In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in America, US and coalition forces invaded Afghanistan, where it believed the Taliban government was sheltering members of the terrorist group Al-Qaida.

The hardline Islamic government’s infrastructure was obliterated in a matter of days. Troops from 46 separate countries were sent in to form an occupying force and help establish a democracy in the troubled central-Asian nation.

Since the start of the occupation, Allied forces have met with resistance from various insurgent groups seeking to reinstall a hardline Islamist government.

In 2005, having gone against the wishes of his father and enlisted in the Royal Anglican Regiment, Kenny Meighan, 27, was sent to Afghanistan, where he eventually became the British army’s longest-serving point man. 

My dad tried to discourage me from joining up as a soldier. He knew what war was really like. But I loved the army, the camaraderie, going out on the piss with the lads. The laughs were unforgettable.

I always loved football as a boy and played all the time. But if you had offered 16-year-old me a contract to join Manchester United, I would have turned you down to become a soldier – it was all I wanted to do. The night before I was shipped out, I couldn’t sleep with excitement.

I tell you what, watching people kill other people is the most terrifying thing you can see. A lot of people say being a point man is the most dangerous job in the army. You’re at the front, looking for the enemy. You’re the first to go into a room, you’re the first to clear a ditch and you’re the first to go in the rat holes.

Maybe it’s down to my dyslexia, but I’m very good at noticing things. I pick up on every detail. That’s why I made a good point man. 

We used to listen in on the Taliban’s radios with an interpreter. One day we heard their general ask his commander, “Why aren’t you holding the British at bay?” The commander said, “They just keep coming, running at us with knives at the end of their rifles. They’ve got the eyes of the blue-eyed wolf.”

When you’re fighting hand-to-hand, you can see the enemy. You can smell them, you can fucking taste them in the air. 

The scariest moment for me was putting a geezer in a body bag while the Taliban shot at us. He’d triggered an IED (improvised explosive device) and when we arrived his sergeant was next to the Land Rover with his bayonet out scraping flesh off the sides of the vehicle. Looking into his eyes, I’ve never ever seen a man so broken – like his soul had gone.

That’s a great advert for what we stand for – we won’t leave a man behind, dead or alive. As soon as we went to pick him up, we came under attack. Bullets flying, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] whizzing past, exploding. I popped off a couple of shots and got down to the dead lad. I had to grab bits of his body and get them in the bag. I picked up the biggest part. God, it’s fucked up. I was just picking up bits of the blown-up willy and thinking, “Oh my God, this is fucking horrendous.”

I think I understand war pretty well now. I know that wars have to happen because men are greedy. 

Us going to Helmand had nothing to do with building schools as the Government will have you believe. It was to send in very fit young men capable of walking vast distances with heavy weights on their backs and still fighting to a high standard. My regiment marched 56km in four days, having firefights every few hours, attacking Taliban camps and sleeping in their flea-infested beds.

I refuse to glamorise death. I will never forget the first man I killed and I fucking hate myself for it. My section was pinned down in a ditch, under fire. Bullets were flying, thudding into the ground, throwing dust up everywhere. My lieutenant and I went ahead, stormed a building and took up position to cover a bridge where B Company were holding tight. I looked to my left and had to do a double-take. There they were. A group of Taliban fighters walking in a line towards the bridge. They were armed to the teeth. I looked at the leader in my sight, confirmed they’d got weapons and pulled the trigger three times. He just dropped.

Of course I feel bad. But what could I do? Not kill him and let him kill us? War is horrible and I had to take every day as it came. I’ve got a family and kids now. Maybe he had a family at home too.

I now know what human beings are capable of. Nothing on this earth is worse than human beings. It was human greed that started that war. Ours and theirs.

When I came back I did have a chip on my shoulder. I’d been point man in the most dangerous place in the world and the Government – not the army – did nothing to help us. All I could do was drive a vehicle. I thought, “Why are all these plumbers and electricians getting paid £200 a day and I’m struggling to make £60 a day?” I felt devalued and very angry.

Soon after we came back, I went into a Yates’s in Colchester with one of my army mates. We were still in our uniforms, and they turned us away just because we were British soldiers. We don’t want parades – we just want to be appreciated for what we’ve done.

In my head, I’m still there. I’m there every fucking day. War is hell. It’s not in any way glamorous.

Kenny Meighan now runs Viking Trowel Plastering Specialists with his friend and former army colleague Christopher George in Harwich, Essex.