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The American War in Afghanistan: A History

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The first authoritative history of American's longest war by one of the world's leading scholar-practitioners. The American war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001, is now the longest armed conflict in the nation's history. It is currently winding down, and American troops are likely to leave soon -- but only after a stay of nearly two decades. In The American War in Afghani The first authoritative history of American's longest war by one of the world's leading scholar-practitioners. The American war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001, is now the longest armed conflict in the nation's history. It is currently winding down, and American troops are likely to leave soon -- but only after a stay of nearly two decades. In The American War in Afghanistan, Carter Malkasian provides the first comprehensive history of the entire conflict. Malkasian is both a leading academic authority on the subject and an experienced practitioner, having spent nearly two years working in the Afghan countryside and going on to serve as the senior advisor to General Joseph Dunford, the US military commander in Afghanistan and later the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Drawing from a deep well of local knowledge, understanding of Pashto, and review of primary source documents, Malkasian moves through the war's multiple phases: the 2001 invasion and after; the light American footprint during the 2003 Iraq invasion; the resurgence of the Taliban in 2006, the Obama-era surge, and the various resets in strategy and force allocations that occurred from 2011 onward, culminating in the 2018-2020 peace talks. Malkasian lived through much of it, and draws from his own experiences to provide a unique vantage point on the war. Today, the Taliban is the most powerful faction, and sees victory as probable. The ultimate outcome after America leaves is inherently unpredictable given the multitude of actors there, but one thing is sure: the war did not go as America had hoped. Although the al-Qa'eda leader Osama bin Laden was killed and no major attack on the American homeland was carried out after 2001, the United States was unable to end the violence or hand off the war to the Afghan authorities, which could not survive without US military backing. The American War in Afghanistan explains why the war had such a disappointing outcome. Wise and all-encompassing, The American War in Afghanistan provides a truly vivid portrait of the conflict in all of its phases that will remain the authoritative account for years to come.


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The first authoritative history of American's longest war by one of the world's leading scholar-practitioners. The American war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001, is now the longest armed conflict in the nation's history. It is currently winding down, and American troops are likely to leave soon -- but only after a stay of nearly two decades. In The American War in Afghani The first authoritative history of American's longest war by one of the world's leading scholar-practitioners. The American war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001, is now the longest armed conflict in the nation's history. It is currently winding down, and American troops are likely to leave soon -- but only after a stay of nearly two decades. In The American War in Afghanistan, Carter Malkasian provides the first comprehensive history of the entire conflict. Malkasian is both a leading academic authority on the subject and an experienced practitioner, having spent nearly two years working in the Afghan countryside and going on to serve as the senior advisor to General Joseph Dunford, the US military commander in Afghanistan and later the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Drawing from a deep well of local knowledge, understanding of Pashto, and review of primary source documents, Malkasian moves through the war's multiple phases: the 2001 invasion and after; the light American footprint during the 2003 Iraq invasion; the resurgence of the Taliban in 2006, the Obama-era surge, and the various resets in strategy and force allocations that occurred from 2011 onward, culminating in the 2018-2020 peace talks. Malkasian lived through much of it, and draws from his own experiences to provide a unique vantage point on the war. Today, the Taliban is the most powerful faction, and sees victory as probable. The ultimate outcome after America leaves is inherently unpredictable given the multitude of actors there, but one thing is sure: the war did not go as America had hoped. Although the al-Qa'eda leader Osama bin Laden was killed and no major attack on the American homeland was carried out after 2001, the United States was unable to end the violence or hand off the war to the Afghan authorities, which could not survive without US military backing. The American War in Afghanistan explains why the war had such a disappointing outcome. Wise and all-encompassing, The American War in Afghanistan provides a truly vivid portrait of the conflict in all of its phases that will remain the authoritative account for years to come.

30 review for The American War in Afghanistan: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Extraordinary book about the American War in Afghanistan. The author is an excellent writer who presents his information clearly and in a manner that captures the reader. Most interesting to me is the rose of ISIS and it’s effects on the Taliban and bringing Russia and Iran into the country to dampen terrorism.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mohit

    The book was released as soon as the American troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The book is an attempt to give the Americans a clean cheat. No other country would survive a political massacre, other than the Americans, by being in this war. Imagine, china being militarily involved in a region for 20 years, causing thousands of civilian casualty? The book takes into account three actors: the American civilian leadership (politicians and diplomats), the American military leadership (generals and p The book was released as soon as the American troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The book is an attempt to give the Americans a clean cheat. No other country would survive a political massacre, other than the Americans, by being in this war. Imagine, china being militarily involved in a region for 20 years, causing thousands of civilian casualty? The book takes into account three actors: the American civilian leadership (politicians and diplomats), the American military leadership (generals and pentagon) and the Afghan politicians. It revolves around the fact that one or the other party among these actors did not do the job. This is in a way stretched to give all the three a clean chit. I dream that when a book is written in 2031, titled, "10 years after the American war in Afghanistan", I hope we see Afghanistan as a prosperous country. The Americans have both an interest and a responsibility in seeing that Afghans prosper. The Americans and their allies must pledge 200Bn USD re-development program for Afghanistan for the next 10 years. This could be through soft loans, aid and investment. The Americans have much to answer, otherwise, a rise of extremism against America, from the Afghan soil is inevitable.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Scriptor Ignotus

    The American war in Afghanistan began as the nation’s most fervently supported military endeavor since the Second World War. Following the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, NATO invoked the mutual-defense provision of its charter, and a total of fifty-one (!) countries ended up aiding the military mission in Afghanistan in some fashion during the proceeding twenty years. When the intervention began in October 2001, as Green Berets and CIA operatives embedded with the ethnicall The American war in Afghanistan began as the nation’s most fervently supported military endeavor since the Second World War. Following the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, NATO invoked the mutual-defense provision of its charter, and a total of fifty-one (!) countries ended up aiding the military mission in Afghanistan in some fashion during the proceeding twenty years. When the intervention began in October 2001, as Green Berets and CIA operatives embedded with the ethnically Tajik and Uzbek warlords of the Northern Alliance assaulted the predominantly Pashtun Taliban emirate of the south with close air support, President George W. Bush’s approval rating soared above 90 percent in some polls. Iran and Russia, traditional American rivals but no friends of the Taliban, cooperated with the United States in an unprecedented manner. The intervention seemed initially to have been a brilliant and unmitigated success. After 2001, the Taliban was in tatters, licking its wounds across the border in Pakistan, while a remarkably peaceful Afghanistan was led by the interim government of Hamid Karzai, a Kandahari khan who had led his Popalzai in an intra-Pashtun uprising within the Taliban’s southern power base. Yet the war ended, at the end of August 2021, with a spectacularly disastrous American and allied withdrawal from an Afghanistan in which the government had collapsed and almost all of the nation’s territory was in Taliban hands. How did a mission with such an unprecedented level of military, diplomatic, financial, and sentimental support come to such an ignominious end? Carter Malkasian provides a number of overlapping suggestions. First, the United States made critical strategic blunders in the early phases of the war, at the precise moment when the military and political situation was most favorable to it. After the fall of the first Taliban emirate, the Bush Administration treated the Taliban as a vanquished enemy and refused to allow the new Afghan government to negotiate or share power with it. Given the broad support the Taliban had enjoyed in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and the alienation many of the tribes therein experienced under the Karzai government, this uncompromising stance provided tinder for a renewed civil war that materialized with the Taliban offensive of 2006, in which it reclaimed most of southern Afghanistan while the United States was preoccupied with the brewing civil war in Iraq. Furthermore, the administration was halfhearted and ineffectual in its efforts to build up the Afghan military and police forces. Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, was highly averse to spending substantial amounts of time and money on training and supplying the Afghan army because he feared this would embroil the United States in a long-term nation-building mission; which, of course, ended up being exactly what happened, in part because the weakness of the Afghan military and police allowed the Taliban to reestablish themselves, necessitating a prolonged American military commitment to sustain its initial strategic goal of denying Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorist organizations like al-Qa’eda. Even after the American “surge” of 2009-2012, the Taliban was never in a weaker position than it had been in between 2001 and 2005. There was also the hard geostrategic problem of Pakistan, which had been using the Taliban as its proxies since the 1990s in the interests of gaining “strategic depth” for its confrontation with India and providing, in Afghanistan, a release valve for its internal specters of militant Islamism and Pashtun nationalism. The Pakistani government officially broke ties with the Taliban after 2001, but it did so only under American coercion—and the ISI continued to provide the Taliban with clandestine support—because it was never in Pakistan’s strategic interest to countenance an Afghan government that received aid and investment from its Indian archrival, nor to make enemies of a militant movement with a large Pakistani membership base. Malkasian records one Pakistani army officer exclaiming, “We are being ordered to launch a Pakistani civil war for the sake of America. Why on earth should we? Why should we commit suicide for you?” No amount of American cajoling could override this basic geopolitical reality, and the fundamental strategic rift between Pakistan and the ISAF allies became all the more salient after 2011, when the United States launched a covert mission that killed Osama bin Laden in a compound near the Pakistani national defense university and the Pakistani government responded with shrieks of outrage at the violation of its national sovereignty. Perhaps most importantly, the Taliban provided an ideological draw for Afghans that the Karzai and Ghani governments could never quite match. In a country fragmented along tribal and ethnic lines, Islam was the only cultural force that tended toward unity and cohesion, and the Taliban’s religiously-fervorous character both inspired recruitment and allowed the movement to present a united front against an Afghan regime that was always drifting toward decentralization and corruption. By opposing the US-backed government just as the mujahideen had opposed the Soviet-backed regime in the 1980s, the Taliban also tapped into the spirit of Afghan nationalism, which embraced a long and storied tradition of resistance to occupying foreign powers: Macedonians, Mongols, Mughals, Safavids, Britons, Russians, and Americans. No matter how many Taliban were killed by the United States or the Afghan National Army, the movement could never be dislodged from its identification with what it means to be Afghan, and this was always the primary source of its strength.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    If you're looking for an informative and comprehensive account of the war that provides mainstream criticisms of the US's "mistakes", then Malkasian's book is for you. If you're like me though and view this country's aggression against Afghanistan through the lens of American Empire, then you'll be constantly frustrated with this read. Malkasian's account implicitly accepts that the US occupation serves some "greater good" despite its "unfortunate" "missed opportunities" for peace while punting If you're looking for an informative and comprehensive account of the war that provides mainstream criticisms of the US's "mistakes", then Malkasian's book is for you. If you're like me though and view this country's aggression against Afghanistan through the lens of American Empire, then you'll be constantly frustrated with this read. Malkasian's account implicitly accepts that the US occupation serves some "greater good" despite its "unfortunate" "missed opportunities" for peace while punting the most damning implications of US actions to the hopelessly morally gray arena of "it's complicated." The careful reader should note that whereas the Taliban may be "brutal" and "oppressive", the western-backed warlords are merely "heavy-handed". And you'll read paragraphs-long passages about the cruelty of Taliban commanders like Dadullah Lang but when a US gunship obliterates a Doctors without Borders hospital killing dozens, all we get is a quick comment about how much it weighed on US soldiers and officials. Finally, while the book is informative, the conclusions Malkasian draws are often superficial where things are explained by a lack of "grit" or by American overconfidence and hubris. Overall, the book's a rich source of information but the analysis is generally lacking.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ernst

    Written after the 2020 election by an author with a Ph D from Oxford and multiple deployments into the country and four years experience as special assistant for strategy to the Joint Chiefs of staff. Author leans toward believing that great risks for peace were worth taking as early as 2002, though he mentions that making deals with the Taliban is an uncertain process -- there may be no deal, and if there is a deal they may not keep it. Although the book was published before things unraveled co Written after the 2020 election by an author with a Ph D from Oxford and multiple deployments into the country and four years experience as special assistant for strategy to the Joint Chiefs of staff. Author leans toward believing that great risks for peace were worth taking as early as 2002, though he mentions that making deals with the Taliban is an uncertain process -- there may be no deal, and if there is a deal they may not keep it. Although the book was published before things unraveled completely, the author concludes that Obama's surge did not good. Striking that Americans or the elected Afghan government took twice as many troops to control a city or area once taken -- once the Taliban took over an area they were not being attacked by improvised explosive devices or other terrorist assaults, so an area held by the Afghans was still at war and an area held by the Taliban, outside the surge and occasional other campaigns, was basically at peace. Folks could walk around unarmed and have much more of their normal lives. Book is weaker on corruption in the Afghan army -- there are references to it, but not much about where the money and equipment went, the motivations of the people doing it, or how they got away with it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    Readings A good synopsis of what has been written about the last twenty years of war in Afghanistan. I would recommend this book for people trying to understand the war and why we are pulling out.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    Outstanding history & analysis This book is an outstanding read on the history of the Afghan conflict and its outcome. Excellent analysis of why the Taliban prevailed. I read this in parallel with a similar treatise on the war in Vietnam. The parallels are ghastly.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Arunayan Sharma

    Justified just for justification of 20 years in Afghanistan.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bill Hope

    Required reading for anyone who wants to understand America’s twenty-year experience in Afghanistan. Spoiler alert: it’s complicated.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tim Lynch

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ruben

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tan Shengli

  13. 4 out of 5

    William Rockwood

  14. 5 out of 5

    James M Rose

  15. 5 out of 5

    Frederick G Davies

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy Paczosa

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mac McCormick III

  18. 5 out of 5

    Adewale. A. POPOOLA

  19. 4 out of 5

    N

  20. 5 out of 5

    R. L. Stevens

  21. 4 out of 5

    Delaney

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ted Neward

  24. 4 out of 5

    David Newstead

  25. 4 out of 5

    Popoy Mindalano

  26. 4 out of 5

    George Shaw

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kari

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alberto Nickerson

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pat Gaegler

  30. 5 out of 5

    Prateek

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