James Fergusson‘s new book A Million Bullets. The Real Story of the British Army in Afghanistan provides an accessible account of Herrick 4 – the initial British deployment to
As he sits sipping a pint in a west
His bleak assessment has been informed by travelling to
"My complaint about what happened in
One consequence of this focus on a military solution is the increasing use of airpower by the
"Each one of those people is a recruiter for the Taliban – they all have fathers, and brothers and sisters. How would you feel if it was happening in this country? You‘d be furious."
Fergusson is also critical of the British Special Forces strategy of ‘decapitation‘ – specifically targeting Taliban leaders and military commanders. According to Fergusson, killing "the old guard", who tend to be more moderate and more willing to negotiate, is counterproductive because they are replaced by younger, more fanatical fighters. "It‘s like a hydra-headed monster – every time you cut off a head two more appear", he notes. "It‘s turning in to a honey pot for global jihad. That‘s our fault. By pursing this war, and by carrying it over the border in to
Perhaps the most interesting part of Fergusson‘s book is the account of his meeting with Taliban commanders in Wardak province in February 2007. Rather than the stereotype of an "illiterate band of ideologues bent on jihad" Fergusson sits down to a long discussion about the morality of the British occupation, with one Afghan 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?"
He laments that "there is an amazing tendency, still, to conflate the Taliban with Al-Qaeda". While "Al-Qaeda were a threat – they had a foreign policy, they were attacking the west" the Taliban "have never had a foreign policy. They are not a threat to us." He also suggests the monolithic nature of the Taliban has been greatly exaggerated. "Even when the Taliban were in charge it was always quite a loose organisation. It was a revolution. And like all revolutions they are in the process of making their minds up about lots of things. They don‘t agree on everything. They don‘t have a manifesto."
Regarding solutions to the fighting, Fergusson makes a number of – some may say contradictory – suggestions. On the one hand he believes "we need the military there for sure – a strong central army if the country is going to work as a state. That means training up the Afghan National Army. You need to pour money in to military training… I think you also keep your Special Forces… and you go after Al-Qaeda, because they are around, and maybe you do go over the border to
On the other hand he says "a conventional occupation in
Despite the huge amount of sympathy he so clearly holds for both the war-weary Afghan people and the British troops sent on a "fool‘s errand", Fergusson is pessimistic about the future of the conflict. As I take my leave he tells me, "It‘s all over. We‘ve lost the consent of the people. It‘s finished. I‘m very depressed about it."
A Million Bullets. The Real Story of the British Army in
*An edited version of this interview recently appeared in the Morning Star. [email protected].