War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong in Afghanistan by Sandy Gall

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War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong in Afghanistan by Sandy Gall

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An informed and informative look at what has happened in Afghanistan. The situation is complex but the book is very readable. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408809051

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It's always struck me that there are several countries where western might is going to be largely ineffective when it comes to an invasion or any other form of warfare. Vietnam proved to be one such place for the Americans back in the seventies and when the latest incursion into Afghanistan was announced my immediate reaction was that there would be no positive outcome, not least because that was what history dictated. This was broadly correct but overly simplistic and this was one of the reasons why Sandy Gall's book appealed to me so much. He's been involved with Afghanistan since before the Soviet invasion of 1979. This isn't a war correspondent dropping in and out of a country, but a man with a deep love for the people and a concern for their welfare. He has the contacts, his knowledge is encyclopaedic and he's an expert communicator.

War (or whatever kinder name you might give it) is, of course, initiated by the politicians but undertaken by the military. Gall instigated a series of interviews with professional people from Afghanistan, Britain, the USA and Europe and he's particularly strong on the failure to capture Osama Bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001. Most telling though was the continuing failure of the West to realise where the sympathies of the Pakistani leadership rested in relation to the Taliban - it took far too long for the penny to drop. Ultimately too the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq led to them taking their eye off the ball in Afghanistan and they diverted precious resources. The promised 'restructuring' of Afghanistan dwindled away into nothing. It was hardly surprising that the Afghans felt betrayed.

These are essentially political failures (and there were many more - dare one mention helicopters? ) but Gall is equally scathing about the military's inability to see the effect that deployment into Helmand province would have and their failure to anticipate the repercussions. There was a failure of intelligence too - they should have realised that there was a Taliban resurgence much sooner than they did. It's difficult to establish who is more culpable for the mess that's Afghanistan and there are more and more people questioning why British troops should be in Afghanistan in the first place.

The subject is complex and not only for someone looking in from the outside. Commanders of British troops on the ground had no clear line upwards, sometimes answering to several people all of whom had different priorities. Also, they were westerners trying to make a difference in a country where corruption is endemic and the irony of being treated as invaders when they were ostensibly there to help wasn't lost on them. Gall never makes the mistake of over simplifying for clarity but he is enlightening and in a very readable way. I was left with a more rounded understanding of our presence in Afghanistan and a great respect for the troops who are serving there.

The book came to the Bookbag courtesy of the Ilkley Literature Festival where Sandy Gall is appearing on 28 September 2012.

If you would like to know more about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan we can recommend Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89 by Rodric Braithwaite. For more from a war correspondent about his time in Afghanistan and elsewhere you might try War Stories by Jeremy Bowen. We also thought that Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out by Malalai Joya was something quite special.

Buy War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong in Afghanistan by Sandy Gall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong in Afghanistan by Sandy Gall at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong in Afghanistan by Sandy Gall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy War Against the Taliban: Why it All Went Wrong in Afghanistan by Sandy Gall at Amazon.com.


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