“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” .

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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

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MY WAR GONE BY, I MISS IT SO

On this day five years ago my war ended. It would be another 24 hours before I departed Afghanistan for the very last time but, having handed in my weapon systems, I was now a bystander rather than a combatant in the fourth Anglo-Afghan war.

On this day five years ago
As a schoolboy I recall listening to a Battle of Britain veteran recount his experiences as a World War Two RAF Fighter Pilot as “the best years of my life”. Later, having served in the Balkans myself four years earlier, I read Anthony Lloyd’s personal account of that war and his descent into heroin addiction: My War Gone By, I Miss It So.

Both men reveal a secret I guiltily share. War is the ultimate frontier of human experience. Paradoxically not to be missed but not recommended for your children either.

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

Words and deeds are not aligned.

We are told that President Donald Trump changed his mind about sending more troops to Afghanistan after a campaign by his national security adviser H.R. McMaster which included showing the president a photograph of women casually strolling through downtown Kabul dressed in miniskirts.

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The picture from 1972 was used by Mr McMaster in an effort to demonstrate to Mr Trump that Western culture could return to Afghanistan if he sent more troops. It appears to have been a winning argument. On the campaign trail last year, Mr Trump had vowed to end America’s longest war calling it a “total disaster”.

If the President was moved to change his mind by the prospect of Western culture returning to Afghanistan it is not clear why he would lie about his motivations to the American people but he did. In a widely publicised speech to troops at Fort Meyer in Virginia he insisted, We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.

It seems the British government are equally eager to see the return of Western culture to the streets of Kabul and “welcome” the President’s change of heart.  Prime Minister Theresa May is prepared to approve a surge of special forces personnel to hunt down Taliban leaders and the Isis and al-Qaeda militants they are sheltering.

Theresa May

It’s curious because, only last year, speaking at the Republican Convention days after Donald Trump was inaugurated as President she declared, “there can be no return to the failed policies of the past – the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over“. Or perhaps not.

Western rhetoric, policy and strategy on Afghanistan are contradictory and confused. Words and deeds are not aligned.

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

INSURGENT ALGEBRA: 10-2≥20

The Sunday Times has learned that the SAS are being readied to return to Afghanistan as part of Donald Trump’s planned military surge.

According to Whitehall sources, “Theresa May is prepared to approve a surge of special forces personnel to hunt down Taliban leaders and the Isis and al-Qaeda militants they are sheltering.”

It seems that we are, once again, walking with eyes wide open into a flawed strategy of night raids and drone strikes.

As General Stanley McChrystal, a former ISAF  commander explained: “From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: Ten minus two equals eight (10-2=8). From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance… Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: Ten minus two equals twenty, or more, rather than eight (10-2≥20).”

McChrystal’s insurgent algebra is correct but it is Albert Einstein, author of the most famous algebraic formula of them all, who is alleged to have said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

albert-einstein

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

When Chris Green became disillusioned with his seemingly perfect existence he didn’t buy a sports car, run off with the au pair or snort cocaine from the breasts of prostitutes.

Instead he went to fight the increasingly unpopular war on terror in Afghanistan.

In the process of discovering himself he unwittingly discovers that the courage and heroism of the soldiers he fights alongside are confounded by incompetence and corruption, not to mention “an industrial strength counterterrorism killing machine”.

It’s a world where the dipsomaniac governor is in the pay of the illicit opium trade, the Chief of Police is a pederast and all round bad guy and the locals still haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842, or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. All infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Missing his two young sons, unable to influence policy and just a phone-call away from a brawl he can only lose with the elite SAS, Chris dreams of epic powder days in the High Alps a world away from Afghanistan. But before he can return home to a hero’s welcome – and his wife’s divorce lawyers – he must first complete one last mission to Zumbalay, the Taliban Heart of Darkness and an unlikely reunion with an old man in Helmand.

Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back*, Spin Zhira is a rare insight into the male mid-life crisis. What every woman needs to know and why every man should be careful what he wishes for.

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.

 * check the small print first

Riddle of the Waves

Steven Price Brown, or PB as he was known to me, called me a ‘fucking cunt, Sir’ when we first met. He was feeling aggrieved as I’d just fallen on him from a great height. I can’t say I blame him. He’s now published a book of his own, The Riddle of the Waves about his descent into and recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

His platoon suffered appalling losses in Afghanistan and as advance team medic he was at the centre of the most horrific incidents. Unbeknownst to me, after leaving the forces he retreated to Africa but became increasingly ill. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in October 2014 he returned to the UK but ended up homeless, living in a hostel and undergoing therapy. In October 2015, he was introduced to the military sailing charity Turn to Starboard, and discovered a new love of nature and a new purpose in life.

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It is commonly the case that the strongest, most dependable soldiers, those that hold the team together in times of crisis, are the ones that suffer the most and do so in silence. It was obvious to me from the start that PB was one of the strongest. I regret that, having relied on him so much, I didn’t also anticipate he might subsequently succumb to post traumatic stress.

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.

‘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

‘Absolutely fantastic. Vivid. Tragic. True. This is the book to read on service in Afghanistan.’
Dr Mike Martin, bestselling author of  An Intimate War

‘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

‘Not just for soldiers’
William Reeve, BBC World Service and Afghanistan Correspondent

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 

TRUMP RULES OUT AFGHAN EXIT

President Donald Trump has ruled out a hasty US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

Trump had previously tweeted “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!” but has now been persuaded that America must remain in Afghanistan to “fight to win” vowing to avoid the mistakes made in the past.

“We are not nation building again, we are killing terrorists” the President said. Unfortunately, if ISAF learned anything in Afghanistan, it was that the supply of willing insurgent foot soldiers in that part of the world is infinity. My friend Niels Vistisen, Political Adviser (POLAD) to the Governor of Nahr-E-Saraj in 2012, observed It became increasingly obvious that even though ISAF won all of the battles, NATO was not winning the war.’

General Stanley McChrystal, a former ISAF  commander explained: “From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: Ten minus two equals eight. From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance… Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: Ten minus two equals twenty (or more) rather than eight.”

McChrystal was infamously sacked in 2010 by President Obama after his motor-mouth got the better of him in the company of a Rolling Stone journalist. While his media skills may have been deficient his insight into counter-insurgency warfare was not.

Killing terrorists is not the winning strategy that President Trump now seeks or that America now needs to end the longest war in its history.

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

When Chris Green became disillusioned with his seemingly perfect existence he didn’t buy a sports car, run off with the au pair or snort cocaine from the breasts of prostitutes.

Instead he went to fight the increasingly unpopular war on terror in Afghanistan.

In the process of discovering himself he unwittingly discovers that the courage and heroism of the soldiers he fights alongside are confounded by incompetence and corruption, not to mention “an industrial strength counterterrorism killing machine”.

It’s a world where the dipsomaniac governor is in the pay of the illicit opium trade, the Chief of Police is a pederast and all round bad guy and the locals still haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842, or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. All infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Missing his two young sons, unable to influence policy and just a phone-call away from a brawl he can only lose with the elite SAS, Chris dreams of epic powder days in the High Alps a world away from Afghanistan. But before he can return home to a hero’s welcome – and his wife’s divorce lawyers – he must first complete one last mission to Zumbalay, the Taliban Heart of Darkness and an unlikely reunion with an old man in Helmand.

Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back*, Spin Zhira is a rare insight into the male mid-life crisis. What every woman needs to know and why every man should be careful what he wishes for.

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.

 * check the small print first

Ski descent of K2? No thanks.

If all goes to plan, in a few days’ time Andrzej Bargiel will stand on top of K2. Only then will the challenge he has set himself begin. Having conquered one of the hardest mountains in the world, Andrzej will clip into his bindings and ski 3,643 metres back to the glacial valley floor below. It will be the first ski descent of K2.

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I love my skiing. In fact, I’ve dedicated a disproportionate amount of my life to skiing. Like any addiction, I’ve risked my life in the pursuit of white powder and in the process sacrificed love, family, career and wealth. But skiing off the summit of K2?

That’s a whole new level of addiction and commitment I can only dream of and admire from afar.

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

When Chris Green became disillusioned with this seemingly perfect existence he didn’t buy a sports car, run off with the au pair or snort cocaine from the breasts of prostitutes.

Instead he went to fight the increasingly unpopular war on terror in Afghanistan.

In the process of discovering himself he unwittingly discovers that the courage and heroism of the soldiers he fights alongside are confounded by incompetence and corruption, not to mention “an industrial strength counterterrorism killing machine”.

It’s a world where the dipsomaniac governor is in the pay of the illicit opium trade, the Chief of Police is a pederast and all round bad guy and the locals still haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842, or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. All infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Missing his two young sons, unable to influence policy and just a phone-call away from a brawl he can only lose with the elite SAS, Chris dreams of epic powder days in the High Alps a world away from Afghanistan. But before he can return home to a hero’s welcome – and his wife’s divorce lawyers – he must first complete one last mission to Zumbalay, the Taliban Heart of Darkness and an unlikely reunion with an old man in Helmand.

Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back*, Spin Zhira is a rare insight into the male mid-life crisis. What every woman needs to know and why every man should be careful what he wishes for.

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

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

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, The 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 Martin, An Intimate war

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

 * check the small print first

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The truth about SAS shoot-to-kill night raids.

Mark Nichol for The Mail on Sunday has interviewed a former SAS soldier who claims that illegal killings were an unwritten rule of the job. The source claims that, in direct contravention of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), unarmed Afghans were routinely killed but only after high-level intelligence confirmed their identity as Taliban commanders rather than civilians. ‘We went in hard and I admit the tactics do sound gruesome, but these were bad men. We hunted them down only after their guilt had been established by a network of local informants as well as our various high-tech assets.’

Meanwhile in the Sunday Times, Dr Mike Martin a former British army officer has revealed how he expressed severe misgivings about “flawed” intelligence used to justify the raids during top secret “board meetings” in which SAS targets were identified. ‘The special forces night raids set our campaign back massively because they killed so many of the wrong people. They acted on very poor intelligence even when they knew it was poor.’

So which account is correct? To my mind it hardly matters. Both clearly indicate that basic principles governing the use of force were deliberately ignored.

As I have said elsewhere, ‘British forces worked under very very strict rules of engagement but it seemed to me that special forces did not have to apply the same rules in quite the same way.’ .

The Mail on Sunday’s informant clearly believes that these actions were justified and that ultimately they saved British lives, but I take a different view. If British soldiers were targeted in their homes and killed, unarmed in front of their families we would all, rightly, be outraged at such wicked and cowardly tactics. The murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby springs to mind. Even in war soldiers are not above the law.

 

“No witch hunts but no cover ups”

It’s been an extraordinary few days. When I agreed to be interviewed by the Sunday Times and the BBC over allegations the SAS killed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan I knew I would be getting into hot water.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have expressed admiration at my bravery or incredulity at my stupidity.

Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of being a Taliban loving apologist and, despite the glorious summer sunshine, it has not been an especially carefree few days.

I believe we forgot some important lessons from history in Afghanistan. Field Marshal Slim, one of Britain’s most successful and respected wartime military leaders, described Special Forces ops in Burma as ‘deeply embarrassing to the commanders on the ground’ because they were ‘controlled from some distant headquarters…with a complete lack of coordination among themselves and in dangerous ignorance of local tactical developments.’

It’s my view that Slim’s statement, written in 1945, could equally have been applied to Afghanistan in 2012.

David Stirling, the revered founder of the SAS, expressed concern over the legitimacy of some SAS missions in the latter stages of WW2, which he considered to be nothing less than ‘executions in cold blood’.  Contemporary accounts by former SAS soldiers of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have also alleged so-called mercy killings by special forces operatives in direct contravention of the law of armed conflict and similar to that which saw Sergeant Alexander Blackman convicted of manslaughter.

I cannot say whether or not the current allegations are true but I do believe that the lack of oversight and accountability that the SAS enjoys makes it possible. I maintain that I saw enough in Afghanistan to suggest that an investigation is warranted but I also agree with Lord Dannatt, the former Head of the Army, that there should be ‘no witch hunts but no cover-ups’ . The Ministry of Defence should not be allowed to make this go away.

On the morning of 10th March 2012, British Special Forces burst into the offices of Haji Gul, a respected businessmen in Gereshk, the District Capital of Nahr-E-Saraj and violently abducted him on suspicion that he was a Taliban financier. Bound and blindfolded he was taken to a detention centre in Camp Bastion where he was held for 30 days without charge or access to legal representation before being released without explanation or apology.

At the time I counselled against this course of action but was over-ruled on the basis that if Haji was innocent he would not object to being kidnapped and held against his will. If special forces operatives have nothing to hide it seems to me that they should not now object to an investigation into their conduct, all the while enjoying their liberty and access to justice. Even in war, soldiers are not above the law.

 

I saw SAS team gun down my innocent farmer sons, claims Afghan mother

Shortly after I returned to the UK at the end of the 2016/17 ski season I was contacted by George Arbuthnott, an award winning investigative journalist with The Sunday Times Insight Team.
George told me that The Sunday Times were investigating allegations of SAS assassinations in Helmand Province. He’d read my book and was interested in my account of a night raid in Rahim which resulted in the deaths of three farmers the SAS alleged were Taliban insurgents. Although I couldn’t say very much more than I had already published in SPIN ZHIRA, we spoke for about an hour.
Several weeks later George called me again to say that they had tracked down the mother of the three men, Bebe Hazrata, and that she had corroborated my own account of the incident. I was impressed. Rahim now lies deep inside Taliban controlled territory. The Sunday Times investigator had taken a huge personal risk going into an insurgent stronghold to meet with Bebe. I realised that George and the Insight Team were taking this investigation very seriously.
Today’s Sunday Times leads with the headline: Rogue SAS Unit accused of executing civilians in Afghanistan and in a separate article recount Bebe Hazrata’s story: I saw SAS team gun down my innocent farmer sons.
I can’t say whether or not the SAS committed war crimes but I do believe they operated outside of the normal rules of engagement and that many of their operations were counterproductive to the strategic aims of the campaign to “restore the economy and democracy”.
Based on my own experiences and the findings of the Sunday Times Insight Team an investigation seems warranted and it is disappointing to learn that this has been made to go away by the Ministry of Defence.

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 why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘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

‘Absolutely fantastic. This is the book to read on service in Afghanistan.’
Dr Mike Martin, bestselling author of  An Intimate War

‘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

‘Not just for soldiers’
William Reeve, BBC World Service and Afghanistan Correspondent

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

Old Man in Helmand