Captain Jeremy Hann, an Armoured Vehicle Commander with the Royal Dragoon Guards, is based in Kandahar for Operation HERRICK 12. He writes about his impressions of Afghanistan.
If you think donkeys had it tough in Milne’s post-apocalyptic, anthropomorphical-tragedy masterpiece, Winnie The Pooh, when poor old Eeyore had lost his tail, that is nothing compared to the lot of some of Afghanistan’s local mules…
This week in Kandahar there have been a few IEDs (homemade bombs) that have been detonated, one of which was donkey-borne. It is a sad and mortifying truth that insurgents use all manner of vehicles for delivering these horrifying blasts. It is indicative of how they regard life, human or other, in such a callous, contemptible and expendable manner.
Breathing has been causing me some concerns this week. I am not generally regarded as one of the great respiratory practitioners of our time, and the cloying cocktail of heat, sand, dust and air-(un)conditioning systems has lead to a sore nose, and no doubt an unhelpful amount of snoring. Another advantageous consequence of exposure to the elements is that my nose is now peeling like a well-motivated troop of campanologists, setting about their task with vim and vigour.
In that rip-roaring, unputdownable, renaissance-based, page-turner ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli pens: ‘Never was anything great achieved without danger’. Whilst not the wittiest bon mot ever recorded for posterity on parchment, it is entirely apt and worth remembering in my current circumstances. It is a quotation that is indicative of the will to succeed that I have witnessed from the Afghanistan National Security Forces, their people and indeed the International Security Assistance Force, of which we British are a part. The fact that those involved and committed to improving the ‘security’ situation in this country are all-too-often aware of the dangerous aspects of completing this job, yet still find it within themselves to give everything, can only be a positive, and one that should ultimately provide success.
There seemed to me an opinion, largely touted by metro-leftie imbeciles, that the west is conducting a didactic expeditionary subterfuge in order to force some sort of neo-democratic grandeur on those who really don’t want it; a sort of quixotic colonialism. My experience so far would indicate that there is nothing in this fanciful notion. Speaking to people, it is clear that the rationale is much simpler, and that safety, which will enable the indigenous government to bring forward their country, is the motivating factor. Cynics will probably point out that there is no such thing as a truly altruistic act, and they are right, but I cannot foresee anyone arguing that a safer world is not a desirable and preferable prospect.
Whilst having a cigarette this morning, I was joined by a small white scorpion, travelling up my trouser leg. Suddenly smoking indoors seems a much healthier option.
Prepare for trumpet blowing. There isn’t a great deal I don’t know about food. There is a little, yes, but not a great deal. Both my nickname (Gastro) and my ever-evolving waistline bear this proclamation out. I am relatively certain that Luxembourg is not regarded as a gastronomic Mecca; in fact I am not sure if a Luxembourg-er restaurant exists outside of that tiny country. One seldom hears: ‘Shall we eat out tonight darling? We could try that Indian that has just opened off Goodge Street?’
‘No. I’m not in that sort of mood. There is a lovely Thai place just on Cambridge circus?’
‘I fancy somewhere we can have a decent drink. What about the Tapas Bodega just off Sloane Square?’
‘I know. Why don’t we go out for a Luxembourg?’
Anyway, the reason for the rather long preamble is that the cookhouse nearest our HQ is called the Luxembourg Dining Facility, or D-Fac in the vernacular. I am not really sure of the relevance. It peddles salads, burgers, sandwiches hot meals and curries. (The British Army is never too far from that generic dish). I am not sure which of these is indigenous to that country.
At Kandahar Air Field there is also an East/West D-Fac, which as you may expect is similar to the Luxembourg offerings but with more stir-fry and noodles. There is the American D-Fac which I am not allowed in as dictated by my nationality. I could imagine a world where there are enough hot-dogs to build a handrail to the moon, more Mexican than you could squash into your sombrero and all manner of healthy and not-so-healthy alternatives.
Our food is perfectly passable, and I certainly have no cause for complaint. I wasn’t naïve enough to believe I had booked into the Ritz for the next seven months. It provides exactly what it should for the diverse cross-section that requires feeding. However, if anyone is worried about whether or not I will be able to fit into my summer trousers, there is honestly no cause for alarm.