“It always struck me that it was a much easier war to support the closer you got to it,” says Patrick Hennessey of the war in Afghanistan. Hennessey, who served in Helmand with the Grenadier Guards in 2007, continues: “It was so obvious that we were making the country better and that we were broadly supported by the locals, certainly in a way that we weren’t in Iraq in 2006. I know that most Guardsmen preferred Afghanistan to Iraq in that respect because they felt they were doing something tangible and positive and that it was being appreciated by the people in the country, if not necessarily the people at home.”
Hennessey has just published Kandak: Fighting with the Afghans. It is an antidote to his first book, The Junior Officer’s Reading Club, which he derides as a “breathless memoir” that said little about his Afghan comrades. In Kandak, he “provocatively takes up the side of the Afghans”, challenging the assumptions that the Afghan National Army (ANA) is a band of incompetents and that our involvement is foolhardy. He achieves this with a mix of gravity and brio, describing the ‘innate ability’ of the Afghan soldier with the immediacy of a hand-held camera.
A cynic might say that Hennessey is so keen to see right that he cannot see wrong: there is, for example, scant discussion of ‘green-on-blue attacks’; but he gives a reason for this:
“When I was serving there, it never occurred to me that one of the Afghans would turn a weapon on me. In 2009-10 [when Hennessey returned to Helmand twice as a civilian observer and, by chance and design, caught up with his former ANA partners], it didn’t really occur to anyone because green-on-blue attacks were almost unheard of. But now it’s probably the most significant problem in terms of overall partnering: trust.