Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89 by Rodric Braithwaite
|Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89 by Rodric Braithwaite|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: In-depth study of the failed Soviet journey into Afghanistan is perhaps just a little overwhelming for the casual reader at times but will definitely be an extremely valuable resource for historians.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: March 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
In 1979, the Soviet Union decided to move into Afghanistan, and special forces killed the Afghan president. What was initially planned as a fairly modest expedition which would see them stabilise the government, train up the army and police, and then withdraw within a year, turned into a war lasting nearly a decade which left both the Russian army and the Afghan civilians counting the cost of the intervention and with their lives changed forever. What went wrong, and why has Afghanistan proved such a difficult place for foreign powers – ranging from the British in the 19th century, to the Russians in this book, to the current armies engaged in the country – to get any sort of foothold?
Braithwaite – former British Ambassador to Moscow – is clearly an excellent person to recount this story and has a pleasing writing style, particularly when considering the psychology of the Soviet soldiers and the invaded Afghans. His access to Russian sources and eye-witness accounts is probably unparalleled and he has drawn on all of these to create what seems set to become the definitive description of this period. He's also extremely sympathetic to those on both sides fighting and dying in thanks to Soviet leaders' tactics that, it becomes increasingly obvious, were doomed almost from the start.
As wonderful as this book is to the most committed and interest of readers, I do have some slight reservations as to how engaging it will be to a wider audience. In particular, while the initial storming of the president's palace is certainly thrilling stuff and will get anyone's blood pumping faster as they read it, some of the later chapters are a little slower and perhaps don't have the same interest to the casual reader. Nevertheless, dedicated historians will devour this one and it raises thought-provoking questions as to what the West could, and perhaps should, have learnt from the Soviet failure before their own current excursion into the country.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: For more superb history, I really enjoyed The War That Never Was by Duff Hart-Davis.
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