Tag Archives: 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

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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

“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.

Rogue SAS unit accused of executing civilians in Afghanistan

 

screen-shot-2016-05-06-at-12-19-412The Sunday Times alleges rogue SAS soldiers conducted what amounts to assassinations in Helmand Province. I’m not in the least surprised.

One of their reporters, George Arbuthnott has informed me that an incident I wrote about in SPIN ZHIRA corroborates some of their own findings with regards to one such alleged assassination in 2012. This took place in Rahim Kalay, a small, poppy dependent rural community east of Gereshk where the British had established a patrol base.

At the time the village was on the front line of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) counter-insurgency, making it a very dangerous and violent place to live. Abandoned by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan shortly after the British withdrawal from Helmand in 2014, it now falls under Taliban shadow governance. Ironically, this makes it a much safer and less violent place to live.

The Sunday Times investigation has revealed that the Ministry of Defence are using the closure of the bogus Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) ​as an opportunity to​ shut down a completely separate Royal Military Police (RMP) investigation into ​the conduct of SAS kill/capture missions.

The IHAT enquiry squandered taxpayers’ money and amounted to a betrayal of British servicemen and women by the ministry responsible for safeguarding them. Based on my own experiences in Rahim, I believe the RMP investigation is warranted and should be allowed to proceed. Former Army Captain and MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer, agrees “We must be very clear that unlawful behaviour is not acceptable. I hope that my efforts to protect our servicemen and women from spurious claims have not been used as cover to legitimise unprofessional behaviour on operations.”

Even in war, soldiers are not above the law and it seemed to me that, all too often in Afghanistan, Special Forces were not subject to the oversight of the military chain of command or the law of armed conflict.

My account of the incident is reproduced below:

“It was an extraordinary tale but not an improbable one. Night raids were commonplace in Afghanistan and Haji was not the first person, nor would he be the last, to receive a visitation from Special Operations Forces in the middle of the night. As with everything in the secretive world of SOF it was difficult to know precise details. But a US military source told researchers for the Open Society Foundation in April 2011 that as many as 40 raids were being carried out every night. Jon Nagel, a former member of Petreus’ staff described them as “an industrial strength counter-terrorism killing machine”.

This sounded most impressive but Mr Nagel appeared to be fighting the wrong war. We were supposed to be conducting a counter-insurgency, not a counter-terrorism campaign. Perhaps I was splitting hairs but Mr Nagel really should have known the difference because his own boss had re-written the counter-insurgency manual to great acclaim and fanfare.

In it Petreus had mandated: “Legitimacy is the Main Objective.” Impressed, no doubt, by British military doctrine writers’ ability to use a dozen words where half that number would have sufficed he went on to state:

“The best counter‑insurgency campaigns integrate and synchronise political, security, economic, and informational components that reinforce governmental legitimacy and effectiveness while reducing insurgent influence over the population. COIN strategies should be designed to simultaneously protect the population from insurgent violence; strengthen the legitimacy and capacity of government institutions to govern responsibly and marginalise insurgents politically, socially, and economically.”

There was no mention of an industrial strength killing machine in any of the manual’s 242 pages. 

Unsurprisingly night raids singularly failed to reduce insurgent influence over the population or to demonstrate the legitimacy of our cause. In fact there was plenty to suggest that they were having the directly opposite effect. 

Towards the end of our tour a night raid in Rahim, conducted by a joint TF196 and Afghan Special Forces team, 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 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.’

Shy boy, Rahim
Shy boy, Rahim Kalay 2012

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.

Is something hateful happening to Facebook?

I joined Facebook on 19th August 2009 when I posted this picture of Harry and the sunflower he’d grown from seed in the back garden of our south London home.

10399473_119807633095_3605265_n

I posted some more photos of a family holiday to the Balearic Islands on 6th September.

That was it for 2009. 11 holiday snaps, no text.

The truth is, I didn’t really know what Facebook was all about. Obviously, as the Marketing Director of a global company with over 10,000 employees worldwide I was not about to reveal this gap in my communications skills.

Then, in 2012, the penny finally dropped:

‘Being a man of upper middle age, I hadn’t really got the point of Facebook before Afghanistan. Now it had become a lifeline to a world without Hesco. A world where people, in the normal course of events, were not routinely and painstakingly planning to kill each other.

Instead they were posting pictures of the places they’d visited at the weekend, of their kids winning prizes at school, or even of the maddening commute to work they’d endured on Monday morning.

Sitting down at one of the battered and bruised keyboards in the welfare cabin I enjoyed my allotted 30 minutes of internet time, living vicariously through the delicious morsels of normality that my friends and family served up from all over the globe. With a like, comment or share, I was able to join them in that moment, and in doing so let them know I was alive and well.

Facebook now made perfect sense.’

But something unpleasant appears to have happened to Facebook since then. My news feed has fewer and fewer photos of sunny days out at the seaside, bike rides in the rain or other happy trivia of a life well lived. They’ve been replaced by more and more vitriolic pronouncements about BREXIT, Presidents, Islam and elections.

It doesn’t seem to matter which side of the political divide they emanate from, For or Against, Pro or Ante they are all personal and unpleasant attacks full of invective and hatefulness. Unfortunate photos of Theresa May appear alongside pictures mocking Jeremy Corbyn. It’s all getting a bit much.  If you ask me, Facebook is beginning to feel more like Hatebook. There was a time when I wondered why anyone would post a photo of last night’s dinner, now I long for their return.

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.

Spanner or the whole toolbox?

So Jeremy Corbyn thinks that Britain has not fought a ‘just war’ since 1945.

Meanwhile, since 1985, Jeremy has been consorting with terrorists, vicious anti-semites, racists and despots including (but not limited to) the IRA, Hamas, the Mahdi Army, Islamic State and Kim Jong-Un.

The Urban Dictionary describes a toolbox as ‘a person of little social value’.  A spanner on the other hand is defined as ‘a complete fucking muppet’.

Both seem apt, you decide.

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.

Sergeant Alexander Blackman released

Sergeant Alexander Blackman, the Royal Marine jailed for shooting dead a wounded Taliban fighter has been released from prison.

Sgt Blackman received a life term in 2013 for murder, but his conviction was reduced to manslaughter at a second trial when it emerged that crucial evidence had been deliberately with-held by his chain of command.

Sergeant Blackman, who admits doing wrong, has been released after serving half of a seven year sentence and has been dismissed from the Royal Marines.

But what has happened to those officers who deliberately deceived the court at his original trial? It might be reasonable to assume that they too have been dismissed from service for their duplicity and lack of moral courage.

The Commandant General of the Royal Marines, Major General Robert Magowan, has said it is time to ‘move forward from the Blackman episode’ but continues to employ and promote the men who abandoned Sgt Blackman to his fate.  The one officer willing to speak up for him and who provided the crucial evidence at his second trial has been dismissed.

It is another sad example of how the military top brass continue to  fail the men and women under their command, eroding the values and standards on which our Armed Forces are founded.

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.

Slow news day

It must be a slow news day when The Times, a newspaper dedicated to keeping its readers abreast of important public affairs with an eye to the best interests of Britain, runs a story about drunken wedding misdemeanours on its front page under the lame headline: SHOWER AT THE TOWER.

Lieutenant Phil Roberts managed to ruin his friends’ wedding day as well as a 19th Century oil painting before punching another guest in the face and being arrested by the Metropolitan Police – what a muppet.

A tragedy for the happy couple, no doubt, but it’s hard to see how The Times editors judged this to be a story in the national interest.

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 MC, 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.

SPIN ZHIRA THIRD EDITION

 

Spin Zhira gets a new cover and some updated content for its third edition but the controversial scribble remains.

To mark the occasion, I’m giving away a free copy of the Kindle edition with every purchase.
In addition, for a limited time only, I’m also offering the Kindle edition for just 99p.
SpinZhira_ThirdEdition_v3-page-001

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 MC, 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.