News of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has come to constitute the macabre white noise of early twenty-first-century life. Matt Kennard’s recent book, Irregular Army, provides a complex insight into disturbing recruitment trends, and exposes the long-term effects of the manic drive to enlist soldiers in sufficient numbers to sustain the tragically protracted ‘War on Terror’.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq created a need for soldiers which the existing recruitment systems simply could not satisfy. The already unpopular Bush administration could not risk repealing laws which prohibit involuntary conscription, following the deeply unpopular Vietnam draft, to make up for a desperate shortfall in volunteers. Private mercenary firms like the now infamous Blackwater and Dyncorp were unleashed, and NATO forces joined the fight, but the numbers still proved insufficient.

If recruitment targets were to be met, standards regulating the kinds of volunteers who would be allowed to join up would have to be relaxed, ignored or abandoned. At the same time, a number of surreptitious tactics and insidious abuses of individuals’ rights were perpetrated in order to get enough boots on the ground in the Gulf and Afghanistan. As ever, people enter the army to secure their future and obtain transferable skills; Irregular Army points out that this is still taking place, sometimes in the most sinister and socially-corrosive ways.

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