"War correspondent Graeme Smith writes a little about his country’s conflicted Afghanistan policy but mostly about what he and his interlocutors see on the ground. What’s revealed is bleak, sometimes graphic, and often devastating." New York Magazine
"[Smith's] book has the emotional candor of a memoir and the geopolitical acuity of an expert policy paper... His prose is clear and strong." Christian Science Monitor
"Eloquent and sometimes-hallucinatory
Smith is a master of the battlefield description, but he's even better at slyly noting the ironies and complexities of the war
Cheerless and even nightmarish, one of the best books yet about the war in Central Asia." Kirkus, Starred Review
"Here the author recounts his experiences as a journalist embedded with Canadian military troops and includes stories of villagers, soldiers, and Taliban insurgents in gripping and often gory detail.
Most compelling are Smith's interviews with 30 prisoners tortured by Afghanistan security police and his exposing of the massive drug trade that enriched both government officials and Taliban insurgents.
Recommended for readers of battlefield accounts and those seeking a better understanding of the Afghani people." Library Journal
gripping and disheartening testimonies to the hell of war and the resilience of foreign correspondents.
a timely story of the perils of reporting from a region deeply inhospitable to Westerners.
These obstacles make his stories about prisoner abuse, the Canadian role in the surge, and meetings with Taliban fighters all the more remarkable.
he champions further investment in the region." Publisher's Weekly , Starred Review
“Lucid, angry, and grief-stricken
Smith’s memoir, The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, is the definitive...account of the Afghan war thus far. No one emerges from it unscathed, least of all its author. . . . The evolution of Smith’s feelings about the war, as he slowly came to understand its moral grey zones and the true nature of the insurgency, is the central, harrowing narrative of this book. . . . This is the marvel of the book: Despite its very bleak tone, and its scathing assault on Western hubris, the author’s empathyfor ordinary Afghans, and for ordinary...soldiersshines through.” Michael Den Tandt, The Vancouver Sun
“Graeme Smith . . . stayed longer than most, took extraordinary risks around Kandahar and in Quetta across the Pakistani border, interviewed the Taliban (despite criticism for giving a microphone to the enemy) and, more than anyone else, exposed the story of Afghan prisoner detainees turned over by Canadians and other NATO forces to local authorities, who tortured and abused them. . . . A wise, enthralling, detailed, realistic account of his time in Afghanistan. . . . Many are the lessons from Mr. Smith’s book, but one emerges above all: that the presence of foreigners did not necessarily turn the tide against the Taliban. Indeed, the foreigners’ military forays and strange (to the Pashtuns) ways may even have allowed the Taliban to survive and, ultimately, to grow.” Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail
“Graeme Smith has long since demonstrated that he is one of the most resourceful and well-informed reporters covering Afghanistan. In his very well-written and entertaining new book he dissects the Western project in Afghanistan with deep reporting and analysis. It is a pleasure to read even if his conclusions are sobering.” Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad
“This is a Dispatches for a new generation. Brilliant writing, unforgettable scenes, fascinating characters, a propulsive narrative and crucial insights into what went wrong in the blundering Western intervention in Afghanistan. Written by a man who embedded himself deeply and courageously in Afghan society.” Geoffrey York, author of The Dispossessed: Life and Death in Native Canada
From 2005, until he was forced to flee Afghanistan in 2009, Smith (senior analyst, International Crisis Group) covered the war in Kandahar province for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper. Here the author recounts his experiences as a journalist embedded with Canadian military troops and includes stories of villagers, soldiers, and Taliban insurgents in gripping and often gory detail. Death threats and carnage were always present and led one officer to matter-of-factly comment on the bodies lying in the street that the "dogs are eating them now." Most compelling are Smith's interviews with 30 prisoners tortured by Afghanistan security police and his exposing of the massive drug trade that enriched both government officials and Taliban insurgents. The author claims that large troop surges have failed to bring peace or stable governments, as outside forces are not welcomed by villagers, whose allegiance is to tribal leaders and not the (now former) Hamid Karzai government. However, Smith concludes that continued funding and support of the Afghanistan military may yet neutralize the Taliban. VERDICT Recommended for readers of battlefield accounts and those seeking a better understanding of the Afghani people. For another excellent journalistic account, see Edward Giradet's Killing the Cranes.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Think Afghanistan is bad now? Just wait until American forces leave entirely and the dragon rises again.The dragon trope is foreign correspondent Smith's, borrowing from the old cartographer's notation that dragons lurk in unmapped corners of the Earth. "The thing about modern civilization," says one battle-hardened GI, "is that we can't stand those empty spots. The dragons fly out and bite you in the ass." So they do, and by Smith's account, the dragons are multiplying. Eloquent and sometimes-hallucinatory, reminiscent at turns of Michael Herr's Dispatches and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, Smith's narrative takes us from bad to worse. In one set piece, a coalition soldier lets loose a rocket with the remark, "There goes a Porsche," precisely because the rocket costs as much as a sports car. Meanwhile, the enemy makes lethal weapons out of scraps, odd bits of fertilizer, plastic buckets and rusty tools. The result is devastating, and Smith does not shy from decidedly not-for-workplace descriptions: "Charred pieces of human flesh stuck to the armour. A television reporter wrinkled her nose at the sight, and I asked her: ‘Can you believe they were trying to sell me a story about how things have gotten better in Panjwai?' " Smith is a master of the battlefield description, but he's even better at slyly noting the ironies and complexities of the war: for instance, destroying a farmer's opium crop, while falling under the rubric of the war on drugs, would likely turn the farmer against the United States. Solution? Hire mercenaries to "slip into areas secured by NATO troops and raze the fields, without telling anybody they were sent by the foreigners." Worse, in the author's formulation, is now that we're mired, we're stuck, no matter how we pretend otherwise: "At best, we are leaving behind an ongoing war. At worst, it's a looming disaster." A dragon awaits, in other words. Cheerless and even nightmarish, one of the best books yet about the war in Central Asia.