This excellent account by a former captain in the Territorial Army is a welcome addition to the many books on the war in Afghanistan written by former Ambassadors, academics and retired soldiers. As a former officer I am not in the least surprised the MOD tried to ban the book because it is highly critical of British and American naivety in Afghanistan.
The MOD claimed the book was a breach of the Official Secrets Act. Reputation it seems took precedence over learning what led to the loss of 448 British lives. Dr Martin was therefore forced to resign despite as he says having been 'employed as a constructive critic'. His is not the first book by any means to face MOD censorship. The outstanding 'Dead Men Risen' by Tony Harnden was pulped in 2011. It was eventually published after 50 words were taken out. Since then others have had pages censored.
This book makes it very clear that the Army needs reform. Martin spent six years in Afghanistan, mainly in Heland., commanding the Human Terrain Mapping unit whose aim was to discover and understand the motives for the war. Martin is fluent in Pashto, the local language. He was almost unique in this respect. The lack of linguists, as in the Iraq war, has been a scandal given the existence of a Defence Language establishment at Beaconsfield and elsewhere. The result was, as Martin says, the Afghan interpreters 'tended to tell the British what they thought they wanted to hear'.
The main thesis of this book is that we and others in NATO failed to appreciate that the conflct was in essence a TRIBAL CIVIL WAR. Our ignorance, he says, was manipulated by the local Helmandis. The former Chief of the Defence. Staff, General Lord Richards, has said he wished the book 'had been available to me when I was Isaf commander in Afghanistan'.
The MOD and the army in particular are of course not the only culprits, Tony Blair whose knowledge of history is meagre must also share the blame for the failure in Afghanistan, for failure it is. At times the ignorance of polticians has been beyond belief. Apart from the oft quoted remark by John Reid when Defence Secretary that Operation Herrick could be accomplished without a shot being fired, the prize must go to Gordon Brown when he said to Andrew Marr in reply to being asked why we were not winning in Afghanistan: 'you see if only they (the Taliban) would stand and fight'! Unbelievable that a prime minister could be so ignorant of how insurgents/terrorists fight.
On the diplomatic front no one has dare tell the public the truth about the role of Pakistan. Pakistan is the epicentre of world terrorism. The terrorist breeding grounds are in Pakistan, as are their sanctuaries. Pakistan covertly fosters Islamic extremist groups. The operation that led to the killing of bin Laden on 1 May, 2011, removed the veil from the Saudi terrorist's government protected sanctuary in Pakistan. It exposed the duplicitous denials that the world's most wanted terrorist was not in Pakistan.
I strongly recommend readers to read the 2012 paper by Matt Cavanagh, a special adviser to the then government, concerning decision making in the run up to the deployment in Helmand. It is quite an eye-opener.
It is clear that there has been a lack of consistent direction, of effective communication, and of governmental coordination. In brief, strategy has been very poor. In the past twelve years we have witnessed the atrophy of our strategic faculties. All too frequently there has been a mismatch of ends, ways and means. For example, the 6 month tour has been a disaster, each incoming brigadier, arriving to replace one who was just beginning to understand the problem, has been determined to stamp his unique tactics on the conflict. Then he was replaced and the merry go round continued.
This book is a must read if you want to learn about what went wrong in Afghanistan. To claim, as the PM has done recently: 'it is mission accomplished' is simply wrong and frankly rather absurd. The truth is it has been a mess both militarily and financially-the minimum cost per year has been £6.6 billion. It costs,for example, £400,000 to keep every British soldier in Afghanistan for one year. Munitions of all kinds costs another several millions a week.
Politicians and the very senior military never ever seemed to grasp the key fact that the policies of counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics were in conflict and irreconcilable. Intelligence, as in Iraq, was abysmal.
All of these failings have taken place in a corrupt country pervaded by warring war lords who have no love of foreigners particularly when the foreigner's ordnance sometimes goes astray killing their women and children
Since the conflict began in 2001 the number of British troops has risen from 3000 in 2006 to a peak of 9500 in 2009. In April this year it had fallen to 5200. The combat mission has now officially ended. All of our troops are now under the command of a US Marine Corps General as they prepare to withdraw from Helmand by December. Much will now depend on the Afghan security forces about whom there are many very serious doubts. Nevertheless, it is time for the Afghans to forge their own destinies and learn from their own errors. It is time to stop being part of an American sheriff's posse intent on ridding the world of baddies. We seem to only make things worse.
Since our military capabilities have, according to General Richard Sherriff, been 'cut to the bone', we can only hope that politicians avoid involving our armed forces in any more quagmires like Iraq and Afghanistan. One also hopes that the study of history begins to feature somewhat more in the education and training of senior officers.
It is pity that books like these and other excellent ones by, for example, Frank Ledwidge are often denounced because it is claimed they:'let our boys down', or denigrate our generals. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bravery of our troops is never in doubt. It is of course easy to criticise given hindsight, nevertheless the truth must out. At times generalship has been dire. It is right that senior staff share the blame when operations go awry. We must not allow justifiable criticism to be buried by fear of the claim that such criticism is tantamount to treachery. In Afghanistan and Basra the truth is our military did not cover themselves in glory. Constant references to what we achieved in Northern Ireland were not only irrelevant they annoyed our American allies, and that is putting it mildly.
I recommend here :'British Generals in Blair's Wars' written by retired senior officers and Hew Strachan. It is a superb expose of what happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Northern Ireland. Sir Michael Howard has said it 'is unique in military history'. Needless to say it underwent some pruning during the vetting process.
Do read Martin's important book. It ought to be mandatory reading for every politician, and quite a few generals.
There have been a number of rather whiny books about how Britain got it wrong in Afghanistan: usually written by those with an axe to grind. This book is critical of policy but without the febrile rage and the conspiracy stories. The author speaks Pashto and has had tours in Helmand as an officer and as a civilian adviser. All wars are a series of dialogues within the bodies politic of the combatants (and a war with allies has this in triplicate). But Martin turns the concept on its head by a "customer-centric" approach: "what do the Helmandis think?". He achieves this by talking to a large number of Helmandis. The result will surprise many and shock some: the conclusion is that the British are allied to the Taliban with the aim of destroying Helmand.
To get us into the mindset of the locals Martin voyages through the history of the area including the invasion by the British that included the defeat at Maiwand. With all the fervour of a small rugby nation remembering the time they achieved a surprise victory over a more famous nation the Helmandis treasure Maiwand and the defeat of the perfidious Angrez. The fact that no-one in HMG remembered this when Britain selected Helmand for its ISAF role reveals one key feature of Martin's book: Britain literally did not know what it was doing. This ignorance was amplified by the narrative we chose for the campaign (itself the by-blow of the Bushian them and us narrative). In this case there was a government (good) and (bad) insurgents. The latter oppressed the people and the Government shall set them free.
At certain points this was true but it missed the key point that the people were both in the government and in the "insurgency": they were not neutrals upon whom the two parties acted, but were agents. Many clans would have members with both sides (The Master of Ballantrae approach). If Clan A runs an area (the 'government') then it probably controls the 'police' who are an active part of the local influence economy rather than just crime stoppers; so Clan B will represent the local 'insurgents'. If ISAF helps Clan A it is not necessarily making life better for all, it may simply be assisting in oppressing Clan B. The same issue arises for the Taliban (that is the Quetta and Peshawar shuras): wherever they put 'troops' on the ground they will find local rivalries having a powerful impact. One side or the other may inflict control via its local proxies but in so doing they automatically infuriate the enemies of the local proxy. In short Helmand was a highly developed version of my native Scotland before (and indeed after) the Act of Union (the Government clans would find no difficulty in grasping the situation) or England during the Wars of the Roses where some seemingly odd alliance are explained by looking at the errant nobles' maternal uncles. All politics is local politics and there are no more heartfelt rivalries than local rivalries.
Martin covers all this in detail but one does wonder why the Coalition powers that be (the Clever Men At Oxford as Mr Toad might have said) could not have spotted that where drug eradication is involved local interest would be in having your rivals' poppies eradicated leaving your own. And where there are development funds you send them to your area not to that of their rivals. The last point is clear to anyone in UK in regard to our politics, but abroad we seem to suffer from memory issues.
A very well-written and important book: all the more so for its calm exposition.
If you are looking for a 'shoot' em up' of the kind that dominate the amazon sales rankings on the Afghan war, look elsewhere. The attitudes on display in such books are what got us into the mess so ably described in this excellent book which General Sir David Richards rightly called 'THE book on Helmand'. General Richards was right.
Some readers may remember that Michael Martin was (very publically) forced to resign, because his army commanders believed that this book was too embarrassing to publish. This is despite the fact that the extraordinary, well-written and erudite work on display here was actually commissioned by the army as a PhD project.
Although we have not been well-endowed with bright, quick-learning Generals, there are plenty of highly intelligent more junior officers around. Most of them won't go beyond their current rank. Like Captain Martin, they will either resign or retire and with no change in promotion systems, there'll be no change in the quality of very senior officers. Like will always promote like; 'twas ever so. However, lets hope some more of our current crop of highly experienced, intelligent soldiers, like Michael Martin turn to writing and serious analysis like this. If they do they can help us learn how better to understand the wars we, rightly or wrongly, will fight.
It is not clear exactly what part of this book was so incendiary that the army tried to ban it. Because there is alot for the frantic, desperate news-managers of the MOD to fret about. Maybe it was the accounts of US Special Forces arresting perfectly innocent men and sending them to Guantanamo for torture. Alternatively it might have been the stories of UK military intelligence being used by Helmandis as 'useful idiots', with people accusing business or tribal rivals of being 'insurgents' and having them 'lifted' or worse. Its all here.
Most likely though, it was the rather more fundamental problem that pervades the book. Neither the British nor the Americans who arrived in Helmand to bail them out had any real idea of what was really going on around them. Were they fighting the 'Taliban', and if so, what exactly is the 'Taliban'? Were they a sinister shadowy terrorist group, bent on domination? Were they narco-gangs fighting over turf? or were most of them just local guys fighting people (us) they saw as invaders?
Martin has the answers. His analysis is based, not on 'intelligence reports', journalism or other questionable sources, but on actually talking to many, many Helmandi people-imagine- in their own language over many, many months in rather dangerous circumstances. And it is there that the lesson for conflicts beyond this one lies. For this book is a model of what a study of a conflict should be. To the participants, every war is an intimate war.
Read this if you want to know what Helmand was really about. Read it to see how real 'intelligence' should look.
on 28 April 2014
Mr. Martin's book leaves us with the inside knowledge of the likes of macro-military studies of Linda Robertson meets the writing style and micro-political know how and savy of Carollta Gall. By weaving together and providing us clues as a of what Britain got itself into, we can come to grips with why the war developed so badly for ISAF as a whole.
I leave you with three things to consider:
1) It's well-written and such cannot be said of a great many books on Afghanistan that read more like modern philosophy despite advertising themselves more as narrative history than anything.
2) It's not just any history of a war, it's a social history too in a segment where the social history of Afghanistan begins and ends from 2001 to the present and has, almost, a certain historical amnesia.
Mike Martin goes far back -- far back enough that it's relevant and gives us an idea of societal "complexity", as Albert Hirschmann would have put it, that can exist and is incubated by the spectre of conflict in a thirty or so years of civil war, and a tribal society that to us, in the West, seems so very opaque. An Intimate War becomes that spotlight that is required, in this respect.
3) Beyond being a good history, it is almost essential to understanding the South of Afghanistan (like Helmand) and the War in Afghanistan since 2001; and better than many other books which advertise the same.
I would argue this comes from two parts that are essential to a book's credibility, and give a vitality about the book that actually makes you ask more questions than you get in, at the end, in answers.
The first is the fact that Mike actually does have the academic quals to write this book (and it must be said that most former serving military officers do not and most journalists indeed lack these). It's apparent his PhD is recent and so is his memory of the war. It's a book chalk full of relevant information that slices through a lot of the typical malarky that often hangs up the issue of corruption in deference for its sources. Mike has none of that.
Second, he names who did what. He actually names and builds out characters like one should for a good story. Moreover, he looks at basic properties essential to understanding the war like the use land rights as a tool of war, in this case civil war. They're mundane yes, but it comes alive through Mike's literary and historical draftsmanship, making the story of the war in Helmand and the war in Afghanistan as a whole appear absurd at times, comic at others, and in the end a Greek tragedy for everyone involved.
on 19 August 2014
This is the book to read if you want to see a way out of our involvement in Afghanistan. A Long read - I had to take it in small doses and found it repetitive until I realized the importance of that repetition in establishing the reality of what was being presented.
on 28 September 2014
While it takes several readings to fully understand from the book who did what to whom on the ground, it's message is very clear. Western political and military leaders viewed the conflicts that took place in the country between 1978-2012 in the ideological terms of a counter-insurgency narrative. To the Brits and the Americans these were holy wars to bring democracy, development and human rights to people oppressed by evil religious fanatics, much like the rhetoric used to characterize today's intervention in Iraq to battle ISIS .
But Martin tells a different story. It is largely about how local tribal leaders adjusted to the periodic shocks between 1978-2012 by the domestic communists, the Russians, Jihadists, Taliban, Great Britain and the US to preserve their control over land, water, drugs and roads and other resources. These people understood the counter-insurgency narrative and used it to manipulate both foreign invaders and domestic religious zealots to maintain their control over scarce resources and to settle old scores with tribal enemies who had battled each other for hundreds of years. They did this by playing both sides against each other; joining whatever side suited their economic interests at the moment; by fingering their tribal rivals, with whom they were in conflict over these resources, as "the enemy" and letting the invaders, the Taliban or the government do their dirty work, when they did not use their own militias to do so; by joining both (or more) sides at once to hedge their economic bets, and more generally exploiting, in a very rational way, every nitch power vacuum created by the conflicts inflicted externally and internally on the province.
According to Martin, the Taliban understood this and allowed it happen when it suited their own goals, but the British and American leadership did not, except for a few key British figures with equally high economic ambitions or political aspirations. Meanwhile, "the people" suffered, except under the Taliban under whose rule many of the common folk thought that things were more peaceful and orderly. At he same time, these people simply did not believe the Brits were their to help them, both because they were traditional enemies and because the Brits fundamentally didn't walk the talk they were preaching.
I expect the same thing is happening today in Iraq as "the Coalition" goes after ISIS.
At the end of the book, Martin tries how to explain how better information about what was actually happening could have helped the Brits and Americans to achieve their goals in the Province. But, as i read it, i kept wondering how Great Britain and the US would have sold the war to their own common people to achieve these goals, had they been told the truth about what was happening.
I don't ordinarily even write reviews about poorly written and poorly organized books, but I found this book to be so interesting and it's message so sad, ironic and important, I gave it highest marks.
on 20 July 2014
Probably the most important book you are likely to read with regard to Afghanistan and essential for Brits to read. (OOHHhhhhh.... but its all so confusing and thers all these tribes and tribes and tribes and they all have names you can't pronounce that are all like each other and does it matter anyway and anyway its all about bin Laden anyway and isn't he dead? But yeah I support the troops yeah support the 'eroes is what I say. 'elp for 'eroes. bring 'em all 'ome I mean what are dey aaahhttt there anyway for I mean its MY taxes is what is paying for it like, innit).
yep I thought so. Of course it won't be read by all the people that need to read it. One just hopes that a few of the people that OUGHT TO HAVE READ IT before trying to suppress it DO in fact read it and learn a few lessons for the future.
Mike Martin has written this account of Afghanistan which is a complete and utter indictment of British and American policy and a bright mirror to show the utter stupidity of marching into a conflict and country they have very little understanding of, and from the cultural basis of the West, very little hope of understanding the complexities of Afghan and Helmandi society. You have to read it to begin to understand those complexities of kinship and ties and drug money and cultivation in a land where water and family are the most precious things going. Where tribe and kin are MUCH MUCH more important than the idea of COUNTRY. Where the Western-perceived set idea of the Taliban as an insurrectionary fighting force like an army is completely at odds with what can be understood to be occurring on the ground, if the conflict is viewed through the eyes of a Helmandi.
By the time I reached the end I felt like asking why on earth we were supporting Karzai and the Afghan government which appears to have as much legitimacy in Afghanistan as the Taliban, who by their nature and definition are in fact the very villagers of Helmand that the British and American forces have been sent in to protect and secure.If you can't even converse or understand a language how can you even hope to understand the complexities let alone the nuances of a society in which all boundaries and allegiances are grey and fuzzy.
There are wheels within wheels within wheels in this book. As a Helmandi says to Martin "You know a lot about Helmand, Sahib Mike, but what you know is about 1% of what actually is happening."
You really should buy and read this. Its a stunning book from someone that knew that the shades were gradually falling from his eyes as he took part with a force that were trying to fight the unfightable and just beginning to realise that they had been duped but with no way of knowing how to change their ways other than to get out.
on 4 July 2014
"It doesn't matter who you work with in Helmand, they are all the same tribe anyways."
I was told this by an American official in Kandahar in 2011. It was not the time or the place to argue the point that this was a gross mischaracterization of reality and likely to feed into a disastrous engagement with local political divides and factions whose multiple inter- and intra-community conflicts dominate the local political choices made. My perspective at the time was also more macro, not detailed enough to present a convincing argument about Helmand specifically other than in quite general terms.
Mike Martin does not suffer from that short-coming. His multiple rotations as a British officer and subsequent return as a researcher has allowed him to build a comprehensive narrative around the power politics of Helmand from the pre-Mujahideen days until now. Martin's account relies largely on interviews with local power brokers but he has treated the data well, pointing out possible contradictions, instances of possible manipulation, and by seeking confirmation of claims made. The result is a whirling dance in and out of alliances and allegiances that at times is at risk of becoming confusing as the names and locations pile up. Martin however manages to keep the reader on track by back-referencing who is who and playing what role at what time.
This book, and similar accounts of the local reality, should be required reading for development practitioners, military personnel, diplomats, politicians, journalists, and especially the policy wonks who continuously pump out 'analysis' based mainly on six day helicopter and powerpoint tours of [insert area of choice here]. It is however perhaps the most useful for those who think that they already 'get it' and who earnestly wants to understand enough to at least have a glimmer of hope to successfully reach intended outcomes. The lasting impression is that no matter how complex you thought local politics were, they can still find a way to surprise you.
'An intimate war' interprets Helmandi history and the narratives of local power holders through a perspective on violence and civil war largely inspired by S. Kalyvas. It emphasizes the agency of the local groups over the ambitions of the ideological elites at the center or in other countries. I find that I personally agree with most of the dynamics-analysis though I would perhaps ascribe more understanding to the ability of external actors to use local conflicts to gather social mass through mobilization. With this said, Martin's analysis provides an excellent account of the Helmandi socio-political conditions into which foreign and domestic interventions have gone forth so many times before with very little change in the local dynamics apart from patronage structures and what ideological flavor lends its name to local conflicts at a particular time.
In the end, Martin's work aligns perfectly with my own analysis of social mobilization in Afghanistan (and Somalia incidentally) and reinforces what I call the 'ORSDINTI principle'. This is a tongue in cheek memory rule for would-be interventionists to remember that in relation to local outcomes, Our Ranch Salad Dressing Is Not That Important. There are many policy makers and wonks who would do well to remember that. Hopefully, Martin's book can drive that point home. It certainly has the capacity to if the audience is paying attention.
on 19 June 2014
An intimate war an oral history of the Helmand conflict
Author: Mike Martin
Published: 2014 by Hurst
Rating: Great Read
This book is a real eye opener for those that believe the conflict in Helmand is based on ideology rather than tribal and sub tribal conflicts over land and power. The book is based on face to face interviews with people in Helmand and interviews with Taliban commanders .
Whilst having been an army officer in Helmand, the author is objective and writes "during the Taliban era in Helmand (1994-2001)... I argue that detailed knowledge of the local political context enabled the Taliban to exert social control and calm the conflict." The author further notes "though there was a divergence of opinion about whether the Taliban were too harsh in implementing their programme, everyone without exception, welcomed the absence of crime and the increased stability".
Disputes over land read to tribal and sub tribal conflict. The Communist era legacy of land reforms continue to cause problems today in Helmand,
"a Barakzai militia leader said to me, 'the mother of the problems that we have now is the land redistributions under Taraki.' The reforms were based on an ideological model of a nuclear family that did not exist in Helmand, where extended families shared undivided inherited land. The reforms were also predicated on land area, but in Helmand this was not the most important factor in determining harvest; access to water was. If land was subdivided in a way which meant that water had to be obtained from a neighbour then it could become valueless and could even cause conflict, as cousins often owned contiguous land inherited from a common grandfather ."
Ironically the communists did not recognise the idea of communal land so the author writes: "It seems clear from this that the ideologically driven government did not understand, or chose to ignore, land ownership dynamics in Helmand, thereby allowing some to take advantage of the ensuing chaos". As a result a lot of 'state' or communal land has been grabbed by the unscrupulous over the years.
After the Soviet invasion different Mujahideen groups existed in Helmand, but an ideological conflict between communism and Islam did not occur. A former Khad operative told the author what happened: "'the mujahidin in Helmand didn't fight the government at all; they fought each other'.' Khad had links with all of (the mujahideen groups), we just sat back and watched them attack each other,' he said with a laugh."
The author provides an interesting example of this: "Nasim(Akhundzada), his brothers and nephew were later to dominate Helmand, and they continue to do so in the present day. A large part of the family narrative is that they fought the Soviets, forcing them to leave, and that they then evicted the remnants of the Communist government from Lashkar Gah. This echoes the glorious mujahidin narrative...When I interviewed Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, Nasim's nephew, and asked him whether his uncle had accepted supplies from Khad, as many other had, he started laughing and, stumbling over his words, asked me, 'Which Khad?' As we both knew, there was only one Khad.
He looked me straight in the eye, and , without a trace of irony, said 'we (were) the cleanest mujahidin in the country; it was pure jihad.' Whatever Sher Mohammad might protest, the fact that Nasim Akhundzada accepted money and supplies from Khad to attack other mujahidin groups, particularly Hizb ones, is well known in Helmand...Rasoul Nasim's brother, even later preached in Northern Helmand's mosques against Hizb: 'Parcham and Khalq have become Muslims, but not Hizb' he said."
The people of Helmand also have a survival strategy to cope with the turmoil of the period: "one of the most notable features of the Helmandi conflict is the strategy employed by actors within a family, whereby individual members would side either with the government or with the mujahidin, in order to protect their lineage. This continues to the present day."
"When I questioned senior Kharoti leaders in early 2009 as a serving British army officer (in uniform) about those members of their tribe in the 'Taliban' that we knew to be fighting us , they would shrug and explain that they had lost control of the younger, more wayward members of the tribe. Their explanation was that the 'Kharoti' supported the government, but the tribe was fragmented because of the war. They argued that differing ideologies (for example Islamism versus democracy) were driving the split in their tribe."
"I further explored this issue as a researcher in 2011-2012 with the same elders ( after I had known them for three years) - I think they had forgotten our original conversation. I suggested that the alliance of a pan tribal shura straddling government and non-government lines and sharing information was still in existence during the contemporary conflict between the Taliban and the Government. They laughed, looked sheepish and agreed. It was fascinating to compare their open acknowledgement even glee at the deliberate splitting of families during the jihad with their denials of a similar contemporary dynamic when I, the questioner, represented one of the opposed sides (as a British officer I was working with the Afghan government). This is clearly consistent with the tendency of individuals to exploit the ignorance of and manipulate outsiders for their own interests".
"Ironically the arrival of the British in 2006 helped the Taliban consolidate and coalesce. From the perspective of the Helmandis, the historical enemy had just turned up for round three" "The past had a strong resonance, particularly among the Alizai: 'we gained our freedom one hundred and sixty years ago (sic) and we shall remain free... we do not accept the claim that they are here to rebuild our country...they have done nothing for us', said one Taliban commander in Musa Qala. Much later when I attended a shura of 300 Alizai elders in Lashkar Gah, the anti-British exploits of Akhtur Khan and Abu Bakr Khan during the 1800s were remembered with a proud twinkle in the eyes of those attending."
In Helmand the British followed the Soviet modus operandi of killing the 'enemy' as the author puts it "One such operation occurred over the summer of 2007. Direct parallels were drawn between this operation and the experience of being in the area when a Soviet operation moved through. The aim was to clear the ground between Gereshk and Sangin and to 'push the Taliban north', which demonstrated a lack of understanding about the nature of the 'Taliban'. Crucially however by imposing an abstract sense of cohesion on an enemy force that was anything but, the British were hardly in a position to understand the effects that their operations would have. By now the fighting was largely fuelled by resistance to the British more than anything else. For this, Helmandis use the terms 'mukowat', which means 'resistance', but also 'be-tasleemeduna' which translates more poetically as 'without submission'.
The 'Soviets' existed in Afghanistan not just in the past but the present, British forces at one time served alongside an Estonian contingent, "To the Helmandis, the Estonians were Soviets. In fact some of the Estonian soldiers had actually served in Helmand during the 1980s with the limited contingent."
At times the actions of the ISAF forces were farcical and ended up paying rent for premises to the uncle of a Taliban commander, which confused the local population "they assumed that the British must have been working with the 'Taliban'.
"The Taliban were mostly from the population and in many cases ISAF killed people who were defending the population from ISAF or the police, making them instant heroes. Furthermore, the killing of 'Taliban' commanders who joined because of, for example, issues with the police was inelegant: their brothers who replaced them were sworn to avenge them, rather than fighting for political reasons. This targeting strategy may have removed hope for the reintegration of those families or clans into the government, especially whilst ISAF remains in the country. These are the reasons why the targeting strategy has had little effect on the 'Taliban'."
Those working for Iranian interests in Afghanistan blocked the development of a canal in Zamindawar, Northern Helmand because "any water that goes down the Zamindawar canal is water that is not flowing into the Sistani region of Iran." Instead ISAF attention was concentrated on the Kajaki dam project.
The author concludes that the Taliban "Quetta/Peshawar shuras should be seen as a funding bridge between a vast number of very low-level disputes in Helmand and money from the Gulf ...and money from Pakistan(that seeks to keep Afghanistan unstable due to fears of India/Pustunistan). In a sense, those actors in the Gulf and Pakistan still wish to fulfil their aims. Unfortunately, ISAF had done very little to solve low level land or water disputes in Helmand, instead seeing 'improved governance' and 'socio-economic development' as panaceas.
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on 22 December 2014
If only we'd known then what this book tells us now we would have left well alone. This book sheds light on the Afghan ability to "play" any foreigner or outsider to their own ends - leading to inevitable failure of any intervention. An amazing book and the best, most informative account of our most recent involvement in Helmand province told by the Afghans themselves. Anyone who has served in Helmand in the last 8 years should read it and realise just how wrong we got it.
A word of warning....... it's complicated!