Entries by Hamish Wilson

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Helmand 19: Big questions over a cup of tea

As I shuffled into the compound in Camp Bastion, dusty, heavily laden with backpacks, body-amour covered in greasy splotches of helicopter hydraulic fluid, I ran into a distinguished looking gentleman and his military aide sipping tea in the morning sun. We exchanged pleasantries as I battled past with my bags, and was mildly startled to […]

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Helmand 18: No place for complacency…

Each day out here sparkles with a frenetic uncertainty, a kind of relentless unpredictability that defies planning and never ceases to catch me unawares. The day broke with the surprise arrival of retired Royal Marine Nick Pounds, an old Helmand hand and my very welcome leave replacement. We crammed the next four weeks of issues […]

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Helmand 17: The PRT, a home away from home

A 40-minute helicopter flight and my rather sober world of desert sand and military rations is transformed. A mirage of familiar faces, hot showers and second-helpings of ice cream … my infrequent visits to the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand’s capital of Lashkar Gah are a welcome chance to reconnect and recharge. For a stabilisation […]

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Helmand 16: A meeting with Commander Koka

Haji Abdul Wali was just twenty when he first fired an AK47. ‘I’ve had a rifle in my hands ever since’ he says, his fierce eyes glinting beneath a brow heavily furrowed from twenty-five years of war. Now Musa Qal’eh’s District Chief of Police – affectionately nicknamed Koka by one of his many brothers – […]

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Helmand 15: A glimpse of humanity

So many walls divide us out here. We wear helmets and flak jackets, we flail in our most basic attempts to converse, are clumsy with age old traditions, and judge the world with westernised eyes and ideals. They – Afghans – forgive our faults, laugh at our apologies, proffer their hospitality, and disguise their suspicions. […]

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Helmand 14: The search for a prosecutor

“I won’t return until I’ve found you a District Prosecutor”. Major Mark Jimison’s promise had fallen on somewhat sceptical ears as he departed in late May. The Rule of Law team charged with supporting our efforts to rebuild a broken justice system had been frustrated by two earlier attempts – in both cases the appointed […]

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Helmand 13: A magic midnight moment

It was precisely ten minutes to midnight. The moon was near full, casting its silver light across a slumbering District Centre. A moment later the stillness erupted into a deep roar as thirty-eight hulking Soviet-era trucks sparked into life. The rumbling engines began belching plumes of exhaust into the night air, shrouding the vast parking […]

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Helmand 12: Casting their votes

In the crisp dawn chill two men cautiously picked their way past the razor wire and through the police cordon. They made their way past the shuttered stalls, along the pot-holed pavement of Governors Road toward the polling station. We watched from high above in the rooftop sentry post, clad in body armour and helmets, […]

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Making stabilisation work…

The nature of international efforts to help stabilise regions affected by war is changing. Lengthy campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have left western powers increasingly risk averse and less inclined to take unilateral action. Opinion polls suggest that their constituents are more aware of, and less willing to bear the costs – in both money […]

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Helmand 11: A fine mentor, a good man

Out here, your world can change in a heartbeat. Life around you, seemingly calm and within the realms of control can be violently and without warning wrenched from its moorings. Over the past six weeks plans had been laid for a historic ‘joint-forces’ event – an occasion intended to bring the Afghan Army and Police […]