Customer Review

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We have Been Here Before, 2 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (Hardcover)
The author has a deep knowledge of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. His latest book is very well written, pacy and informative. There are numerous books available about the Anglo-Afghan Wars. These are wars that writers about the current misguided Fourth War in Afghanistan find it very hard not to refer to even if many of the analogies with today are invalid.

I am pleased to see that the author in an after-note concedes that the First Afghan War was not futile. Many writers have made the error of saying it had no military or political benefit. The reforms we introduced proved in fact to be very valuable.

Of course, it is very easy to find resonances with the current war. Several people who fought in the First War on returning home wrote about, for example, the lack of purpose, the incompetence of senior military, and stated that our evacuation in fact resembled a retreat. 89% of the last 55 books on the present conflict (written by retired military, retired diplomats, journalists and academics) have been scathing about the conduct of the war.

The withdrawal of Soviet troops after the Soviet invasion failed to achieve its objectives is frequently and wrongly viewed as a disaster. Recently released documents show it was not. It was in fact an orderly withdrawal decided upon by the Politburo after much analysis. It is a pity NATO forces have not carried out a similar exercise.

It is interesting that Dalrymple shows how the Pashtuns (then known as Pathans)of Kandahar and Helmund were, as now, at the heart of the mid-19th century war. As now, assassination, ambush, and superb Afghan marksmanship were commonplace.
While it is wrong to draw too many similarities from that war with the insurgency today,it would undoubtedly have been beneficial if today's military leaders had spent a little more time studying the history of this war-torn, poverty-stricken land. But then, sadly, history has never been a popular study for the military hierarchy.

This is a book well worth reading. I have not given it 5 stars because there is very little in it that is new about the First Afghan War. Read with 'Flashman' it will pass the winter nights rather well.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Mar 2013 12:22:33 GMT
Dr Clayton

I must assume that you are an academic with some expertise in this area (as you've read the last 55 books written on the current conflict - not a war, as war has not been declared, as far as I'm aware.) Sadly, there are at least two comments in your review with which I must take exception.

Your comments on the Soviet withdrawal make no sense. While the withdrawal may have been well-handled (I cannot comment), the campaign most certainly was not. When you say "It is a pity NATO forces have not carried out a similar exercise", I don't understand what you mean - that NATO should have followed the Soviet's brutal tactics in Afghanistan, or that NATO's withdrawal (which has not yet happened) has not followed the Soviet example? I don't see how "NATO" can have carried out a "similar exercise" (bearing in mind, it's actually ISAF which is pursuing the efforts to stabilise Afghanistan; NATO took the lead, but ISAF is much greater.) "NATO" has not yet withdrawn, so how can they carry out an exercise "similar" to that of the Sovs?!! Seems like a tall order to me - perhaps you need to wait and see?! Certainly there are big efforts under way to plan the withdrawal.

"But then, sadly, history has never been a popular study for the military hierarchy"
What an utterly ridiculous statement! Sadly, it seems you do not know what you are talking about. I have no idea what you base that sweeping generalisation on, but it is patently (and demonstrably) untrue, certainly if your comment is aimed at the British military. Just speak to the KCL academics who support the Joint Services Command and Staff College, or those who provide the academic study at the RAF Officer Training College Cranwell and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; I confess that I can only assume that Dartmouth does as much as Cranwell and Sandhurst to imbue their students with a knowledge of military history. Bear in mind that the respective officer training colleagues are only the start - there is much effort now put into educating military officers throughout their careers. I'm all for reviews featuring the reviewers own, personal views, but it seems you have overstretched yourself somewhat in commenting on a subject of which I must presume you have no first hand knowledge.
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