who leads an effective terrorist organization called “Warriors of Mohammad”. He is involved in activating sleeper cells all across USA where schools, historic buildings and busy locations are suicide bombed resulting in thousands of deaths. He is mentored by a white bearded Shaykh Taha Khalil and assissted by two team leaders Haroun and Fadih, who are with him throughout his flight in the story. Al-Zumar is interested in giving interview to a western news crew, and he finds one through a local translator Shaqib. The news crew is headed by Nick Navarro, a famous and flamboyant reporter with former Marine John Arden as bodyguard and one producer and one cameraman.
These groups follow their paths across Pakistan’s NWFP province (bordering Afghanistan) and criss-cross each others paths right till the end of the story.
Authenticity of the environment
The description of mountainous areas, explanation of snow and affects of severe cold environment is very accurate. The way people have to survive these harsh environments is described well and the ordeal of escape is depicted quite thoroughly to lend authenticity and credibility to the story. The author got a few things right or at least came close, for example gas stations in Pakistan are called “Petrol Pumps” (not Petrol Stops), Arabic script is used for communication (but in Urdu or Pushto languages, especially in NWFP province where this story is based) and local delicacy called Kebab (not Kebob).
That being said, if the location wasn’t explicitly stated, one might have thought the story was taking place in Afghanistan and not Pakistan. While North West Frontier Province (now called Khyber PakhtunKhwa) share similar geography and ethnic population, it is far from what Afghanistan looks like or how things are done there. The province is depicted as war-torn hellhole with nothing good, American forces entering and exiting at will, Force Recon base established right within the province, foreign forces landing their choppers without any notice of local authorities, gun carrying Afghan refugees roaming freely and Pakistan Army completely missing (as well as double crossing USA on every matter). Everyone is jealous of American dream, everyone wants American products (even if they are Red Cross food crates) and everyone wants to kill infidel Americans.
The province of NWFP is dominated by Pushton population that also forms the second largest ethnic composition of Pakistan Army. That means a lot of families in NWFP have military links and thus a heavy involvement of Pakistan Military in the province, no sign of which was visible throughout the entire story. The author also fails to take into account the “Biradari System” or tribal-family system that is spread through Pakistan. One death, even in a mid-sized city, is found out very quickly and killers are discovered (or at least determined) quite rapidly. That did not happen at all in this story.
Warriors of Mohammad are shown as half-trained idiots at best. A group was shown to attack the Marines with knives and swords, completely disregarding the fact that the province of NWFP is so full of arms and ammunition that even 5 year old kids can completely take apart your gun, clean it and assemble it back with full military efficiency. Following paragraph sums up quite well the idea the author had regarding people he depicted are fighting the US Marines:
Rainey had expected to encounter at least some older Afghan guerrillas who had dug in against the soviets, and those men were at least as committed and as stubborn as his own. But the guys below? They had to be raw recruits, Pakistani tribesmen who had signed on with the Warriors of Mohammad because a few local landlords sympathetic to al-Zumar had ordered them to serve or be shot.
As obvious, a very convenient escape from truly depicting tribesmen who grew up around guns by showing up half-trained airheads who took up weapons due to X,Y,Z reasons.
Relevance & Complexity of themes in the novel
The story line is classic “Good-vs-Evil” where the good Force 5 Recon Marines go head-to-ahead against world’s most wanted evil bad guy Al-Zumar. The story line, while not very fluid, has good depth and new information springs up after every few pages. The heavy stereotyping of terrorists and their Islamic justifications of killing infidels is less-than-impressive, contributing to strong Islamophobia and indirect hint towards an anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The theme of the story is skewed for a particular type of audience who does not care about authenticity of the story and is quite happy with popular biases being regurgitated. It also promotes the idea that five trained Marines of Force 5 Recon are better than all turban-wearing-AK-wielding fighters of Warriors of Mohammad (even if they have been fighters since birth). The Force 5 Recon team, which was travelling light and not equipped for drawn out battles, had more ammunition than at least half of the Warriors of Mohammed organization.
The concept of Jihad, while used well throughout the story to show the motives of the terrorists, is depicted very negatively. The concept is hinted as Holy War, like a Crusade, against evil America; completely disregarding the basics of Jihad (fighting is a minor part and lesser form of Jihad).
Considering the genre and size of the story there are a lot of characters for the reader to meet. The Marines are best-in-the-world professional soldiers who are whiny schoolgirls at heart, the Warriors of Mohammad are a bunch of kids playing at being adults, the command base playing lost-and-found like a nervous mother-hen with the Force 5 Recon team and Al-Zumar and Shaykh as self-righteous religious assholes. With the progress of story we find history of each Marine, their motivations, families and what happened to them/await them in future. One has wife and kids back home waiting, another was recently dumped by his girlfriend, one is in love with the radio operator back in Force Recon base … there is plenty of information sprinkled throughout the story contributing to the progress in one way or the other, by either enhancing character motivations or distracting them at the wrong moment.
The growth of the characters is quite organic. At no point the history or behavior of the character is forced, though repeated references of Murphy’s Law (and how it kept screwing the with the team) felt as if the characters wanted screw-ups even when there weren’t suppose to be any.
Use of language (by author/by characters)
The description by the author is well constructed, the dialogues well balanced and staying true to how soldiers speak. Military jargon is well used and spread throughout the story, making you feel more connected to the soldier. A lot of dialogues are, however, very stereotypical. Most of the Warriors of Mohammad talk nothing except about Jihad, AKs and American products. Anti-American dialogues, many of them naive, are found in abundance:
“So we walk,” al-Zumar cried in defiance. “Let the entire American army try to catch us. We will just … walk away.”
Force 5 Recon: Deployment: Pakistan is an acceptable read for military thrillers and, once you ignore the obvious flaws, is an enjoyable story. The confrontation at the end, even if slightly confusing, is constructed well enough to leave the reader satisfied (somewhat). All in all a good book but not one for high recommendation.Tags: Force 5 Recon, P.W. Storm, Pakistan fiction, Review