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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent historical review of successive foreign involvements in Afghanistan, 4 Nov 2011
Johnathan Steele has written a magisterial review of recent foreign involvements in Afghanistan, starting with (briefly) the British Empire's invasions and going on in more detail into the Soviet occupation, the survival of the Soviet-backed independent government, the Taliban rule and finally, the occupation by the US and its satellites. What might be viewed by some as the drier historical descriptions are leavened with material from many interviews with participants in the last 30 years or so of the country's travails, and these are particularly valuable.

What makes the book stand apart from others on the subject, is that Mr Steele has as a running thread through the book a series of thirteen myths about Afghanistan, such as that Afghans have always beaten foreign armies (they haven't) and that banning girls from schools is a Taliban trademark (it isn't), and these are a very useful corrective to the usual clichés about Afghanistan. But whilst he is very clear on the distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the text, he might have pointed this up more strongly by adding another myth to make this clearer; I suggest this:

MYTH NUMBER FOURTEEN:
Al Qaeda and the Taliban are synonymous.

The fact is that they are not synonymous, and what the Taliban are concerned with is kicking out the infidels from their country. Incidentally, this suggests an interesting parallel with the Vietnam war, in which an indigenous entity, the Viet Cong, were concerned only with liberating their own country rather than with spreading international communism as the US supposed.

This book, along with Rodric Braithwaite's superb history of the Soviet occupation, Afgantsy, and Sherard Cowper-Coles' slightly less interesting Cables from Kabul, really brings out the folly of the current war, and it's quite uncanny seeing all the similarities between the Soviet and the US occupations. In fact, you can take passages on the Soviet occupation from all three books and simply substitute American for Soviet names without affecting the sense at all, thus pointing up the failure to learn anything from previous history. For example, consider this on one government: "[It] acted from a desire for revenge and a false reading of how best to protect national security. It failed to consider the consequences of a non-Muslim state inserting troops into a country with a long history of defying invaders. What was intended as a quick in-and-out invasion soon suffered mission creep. Regime change turned into nation building and an occupation that lasted nine years." Only the length of the war defines this as the action of the Soviet, not the US government, as Mr Steel points out.Somehow you expect the military always to be fighting the current war as if it were the previous one, but the politicians seem unable to learn either. How utterly depressing!

Almost as important as the similarities between the two occupations was the salient difference: as the book makes clear, in one case "a new leader came to power ... abandoned hopes of victory and tried hard to achieve a negotiated settlement with his Afghan enemies he encouraged his allies in Kabul to reach out to opposition forces ... [and] encouraged them to offer political compromises that could lead to a cease-fire and a peace treaty." Unfortunately, that leader was Gorbachev not Obama, and this emphasises Obama's miserable failure (possibly the worst decision of his presidency) to crank the war up instead of winding it down. The absolute folly!

So in conclusion, this is an excellent, detailed analysis of recent Afghan history that sets the present war entirely in its foolish context and a must-read for anyone concerned with our propensity to fight irrelevant wars on foreign soil. The only reason I have marked it down from the five stars that its content merits (it should be four and half but Amazon's inflexible system doesn't allow small gradations), is the shoddy job the publishers have done on the book. There are absolutely no photographs (except for the excellent cover photo) or maps and a presentation, in a British-published book by a British author, that is presumably aimed at the American market: an irritating propensity to litter the book with American spellings (defense, honor, blank check, sidewalk, downtown - even when a UK source is being quoted) and a decision to refer always to Médecins Sans Frontières as "Doctors Without Borders," presumably on the grounds that ignorant American readers wouldn't otherwise understand what was being referred to. But don't let these relatively minor irritations put you off this excellent book!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent survey of the wars fought across Afghanistan, 15 Dec 2011
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Jonathan Steele has 30 years' experience reporting as a foreign correspondent, from Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The 9/11 attacks were 'criminal attacks' by a non-state actor. Afghanistan's armed forces had not attacked the USA. UN Resolution 1368 called on all member states to bring the perpetrators of terrorism to justice. Resolution 1373 authorised police measures against terrorists.

Neither authorised the use of military force, neither so much as mentioned Afghanistan. We don't need a 'war' on terrorism. We need to deal with terrorism by a mixture of politics and good police work.

64,000 foreign troops were in Afghanistan when Obama took office in January 2009; by 2011, it was 142,000, but there is no military solution. The main recruiters for the resistance are the presence and behaviour of foreign troops, and the Karzai government's corruption.

Yet Obama still repeats Bush's claim that the war is a war of necessity. Obama said that the Taliban 'must be met with force, and they must be defeated.' In February 2009, he ordered another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and in December another 33,000. Gorbachev's troop surge of 1985 did not work either.

Afghanistan is strategically valueless ' it has never been a gateway to anywhere, more a dead-end. The war is a stalemate.

Coalition forces killed 230 civilians in 2006, 629 in 2007, 828 in 2008, 596 in 2009 and 440 in 2010. In 2010, 711 foreign troops were killed (up from 512 in 2009), including 499 US and 103 British: the bloodiest year so far. The number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted rose by 62 per cent. They killed 268 troops, as many as in the three years 2007-09.

Two British soldiers are killed every week. So the coalition government's commitment to another three years of war condemns another 300 young British men to death, for nothing, in a pointless, unwinnable war.

Last year, this unnecessary war cost us 6 billion. It has cost us a total 18 billion so far; another three years of war will cost us another 18 billion, figures to remember when the government lectures us about public debt.

Hilary Clinton spoke in February of 'reconciling with' the Taliban, but has done nothing to follow this up. The US government wants a bilateral deal to keep US bases and 'trainers' there.

Steele writes of 'the doomed strategy of building up local Afghan forces to prolong the civil war'. He concludes, 'The biggest lesson of recent Afghan history is that it is wrong for foreigners to arm factions engaged in civil war. For foreigners then to intervene with their own troops is even greater folly. The only way to end thirty-five years of war is through a negotiated peace in which the main fighting groups and their political allies are included.' Peace can only be achieved by the complete withdrawal of foreign troops.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading, 9 Feb 2014
By 
Alan Jordan "Alanj" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths (Kindle Edition)
Very well written - as current as possible - in depth analysis and a pragmatic approach that leaves you looking back at crazy decisions
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5.0 out of 5 stars Should be compulsory reading for all politicians!, 8 Feb 2014
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Takes a bit of reading but well worth the effort.
What a shame our politicians didn't read it nefore commiting the UK.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Politicians should read this., 10 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths (Kindle Edition)
T
his is a horror story that we have visited upon a far off land. Our politicians should read more history and then try and not repeat the mistakes of the, past. What a mess we have created. Great Book but a horror story.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 31 Oct 2012
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Great book, puts different prospective onto the war, gives interesting information about history, causes of the war etc. Provides good balance to the accepted views. Easy to read too. Highly recommended.
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