True to their Salt

Indigenous Personnel in Western Armed Forces

Rob Johnson

Mercenaries, allies or collaborators? A history of colonial auxiliaries.

Bibliographic Details
True to their Salt Hardback
August 2017£25.00

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In the last decade an Iraqi Army and an Afghan National Army were created entirely from scratch, the founding of which was deemed to be a crucial measure for the establishment of security and the withdrawal of Western forces from Iraq and Afghanistan

Raising new armies is always problematic, especially during an insurgency, but doing so outside the sovereignty of one’s own state raises questions of legality, concerns about their conduct and the risk of an over-empowered local military. The recruitment of proxies, including former insurgents, or the arming of local fighters and auxiliaries, levies and militias, may also exacerbate an internal security situation.

In seeking answers to this conundrum Rob Johnson turns to history. His book sets out how recruitment of local auxiliaries was an essential component of European colonialism, and how, in the transfer of power and security at the end of that colonial era, the raising of local forces using existing Western models became the norm. He then offers a comprehensive survey of the post-colonial legacy, particularly the recent utilisation of surrogates and auxiliaries, the work of embedded training teams, and mentoring.


Robert Johnson is the Director of the Oxford Changing Character of War research programme, and Senior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford University. Has a PhD on the Strategic Defence of India and British Intelligence in the Great Game from the University of Exeter. A former Army Officer, he became a lecturer in the History of War at Oxford in 2008. He is the author of a number of publications, including The Afghan Way of War (2011) and The Great War in the Middle East (2016).

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‘An important and highly significant book  on “burden-sharing” by Western military powers through the hiring of local allies — at once relevant for history and for current military affairs. Johnson argues forcefully that  Western governments’ assumption that they can achieve their aims with airpower and local forces alone is deeply misguided.’ — Jeremy Black, Professor of History, University of Exeter

True to Their Salt is an ambitious “grand narrative” treatment of the nature and experience of indigenous forces recruited by Western powers during the days of empire, and more recently. Embracing a diverse range of case studies, it offers a unique overview that will make it a standard work of reference.’ — Ashley Jackson, Professor of Imperial and Military History, King’s College London; author of The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction