The Lion's Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan


"Jon Lee Anderson arrived in Afghanistan ten days before U.S. bombers began pounding Al Qaeda and Taliban forces. He followed the fighting and reported the peace - or what passed for it - as The New Yorkers' only correspondent on the ground. Anderson witnessed the fall of Kunduz, one of the Taliban's last bastions, and made a hair-raising trip across the Hindu Kush to Kabul, where the interim government was clumsily taking power. In Kandahar, he found that the Taliban were not simply the austere, self-abnegating men they claimed to be. His ...
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"Jon Lee Anderson arrived in Afghanistan ten days before U.S. bombers began pounding Al Qaeda and Taliban forces. He followed the fighting and reported the peace - or what passed for it - as The New Yorkers' only correspondent on the ground. Anderson witnessed the fall of Kunduz, one of the Taliban's last bastions, and made a hair-raising trip across the Hindu Kush to Kabul, where the interim government was clumsily taking power. In Kandahar, he found that the Taliban were not simply the austere, self-abnegating men they claimed to be. His reports include portraits of warlords, crafty politicians, fighters who have a distinctly non-Western view of loyalty, and an American soldier of fortune. Anderson's report on the search for Osama bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora is published here for the first time. In the final dispatch, he investigates the assassination of the charismatic Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud - the Lion of the Panjshir - who was murdered by Al Qaeda agents two days before the attacks of September 11th in New York and Washington. Massoud's death haunts all of Anderson's stories about what happened in Afghanistan in the months that followed." Anderson had covered the mujahideen's war against the communist-backed government in Kabul over a decade earlier, but even seasoned reporters had a rough time moving around Afghanistan now. Most of the country had no electricity or phone service, and Anderson communicated with The New Yorker via e-mail over a satellite phone powered by a gasoline generator. He and his traveling companion, the young German photographer Thomas Dworzak, whose photographs accompany the dispatches here, fought their own battles with sandstorms, bandits, recalcitrant equipment, and officialdom. A selection of Anderson's e-mails to the magazine frame the dispatches in The Lions' Grave, providing an intimate narrative of what it was like to report a high-technology conflict in feudal terrain.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Almost no war reportage in recent memory can match the force or subtlety of Jon Lee Anderson's New Yorker Afghanistan dispatches. Within weeks of the September 11th attacks, this veteran foreign correspondent returned to Kabul to cover his second war in the mountainous, inhospitable Asian country. Not content with government and military releases, he ventured into the country, interviewing villagers, warlords, even prisoners of war. These dispatches, now collected in The Lion's Grave, present a conflict far more complicated and chaotic than anyone outside the country could have imagined.
Library Journal
9/11 Afghanistan has long been one of the least developed countries in the world. It was elevated to the forefront of the Cold War after the Soviet Union's invasion and the bloody war that ensued for the next decade. After the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan descended into a long period of chaos, destruction, and hopelessness engendered by the ongoing civil war. It was in this atmosphere that Osama bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire turned terrorist, found a convenient base of operations. In this book, Anderson, a veteran foreign correspondent and a staff writer for The New Yorker who had previously covered the Afghan war against the Soviet Union, presents a riveting account of developments in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. The author's reporting reflects an astute understanding of the constellation of sociopolitical forces in today's Afghanistan. Anderson's penetrating observations and his ability to bring life to his subject the fall of Kandahar and Kunduz, the dangerous search of the Tora Bora caves are admirable. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Intense, immediate reporting from the front lines in Afghanistan. Seized, as soon as the destruction of September 11 became known, with the idea of filing from Afghanistan, New Yorker correspondent Anderson found he needed to bring all of his experience into play just to get into the country. ("One can always find a way to get smuggled in," he assured his editor, Sharon DeLano, by e-mail on September 12th.) He made it about two weeks later and began sending reports on the lay of the land, the combatants, and the state of affairs among civilians. Here, he presents those pieces, written over the next eight months, in conjunction with his e-mail correspondence with DeLano. The essays (most previously published in the New Yorker) offer snapshots of the war's progress as Anderson chews over the progression of events with local Northern Alliance leaders, pokes around an abandoned bin Laden compound, interviews the occasional Afghan woman who will risk being seen with him, ferrets out the origin of the rumors of poisoned humanitarian aid rations (some Afghans had eaten the preservative drying agents that keep the food fresh), and casts an eye over Kabul after the fall of the Taliban. His e-mail traces how he got these stories. The result is a sort of war-watcher's travelogue, letting us in on the vicissitudes that dictate where our man winds up: the difficulties of getting visas, or even moving from one town to another along bandit-controlled byways; the free-wheeling insults traded between reporters and cranky, gun-wielding fighters; the kluges necessitated by meeting deadlines in a pre-industrial landscape; and the love inspired by a fully functional Toughbook computer and Inmarsat satellitephone. An important and eminently readable account from the heart of chaos. First printing of 50,000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802117236
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/7/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Lion's Grave

Dispatches from Afghanistan

By Jon Lee Anderson

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2002

Jon Lee Anderson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-4025-4

Chapter One

From: Jon Lee 9/11/2001

Sharon, I am guessing you never made it to the office. I hope
everyone at the New Yorker is OK. I have to say that Sri Lanka
seems very small, remote, and entirely irrelevant. I feel like I
should be heading for Afghanistan, which I fully expect to be
flattened any day now. Is the magazine planning any special
coverage? Is there something I can do to help?

From: Jon Lee 9/12/2001

I've reached my friend Peter, who is in Islamabad. He says that
British Airways has cancelled flights to Pakistan but that the
Emirates is still flying. As for visas from the Taliban to get into
Afghanistan, this must be worked through their embassy in
Islamabad. Peter says that journos, mostly TV crews, have
already begun to swarm, but the Talib are being noncommittal
and taking applications and telling people to come back in 15
days. He is working a connection inside the embassy whom he
thinks is bribeable. (It might be possible to get a visa this way.)
If the shit really hits the fan, of course, no visas would be
needed. One can always find a way to get smuggled in, as I did
before, during Najibullah's day.

There are two ways to proceed. One: forget going to Kabul and
get into Northern Alliance territory through Tajikistan. (Wali
Massoud, the brother of the wounded/dead? leader of the
Northern Alliance, is their chargé d'affaires in London.) Or, two,
take my chances with the Taliban out of Islamabad and then if
that fails get myself up to the north.

If I want to keep my options open it would be good to get a
second U.S. passport in London. The Talib won't like it if they
see a Northern Alliance visa, and vice versa.

From: Jon Lee 9/12/2001

I've talked with Wali Massoud. He says 'no problem' but that
the Tajiks can drag their heels about visas. I guess he will wait
until I am in London to spell things out more clearly. Says his
brother is not dead, and recuperating.

From: Jon Lee 9/15/2001

Am now in England. Everybody is saying that Massoud died

A Lion's Death

I met Wali Massoud a little over ten years ago, at a friend's
house in Wimbledon. He was in his mid-twenties, a slight,
amiable man with black hair and a mustache. Wali was the
youngest son of an ethnic Tajik officer in the Afghan army and
had come to Britain to study international relations. He had a
famous older brother, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Lion of
Panjshir, who led a band of mujahideen that fought off seven
major offensives by Soviet forces in the great mountain valley of
Panjshir, in northern Afghanistan, during the nineteen-eighties. In
1992, three years after the Soviets withdrew from the country,
Massoud's forces-the Jamiat-i-Islami (Society of Islam), a
moderately conservative group composed mostly of ethnic
Tajiks and led by the Islamic scholar Burhanuddin Rabbani-defeated
the brutish regime the Soviets had left in power.
Ahmed Shah Massoud became the defense minister and, later,
vice president of the new Islamic State of Afghanistan.

In 1996, when the Taliban militia gained control of Kabul, the
capital city, and most of the rest of the country, Massoud and
Rabbani returned to the mountains in the north. With limited
backing from Iran, Russia, and India, they fought off the Taliban
and managed to hold on to somewhere between five and twenty
percent of the country. Massoud led a motley coalition of tribal-based
guerrilla forces that are usually referred to as the Northern
Alliance but are officially called the United Islamic Front for the
Salvation of Afghanistan.

Wali Massoud stayed in London. He got married, had two
daughters, and earned an M.A. in diplomacy. He is now the
chargé d'affaires at the Afghan embassy to the Court of St.
James's. The Northern Alliance controls Afghanistan's UN seat
and all of its forty-odd embassies, except for the one in
Pakistan, which is run by the Taliban. The Taliban is officially
recognized only by Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and
Osama bin Laden's homeland, Saudi Arabia.

The London embassy is a cream-colored early-Victorian
building across the street from Hyde Park in Knightsbridge. I
met Wali Massoud there at 11 a.m. on Friday, September 14,
while Londoners were standing for three minutes of silence in
memory of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center.
Wali, who is just as thin and amiable as he was a decade ago,
wore a gray pin-striped double-breasted suit and held a cell
phone, which rang again and again, and which Wali answered
each time, with an apology to me. The previous Sunday, his
brother had been attacked at his headquarters while giving an
interview to two Arabs carrying Belgian passports. They were
posing as television journalists and carrying a bomb. When it
went off, it killed one of the 'journalists' and one of Massoud's
men and wounded Massoud and several other people. The
second attacker tried to flee but was killed.

The suicide bombers had come into Northern Alliance territory
from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, across the front lines,
which was an unusual breach of security and has thus far not
been explained. 'They arranged this with someone at
headquarters,' a Northern Alliance official in London told me.
'We are investigating.' He said that the men are believed to have
been either Moroccan or Algerian, and that they travelled from
London to Pakistan before reaching Afghanistan. They are
suspected of having links to an extremist group, the Islamic
Observation Centre, in London.

Initial press reports said that Massoud had died in the attack,
but all week Wali had been telling me that his brother was
recovering. He was about to leave for Afghanistan, he said, to
be with him. Wali was concerned about the stability of the
coalition. Massoud was an extraordinarily gifted military
tactician and was revered by his people. 'The opposition can
continue to function,' Wali said, 'but not the same as before.'
Then the phone rang again, and this time, as he listened, Wali
hunched forward in his chair, holding his knees tightly together.
He repeated the Farsi word bale-'yes'-and his voice became
barely audible. He seemed about to weep.

Later that evening, the BBC confirmed Massoud's death. After
the attack, he had been taken to a hospital in Tajikistan by
helicopter. On Saturday, September 15th, his body was brought
back to his hometown, the mountain village of Basarak, where
he was buried. His thirteen-year-old son, Ahmed, spoke. 'I want
to be my father's successor,' he said. While Massoud's
bereaved relatives and thousands of followers were observing a
period of mourning, the Taliban launched a large-scale military
offensive against the Northern Alliance.

The timing and circumstances of the attack on Massoud, which
came just two days before the strike on the United States, do
not appear to be coincidental. Anyone who knew that the United
States was going to be attacked and that Osama bin Laden and
the Taliban would be blamed would also have known that
Massoud would suddenly become an important ally for the
West. 'Without very good intelligence in Afghanistan, you can't
do anything,' an Afghan living in London said to me. 'Bin Laden
has a thousand caves to hide in.' Ahmed Shah Massoud had
been waging war in Afghanistan for more than twenty years, and
he knew most of its hiding places.


Excerpted from The Lion's Grave
by Jon Lee Anderson
Copyright © 2002 by Jon Lee Anderson.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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