SAS hero Chris Ryan on Syria and why it could be dangerous to interfere
"A long weekend in Damascus" is how the soldier-turned-writer describes how he got to know Syria.
But those who are familiar with the story of Brave Two Zero will know exactly what that low-key phrasing hides. Chris was in the SAS on a mission in Iraq in 1991 when he and his troop were compromised.
He was the only one of eight to avoid capture or death and made it nearly 300km across the desert to neighbouring Syria.
Then, while needing urgent medical treatment for muscle atrophy and damage caused by drinking nuclear waste contaminated water, he found out the Middle-Eastern territory was not as safe as he had hoped.
"My time in Syria was quite an ordeal," said Chris, with much understatement. "I was walking for seven days and seven nights escaping from Iraq.
"I just wanted to get out and once I got into Syria I handed myself into the police. They did a mock execution in the desert with a hood and a pistol to my head. It was all psychological.
"When I got to Damascus things were a bit better but I still had no visa and passport so I had a long weekend in Damascus."
That courageous odyssey was recounted in Chris' literary debut The One That Got Away.
Since then the author, born in Tyne and Wear in 1961, has written numerous fiction and non-fiction bestsellers.
Once a figure of mystery, pictured only in silhouette, he is now a well-known face and will come to Canary Wharf to sign copies of his book, Masters of War, on Friday.
With international attention focussed on the crisis in Syria, Chris thought it was a good time to revisit the country for his new fictional thriller.
"The story is about the SAS taking a team out to Syria along with a guy from MI6," he told The Wharf.
"The team want to contact rebel forces to see what kind of backing they have.
"It looks at private military contractors working on the ground and it follows a new character Danny Black through Syria.
"The publishers want him to be likeable throughout the series of books but I want to change him and make him into an anti-hero."
The book focuses on politics, of war generally and in this region specifically, and with it lies an unequivocal message from Chris about whether Britain and the West should get involved in the internal strife that is ravaging the country.
"It's very dangerous to start supporting one side against another," he said.
"We don't know who they are and what would happen afterwards.
"We could end up helping to create a problem, arming terrorists with guns that could be used against British troops in the future and that would be a disaster. We need to stay out."
Chris also believes that a commitment would stretch overworked forces who are still recovering from long deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And all the while, cutbacks in the Armed Forces are further stretching resources to breaking point.
"When I joined up at 16 I was probably quite naive, thinking it would be a lot of trips to exciting places, fun and games," he said.
"It's not until your first operation it hits you and you're shot at and seeing colleagues get killed, you realise what it's really about.
"But when I joined we only had Northern Ireland so what the kids now have gone through is phenomenal.
"The army is getting smaller every year and soldiers are doing back to back tours, which is horrendous for young kids. Not only that, but they've not got the best equipment."
And the pressure on those in the army is easy to see.
Chris said he watched the recent Panorama expose on the authorities allegedly covering up rates of soldier suicides in Britain.
"It's shocking," he said. "I live in the US most of the time and over there one soldier is killing themselves every 23 hours.
"Mental health issues have been brushed under carpet for too long but they are now being exposed and there's more to come."
Now, out of the army, the author says he most enjoys visiting schools to help increase the job opportunities for working class children in the UK.
"The time I had in the SAS was the best 10 years but I'm over 50 now, so I had to give it up," he said. "What I'm doing is storytelling and it's the best job in the world.
"And it's great doing the junior reads for 10 to 16-year-olds where I go into schools for readings and convince them reading is cool.
"I find it shameful when I meet a 15-year-old who has never read a book and has difficulty reading. If you can't do the basics you won't get a job."
Chris will be signing his new book, Masters Of War, at Jubilee Place Mall on Friday, August 30 at 12.30pm. The book is priced £18.99.