The Highway to Hell

Sarah Sands, reporting for the Evening Standard reveals that Department for International Development (DfID) staff in Afghanistan are too fearful to travel by road. It’s a cruel irony since ‘Freedom of Movement’ was once a core tenet of DfID’s nation building strategy in Helmand and billions of dollars of international aid was invested in road building.

‘The Kandahar–Herat highway forms part of Highway One, which itself is part of the southern section of a 2,200km ring road inside Afghanistan connecting the cities of Mazari Sharif, Kabul, Ghazni, Kandahar, Farah, and Herat.

Originally constructed by the Soviets in the 1960s, hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid, mostly from the US, Saudi Arabia and Japan, have been invested in its reconstruction following ISAF intervention in the country. In 2005, then US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad called the highway a ‘symbol of Afghan renewal and progress’. But in some quarters it is also known as the Highway to Hell.

Anyone wishing to travel the highway must pay illegal tolls, not only at the many ANA and AUP checkpoints along its route, but also to armed gangs and brigands, some of whom claim to be Taliban, who control its more remote stretches.

Kidnappings and killings of those unable or unwilling to pay are common, as are attacks on both military and civilian ISAF convoys that use the route. The road is heavily cratered in places and littered with burned out trucks, further hazards for the unwary traveller. In addition to logistics convoys, locals working with the government, aid agencies, and those connected to Westerners are also frequently targeted and killed.

Travelling at night is not recommended. Some sections of the highway have solar powered street lighting installed, but the photovoltaic panels have been stolen long ago. Lone headlights attract the attention of local bandits. Approaching one of the many ANA checkpoints after dark is likely to attract automatic gunfire from nervous soldiers who, with good reason, fear suicide bombers.’

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back (but check the smallprint first).

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘First class’
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

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