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Afghanistan: A Military History From Alexander The Great To The Present [Hardcover]

Stephen Tanner
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 3 2002
For over 2,500 years, the forbidding territory of Afghanistan has served as a vital crossroads--not only for armies but also for clashes between civilizations. As the United States engages in armed conflict with the current Afghan regime, an understanding of the military history of that blood-soaked land has become essential to every American.Afghanistan's military history provides lessons for us today. The earliest written records inform us of fierce mountain tribes on the "eastern" edge of the cradle of civilization. Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan on his way from Persia to India. Later, because of its strategic location--the Silk Road passed through its mountainous northern region--Afghanistan was invaded in succession by Arabs, Mongols, and Tartars. In the nineteenth century, Great Britain tried--and failed--to add Afghanistan to its Indian empire, while Russia tried to expand into the same embattled land. Afghanistan once again fought--and defeated --Russia in the 1980's when it tried to prop up a secular government in the face of rising Islamic resistance.Now America must face a new enemy on this land--a land that for centuries has become a graveyard of empires past.

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With brisk authority and many illuminating analogies, Stephen Tanner's Afghanistan: A Military History recounts the 2,500-year story of a region and, more recently, a country of "incredible beauty" (U.S. soldiers liken it to western Colorado) that has been both the "coveted prize of empires" and a hideout for international terrorists. What Afghanistan has known for virtually all its history is war. Tanner writes, with a good eye toward narrative, of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan by Cyrus, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the British (disastrously), and the Soviet Union (only slightly less so), as well as the rise and fall of the Taliban, ending the book with a brief, speculative chapter on the country's present and future. Tucked into Tanner's overview are fascinating historical footnotes, including the Afghans' reliance over the centuries on its now-infamous caves, and its brief role in World War II--the Nazis felt a kinship with the blonde, blue-eyed segments of the population. This is a noteworthy and valuable book: accessible, objective, informed, and informative. --H. O'Billovich

From Publishers Weekly

Although the public's interest in Afghanistan-based military operations may be waning, Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban brings readers from the 3rd century B.C.E. (with a nod to the 2,000 years preceding) to the beginnings of Hamed Karzai's government. This secondary source-based account by Stephen Tanner (Epic Retreats: From 1776 to the Evacuation of Saigon) tells the story of this historical crossroads as it passes, violently, from Alexander to the Mongols, the Durrani Empire, the British, the Soviets and Mujahideen, the Taliban, and "the Americans."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An adequate historical review May 23 2003
Format:Hardcover
Like others, I read Tanner's book in order to gain a greater familiarity with Afghanistan's military history. In this respect, the book succeeds. Tanner's provides a basic overview of the subject without devling too deeply. At times I did get the impression that the author relied too heavily on secondary sources not just for historical details but analysis as well.
The rich and turbulent history of Afghanistan's history kept my attention until the final three chapters as the author moved away from historical narrative into a contemporary review of recent events which are still too close to offer any real historical judgement. That analysis must be left to the next generation to undertake comprehensively. The book lost further continuity as events related but external to Afghanistan itself were incorporated, including a somewhat detailed account of the events on 9/11 and later terrorist activity throughout the Middle East over the past two years.
I was also troubled by the author's inaccurate characterization of certain events (the most glaring being the US intervention in Somalia and Bush/Clinton's roles in the affair) that I have studied. These flaws place some doubt in my mind as to the accuracy of the rest of the book, especially concerning subjects I am less familiar with and the authors own opinions concerning the US military campaign expressed in the afterword.
This book provides an excellent start for someone looking for an introduction to Afghan military history. Read all except the last 2-3 chapters. Anyone looking for a review and analysis of the US military campaign since 2001 should look elsewhere or wait for a more comprehensive treatment of the subject with better sources thant Western press accounts.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The authoritative book on Afghan history Nov. 19 2002
By Doug M
Format:Hardcover
September 11th, 2001 brought about an unprecedented chain of events. The world's most powerful nation is now deeply intertwined with one of the poorest and most isolated countries in the world: Afghanistan. What happens in Afghanistan now directly affects us, and will continue to affect us for some time to come.
In light of this, I picked up this book because I knew next to nothing about Afghanistan. What I found was a truly excellent book that covered all of Afghanistan history and paints a very rich tapestry of Afghan people, and how we have come to this point in history that is the American War on Terrorism there.
Throughout this book, you will read examples of foreigners conquering Afghanistan, only to face the reality that in the end the Afghans can not be conquered. The most compelling example in this book is the first Anglo-Afghan war in the 1840s, where British forces marched in with huge numbers, but in the end, they were fleeing back to India starved, frozen, and totally panicked. The Soviet-Afghan war is equally compelling, and really provides insight into the current conflict we face where Mujahideen veteran fighters from that era have now reassembled into what is now Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Regardless of your views of the War on Terrorism, people will really benefit from reading this book. I think that by reading about Afghanistan and how it came to be will give readers a greater appreciation for what is going on there now in the current conflict, and also the War as a whole. Enjoy!
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5.0 out of 5 stars very lucid scholarship Nov. 6 2002
Format:Hardcover
Afghanistan brings to mind two episodes that have snared the world's attention. The first is the heroic Afghan struggle against Soviet occupation during the 1980s. The second is the rise and rule of the Taliban, a regime so repressive, so medieval in its orientation as to be unbelievable. Stephen Tanner, author of Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Rise of the Taliban, has provided a very readable and detailed historical context to these recent events in this fractious nation's history. It is quite appropriate, in light of its violent heritage, that the author has focused on the military side of Afghanistan's history. Tanner goes as far back in time as historical records will allow to uncover how Afghans--or the people inhabiting the area of present day Afghanistan--gloried in war. Some of the most powerful armies in history, Persians, Macedonians, Mongols, etc campaigned with difficulty in this rugged region. It wasn't that the Afghans were so powerful themselves. As Tanner reveals, invading the country was one thing, subduing the inhabitants, quite another. Professional armies found it easy to rampage through the area, yet faced intractable resistence from warriors refusing to yield. He shows how the Afghans' prime loyalties to tribes and clans concurrent with their resistence to direction from a central government forged a hardy, warlike people. The mountainous terrain of the country played no small part in their formidibility. The epic tone of the narrative diminishes, giving way to an almost journalistic play-by-play in the later chapters of the book. Nevertheless, Tanner's account of Afghan history will capture the reader's interest to the very end. He even offers a thought provoking commentary on the way the U.S. war in Afghanistan was handled. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and entertaining military history Aug. 10 2002
Format:Hardcover
How did Alexander the Great feel when he viewed Afghan warriors following his every move through the open fields and tight crevasses of Afghanistan? Probably much the same as British Major General William Elphinstone felt centuries later as he led an ill-fated expedition out of Afghanistan, during which all of his 15,000-strong caravan of soldiers died at the hands of Afghans...except for the one man left alive to tell the story.
Across time, Afghanistan has dealt similar harsh lessons to all intruders.
With Afghanistan shoved into the limelight after 9/11, many have been left wondering what kind of people inhabit such a harsh land. When the U.S. military ran out of targets after only a few days of bombing, I know I was asking myself exactly what kind of war we were fighting. Where did the bunkers that Bin Laden hid in come from, and did they have a deeper historical origin? Why did such a wanted man choose that country at all?
If you were wondering similar things, Tanner does an excellent job explaining these and numerous other issues surrounding the military history of Afghanistan. My initial interest was sparked by his previous book about Switzerland (Refuge from the Reich), which supplied fascinating WWII information about a country I've studied at length. The Swiss and the Afghans are actually more similar than many might at first think, as Tanner is sure to point out. With two mountainous regions and two heavily armed populations of varying ethnic groups, their shared struggles and lessons to the world are equally valuable. It is here that Tanner excels--in bridging civilizations and epochs to create understandable history.
Viewed militarily, Afghanistan becomes a shadowy region more often acted-upon than instigating.
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