Retired British Royal Navy lieutenant commander recounts experiences in book

Howard Leedham signed copies of 'Ask Forgiveness Not Permission: The true story of an operation in Pakistan's badlands' at the Visitors Welcome Center in Hagerstown's Public Square

  • Retired British Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Howard Leedham, right, signs a copy of his book, "Ask Forgivemess Not Permission: The True Story of an Operation in Pakistan's Badlands" for Sean Guy of Greencastle, Pa., Thursday at the Visitors Welcome Center in Hagerstown's Public Square.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

Howard Leedham spent a year in Pakistan leading a force of soldiers who, among other things, raided Taliban camps and conducted other anti-terrorist activities.

The retired British Royal Navy lieutenant commander recounts his experiences in a new book, “Ask Forgiveness Not Permission: The true story of an operation in Pakistan’s badlands.”

The book recounts how Leedham was recruited by the U.S. State Department to activate a fleet of anti-terrorist helicopters given to the Pakistan armed forces to combat terrorist activity in the region, according to a news release.

Leedham — who held a book-signing Thursday at the Visitors Welcome Center in Hagerstown’s Public Square — said he led a force of 25 specially recruited Pakistani soldiers and American mechanics on raids of Taliban camps.

They also hunted down kidnapping victims and detained those suspected of being al-Qaeda militants, he said.

Now an American citizen, Leedham is no stranger to the area.


“I lived in Greencastle for many years,” he said.

He said he worked out of Hagerstown Regional Airport for Aerosmith Flight Center as a pilot.

“It was at that time I was approached by the State Department after 9/11 to run a security operation on the Pakistan/Aghanistan border,” Leedham said.

“I had some business in Washington, D.C., and I (would) come back here every two years to renew my flying qualification,” he said. “I do that with my old company, which is now based in Martinsburg.”

He said he contacted Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, “and mentioned that the book had already been launched in Britain, and if there was an interest in me coming to Hagerstown to promote my book. I feel a special connection with this area,”

“’Ask Forgiveness Not Permission' is a recount of the year I spent in Pakistan, and the lead-up to the operation and the recruitment process. It also covers our search for militia on the border using Pakistani soldiers, the talents of the U.S. State Department and American mechanics. I document how I turned this into an effective night-raiding force.”

It is the first book written by Leedham, who said he was encouraged by a colleague in Pakistan.

“It was a Pakistani colleague who said to me, ‘You must write a book on these events, or they will get lost in the sands of time.’ I thought he was right, and I decided to try and document the events.

“I was awarded an MBE several years ago,” Leedham said. “This stands for member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. It is an award only the queen can give out. She herself pinned it on me — it was a very special moment.”

Leedham leaves Hagerstown this week for meetings in Los Angeles with  producers who have an interest in the book, he said.

Initially, several producers were interested in the book, “not for a feature film but for a miniseries.... There are several strands to this book, and if you were to try and compress that into 90 minutes for the big screen, many of the strands or events would have to be removed. So a miniseries is a better option. And although nothing is definite, I am excited at the prospect,” Leedham said.

Copies of the book are available at the visitor center in Hagerstown.

Leedham said he is writing another book, this time a novel.

“It was my publisher who has encouraged me to do this, and I am very excited for the next chapter, so to speak.”

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