The UK Ministry of Defence has been trying to stop publication of a book it requested on the British Army’s 13-year campaign in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The MoD commissioned captain Mike Martin of the Territorial Army to write the book, entitled An Intimate War – An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012, but does not like its conclusions. It therefore held up publication for almost a year, under a policy governing books and articles by serving military personnel.
The ongoing dispute prompted captain Martin to resign from the Army, and the book will be published soon. In the U.S., it’s available from Amazon for pre-order, coming Friday, April 18.
According to an account in The Guardian, “the book presents a bleak picture of British and American involvement, claiming that troops failed to grasp that it was primarily a tribal civil war.” As a result, Martin says, the troops “often made the conflict worse, rather than better. This was usually as a result of the Helmandis manipulating our ignorance.” Involvement in Afghanistan has cost the Britain 448 deaths, many of which occurred in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold and one of the country’s major poppy-growing regions.
Martin’s book argues that the Taliban were not the “main drivers of violence,” but rather that the conflict was driven by the personal motivations of Helmandi individuals, including local politicians and tribal chiefs. This made the conflict akin to a civil war between clans, “rather than a clash between the ‘good’ government of Afghanistan and the ‘bad’ Taliban,” says The Daily Mail.
Martin wrote the book as part of his PhD work for Oxford University and was one of a very few British soldiers who speaks Pashtu fluently. The book was the result of six years of research, involving 150 interviews conducted in Pashtu, and it begins with the problems the Soviets faced in Afghanistan in the 1970’s.
The Daily Mail story says “his criticism of intelligence blunders and the failure of commanders to understand the conflict is said to have embarrassed officials.” Although the Ministry opposes the book, Major General Andrew Kennett, who commanded Martin’s unit, said: “I think he has done the Army a great service by writing this,” and General Sir David Richards, the recently retired head of the Armed Forces, who commanded international forces in Afghanistan between 2006-07, said, “I sincerely wish it had been available to me when I was ISAF Commander in Afghanistan.”
Martin plans to donate proceeds from the book to military charities.
Three years ago, the Ministry of Defence bought up and destroyed all copies of a book by Sunday Times journalist Toby Harnden: Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Real Story of Britain’s War in Afghanistan. Harnden’s award-winning book also was about the British deployment to Helmand, and after deletion of 50 words, it was reprinted.