Tag Archives: General John Nicholson


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

‘We’re making real progress’, say last 17 commanders in Afghanistan

DuffelBlog’s tongue in cheek report by Cat Astronaut is a little unfair on General John Nicholson who, rather than ‘real progress’ has actually reported a ‘stalemate‘ in Afghanistan. But the point is still well made.

We continue to blind ourselves to failure in Afghanistan with self-deceit and the relentless pursuit of good news where none exists:

‘With hindsight, despite our very best intentions, it seemed we all had fought under a misapprehension. Rather than “protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice” we had preserved tyrannical injustice in the form of a hopelessly corrupt and irredeemable government.

We had been “used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes” of a governor in the pay of the illegal opium trade and of a police chief feathering his own nest and lining it with little boys for unspeakable purposes.

Rather than face up to the unpleasant reality of the things we knew to be happening around us, and which we appeared to be perpetuating, we blinded ourselves with self‑deceit.

Perhaps it was fanciful thinking on my part to believe that Brigadier Chalmers might share my own deep misgivings. After all we had met only once before when he had misjudged my efforts to influence policy in Afghanistan as “deeply impressive”. But if I was right, we were not alone in self‑deceit.

It enveloped us all:

In the pronouncements of the Provincial Reconstruction Team; in the declarations of successive Prime Ministers; in the statements of visiting government officials, movie stars, musicians and glamour models; in the “cautiously optimistic” reports of the international media; in the glittering array of honours and awards bestowed upon Afghan veterans, and in the millions donated to service charities.

Even though, in my heart of hearts, I knew these claims to be false I perpetuated them myself because I desperately wanted them to be true. Not because national pride or high profile political and military careers were at stake – although this was certainly the case. I wanted to record success because, in the previous nine months, I had seen men killed and others grievously wounded in the pursuit of these aims. Their sacrifice should mean something. The pain and suffering endured by their loved ones should not be in vain.

So, rather than admit the possibility of failure I embraced the deceit and, to my shame, I found myself basking in its warming glow of self-satisfaction. I consoled any inner misgivings by telling myself I wasn’t a government minister, or a glamour model, so what did I know?’

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

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.