Tag Archives: Helmand

Deadly car bomb targets Afghan Bank – BBC News

The BBC reports that at least 29 people have been killed and 60 wounded in a car bomb blast outside a bank in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

The bomb was detonated at the gate of the New Kabul Bank branch in Lashkar Gah as people queued to receive their salaries.

Lashkar Gah was once the headquarters of Task Force Helmand but is now a city under siege. What has happened to all the “cautious optimism for the future” expressed by the international community back in 2014?

The Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team’s grandiose pronouncement that it “achieved its aim of building a strong platform for future governance and development in Helmand” sounded ridiculously overblown at the time.

Three years later it sounds inexcusably incompetent.

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.

Advertisements

“ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC”

“Absolutely fantastic. Vivid. Tragic. True. This is the book to read on service in Afghanistan.”
So says Dr Mike Martin of SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
His own book, An Intimate War, described as ‘the first serious effort to make sense of the war in Helmand’ by Tom Coghlan of The Times caused a media furore when the Ministry of Defence tried to block its publication because it criticised the British military. It has subsequently received widespread national and international recognition as ‘the book on Helmand’.
Mike has travelled and lived all over the world in order to try and understand conflict. He is a War Studies Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London. His other books include Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place and Why We Fight.
Mike Martin books

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

‘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.

Haringey does what …to feel good?

I may be getting on a bit, but the truth is we all do it to feel good, only with slightly more discretion than Haringey Council (and Captain Tom Gardner):

‘TWO HOURS LATER our vehicle stopped and a Danish face appeared at the little window mouthing that it was now safe to open the door.

We emerged into the sunlight relieved and delighted to be released from the confines of our metal coffin. It had been an unpleasant and nauseous experience but this was quickly forgotten in the obvious pleasure of having arrived without incident.

Nonetheless, Stumpy, who was to be the headquarters’ J4 (Logistics) staff officer and whose responsibilities would include managing our transport requirements, vowed this would be the first and last time British troops would hitch a ride on the Danish death trap.

He was true to his word and I never saw the hideous contraption again. Nine months later, as we were planning our extraction back to the UK, I overheard him politely but firmly informing Colonel James that none of the Grenadiers would be travelling in that mobile fucking shower unit. It was a statement of intent that even the Commanding Officer would have been unwise to challenge.

We had arrived safely at Main Operating Base Price.

I clambered unsteadily down the steel cable ladder and stepped off the last rung into a fine powder of desert dust that enveloped my boots to the ankle. This dust was to be a constant feature of our lives for the next nine months. Fine as talcum powder it penetrated everything from electronics equipment to weapon systems, and quickly turned into a viscous brown slime in contact with liquids.

In the frequent sandstorms we endured in the early months of our tour the dust blocked out the sun for days at a time and we inhabited a surreal red‑brown world. Nothing escaped its pervasiveness. Men would literally cry brown tears whenever their eyes were exposed for any length of time. Captain Tom Gardner even complained that it put him off his stroke when masturbating, an activity in which we all presumably engaged, only with more discretion and possibly less frequency than Tom himself.

It didn’t take me long to get to know my way around our new home. About 30 minutes to be precise. MOB Price had been built in the desert south‑west of the strategically important city of Gereshk in the Nahr‑E‑Saraj district of Helmand Province. It was the main operating base for about 600 soldiers whose primary task was to provide security for the city and the immediate surrounding area.

Despite the large numbers living there, the base was surprisingly compact. One of the good things about MOB Price, unlike Camp Bastion, was that nothing was ever more than a short walk away.

Gereshk, or Girishk, is the district capital of Nahr‑E‑Saraj. Bounded to the south by the mighty Helmand River it lies some 120km north‑west of Kandahar and is the centre of a rich agricultural region made fertile by a complex irrigation system fed by the Kajakai Dam 100 klicks upriver.

The British are no strangers to Gereshk. In 1839, during the first Anglo‑Afghan war, the city was occupied by soldiers of the British East India Company before being abandoned in 1842 following the massacre of Major General Lord Elphinstone’s army, one of the worst disasters in British military history. Reoccupied in 1878 during the second Anglo‑Afghan war, it was held until 1880 and the signing of the Gandamak Treaty. This restored Afghan sovereignty over internal affairs but ceded foreign relations and some frontier regions to British control.

Gereshk has a population of about 50,000, many of whom still hold a grudge against the British for occupying their city 130 years previously. A good few of them hold an additional grudge against the British for the more recent Russian occupation of the 1980s, on the basis that all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart. In truth the good people of Gereshk had an innate dislike and distrust of all outsiders. In this respect it was not unlike any market town of similar size in Great Britain.

According to many of the intelligence reports I read, foreign fighters were especially unpopular. It didn’t matter which side of the conflict they were fighting on. British, Danish, American, Russian, Pakistani or Iranian, all were equally unwelcome. Even Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers from the northern Dari speaking provinces of Afghanistan were considered by many to fall into this category.’

My thanks to Brian McAuslan for bringing this to our attention.

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.

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

Lashkar Gah under siege

Reports from Islamabad indicate that the Taliban have stepped up their offensive on the strategically important city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province with fighting on several fronts.

Once the Task Force Helmand headquarters, and universally known simply as ‘Lash’ to British troops, it is an alarming marker of failure that the city formerly at the epicentre of the UK’s commitment in Afghanistan is now in danger of falling to the Taliban just two years after the British departed.

While Lash has been under siege for many weeks this new offensive comes just days after Priti Patel, the Secretary of State for International Development claimed: ‘The UK’s presence in Afghanistan over the last decade has helped improve security and prevent it from once again becoming a base of operations for global terrorists that would threaten the streets of Britain.’

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 

 

A moment that changed my life forever

On 24 September 2012 at 3.30pm, after nine long months in Helmand, I was finally reunited with my children, Harry and Alfie. It was an unforgettable moment of realisation that changed my life forever.

‘AS I HURRY from my train at London Bridge station I glance at my Citizen Divers watch, my constant companion of the last 20 years.

I don’t want to be late for this appointment.

I notice that the black canvas military strap I fitted before departing for Afghan is caked in Helmand Province. Until this moment I’ve been oblivious to this but it’s impossible to miss against the cuff of the white dress shirt I’m wearing under my velvet blazer.

Save for my watch, I’m in full civilian mode, completely invisible amongst the multitude of commuters who criss‑cross the station’s concourse. Except, perhaps, that where they stride with confidence and purpose along unseen tramlines of relentless repetition my own trajectory is less certain. I’m an untethered element cast adrift in the throng.

I make my faltering way to the exit on London Bridge Street where The Shard towers above the railway lines that inspired it. The vast obelisk of glass and steel is a monument to a world of consumerism and excess that I turned my back on, but which I’ve been fighting to protect.

The irony is lost on me. At any moment two beautiful boys will appear at the station entrance and I’m straining to catch my first glimpse of them in the crowd.

Jane and I have been unable to agree on a reunion prior to this moment. Harry and Alfie are not waiting for the plane to touch down at RAF Brize Norton as I’d often daydreamed they might be. Nor are they present when our coach is mobbed by excited families as it swings onto the parade square at Lille Barracks in Aldershot – the start and end point of my Afghan Adventure.

I’ve been a forlorn bystander as colleagues push past me to embrace their partners or bundle their delighted children into their arms. Banners, balloons and even cakes are exchanged along with a multitude of kisses. Some affectionate, some passionate, some X‑rated, but all of them heartfelt. Alone in this welter of excitement, I make my way through the happy throng and head disconsolately towards the camp exit. It dawns on me that I don’t know where I’m going.

I keep walking.

As part of my mandatory ‘decompression’ programme I’m required to spend the next 48 hours on the base. But there’s no accommodation for me. Eventually I’m quartered in a condemned block that is awaiting demolition in another part of the garrison. It is eerily silent, cold and gloomy and matches my mood perfectly.

General George Patton warned that Glory is fleeting. This doesn’t feel like an especially warm welcome from a grateful nation.

In the end it is my sister, Edwina who comes to the rescue. As soon as I’m released from my military bonds of service she takes a day off work to travel to York and collect the boys. We’re in constant contact throughout our respective journeys and so, by accident rather than design, our rendezvous is a railway station. I can’t think of a better location for a reunion.

I catch a glimpse of Harry weaving through the crowd a split second before he’s airborne and hurtling towards me at speed. I have just time to catch him in my arms but not quite enough time to stay on my feet. I go down hard, but the cold stone platform is a feather bed in the joy of that moment. Alfie is only a few paces behind his brother and with a glorious cry of BUNDLE! jumps knees first onto my chest.

We roll around on the floor for a while, just as we’d done on the lawns of Gooseberry Hall five months earlier, oblivious to the commuters who step around and over us. My wonderful sister, who has made it all possible, stands back and allows us to revel in the occasion.

The journey that started at the MOB Price helipad six days and 4,457 miles earlier is finally over.

I’m home at last.

In the years before I became disillusioned with my life of comfortable consumerism I would wake at 5.15am each workday morning in order to fund our pointlessly extravagant existence. In those days Harry and Alfie would often sleep in our bed and I would lie in the dark for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth of my family beside me. It increasingly became the highlight of my day and I wondered why I needed such a large house and quite so many belongings when everything in the world that actually mattered fitted comfortably within the precinct of our double bed.

As Harry and Alfie turn me black and blue with their love on the station concourse, I realise I’ve been right all along to exchange possessions for experiences. I haven’t missed my designer clothes, my trophy house or my luxury goods even once.

Being reunited with my children, on the other hand, is an unforgettable moment that I will treasure for eternity.’

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 

Afghan veterans face war crime claims

The Telegraph reports that the Ministry of Defence has extended the remit of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to include investigation into alleged abuse in Afghanistan.

In addition to the 1,500 Iraqi cases already under investigation a further 550 alleged Afghan war crimes have been added to the IHAT caseload.

As Johnny Mercer MP has already pointed out this implies a ‘total breakdown of law and order on an unprecedented scale across the British Army’, which is a complete fantasy.

As Iraq cases begin to dry up without a single successful conviction, extending the investigation to Afghanistan preserves the gravy train for the IHAT investigators for a few more years. But I sense a darker motive for squandering taxpayers money and causing unnecessary misery for those individuals and their families who have been accused of wrongdoing.

Investigating individual allegations of abuse deflects the spotlight away from the strategic failure of the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. This sits squarely with the policy makers and doctrine writers at the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office who sanctioned the tactics of drone strikes, kill/capture missions and detention without charge or access to legal representation, sometimes on the flimsiest of evidence.

For the most part, British soldiers carried themselves with great dignity and showed incredible courage and restraint. It is the flawed counter-insurgency doctrine and strategy that has thrown the Middle East into chaos and caused untold misery and suffering that needs to be investigated.

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 

 

SAS ROGUE HEROES

A new book, Rogue Heroes by Ben MacIntyre, is published today charting the early days of the Special Air Service.

It reveals how the organisation, which has been shrouded in mystery since its inception in 1941, survived numerous ‘cock-ups’ and obstruction from the army’s upper echelons to become the world-renowned force it is today.

It also reveals that many of its secretive missions behind enemy lines included, in the words of its founder, David Stirling ‘executions in cold blood’.

It seems that little has changed since those early days except that the modern SAS now enjoys the patronage of politicians and senior officers, seduced by raw courage, bravery and ruthless efficiency:

‘Towards the end of our tour a night raid in Rahim, conducted by a joint SAS and Afghan Special Forces team (TF196), resulted in three brothers being gunned down in their compound in front of their wives and children.

Again I found myself in conflict with British Tier One Special Forces. TF196 insisted the men were insurgents, but this claim seemed highly improbable to me. The brothers’ compound was just a short distance from one of our patrol bases and any suspicious activity would almost certainly have come to our attention. Our own J2 Shop had nothing on the men. The general consensus from our analysts was that the SAS, while ruthlessly efficient as always, had directed their special talents against the wrong targets.

When I challenged a TF196 spokesman on their version of events he played their top secret joker once more. Speaking to me by phone from an undisclosed location he said the information was classified. As a known Taliban‑loving apologist and mere part‑time soldier I could not be trusted and had no authority to contradict elite tier one special forces. A short while later I received another telephone call from the charming colonel in Task Force Helmand (TFH) ordering me to drop my line of enquiry. Although he remained amiable I detected a hardening in his tone.

The TFH top brass had silenced me, but the Rahim ‘spin zhiras’ remained determinedly voluble on the subject. They steadfastly maintained the brothers’ innocence and were outraged at the brutal executions in front of the victims’ families. Emissaries were despatched to the patrol base threatening retaliation and demanding an apology and blood money for the relatives. The PB Commander was bitterly angry that the raid had gone ahead without his knowledge, destroying the work his own men had done over the previous six months to marginalise the Taliban and protect the population from insurgent violence.

Shortly after we completed our tour the Rahim patrol base was abandoned and Afghan National Security Forces ceded control of the area to the Taliban. Perhaps these events were not linked to the slaying of the supposed insurgents but, given the long memories of our Afghan hosts, this seemed unlikely to me. Our actions had done nothing to strengthen the legitimacy of the GIRoA government as the Petreus COIN Field Manual had directed.

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.

rogue-heroes  SPZ001_Front Cover with reviews

AppleWatch revives ancient art form

The sketch feature on the AppleWatch has resulted in the unexpected resurgence of an art form dating back to the Ice Age about 28,000 years ago.

Sam Roberts @notsam explains:
sam-notsam
Phallic observance of this nature was widespread in Afghanistan:

DURING THE FEW days I’d been away, 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 which, for the most part, was observed.

This 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. 

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.cocked

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.

apple-watch-cocked

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.

ISIS GIVEN HITLIST

Deborah Haynes reveals in The Times today that the MoD, in its infinite wisdom, has published the details of every regular officer, reservist officer and university trainee on a government website.

I first met Deborah in Camp Bastion in 2012 when my unauthorised and unmonitored conversation with her caused the army media team who were handling her visit to get into a flap that I may have said something ‘off-message’.

When she called yesterday to ask me how I felt about the MoD’s public disclosure of my name, along with 20,000 others, I was a little taken aback. I assured her she must be mistaken. After the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013, servicemen have been repeatedly warned about the dangers of revealing their military service on social media and are cautioned against wearing their uniforms in public. Following this guidance and the very real risk of being targeted by Islamic terrorists, the MoD would never be so cavalier with our personal security.

I should have known better. This is, after all, the same ministry that continued to issue Lariam to troops long after the manufacturer had warned of the mental health risks associated with the drug. The same ministry that awarded Sir Bernard Grey a £45,000 bonus after he ran up an £23,000 expenses bill. And the same ministry that has paid £440 million in a failed recruitment drive.

Our names were published without our consent following a freedom of information request submitted, presumably, by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or one of his flunkies. Now that Deborah has exposed the blunder it’s comforting to know that the MoD has no plans to remove the list, insisting that ‘the security of our people is our foremost concern’.

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.

5,313 IED events in Helmand.

According to Forces TV, the MoD has released a one-off report detailing the injuries suffered by UK troops during Operation Herrick in Helmand. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) accounted for 5,313 ‘events’ resulting in traumatic injury to 1, 982 British service personnel.

By the time I arrived in Afghanistan in January 2012 the IED was the Taliban weapon of choice. In nine months the combined Afghan, Danish and British force with whom I worked suffered 117 IED strikes and discovered a further 241 IEDs:

‘As the Grenadiers or fighting Ribs of Inkerman Company knew only too well, living with the constant possibility that your every next step may trigger an IED slowly and inevitably degrades the human spirit. It pervades every waking moment and is a constant and exhausting factor. Every breath must be carefully savoured lest it be your last. Every footfall must be critically considered and evaluated before being placed. Each tread is committed with unyielding trepidation. The euphoria of one safe step is immediately replaced by apprehension at the next and so on and so on until …

According to Aristotle, “Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.” Not being as erudite as the great Greek polymath, for me, fear is the ever‑present possibility that my fellow man has carefully concealed a yellow palm oil container packed with a volatile mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminium in the ground beneath my feet. It is the screaming anticipation that my very next step will initiate this crude mixture and a dark and powerful blast will remove my legs and my manhood and leave me bloodied and broken in the dirt.

As friends and colleagues fall victim to these devices and are forever mutilated or killed in circumstances or locations you have visited yourself, it becomes possible to reflect not that you have been lucky, but that you must be next. It’s a conviction that slowly and inexorably takes hold in the darkest recesses of your exhausted mind and grows like a malignant cancer.

During the course of my patrols in the Gap I witnessed young Guardsmen so overcome with fear that they would vomit at the front gates of the base before bravely stepping off on a patrol they have convinced themselves will be their last. I have also seen men so exhausted by constant vigilance that they lose all reason and stumble about blindly, no longer caring if they live or die.

Both are equally distressing to observe. But in this I was not always a mere observer.

On one patrol I was myself so overwhelmed by the certainty that I was about to take my last few steps on this earth that I became rooted to the spot unable to move either forward or back. It took the gentle and patient persuasion of a better man half my age to guide me, temporarily broken and useless, to safety.

I would hear IEDs detonated by other callsigns, sometimes less than a kilometre distant. Or I would join a platoon for a few days, to learn soon afterwards that one of their number had been grievously wounded.

One device claimed the legs of another London Regiment soldier, Lance Corporal John Wilson with whom I’d trained and prepared for deployment, another took the foot of Jay, an SF soldier whom I’d got to know. Jay had postponed his end of tour date when yet more faults on the ageing RAF Tristar fleet had delayed his replacement’s arrival into theatre.

I tried to convince him that he didn’t need to go back out on the ground but he ignored my advice. When the news came through that his patrol had been whacked by an IED and had a serious casualty I instantly feared it must be him, and so it proved to be. Some reckoned he’d been lucky – the device only partially detonated and his injuries could have been much worse – but I knew that Jay’s luck had run out with his chuff chart.’

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.