Unfinished business or ancient history?

Reporting for the BBC from Kabul,  Auliya Atrafi explains why so many of his fellow countrymen blame the British for everything.

He tells us of a persistent rumour that ‘the hand of the British is behind every evil in Afghanistan.’ It is a widely held belief that I encountered again and again in Helmand Province.

Britain has suffered some of it’s most humiliating military disasters at the hands of Afghans, most notably the destruction of Lord Elphinstone’s army  in the 1842 retreat from Kabul and the 1880 Battle of Maiwand, an engagement which took place 40 miles east of Lashkar Gah, the British headquarters of Task Force Helmand from 2006 – 2013.

Many Helmandis’ forefathers had a hand in the British defeat at Maiwand and earnestly believed that Task Force Helmand had returned, 126 years later, to avenge the 969 British and Indian troops who died there. By contrast, most British troops were unaware of the battle and, for those few who did, its significance was dismissed as ‘ancient history’.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate War

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 

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ARMING THE TALIBAN

General John Nicholson, the head of US Forces in Afghanistan thinks the Russians are arming the Taliban. I have no reason to doubt him but I think General Nicholson may also need to look a little closer to home to find the source of Taliban funds.

During my time in Helmand local nationals on both sides of the conflict were of the firm conviction that the US funded the Taliban via Pakistan. It seemed preposterous to me at the time and I dismissed the rumours. Given that many Helmandis not only still held the British accountable for the occupation of 1842 but also for the Russian invasion of 1979 because ‘all infidels look the same’ it was not an unreasonable conclusion.

However, I was forced to reappraise my view after reading Christina Lamb’s book Farewell Kabul.  Gen. Nicholson has spent almost his entire career in Afghanistan and I’m sure he is familiar with these claims so it’s interesting that he would choose not to address these too. It is also odd that the BBC interviewer did not think to ask the question.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

SIDING WITH THE VULTURES

Johnny Mercer, Tory MP and former soldier, writes in The Telegraph that the Ministry of Defence is “losing its moral compass”He refers to the reopening of historic allegations of abuse in Iraq by British soldiers brought by disgraced lawyers such as the unscrupulous Phil Shiner who sought only to line their own pockets.

Everything happens for a reason, but it is hard to understand why the Ministry of Defence would “side with the vultures”. Johnny offers a clue when he states that “we are finally beginning to understand the lengths to which an organisation like the MoD will go to look after itself”

Those who break the law must be held to account, but could it be that the Ministry of Defence is sacrificing the nation’s bravest and best in order to deflect away from complicity at the most senior level into illegal activities such as state sponsored assassinations, kill/capture missions (where the former was the most likely outcome) and detention without trial or access to legal representation?

Sometimes two plus two does equal four.

 

NOT THAT “GOOD GUY”

The man on the right is Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association boss, described by the man on the left as “one of the good guys”.

Back in 2012, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Wayne claimed that “to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.” A claim he reiterated last week in the wake of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School.

However, it must be noted that while Wayne may well be one of the “good guys” he would not want to be confused with being a “good guy with a gun”. You see, like his President, Wayne dodged the Vietnam draft back in 1970 and has never borne arms in the service of his country.

In any event, as anyone with battlefield experience could tell him, when the bullets are  flying in all directions, there is no such thing as a good guy with a gun.

At best, some of the guys with guns are a little less bad than the others.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

The clue is in the name

My son, Harry is a school age American citizen so, even though I am not a citizen myself, I’m invested in the US gun debate following yet another High School shooting tragedy in which a former pupil has been charged with murdering 17 with an AR-15 assault rifle.

The AR-15 has a singular purpose – the clue to which is in the name.

President Trump thinks that “Anyone adjudicated as mentally incompetent or dangerous to society should be prevented from getting a gun.” His detractors say that this would be difficult to enforce and may even be unconstitutional but I believe they are quite wrong.

There is a very simple and incontrovertible test: Anyone wishing to own an assault rifle is a danger to society and quite possibly mentally incompetent to boot.

But there is one snag.

According to the National Rifle Association, the AR-15 is the “most popular rifle in America” and estimates that over 8 million mentally incompetent or dangerous citizens already own one.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

I’M THE FIRST RESPONDER

CAUTION: This post contains self-indulgent content.

For the last decade and more, aside from a few minor scrapes and bruises, I’ve skied injury free but, through the misfortune of my skiing companions, I’ve given the Trois Vallees Medical Centres lots of business. A couple of ACL tears, a broken collar bone, snapped achilles, concussion and, most notably in 2012, a heart attack. I’m even on first name terms with some of the Doctors.

Consequently, I’m alive to the risks and rigours of backcountry skiing and I train hard in the off-season to prepare myself but, in my mind at least, the role for which I have been caste in the drama of a mountain accident is always that of First Responder. The lead role of Casualty is always another actor, sometimes known to me, sometimes not.

Skiing the pow last week I sustained a knee injury when I double ejected from my bindings after my skis connected with an unseen, immovable object under the snow. Right up until that moment I was having a blast but in the instant that I parted company with my skis I knew I was in big trouble.

It turns out that, despite all my training and experience, I’m ill prepared for playing the Casualty and I’m not enjoying the experience at all.

In a sport that eats knees for breakfast, lunch and dinner I have to acknowledge that I’m lucky this is the first such injury I’ve sustained. I’m also trying to remain optimistic that my season isn’t over in the hope that I can return to my previous role as First Responder as soon as possible.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

 

BE AFRAID

The avalanche risk estimate is currently set at five in the Trois Vallees. It’s the most extreme level of risk on the avalanche danger scale and indicates that large and very large avalanches are certain to be triggered by skiers travelling in avalanche terrain, which is any slope between 30 and 45 degrees (the slope angle on which slab avalanches are most likely to occur).

Since I don’t really fancy my chances in an avalanche I stayed home today and surfed the web, where I stumbled across Greg Hill’s Mountain Rules.

Greg is a Suunto sponsored ski mountaineer and guide who has five simple rules for mountain travel that I really identify with as follows:

  1.   Be Afraid
  2.   Be Prepared
  3.  Have a great team
  4.  Have a plan
  5.  Be vigilant

Greg’s five rules are the product of  20 years experience in the mountains. By contrast, I have just three rules for backcountry travel which were developed in 50°C heat on the plains of Afghanistan. But I reckon they’re just as good and there’s plenty of similarity:

  1.   Hope for the best
  2.   Plan for the worst
  3.   Prepare to be surprised

Of course, ‘Be afraid’ was not a rule in Afghanistan. It was a given.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

DEAD TERRORISTS CAN’T HARM BRITAIN

Gavin Williamson, talking to the Daily Mail, declares that “a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.”

A soundbite that will delight jingoistic Daily Mail readers, no doubt, and which may even briefly distract from uncomfortable BREXIT headlines,  but one that also exposes the inexperience and naivety of  our new Secretary of State for Defence.

It’s clear from his comments that the man  now charged with Defence of the Realm has invested little, if any, time learning lessons from history or even understanding that killing one terrorist only creates more terrorists.

He also fails to appreciate that ISIS, an ideology so repugnant and grotesque that it has been condemned by the Taliban, has its genesis in the western military tactics of night raids, extraordinary rendition, water-boarding, drone strikes, collateral damage and incarceration without trial.

If Gavin Williamson is to successfully defend the realm he will need a slightly more joined up strategy than simply killing terrorists. If we have learned anything in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 it is that the supply of willing insurgent foot soldiers in that part of the world is infinity.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Amazon Five Stars A JOURNEY OF LOVE, SERVICE AND ADVENTURE. EXCELLENT!

Amazon Five Stars A MODERN WARFARE LITERARY CLASSIC! OUTSTANDING READ.

Amazon Five Stars ENTERTAINING, THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND COMPULSORY TO READ.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA 

HINC LUCEM ET POCULA SACRAL

The Chief Library Assistant at Cambridge University Library has kindly been in touch to inform me that the library, which has been loaning books for over 600 years, now holds SPIN ZHIRA in its catalogue of over eight million books.

It’s doubtful SPIN ZHIRA can live up to the University’s motto, Hinc lucem et pocula sacral  (‘From this place we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge’) but it’s nice to know it’s keeping good company.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to borrow a copy because I don’t qualify for a CU Library card.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

“IRISH UP AND OVER!”

At 06.30 hours on this day in 1915, on the command “Irish Up and Over!”, Riflemen Frank Edwards lobbed his football into the No Mans Land which separated the British and German positions at Loos-en-Gohelle. Frank, along with his London Irish team-mates, Mickey Mileham, Walter ‘Jimmy’ Dalby, Bill Taylor and Bert Coward spread out like a line of forwards and went after the ball, “all the while shells bursting among them and shrapnel screaming overhead”.

So started the Battle of Loos, the first large scale British offensive of the First World War, referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’. Despite heavy casualties, there was considerable success on the first day in breaking into the deep enemy positions but the reserves had been held too far from the battlefront to be able to exploit the successes and succeeding days bogged down into attritional warfare for minor gains.

The football continued in play, ending up somewhere on the German wire, but Frank was not so lucky. Going down wounded, it was Micky Mileham who stopped to fix the tourniquet that saved his pal’s life.

In a different war in a different century, fighting for our survival, trapped and cut off from our resupply chain and slowly but inexorably running out of supplies and ammunition, I experienced the same sense of belonging that sustained my London Irish forbears and which had convinced them it would be a good idea to “charge across No Man’s Land passing the ball forward” .

capi041_youbelong_6sheet_fin_uk41

 

It is such a potent force that the British Army has harnessed it for its latest advertising campaign. “Belonging sees you through whatever life – on or off the battlefield – may throw at you.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick HennesseyThe Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘A must read.’
Richard DorneyThe Killing Zone 

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

‘First Class.’
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier

 ‘Absolutely fantastic’
Dr Mike MartinAn Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

¹Check the small print first

Old Man in Helmand