No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan

Article published on March 9, 2012.

“We are fulfilling our goals in Afghanistan,” says president Obama. “We have removed the Taliban from their strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar,” says former defence secretary Robert Gates. Such dreamily upbeat assessments can be read or heard daily, for the few who are still checking. The narrative for the coming years has already been written; every province of Afghanistan will have been transferred to Afghan security forces by 2013 and all foreign combat troops will leave in 2014.

Amid such fantasies, delusions and sometimes lies, I suddenly realised what authors mean when they say that they need to write a book. I’ve been lucky, obsessed or foolish enough to travel to Afghanistan – almost always to Helmand, the country’s most violent province – repeatedly over the last five years. As all hope evaporated, casualties on all sides continued to rise and it became obvious that the Afghan government was neither willing nor able to protect or improve the lives of its citizens. The gulf between what we are told is happening and what I kept seeing with my own eyes was so great that I suddenly felt compelled to get everything down on paper.

I’ve read most of the books about the current war in Afghanistan and they generally seem to fall into two categories – breathless accounts of allied bravery and struggle, with little or no mention of what it was all supposed to be for, or brilliant, but dense academic books that will only ever get read by the few who study Afghanistan and our policy there for a living. I wanted to bridge that gap, to show what we’re supposed to be doing there and why we’re not achieving it, but also offer a readable and exciting account of what modern war looks and feels like. Apart from the soldier’s own accounts, too many of the other books are written by people who haven’t actually witnessed what they are writing about. Everything in No Worse Enemy I saw for myself. Apart from a handful of quotes, every word is transcribed from my tapes. So if nothing else, it’s authentic.

I was there for a lot of the major operations, and because I can carry everything I need on my back (and as a documentary filmmaker I’m not chained to deadlines or daily feeds) I could spend weeks on end with a single unit of soldiers or marines. They respect that too, and open up to you, so I like to think that what I saw was as close to unadulterated as any outsider can get. I stood on a 7 IED daisy chain for too long, had a sniper miss me by inches, and was in the middle of close-quarters battles and ambushes that lasted for entire days and nights, so I don’t think there’s much I haven’t seen.

I don’t offer any solutions in No Worse Enemy, just a simple and honest portrait of what the war looks like on the ground. I couldn’t think of anything more important to offer than that. A lie is easily sold when the public have become tired of a war they no longer understand. I’m afraid that as long as that’s the case, the focus of our policy will be to get the hell out, making sure that from the breakfast tables of America and Europe at least, it doesn’t look too much like a failure. I hope my book makes it more difficult for us to once again abandon the people of Afghanistan.

You can watch clips from Ben’s award-winning documentaries and other footage from his time in Afghanistan on the book’s website, www.noworseenemy.com.

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Detailing battles that last for days, only to be fought again weeks later, Anderson survives IED explosions and sniper fire, and witnesses the disturbing incompetence among the Afghan army and police. Also revealing the daily struggle to win over the long-suffering local population, who often express open support for the Taliban, No Worse Enemy is a heartbreaking insight into the daily struggles facing our troops.

Raising urgent questions about our recent and current strategies in Afghanistan, Anderson highlights the vast gulf that exists between what we are told and what is actually happening on the ground. A product of five years’ unrivalled access to UK forces and US Marines – often for months at a time and amidst the worst violence the conflict has seen – this is the most intimate and horrifying account of the Afghan war you will read.

  • “Ben Anderson is the bravest journalist I know. Anyone interested in what life is really like on the front line in Afghanistan should read this book.” – Louis Theroux
  • “A tour de force. Ben Anderson plunges the reader into the reality of the war in Afghanistan in all its horror. The stories he brings back are as vivid an account of the war and its almost insurmountable difficulties as any I have read.” – David Dimbleby
  • “The truth about the Afghan war, from a brave and exceptionally honest reporter… Essential reading for anyone who wants to know what is really going on in Helmand.” – Sherard Cowper-Coles, Former British Ambassador to Afghanistan

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