Ex-Territorial Army Captain whose critical book on Helmand was blocked by the MoD is finally cleared to publish

Dr Mike Martin criticised the British military for devastating whole areas and killing high numbers of civilians

A former Army Captain who resigned his commission so he could publish a highly critical book of military involvement in Afghanistan has said ignorant and aggressive tactics which saw towns and villages flattened meant locals quickly came to hate the British more than the Taliban.

Dr Mike Martin said it took three years from their deployment to Helmand in May 2006 for British forces to finally move away from attacks and airstrikes that left areas “devastated” with high civilian casualties. He also criticised the Army for being completely unaware of the historical animosity felt by the local population towards their former colonial masters.

Dr Martin had been locked in a battle with the Ministry of Defence to publish his study after it commissioned him to write a PhD thesis on the recent history of Helmand. Completed in February 2013, the author assumed it had been publicly available at King’s College Library ever since, but a librarian confirmed it has never received the work and the thesis is currently unavailable to the public.

In his thesis, Dr Martin, 31, a fluent Pashto speaker who spent 15 months on tour in Afghanistan and several years researching the book in Helmand and the UK, said the public was often fed a different narrative to what was happening on the ground – as were the soldiers. He said the British were entering a situation already “spiralling out of control” when they officially took over Helmand from US forces on 1 May 2006, and were ill-informed on arrival.

He wrote: “The British knew that they had come to Helmand to support the government and fight the Taliban, but did not have enough knowledge about Helmand’s private sphere to understand exactly who the ‘government’ were and who the ‘Taliban’ were.”

Dr Martin said the Army was oblivious to the historical animosity felt by the local population towards their former colonial masters who assumed that the British wanted payback for the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 1840s. He said this view was encouraged by the aggressive tactics which left areas decimated.

“When they deployed to the north, the communities had no knowledge of why there were British soldiers arriving in their villages and the British had no idea as to who their friends or enemies were,” he wrote in his thesis. “These factors combined with no evidence of reconstruction and very heavy use of airpower to defend their isolated positions resulting in civilian casualties. For example, the British dropped 18,000lbs of explosive (say, 25 airstrikes) on Now Zad that summer and flattened the bazaar.

“Thus, from the perspective of the population, the British public narrative did not match their actions... By this point the Helmandis were 28 years into their conflict and there was no patience for a historical enemy.”

The cover of Dr Martin's book The cover of Dr Martin's book Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and Nato airstrikes nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007, with deadly strikes exacerbating the problem and fuelling a public backlash, Human Rights Watch said in a report the following year which also condemned the Taliban’s use of “human shields”. Overall civilian casualty figures vary with at least 10,000 killed between 2006 and 2011 before the figure finally reduced year-on-year in 2012. The war has cost 448 British lives to date.

Dr Martin compares the British operation to clear Now Zad in early 2007 “once and for all” to a Soviet operation from 1988. He said: “The town was reported as ‘utterly devastated’ after British troops attacked and then blew up compounds that they had been fired at from - somewhat different from the reconstruction mission that they had promised publicly.”

Referring to the “massive clear operations” the British engaged in throughout the winter of 2006/7, Dr Martin said: “The operations were not linked to any political objectives apart from killing ‘Taliban’, much like the Soviet operations. The main difference was that the Soviets did very strong political work through Khad (Afghanistan’s main security and intelligence agency), which was entirely absent during the early British period.”

British tactics soon turned the population against them. Dr Martin wrote: “The ‘police’ (militiamen of the warlords) began to leave or switch sides - even though they were loathed by the population, they hated the British more.”

Dr Martin said when he arrived in Nad-e Ali as a Territorial Army Officer in December 2008 he received “no information” about what Helmandis thought in private. He said: “We operated as per the public sphere: that the ‘Taliban’ had taken over the district.”

Only from 2009 onwards did the British finally change and improve their tactics albeit with the help of 2,000 redeployed US Marines, according to Dr Martin. He said: “[The British] began to attempt to operate in a different way, with less violence and a greater focus on the reconstruction that comprised their public narrative.”

The author wanted to turn his thesis into a book which his Commanding Officer blocked due to its critical content. In an email seen by The Independent, warning Dr Martin not to go ahead with publication of An Intimate War – An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012, the officer writes: “As a Captain in the Army Reserves you are bound by Service Discipline through Military Law while on duty and subject to Army General Administrative Instructions at all times.”

Dr Martin resigned his commission on Monday giving the academic publisher Hurst freedom to publish in May. A spokesman for the MoD said it respected his decision and now had no objection to publication.

Dr Martin told The Independent on Wednesday: “It’s rare that you ever read in the British press news of Afghan civilian casualties, which wasn’t necessarily the fault of the media. Up until 2009 there was an indiscriminate use of force. Because of British involvement, a whole lot of people are dead who would otherwise not have been. There was a definite improvement after 2009 when the MoD put more resources into the conflict. They did try, but I don’t think they tried hard enough.”

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

News
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London