by James Fergusson
James Fergusson gives us a picture of the fighting in Afghanistan in 2006 that does not match that given through our media. For all our high-tech weapons, this is the story of a frontier war told by the soldiers themselves, reminiscent of some of Kipling’s tales of the Northwest frontier, or forts besieged by Indians in the Wild West. They describe the highs and lows, the desperate holding on under daily attacks, the small triumphs and mismanaged missions, coming to terms with killing for the first time.
It is clear they are proud of their profession, but not so clear what they are achieving. We know about Sangin and Musa Qala, but not about Now Zad, where a small company first of Ghurkhas then Fusiliers were under siege for 5 months. Nor did we know about Operation Augustus, when the Chinook helicopters full of Paratroopers had everything go wrong.
At the end, Fergusson shifts the focus with a riveting chapter about spending time among the Taliban. His conversations with them give real insight into their thinking, their belief, above all their certainty that time is on their side. They will win as they always have, against superior weapons, because this is their land. But these men are also Pashtun for whom the guest is sacred so, as Fergusson writes, ‘And then I fell asleep, confident that among these people my vulnerability would protect me better than any gun or body armour. Apart from the threat of another Coalition bomb, I could not have been safer.’