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Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way

Tim Bird
Alex Marshall
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In October 2001, NATO forces invaded Afghanistan. Their initial aim, to topple the Taliban regime and replace it with a more democratic government aligned to Western interests, was swiftly achieved. However, stabilizing the country in the ensuing years has proven much more difficult. Despite billions of dollars in aid and military expenditure, Afghanistan remains a nation riddled with warlords, the world's major heroin producer, and the site of a seemingly endless conflict between Islamist militants and NATO forces.

    In this timely and important book, Tim Bird and Alex Marshall offer a panoramic view of international involvement in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2011. Tackling the subject matter as a whole, Bird and Marshall weave together analysis of military strategy, regional context, aid policy, the Afghan government, and the many disagreements between and within the Western powers involved in the intervention. Given the complicating factors of the heroin trade, unwelcoming terrain, and precarious relations with Pakistan, the authors acknowledge the ways in which Afghanistan has presented unique challenges for its foreign invaders. Ultimately, however, they argue that the international community has failed in its self-imposed effort to solve Afghanistan's problems and that there are broader lessons to be learned from their struggle, particularly in terms of counterinsurgency and the ever-complicated work of "nation-building." The overarching feature of the intervention, they argue, has been an absence of strategic clarity and coherence.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15458-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    (pp. 1-8)

    It all began so well. As the Northern Alliance, heavily supported by US Special Forces and massive airpower, swept through Afghanistan in October and November of 2001, Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies fled to the mountains and havens of the south and east, or over the border into the Pakistani tribal areas, in seeming disarray. While a number of questions remained about the where-abouts of Osama bin Laden, and about the nature of the post-conflict configuration of Afghanistan, the overall impression was still one of stunning victory. The remaining few thousand, mostly American, troops were left to conduct what...

  4. CHAPTER ONE THE GREAT ENIGMA: Afghanistan in historical context
    (pp. 9-46)

    Had sir olaf not died twenty years earlier, he would doubtless have offered strong words of advice to the coalition that began to be assembled in 2001 on the dangers of interfering in the affairs of the ‘Pathans’. However, a perception that the security of powerful external actors was again threatened by policy decisions made in Kabul compelled outsiders to intervene once more to try and impose their will. The prospects for ‘success’ came burdened with, and were directly shaped by, the bleak lessons of Afghanistan’s own very particular modern history. What retains the capacity to surprise, even ten years...

    (pp. 47-72)

    The horrific events of 11 September 2001 in New York City, Washington, DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, rocked the US and the world. It is impossible to fully understand the nature of the response from the administration of George W. Bush without grasping the fact that its members saw 9/11 as far more than appalling criminal acts perpetrated by a specific group. There was a strong sense that the attacks were a manifestation of wider global forces and linkages, to which the US needed to respond. This coalesced within the administration’s thinking into a belief that a triad of threats had...

  6. CHAPTER THREE ‘BOOTS ON THE GROUND’: From the arrival of the CIA to the emergency Loya Jirga, 26 September 2001–June 2002
    (pp. 73-110)

    Cofer Black, director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, briefing the first CIA team to enter Afghanistan after 9/11 On 26 september, a lone helicopter took off from Dushanbe in Tajikistan. At 1445 it deposited the first seven-man CIA team into the Panjshir valley of north-east Afghanistan. This team, code-named ‘Jawbreaker’, was led by a fifty-nine-year-old CIA veteran, Gary Schroen. The team members brought with them an array of communications equipment, and the small matter of $3 million in cash (Schroen, according to his own account, was to spend a total of $5 million during his forty days in Afghanistan). This...

    (pp. 111-152)

    With the ending of formal operations against the Taliban in March 2002, international attention on events in Afghanistan quickly shrank against the backdrop of the run-up to, and outbreak of, coalition military operations against Iraq from March 2003 onwards. Coalition efforts in Afghanistan at this time were low key by comparison, and initially subdivided between the 18,000 members of the American-led military command, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and the 4,500-strong European-led ISAF. Among the main events in Afghanistan that captured international media attention during this time were the adoption of what subsequently proved to be a fatally flawed new Afghan...

    (pp. 153-184)

    If the period 2002–05 saw incoherent international policy and strategy waste the opportunities that the overthrow of the Taliban and the scattering of Al Qaeda had presented, the year 2006 heralded the beginning of the period of consequences. The previous chapter illustrated the weaknesses and delusions in the thesis that claims Afghanistan had been on the ‘right path’ in this earlier stage, only to be derailed by greater NATO involvement later. Nevertheless, this critique does not imply that the manner in which NATO extended its remit, and the broader international approach from 2006 onwards, should be viewed positively. The...

    (pp. 185-216)

    Throughout the intervention, the West has had inordinate difficulty in deciding whether Pakistan is an ally or an obstacle in the search for solutions to Western security concerns in Afghanistan. The US mood towards the country has oscillated sharply between warm words backed by fiscal largesse (in which Pakistan is feted as the anti-terrorist ‘anvil’ in counterpoint to the NATO ‘hammer’) and outbursts of anger over the perceived duplicity of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. There has been an additional and constant undercurrent of concern at Pakistan’s own internal fragility. Western policymakers appear torn between treating Pakistan as an indispensable contributor to...

    (pp. 217-248)

    By 1986, Soviet personnel in Afghanistan, after over six years of near-fruitless efforts to stabilize the country, had begun to realize that the government they were supporting in Kabul was corrupt, ineffective and unrepresentative.² The Soviet Politburo consequently began to implement an exit strategy, which it hoped the newly elected Afghan leader, Najibullah, would facilitate. Earlier Soviet hopes for an ordered exit, some form of local reconciliation of the fighting factions, a more benign general regional environment, and, above all, their doubts concerning the capacity of the Kabul government itself, would echo loudly in 2009–10. The international community was...

    (pp. 249-262)

    It is safe to assume that Walter Lippmann would not have been particularly impressed by the manner in which those shaping the bloody ten years of international intervention in Afghanistan have balanced the ‘ends, ways and means’ calculations that are at the heart of strategy. Just about every conceivable approach, in a variety of combinations, has, at some point in the ten years, been attempted. There have only been two consistent themes. The first has been the mismatch between the dominant policy fashions pursued at particular points in time and the cycle of events in Afghanistan itself. The second has...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 263-288)
    (pp. 289-298)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 299-304)