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Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign Paperback – 2 Feb 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (2 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007432046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007432042
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 266,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“highly readable and witty account of a crucial period in the Afghan conflict” Daily Telegraph

“an instructive perspective” Daily Express

‘The clearest, best informed, and most honest account yet of why and how Britain was drawn deeper and deeper into the Afghan war, by the man who knows more about it than just about anyone else. If you want to understand what really happened, you absolutely have to read this book.’
John Simpson

‘Unquestionably the most important record yet of the diplomatic wrangling that has accompanied the slow military encirclement of western forces in Afghanistan. Extraordinary’ William Dalrymple, Observer

‘Vividly portrays the plight of an envoy who really cared about his brief, and felt unable to keep silent about looming failure in a vital region where western intervention has been bungled’ Max Hastings, Sunday Times

‘A highly readable and witty account by one of our most dynamic and impressive diplomats’ Daily Telegraph

‘A supremely urbane, frustrated and brilliant valedictory diagnosis of the problems of Afghanistan’s recent past’ Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Sherard Cowper-Coles is one of the most respected authorities on foreign affairs in the country. He has held a string of high-profile diplomat posts, both in the UK and overseas, most recently as the British Ambassador to Kabul and the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book received rave reviews in the papers but I found it disappointing.

It's not really clear if Cowper-Coles wanted to write a personal memoir of his time involved in Afghanistan or a measured critique of Britain's role there, but for me it doesn't quite work on either score.

There is much description of meetings attended, ministers briefed, parties enjoyed, wheels oiled, as well as frequent genuinely witty or illuminating vignettes, but for a personal memoir it is simply not personal enough. For example, we know Mr Cowper-Coles has at least one son but no idea if he has other children or a wife. We know he left the diplomatic service having failed to get the "top posting" he had been promised but no information is provided on what must have been a hugely emotional decision for a dedicated career diplomat.

But there is no need for personal details to be provided if what is really being written is analysis of Britain (and western) efforts in Afghanistan. The problem here is that there simply isn't enough analysis - Mr Cowper-Coles drops tantalising hints throughout of his disenchantment with the process but never pulls it together into a convincing whole. It's as if ultimately he was unable or unwilling to write what one feels could be a much focussed or more hard-hitting book. There are some conclusions at the end but interestingly none relate directly to the diplomatic side at all.

The second half of the book, covering his time as a Special Representative is particularly frustrating. Cowper-Coles has many warm words for his American opposite number, Richard Holbrooke, but Holbrooke comes across as an incredibly difficult person to work with. The author is perhaps unwilling to speak ill of the dead but once again the analysis is lacking.
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Format: Hardcover
Cowper-Coles has written a fantastic book that describes in fluid and absorbing prose, the trials and tribulations of working in several high profile diplomatic jobs in Afghanistan. Although not overtly negative, he nevertheless provides a convincing critique of many of the aspects of the Afghan campaign. He criticises the 'more troops the better' mentality that MOD officials in the UK as well as, and more importantly, those in the US are guilty of. He recounts the frustrations of being the smaller partner in a coalition, and the seemingly impossible task of convincing the US of anything, and the seemingly never ending bureaucracy inherent in the modern state system. That's not to say that he believes the whole enterprise is fruitless. By the end of the book, in 2011, we see the US announcing a commitment to political development within Afghanistan along with further military intervention, something that had been lobbied for from the start. This, however, is followed by a blistering attack on the reasons, feasibility and commitment to the war in the last chapter by Cowper-Coles, but one that provides a brilliant ending to the book, and a summary of all that has preceded.

The message of the book was clear, and showed great insight. However, by far the most interesting part of the book is the presentation of the world of high profile diplomacy, that so few have access to.

Recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having read numerous soldier's accounts of Iraq and Afghanistan, I was looking forward to reading the details of our man in Kabul. Mr Cowper-Coles says that the book is based on his memories of his time in Afghanistan rather than official minutes and notes (which are presumably covered by the 30-year rule).

The result is an interesting if winding read through his diplomatic career as UK Ambassador to Afghanistan. He is most interesting when writing about the life of the embassy and the job of being a diplomat which is a real contrast both to the military's experience and to the media representation of conflict. The only problem is that Mr Cowper-Coles is much too diplomatic to reveal very much, doesn't provide much of a strategic overview and whenever possible links back everyone he knows to whether or not they were at Oxford with him.

I had hoped for an insightful analysis of the conflict, the politics, the personalities, the clash between diplomats, military and politicians - a sort of in-depth Economist-style approach. Instead, the books ends up as "I-was-there" account and he doesn't seem to achieve very much which is probably quite harsh.

It adds to the gamut of books about the Afghan war in a useful way but we are still waiting for the definitive read - which is probably only going to come once NATO forces have withdrawn
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Format: Hardcover
This book covers a fascinating period of the Campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The first half of the book provides great context as to what has happened and why. Unfortunately, I felt that the latter half of the book then lost direction a little. That said, the final 2 chapters (which pull together some conclusions & lessons learned) are excellent.

I don't know how much of the original material was removed by the FCO and/or MOD during the security clearance process, but some big muscle moves in the Campaign are glossed over by an author who must have been right at the heart of the action. I didn't necessarily choose the book for sensation, but further insight into some of these fascinating events was on my agenda.

In sum, an easy and interesting read. If you are particularly involved in the Afghan Campaign, this is probably a MUST Read. However, what could have been a great book (Obama's Wars by Woodward) is ultimately just a good book.
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