Good episode from Angry Planet on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.
Conquerors and nations have been trying to rebuild Afghanistan in their own image for thousands of years. The U.S. is just the latest to fail.
The Soviet Union also failed, with a little push from the United States. But they learned their lesson in only 10 years, from 1979-1989.
I recently finished reading No Good Men Among the Living, which is a good read for anyone trying to get a better understanding of what the war in Afghanistan looks like through Afghan eyes.
I have no intention of doing a full on review/reaction. Incidentally, there is a review of the book by Rory Stewart in the latest New York Review of Books. Most of it is behind a paywall, so I didn’t get to it all, but you can see where it is going.
I did pull a couple of quotes though, towards the end of the book, that I thought were interesting.
One Talib explaining to another the motivations behind the American invasion:
The Americans, he explained, invaded because they hated the Afghan way of life.
A Talib’s description of American soldiers on patrol:
The soldiers were swaddled in gear – helmets, vests, wires poking out of various pockets. They walked uncomfortably, as if in great pain.
This is my favorite, about a low-level Taliban commander snapping photos of himself after a successful mission with captured gear to send to his superiors in Pakistan. Photos of his exploits will result in being given more money and resources for future operations. This transaction will be instantly recognizable to modern American commanders who routinely send “storyboards” to their higher headquarters of their missions and training. As the modern saying goes, pics or it didn’t happen:
Using his cell phone, Akbar Gul snapped a photo of himself standing triumphantly amid the weapons and sent it Mufti Latif. This was how Taliban commanders now proved their worth; the movement that had once shunned moving images and photography could no longer operate without them. The photographs wound up in the possession of Taliban leaders in Pakistan, and Akbar Gul was soon rewarded with a few thousand dollars.
Somewhat related, there’s a really great article making the rounds by Jen Percy on “Commander Pigeon,” the only known female warlord in Afghanistan.
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Poetry of the Taliban is a new book by fellow SOAS alum Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn. It is a compilation of poems written by members of the Taliban and posted to their website. I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but if I do go, this will be going with me.
The fact that this book exists says more about the Taliban than you will probably learn from all the intelligence briefs your brain can handle.
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