A freelance journalist who has been reporting on Afghan affairs for two decades, James Fergusson has written a fast-paced, accessible account of Herrick 4 – the initial British deployment to Helmand province between April and October 2006 – from the perspective of the average British soldier.
Fergusson clearly has a lot of respect and sympathy for the men and women – the book is largely sourced from interviews with veterans - who were involved in the most "persistent, low-level dirty fighting" undertaken by the British since the Korean War, according to the new Chief of the General Staff. Unfortunately this often becomes wide-eyed, breathless admiration when he writes about their actions under fire or the military hardware they use on the battlefield.
However, Fergusson is convinced "that the fight in Helmand could and perhaps should have been avoided." He is no radical peace activist though, with the vast majority of his criticisms concerning how the war was managed rather than being a clear moral objection to British forces occupying another nation (according to Fergusson the British are there to "bring democracy and governance" to the Afghan people). All this is perhaps unsurprising when you read in the Acknowledgements that Fergusson could not have gone ahead with the book "without the approval of" Brigadier Ed Butler, the British commander in Afghanistan in 2006, and is also "indebted to" the Public Relations Directorate of the Ministry of Defence.
Despite these reservations, Fergusson does spend time discussing the death and destruction caused by the increasing use of airpower and, most interestingly, travelled to Afghanistan in February 2007 to meet senior Taliban commanders in Wardak province. Rather than the stereotype of an "illiterate band of ideologues bent on jihad" Fergusson sits down to a long discussion about the British occupation, with one Taliban commander pointedly asking him "supposing thousands of Afghans had invaded your country, and bombed your villages and killed your wives and children, what would you do?"
According to Brig. Butler, "the Taliban know that domestic Western support for this war could well go the same way as Iraq… That‘s what will lose us this campaign". Read critically, A Million Bullets can be used to inform the heightened level of public protest that is needed to end the increasingly bloody British involvement in Afghanistan.
A Million Bullets. The Real Story of the British Army in Afghanistan by James Fergusson is published by Bantam Press, priced £7.99. [email protected].