'They died for nothing' - Norwich Afghanistan veteran condemns war

Joe Glenton spent seven months in Afghanistan, but realised he couldn't continue on "moral grounds"

Joe Glenton spent seven months in Afghanistan in 2006, but realised he couldn't continue on "moral grounds" - Credit: Joe Glenton

"All your loved ones died in vain."

This is the chilling but brutally honest view of a Norwich veteran who spent seven months in Afghanistan before going AWOL, claiming he could not continue on moral grounds.

Joe Glenton, now 39, was born in Norwich and spent his childhood between the city and north Norfolk where his dad lived.

Today he has a heart-breaking message for grieving military families: "I wish I could cushion the blow for you, but it's not true that whoever died did so for an honourable or noble cause." 

Mr Glenton joined the army in 2004 and was sent to Afghanistan two years later as a 24-year-old.

Encouraged by the withdrawal of international forces in June, the Taliban now control large swathes of the country.

They began toppling government-controlled provincial capitals in rapid succession and with little opposition after August 6, prompting a humanitarian crisis which has since seen thousands attempt to flee a country with a now-uncertain fate.

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Heart-breaking images have emerged of Afghans clambering on to planes. Fatalities have been reported amid the chaos.

Mr Glenton adopted a fierce anti-war stance after his tour in Afghanistan. Today he believes the reasons behind the occupation — to free women and girls, crack down on heroin production and bring security — were "all a lie".

Aftermath of war in Kabul in 2002.

Aftermath of war in Kabul in 2002. - Credit: Mark Nicholls

"It was a total shoot-out", he said. "Britain had failed in Iraq in American eyes, and we were desperate to prove our usefulness.

"I worked in ammunition for the Royal Logistics Corps. We constantly ran out. How does that work in a peace-keeping operation?

"Our presence created and then perpetuated the insurgence.

"Local people didn't want us trampling through their fields, launching air-strikes or sending drones over their houses.

"Trying to crush the Taliban was a waste of time. 

"We had opportunities early in the war to settle with them, but we rejected those.

"One of my good friends was shot and another killed by an explosive. Many more suffered long after their fighting, too.

"A friend I made in prison committed suicide."

Aftermath of war in Kabul in 2002.

Aftermath of war in Kabul in 2002. - Credit: Mark Nicholls

Between 2001 and 2015, 456 British armed forces personnel died in Afghanistan.

As part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade that spring in 2006 Mr Glenton was stationed in Khandahar, the same city where an RAF Nimrod crash killed fourteen crew members after an in-flight fire brought the plane to the ground.

Meanwhile, his fellow soldiers in nearby Helmand province were subjected to daily "mortar" attacks, where rockets are fired into US and UK camps.

Like many others, he ended up suffering from PTSD.

When ordered to return to the warzone, he fled to Australia and spent 18 months in hiding. 

Eventually he handed himself in and was threatened with desertion charges. He pleaded guilty to going AWOL and was sent to military prison for nine months.

Mr Glenton is now a freelance journalist who has recently moved to Liverpool.

Reflecting on the war 15 years after his own involvement, he said: "My plan had been to stay in the army for 22 years, but I just couldn't do it.

"Those of us who wanted withdrawal all those years ago were ridiculed, but now we've been vindicated.

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton before he joins a 'Stop the War' demonstration march from Speakers corner

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton before he joins a 'Stop the War' demonstration march from Speakers corner in Hyde Park, to Trafalgar Square in central London in 2009. At the time L/Cpl Glenton was leading former colleagues, military families and anti-war protesters in the march, calling for British troops to be brought home - Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

"But we are in no way the main victims here — that's the Afghans themselves, and all those women and children we supposedly went there to save. 

"Lots of troops died doing incredibly brave things in Afghanistan, but none of that makes the war noble."

Mr Glenton said it is "impossible" to predict what will happen next.

"The Taliban aren't like al-Qaeda or Isis. They're ethnic Afghans and the goal has always been to create an Afghan state.

"Outside of Kabul people are very conservative.

"In the capital you see girls in jeans and riding bikes. But in the rest of the country people are more amenable to the ideology the Taliban offers. 

"They were clearly always going to be a part of Afghanistan's social fabric — it's just a case of whether the old Taliban comes back into power."

Joe Glenton returned to Afghanistan in February 2020 to make a documentary, just before the pandemic broke out

Joe Glenton returned to Afghanistan in February 2020 to make a documentary, just before the pandemic broke out - Credit: Joe Glenton

Mr Glenton's new book, Veteranhood, can be pre-ordered here: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Veteranhood-by-Joe-Glenton-author/9781913462451

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