Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Wayby Tim Bird
Pub. Date: 06/28/2011
Publisher: Yale University Press
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
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.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The great enigma: Afghanistan in historical context 9
Chapter 2 9/11 and the response, 11-25 September 2001 47
Chapter 3 'Boots on the ground': From the arrival of the CIA to the emergency Loya Jirga, 26 September 2001-June 2002 73
Chapter 4 'Taking the eye off the ball?' The roots of Taliban revival in Afghanistan, 2002-05 111
Chapter 5 Return to the 'forgotten war', 2006-08 153
Chapter 6 The Pakistan problem 185
Chapter 7 Silver bullets and the search for an exit, 2009-11 217
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Tim Bird, a lecturer in defence studies at King’s College London, and Alex Marshall, a lecturer in history at Glasgow University, have produced a brilliant study. It is thorough, scholarly and fair-minded, and it indicts NATO’s disastrous war on Afghanistan. The initial aim of the war was to disrupt Al-Qaeda – which was done by 2001. NATO’s war should have ended then. This success did not require building a democratic state or a working economy in Afghanistan – neither of which could be achieved. NATO’s nation-building was doomed from the start. As the authors note, “political and economic liberalization in practice generated destabilizing side-effects in war-shattered states, which then actually perpetuated instability.” Further, “the reconstruction effort during this period was underfunded, corruption-riddled and disorganized …” In 2006 the education minister in the province of Uruzgan was himself illiterate. The later war was also bound to fail. This was largely because “the threat was conceptualized as being drawn from a list that included an individual (bin Laden), a group (Al Qaeda), a tactic (terrorism), hostile governments, neutral governments, and a state of mind.” The British 2005 decision to put troops into Helmand was taken casually, without the army top brass even knowing about it. Extending the war to Pakistan was also a disaster. 6 million people have been displaced from its Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province. 7,354 civilians have been killed. In 2009 alone, 3,300 Pakistani civilians were killed, more than in Afghanistan, 2,412. The Brookings Institution estimates that drone attacks kill ten civilians for every militant killed. The authors sum up, “NATO’s decade of strategic engagement in the region had, paradoxically, become notable not only for reinforcing Pakistan’s traditional strategic mindset, but also for escalating violence and instability.” NATO used counter-insurgency, a military approach, when Afghanistan and Pakistan were clearly problems without a military solution, problems that only the Afghan and Pakistani peoples could solve.
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These guys do not make a story out of Afghanistan's history. If you like long, difficult to follow sentences and 75 out of 270 pages devoted to conclusion + footnotes + index, then this is the book for you!