In the summer of 2007 Nick Allen quit his staff job as a news agency writer in Pakistan to take on a new role as an embedded journalist covering the war in Afghanistan. He took the unusual step of embedding with as many coalition armed forces as possible over the ensuing two years.
As well as operating alongside American and British forces, he received the co-operation of contingents from Poland, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Estonia, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Germany. There were obvious contrasts in the varying national approaches to waging war against the Taliban and attempting to rebuild the country. But whatever approach adopted, success was limited by a lack of political will and endemic corruption.
There were, other more lighthearted differences, however, including those on alcohol and sexual relations. The teetotal armies looked enviously at the Germans, with their light combat duties set against heroic levels of alcohol consumption. And in a war where women were on the front line, sexual pressures made their presence felt, regardless of the level of proscription. One Finnish officer explained to the author the differences in approach between his country and Sweden: ‘They can’t look at porn mags or dirty movies but they can have sex freely. We can look at porn but no sex. So they are the fuckers and we are the wankers.’
But this information-packed account of the war in Afghanistan is essentially a serious book, and while it offers few answers as to how the conflict might be resolved it provides an excellent survey of those other troops fighting in the Allied cause. The text is complemented by an illuminating selection of colour and black and white photographs taken by the author.
Spellmount, 288 pages, £18.99 (h/b)