- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks; Reprint edition (Feb. 19 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1408822342
- ISBN-13: 978-1408822340
- Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.5 x 20.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 299 g
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #745,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan Paperback – Feb 19 2013
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Sandy Gall may be one of the last heroes of his profession * The Times * What makes this book stand out from all the other current writing about the war in Afghanistan is the depth of Sandy Gall's knowledge of the country and his intense sympathy for its people ... Anyone who wants to understand what is happening in Afghanistan cannot afford to ignore this book * Times Literary Supplement * A well-informed account of the litany of disastrous miscalculations that have befallen the West's involvement since the September 11 attacks * Daily Telegraph * It should be required reading for all cadets at Sandhurst and officers deploying to theatre [Afghanistan] including senior ones * General Lord Guthrie * Sandy's book is the first that covers the whole of the current conflict in Afghanistan. Warts and all, it is a compelling tale and most useful history * General Sir David Richards *
About the Author
Sandy Gall CBE, is a British journalist, author, and former ITN news presenter. His career as a journalist spans over fifty years. Sandy Gall has written several books about Afghanistan and made three documentaries about the country during the Soviet War (two of which were nominated for BAFTA awards).
Sandy Gall and his wife also set up the Sandy Gall Afghanistan Appeal charity, which provides support to people who have lost limbs in combat. Gall was awarded the Lawrence of Arabia Memorial Medal in 1987, and the CBE in 1987. In 2003 he became the World Affairs Expert on LBC Radio. In 2010 he was awarded the Order of St Michael and St George for services to the people of Afghanistan. He lives in Kent with his wife, Eleanor Gall.
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The author of the book is a British journalist who had spent many years covering the war in Afghanistan, even as far as the 1980s. However, this book is devoted to the current conflict and not the one from 1979 to 1989.
There is very little here of author’s original writings. The lion’s share of the book, some 90% in fact, is filled with lengthy quotations (some of them multiple pages long) from various individuals and paraphrasing of what others have said. The rest is devoted to explanations, author’s personal anecdotes and observations. Overall the book is a good read, but I prefer books written entirely by the author rather than one big collection of long quotes and interview transcripts.
In War Against Taliban the author tries to explain what went wrong in Afghanistan starting with the 2001 invasion. Rather than to explain what went wrong in his own words, the author selects interviews and quotes that support his thesis. The people cited range from ordinary Afghanis to NATO officers (mostly British), diplomats, UN functionaries, all the way to high ranking members of Afghan government. However, most of the quotes come from the people at the top, or close to it, rather than from those at the bottom.
The point that the author is trying to make is that the World missed its chance in the early 2000s and then kept making one mistake after another. In early 2001/late 2002 Taliban was beaten decisively and what was left of it was hiding in Pakistan. The common Afghanis were suspicious of the new invaders (they have been invaded in the past many times before, after all) and psychologically exhausted from twenty years of civil war and Taliban dictatorship, but they were also cautiously hopeful. Their attitude was “let’s wait and see what happens.” Unfortunately, what happened was nothing good.
The World didn’t have the willingness and resources to restore order and prosperity in Afghanistan. Despite the invasion being officially a NATO operation, the whole thing was in reality run by the Americans. Americans were the ones who had the resources to fix Afghanistan, but by the time Afghanistan was secured and reconstruction could begin the Bush administration was already getting ready for Iraq. Iraq completely overshadowed Afghanistan and syphoned vital resources badly needed in Afghanistan. Then the insurgency broke out in Iraq and for couple of years you would hear nothing else in the news but Iraq this and Iraq that. Many people completely forgot about Afghanistan, but the situation there was worsening rapidly. Old tribal and ethnic rivalries flared up again. Criminal gangs started proliferating. Corruption at all levels of Afghan government blossomed and eventually reached epic proportions. (Western corporations and NGOs tasked with reconstruction were as guilty of corruption as the Afghans, by the way.) And on top of it all you had to add old fashioned incompetence, ignorance and stupidity.
When the situation in Afghanistan started to slowly stabilize, Afghanistan started appearing in the news again and fresh resources were being made available to stabilize it. But it was too little too late. The key in stabilizing Afghanistan was (and still is) in restoring security and building up the economy and infrastructure. This could not be done with the rampant government corruption and the equally rampant Taliban. The World was either unable or unwilling to lean hard on the Afghan government to clamp down on corruption, so the military option was chosen and the fighting against Taliban and other insurgent groups intensified. But fighting and killing Taliban fighters was all by itself not enough. It was necessary, but others things had to be done at the same time and they were not done. Counter insurgency warfare relies as much on politics and economic means as military and police methods. Fighting an insurgency through purely military means is almost always futile. To defeat the Taliban once and for all the World had to gain the support of the common Afghans. To do so the World had to reduce the rampant corruption, start boosting the economy and creating a more efficient police force. None of that was done.
The book ends with the events of late 2011. It ends on somewhat positive note, but if you have been keeping an eye on Afghanistan, you will know that there is little to nothing to feel positive about. Sooner or later NATO will completely pull out of Afghanistan and the world will again forget it, the same way it did in 1989 when the Russians finally left. The current Afghan government is pathetically weak, incompetent, corrupt and has zero public support. Taliban are disliked, but many perceive them as the lesser evil. The people are tired of war, chaos and insecurity. Taliban are authoritarian at best and barbaric at worst, but at least they have the means to impose some measure of order.
It is my belief and prediction that once NATO leaves, the government in Kabul will quickly fall and Taliban will return to power. Of course, some regions will resist them ferociously for reasons ranging from religion to politics to purely personal feuds. A civil war will follow. (In a way it is already going on.) In other words, things will go back exactly to where they have been in 2001.
Iraq was (and in some ways still is) a catastrophe and a bloodbath, but at least Saddam’s power was permanently broken and a democratic government was put in power. Iraqi democracy is fragile and beset by serious problems on all sides and it might fall, but at least there is a chance that the country will eventually heal its wounds and a strong, robust democratic tradition will take root.
In Afghanistan the chances of a robust democracy emerging from the ashes are close to zero. Right now everything points in the direction of Taliban’s return to power and a new civil war. That in turn means that all the NATO soldiers who have died there (I am not even counting the ones who came back wounded and/or severely traumatized) and all those tens of thousands of dead Afghanis (plus the ones who got wounded and/or traumatized) died in a stupid war that achieved absolutely nothing.
Anyway, going back to the book. If you have been following the events in Afghanistan for the past fourteen years (I am writing this in 2015), reading War Against Taliban will not offer you anything new. What the author talks abut will confirm what you have been hearing for years. But even if you have a reasonably good knowledge of Afghanistan’s situation, this is still good book to read because it will compliment your knowledge with new facts. For example, I did know that Bin Laden managed to slip out of Tora Bora in 2001, but I thought that it was because of the cunning and the fighting spirit and dedication of his fighters. By reading this book I found out that he managed to escape only thanks to extremely poor tactical decisions made by Rumsfeld. Conspiracy theorists will even say that Rumsfeld did so deliberately to allow Bin Laden to escape.
As I was already familiar with the subject matter, War Against the Taliban didn’t teach me anything groundbreakingly new. I learned new facts and I read some interesting anecdotes and stories, but my overall opinion of the Afghan conflict and my conclusions about it have only been confirmed and reinforced. Still, I was glad that I read it. I give it three stars.