A Photo from Helmand.

Just having a think about life in general and isolation in Spain in particular, I was looking at this snap. This was snapped in Helmand in around 2014 at a place called Nad e Ali, it was then the forward staging post for the British Army’s fight against the Taliban.  It was my home for nearly four years working as a US Intelligence contractor and mentor for the Afghan Army’s Military Intelligence companies or MICO’s. The picture features me, flanked by two Afghan soldiers, whose names, very shamefully, I’ve forgotten. A photograph, after all, is just a frozen moment, a sort of encapsulation of time, but it can transport us back to what we were doing or thinking in that millisecond the shutter took to fix the image. So I would like to explain this picture.

These two guys worked and patrolled alongside various units of the British Army for over a year. They did a dangerous job, sometimes in uniform and sometimes not, running agents within the Taliban. During the course of that year they gathered information that saved the lives of British and American soldiers and Afghan civilians. I look at this picture and remember the pride I felt knowing that I had trained and mentored these two Afghan warriors.

I wish there was a happy ending but there isn’t. I wanted to check on these who stayed to fight rather than flee but there is no ‘happy ever after’ for this snap.  When I checked in 2016 with my Afghan Army contacts, they informed me that they were both dead. They had been given leave to return to their home Province of Paktia for a wedding. When the MICO soldier on left was about to marry the Taliban raided the wedding party and killed everybody, including the children! At around the same time as another genuine kick in the nuts I also heard that Nad e Ali, the place that the British Army had fought over since the start of Op Herrick was also back in the hands of ‘Terry Taliban’.

Every picture has a story.  So next time you come across an old photo in a faded frame just take a minute to think about what that person was thinking about when it was taken. Look at the oldest photos in the house, maybe your grandad at 19, encased in a  dusty faded glass case just two weeks before Dunkirk, or maybe a wedding shot during the Blitz, and then try and think of how lucky we are.

Isolation in this epidemic is a mind-bending fucker at the moment but as my old Irish mum would say ” Always count your Blessings!”.

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