Tag Archives: Counterinsurgency

Call me, maybe

Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins caused quite a stir in Afghanistan when their cheerleaders appeared in music video ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae. In a predominantly male, heterosexual community sex, or the lack of it, was a constant preoccupation and the bikini clad cheerleaders did nothing to improve the situation.

“DURING THE FEW days I’d been away at Clifton, I discovered that in my absence someone had ‘cocked’ the notepad I’d been foolish enough to leave in plain sight on my desk.

Cocking was an obsession in the Headquarters, a symptom of the sexual repression under which we all laboured. Both British and Danish commands imposed a strict no-sex rule in MOB Price, which for the most part was observed. This sexual abstinence was not the result of a commendable adherence to military discipline. Had an opportunity to engage in sexual congress presented itself I’m pretty certain that most of my colleagues, like me, would have set aside all considerations of military discipline and good order – but opportunity did not present. Price was a predominantly male, heterosexual community most of whom had wives or girlfriends waiting for them back home.

Sex, or the lack of it, was a constant preoccupation. So much so that at one of our decompression briefings in Cyprus at the end of our tour a female officer from the Royal Army Chaplains Department felt it necessary to remind us that sex involves two (or possibly more) people. By then I could hardly wait.

For the dozen or so women in Price, mostly medics and dog handlers, life in this sexually charged, testosterone fuelled environment must have been a minefield. On one occasion a female reserve officer was admonished for running wearing running shorts. This came to the attention of the chain of command who deemed it dangerously erotic. She was ordered to cease and desist immediately. In her case I had to admit they had a reasonable point, but the officer in question was incensed. When she came to seek my counsel it seemed inappropriate to compliment her on the comeliness of her gluteus maximus, so instead I offered a sympathetic ear, and tried to impress upon her the uncertain benefits of voluminous army issue shorts.

For men at their sexual peak – and even for those of us who had already passed that particular milestone – this enforced abstinence inevitably had its frustrations which were expressed in a number of ways. Cocking was one of them.

As far as I am aware this is an exclusively male obsession and involves the covert drawing of phallic imagery. This is nothing new of course. Such representations have been found dating back to the Ice Age around 28,000 years ago, and appear in many ancient cultures and religions. But the art reached new heights in MOB Price. Penis imagery would mysteriously appear on notebooks, notice boards, signage, PowerPoint presentations and operational staff work. An unusual geographical feature to the north east of PB Clifton was even referred to on our maps as ‘cock and balls’.

On one occasion I attended a packed briefing session in which a senior officer scribbled a note intended for Colonel James, who was sitting across the room, and handed it to the man next to him to pass down the table. By the time it reached its destination it had passed through the hands of a dozen or so officers and warrant officers, many of whom had surreptitiously cocked it. Although it was impossible to overlook the images with which it was now adorned, Colonel James accepted the note without so much as a raised eyebrow.

The towering penis that had been drawn on the front cover of my notebook was magnificent. It was a detailed and anatomically precise representation depicting an erection I’d have been justifiably proud of in my twenties and could only dream about in my forties. Phallic imagery varied considerably according to the imagination of the artist. I noticed, for example that Tom’s notebook had been illustrated with a lovingly drawn image of Winnie the Pooh being improbably penetrated by his diminutive sidekick, Piglet.

Judging from their absurdly oversized erections, which more closely resembled ancient Greek and Roman depictions of the deity Priapus than the sketches of AA Milne, they were both clearly enjoying the experience in a way that their creator had never intended.

Oh, D-D-Dear! said Piglet.

Back in civvy street, probably even back in barracks in the UK, Victorian prudishness and political correctness would not have tolerated phallic observance of this nature. HR departments would be called in, enquiries held, perpetrators reprimanded or even sacked. But in MOB Price phallophoric celebration of the Lingam, and to a lesser extent the Yoni, went unchecked.

The sexual health nurse who briefed us on RSOI had been right. None of our mucky lot was getting any and it was clearly preying on our minds.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the true 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. All infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Now available on Amazon Kindle for the special pre-order price of £1.99.

Trousers, civilian w. turn-up


I retire from the Army Reserve today. I joined up back in 1988 but I still remember my first day at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst like it was yesterday:

I BECAME AWARE of his presence before I actually set eyes upon the Colour Sergeant for the very first time. Viscerally, I knew I’d properly fucked up well before I knew the reason why. The year was 1988 and I was trying to extract an ironing board from the back of my MGB GT, a vehicle not best suited to the carriage of such an unwieldy item. It was my first day at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst where I was embarking on a six month leadership training course which, if successful, would culminate in a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army.

On arrival I had been directed to a car park some distance from my new home in Victory College, and instructed to get my kit unloaded and up to my new quarters in double quick time. In addition to the ironing board now stuck between the rear parcel shelf and the seat backs, the kit list of requirements had been extensive, running to several pages of curious back to front wording which transformed seemingly mundane items such as trousers and shoe polish into ‘trousers, civilian w. turn-up’ and ‘polish, shoes black’.

Getting this kit into my little car had been a gargantuan task in itself and I did not look forward to the multiple journeys to and from the car park that it would take to unload it all. In a flash of initiative that I reckoned would serve to highlight my suitability for commissioning, I resolved to bring Mohammed to the mountain and drive my car to an empty car park I had observed directly adjacent to the college. This would more than halve the unloading time.

Having put this unilateral change of plan into action I quickly completed the task, with the exception of the ironing board, which refused to budge. In an attempt to identify the cause of the obstruction I had somehow managed to squeeze my torso into the space between the parcel shelf and the seatbacks when I became aware of the Colour Sergeant at my back.

I inelegantly extricated myself from the vehicle. His towering presence loomed over me. It was obvious that I had transgressed in some way and was about to experience the wrath of the Colour Sergeant.

Immaculately dressed in blue tunic with red sash, brandishing a highly varnished wooden pace stick, the Colour Sergeant opened and closed his mouth a few times as he struggled to find the words to adequately express the full depth of his rage. The effect was like that of a pressure cooker about to explode. His arms and shoulders began to rise and fall in a series of short violent movements, but still no words emerged from his soundless lips. In an effort to diffuse the situation I stuck out my hand and attempted to introduce myself. The Colour Sergeant appeared truly affronted by this gesture, recoiling as if I had slapped him hard across the face. His impressive moustache twitched alarmingly and he finally found his voice.

“I know who you are, Sir. What are you doing on my parade square?”

He managed to make this prior knowledge of my existence sound deeply sinister. It was clear from his intonation that the ‘Sir’ was not intended as an honorific. Unsure how to answer without enraging him further it was my turn to be lost for words. The Colour Sergeant filled the void.

“Are you an amoeba, Sir?”

“Are you pond life, Sir?”

“Have you recently crawled out of a nearby swamp, Sir?”

“Are you not aware of the difference between a car park and a parade square, Sir?”

“Can you get anything right, Sir?”

I was dumbstruck. I had no idea how to respond. After a further few moments of uneasy silence the Colour Sergeant appeared satisfied that he had made his point.

“Cut away, Sir, cut away.”

And he walked briskly off in the direction whence he had come.

It wasn’t the best of starts but it was the start of one of the best adventures.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the true 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. All infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart. Now available on Amazon Kindle for the special pre-order price of £1.99.

Pathetic and worthless

Fellhorn Off Piste

The 15/16 ski season is almost over. I’ve spent it working as a ski instructor. My ex-wife’s divorce lawyer would not be impressed.

“On leaving the army in 1996, I’d worked hard to climb the corporate ladder, achieving a degree of success which had brought wealth but not happiness. I felt trapped on a treadmill. My employers kept paying me ever larger salaries but demanded more and more of my time in return. My beautiful wife, Jane also enjoyed the trappings of success and required a seemingly inexhaustible supply of designer clothes, beauty treatments and visits to the hair salon, all of which required funding. Not to mention the trophy house with it’s prestigious SE21 post-code in Dulwich Village. This we filled with expensive designer furnishings so that we might employ a housekeeper to keep it all clean. Then there were the exotic but tediously sanitised holidays which we bragged about to our friends and neighbours.

I yearned for something more meaningful than this life of comfortable consumerism. Ironically, as a marketing specialist it was my job to encourage others to buy more and more goods and services for which I personally cared less and less. Skiing had become my escape valve. But it was also a source of constant friction between Jane and me as I sought to spend more and more time in the mountains.

When we finally divorced in 2013 she cited my excessive skiing as ‘a cause of upset and unreasonable behaviour’. Her advocate, whom it would have given me great pleasure to meet in a dark alley, sneered in court sessions at my ambition to become a ski instructor, as if this was somehow a pathetic and worthless aspiration.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the true 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 on the basis that all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart. Now available on Amazon Kindle for the special pre-order price of £1.99.

Linear Regression


Linear Regression

Ten years after John Reid committed British troops to Helmand, news from the province is not encouraging. Reports indicate yet more violence and instability. I’m not surprised – as early as July 2012 there was evidence to suggest that this was the most probable outcome but this was deemed “off-message” and quietly suppressed.

About this time, the boffins in Regional Command South West, Task Force Helmand’s US Higher Headquarters produced a perception trend report based on aggregated monthly surveys conducted over the previous 12 months. After my experience with the PsyOps dodgy data I was more than a little sceptical of these kinds of reports. This one, at first glance, appeared to conform to the standard pattern of self-deception with which I had by now become familiar. According to this report, dubbed The AP-A Atmospherics Word on the Street, everything in Helmand Province was coming up roses.

The data had been presented in a graph that plotted Atmospheric Values – whatever they were – over time. According to the graph, public perception of the Taliban was very low, represented by a red line knocking along the bottom of the horizontal axis. Perceptions of GIRoA, a bold green line, were several points higher somewhere in the centre of the graph. Naturally, given this was a US report, perceptions of ISAF were highest of all, a striking cobalt blue line running along the top of the chart.

I was pretty certain that none of the respondents in the survey had been canvassed on the streets of Kakoran, or any of the other places I’d visited recently. But, this aside, something else about the slide caught my eye.

The Regional Command egg heads had applied some linear regression to their data points to smooth the red, green and blue lines running across their chart. While this helped to illustrate their point that perceptions of GIRoA were significantly higher than those of the Taliban, I also observed that there was a slight downward trend to the GIRoA data set.

I decided to redraw the graph, extending the timeline out to December 2014, when British forces were due to depart Afghanistan. I then extrapolated the Taliban, GIRoA and ISAF trend lines based on the Regional Command linear regression and discovered that while perceptions of the Taliban continued to bump along the bottom of the graph, at some point around June or July 2014, assuming current trends remained constant, perceptions of GIRoA would be as low, if not lower, than those of the Taliban.

This did not augur particularly well for successful transition. But it did, perhaps, provide the insight we required to un-fuck the goat in 2012 as Colonel James had directed.

My analysis was admittedly rather crude but necessarily so. Since I didn’t have the original data set to work from I’d simply extrapolated from the Regional Command graph, but I felt certain I’d done enough to warrant further investigation.

I showed my redrawn chart to Colonel James who dismissed it with a wry smile. It wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t intuitively know already. I then fired it back to the Regional Command boffins for their comment. I didn’t have to wait long. First came an anonymous reply from a shared email address which, in not so many words, told me that I was a dumbass infantryman and couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of applied mathematics and statistical analysis. I should leave the number crunching to the number crunching experts and get back out there and kill more bad guys.

As a parting shot the anonymous boffin smugly informed me that it was not possible to use the data for forecasting purposes as I had done. Spotting an obvious flaw in his intellectual superiority line of reasoning, I replied by pointing out that the linear regression he’d originally applied to the data was generally used for exactly this purpose. He retorted by stating that 12 months data was not enough to produce an accurate forecast. I agreed, and asked him to send me all the data for the previous five years.

At this point email communication ceased.

I took to the telephone and tried to track down the mystery boffin in his ivory tower a long, long way away from anywhere hostile and dangerous but no one wanted to take my calls. My several messages were not returned. A short while later I received a call from a British Colonel in Task Force Helmand who discreetly informed me that I was not on message and, while he conceded that I might have a point, this was not helping Anglo-American relations. He was utterly charming but equally adamant that I was to stop by-passing the chain of command and harassing the Regional Command boffins. He also made it very clear that I was not going to receive the data I’d requested and I was to drop any further attempts at linear regression analysis.

It seemed that my off message forecasting of GIRoA perception trends was being buried by the falsehoods which interest dictates. Although this was a much more genteel and civilised dressing down than the one I’d received from TF196 it was a bollocking nonetheless.