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Butcher and Bolt by David Loyn

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October 2011 Guest Editor Philippa Gregory on David Loyn...

I am an historian by absolute instinct and I have been thinking about Afghanistan and so read Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and then this pacey history of European intervention in what the Victorians called the North west Frontier – meaning Afghanistan, north-west of India. Loyn tells some extraordinary stories of heroism and folly as the British pursued their imperial mission into Afghanistan and failed in some of the most brutal incidents. Again and again I read the names of villages and towns which occur in the news today. Nobody who read this book would ever have engaged in a ground war in Afghanistan. If only our leaders were made to study history.

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Butcher and Bolt by David Loyn

Afghanistan has been a strategic prize for more than 200 years. Foreign invaders have continually fought across its beautiful and inhospitable terrain, in conflicts variously ruthless, misguided and bloody. A century ago, the common sneer about how British soldiers treated Afghan tribesmen was that they would 'butcher' them, then 'bolt'. Butcher and Bolt recounts this violent history, beginning with the very first British mission - an encounter that ushered in two centuries of conflict littered with misunderstandings and broken promises, in which the British, the Russians and later the Americans repeatedly underestimated the ability of the Afghans and the power of the Frontier tribes. In a new final chapter that brings the book right up-to-date, David Loyn draws on the unique access he has had to Afghanistan over the past two decades to address the emerging threat of the Pakistani Taliban and the challenges that face those now fighting on the most dangerous frontier in the world.

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'Gripping ... Loyn's descriptions of three pointless campaigns fought by the British against the Afghans and Khyber tribesmen are as applicable to today's conflict as they were in Kipling's day' Daily Mail

'Compelling and entertaining ... As the story romps onwards, the characters stay larger-than-life, on all sides' City AM

'A colourful primer to events that preceded the current conflict in this turbulent place' Metro

'Superb ... Few Western journalists know Afghanistan better than Loyn.' Daily Telegraph

'I could not have enjoyed it more and think it quite excellent ... Should be read by young - and old - Army officers who go to Afghanistan. It is a great pity some of those who involved us in what is going on now did not understand what we would be up against. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a well-rounded, no-nonsense overview of Afghanistan. A brilliant read. Soldier David Loyn, a long-time BBC foreign affairs reporter, has written a brilliant history book of Afghanistan's wars of the past two centuries, but more importantly the evidence he amasses poses a primary question about the war being fought in Afghanistan: are we sure this is a good idea? The lesson from history suggests it might not is a bleak conclusion to a book that should be a must-read for every politician who sends our squaddies into Afghanistan - but one based fairly and squarely on the weight of history.' New Statesman

'A loving and closely woven account of this troubled country' Guardian

'Excellent ... Should be slipped into President Obama's Christmas stocking' Sunday Times

About the Author

David Loyn has been a foreign correspondent for more than 25 years, and was the only foreign reporter with the Taliban when they took Kabul in 1996. In 2006, he spent time with a local Taliban commander travelling through Helmand, protected from death only by the fact that he was a guest -- his security was the Pashtun honour code. He has covered conflicts on three continents, and won major awards for both TV and radio reporting, including 'Journalist of the Year' in the Royal Television Society Awards in 1999. His first book Frontline was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize.

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd September 2009


David Loyn

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Windmill Books an imprint of Cornerstone


400 pages


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