War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier

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Overview

If you want to understand Afghanistan, writes Carter Malkasian, you need to understand what has happened on the ground, in the villages and countryside that were on the frontline. These small places are the heart of the war.

Modeled on the classic Vietnam War book, War Comes to Long An, Malkasian's War Comes to Garmser promises to be a landmark account of the war in Afghanistan. The author, who spent nearly two years in Garmser, a community in war-torn Helmand province, tells ...

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War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier

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Overview

If you want to understand Afghanistan, writes Carter Malkasian, you need to understand what has happened on the ground, in the villages and countryside that were on the frontline. These small places are the heart of the war.

Modeled on the classic Vietnam War book, War Comes to Long An, Malkasian's War Comes to Garmser promises to be a landmark account of the war in Afghanistan. The author, who spent nearly two years in Garmser, a community in war-torn Helmand province, tells the story of this one small place through the jihad, the rise and fall of Taliban regimes, and American and British surge. Based on his conversations with hundreds of Afghans, including government officials, tribal leaders, religious leaders, and over forty Taliban, and drawing on extensive primary source material, Malkasian takes readers into the world of the Afghans. Through their feuds, grievances, beliefs, and way of life, Malkasian shows how the people of Garmser have struggled for three decades through brutal wars and short-lived regimes. Beginning with the victorious but destabilizing jihad against the Soviets and the ensuing civil war, he explains how the Taliban movement formed; how, after being routed in 2001, they returned stronger than ever in 2006; and how Afghans, British, and Americans fought with them thereafter. Above all, he describes the lives of Afghans who endured and tried to build some kind of order out of war. While Americans and British came and went, Afghans carried on, year after year.

Afghanistan started out as the good war, the war we fought for the right reasons. Now for many it seems a futile military endeavor, costly and unwinnable. War Comes to Garmser offers a fresh, original perspective on this war, one that will redefine how we look at Afghanistan and at modern war in general.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Malkasian evenhandedly examines the Garmser district in southern Afghanistan, where he was stationed as a political officer for the State Department between 2009 and 2011...deeply engaging work. Insightful, knowledgeable account of the "good war," intimately informed from the trenches." —Kirkus

"Malkasian is a fluent speaker of Pashto who spent two years as the senior political officer in Garmsir and became immersed in the area's history and intricate political structure. The book represents the kind of detailed study of Afghanistan that has been badly missing: Most people associated with the international military and development missions here come in for six-month or one-year stints. (Another valuable book, albeit with a vastly different background and purpose, is Noah Coburn's excellent ethnographic study, "Bazaar Politics.") One mark of Malkasian's analytical mettle is that he presents, more so than any other writer I've read, a clear and fair picture of the Taliban and why they enjoyed so much support in the south." —Mattheiu Aikins, New York Times

"In the nineteenth century Britain employed political officers on the troubled frontiers of its empire. They immersed themselves in their localities, learnt about the inhabitants and heard their stories. Carter Malkasian is an American twenty-first century political officer. Outwardly his deeply revealing book is about Afghanistan's experience of war over three decades, but it is also a mirror on the US itself. His message is clear: deep historical and cultural understanding is at the heart of good strategy." —Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, Oxford University

"Whether as cause or as effect, there have been very few books about America's longest war, and even fewer good ones. ... To this short list can now be added another great book on the Afghan war, Carter Malkasian's War Comes to Garmser." — John A. Nagl, Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security.

"Afghan officials and U.S. commanders credit Malkasian with playing a critical role in the transformation of Garmser from one of the country's most violent, Taliban-infested districts to a place so quiet that some Marines wish they had more chances to fire their weapons." — Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post (8/13/2011 profile of Malkasian)

"[Malkasian's] rich, shrewdly constructed history of the area shows how tribal elders used the United States and the Taliban as resources in their own turf battles, which often revolved around access to irrigated land... Malkasian's gem of a concluding chapter... is best appreciated after a close reading of the preceding chapters. The effort will be amply repaid."—Foreign Affairs

Kirkus Reviews
Using as a model Jeffrey Race's influential first-person Vietnam War–era analysis, War Comes to Long An, Malkasian (A History of Modern Wars of Attrition, 2002, etc.) evenhandedly examines the Garmser district in southern Afghanistan, where he was stationed as a political officer for the State Department between 2009 and 2011. A desert strip intersected by the Helmand River, populated by the Pashtun and embroiled in the conflicts that have gained Afghanistan the epithet "graveyard of empires," Garmser has proven to be the "hot place" designated by its very name, changing hands constantly among tribes and imperial powers. Since 1946, it has also been the key site of massive canal-modernization schemes subsidized by the West, requiring an injection of landless immigrant workers who would prove faithful supporters of the Taliban. Malkasian does a thorough job of sifting through the messy political turmoil since 1979, which slowly began to tear the place apart, and sticking to the effect on the people who live and toil there. In the 1980s, the tribal-led mujahedeen gained steam against the Soviet-backed communists, creating new leaders; the jihad sustained a kind of historical "mystique" as a time when all Muslims fought together before devolving into civil war. The Taliban's arrival in 1994 established stability by controlling crime and violence, managing to govern what many considered an ungovernable country. The decade since the American invasion of 2001 caused much hardship for the people of Garmser, Malkasian writes. The Taliban retook the district in 2006 as a result of lost opportunities by the U.S., requiring subsequent massive intervention, reconstruction and political realignment. Will the Taliban return? Have U.S. counterinsurgency efforts paid off, and, most poignantly, has the investment of 100,000 troops made any difference? Malkasian offers slim optimism in this deeply engaging work. Insightful, knowledgeable account of the "good war," intimately informed from the trenches.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199973750
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/17/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 556,901
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Carter Malkasian spent nearly two years in the Afghan district of Garmser, in war torn Helmand province as a political officer for the US Department of State. For the last decade, he has studied war, and written about it, and worked in war zones, including long stints in Iraq's Al Anbar province. The author of Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare (named by Foreign Affairs as one of the ten books to read on counterinsurgency) and A History of Modern Wars of Attrition, he has also served as the director of the stability and development program at the Center for Naval Analyses. He has a Ph.D. in history from Oxford University.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
List of Names
List of Tribes and Political Entities
Glossary of Terms

Preface: Small Places
1. Grand Plans
2. The Jihad
3. Civil War
4. The Taliban Regime
5. Victory into Defeat
6. The Second Taliban Regime
7. Pushing Farther South
8. Wakil Manan, Mian Poshtay, and the Riots
9. The Alizai Return
10. The Taliban Counter-offensive
11. Winning the Peace
Conclusion: The End or the Intermission?

Notes
Bibliography
Index

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 17, 2013

    Garmser is a small district in the Helmand Province of Afghanist

    Garmser is a small district in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan close to the frontier with Pakistan.  Malkasian gives the reader a history of the district from the incursion of the Soviets and the Jihad that was called by the religious leaders to drive them out to the coming of the Taliban and their two attempts to control Garmser and the entry of the area by British and American troops up to 2012 when the US began the withdrawal of its troops and when Malkasian’s tour ended there.  Malkasian led a team that advised Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in eastern Afghanistan.  In this position he was able to learn the history of Garmser and the leading tribes and families of the district.  

    The book goes into how two different views of society can clash and create a lack of understanding between the two.  US officers and advisers learned that in some cases it was best to step back and allow the Afghans to “do it their way” instead of trying to follow American procedures.  The Taliban were very successful in ruling Garmser, but that was primarily because of their totalitarian way of ruling and their harsh justice system.  The Taliban also relied heavily on the Mullahs and other religious leaders to give themselves legitimacy.  When the United States moved in and wanted to establish a democratic form of government the two societies clash and there had to be some give and take on both sides.
    Eventually a majority of the people of Garmser began to support the new government and prosperity was returning to the district.  But then 2011 game along and the drawdown of American troops began and Malkasian wonders if the new fledging government can withstand an onslaught from the Taliban whom have been biding their time in Pakistan.  As 2012 rolled around it appeared that Garmser might withstand new attacks with the American military advisers that have been left behind.  Only time will tell.

    Malkasian’s book is very thought provoking and a very interesting read for anyone interested in Afghanistan.  As he states near the end of the book that this probably will not be the last time that the US will become involved in a conflict in a developing country.  There are lessons to be learned here and I believe Malkasian lays out the facts in hopes that the lessons will be taken to heart and the Untied States and do a better job the next time.  We can only hope that the little time that was used to set up the government in Garmser will be enough for it to stand up against all outsiders.  A very excellent read and study of the Afghanistan conflict.

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