cover image Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America’s Longest War

Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America’s Longest War

Brian Glyn Williams. Univ. of Pennsylvania, $34.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8122-4403-8

In an admirable, if belated, effort, the Department of Defense commissioned Williams, associate professor of Islamic History at the University of Massachusetts, to write a primer to educate American forces. Updated and expanded for the general public, Williams’s work adds personal experience and his deep knowledge of the culture and history of the country as he travels it, describing historical sites, a colorful, friendly people, and their sometimes friendly leaders. Mostly, this remains a superior textbook, dense with biographies, and events and details that broaden our understanding of the often familiar events he recounts. Backward compared to its neighbors, Afghanistan’s weak central government was wracked since the late 19th century by intermittent murderous uprisings. The USSR did not plan the 1978 communist coup, and, its 1979 invasion was initially a limited military attempt to prevent anti-communist Afghans from taking power. The author describes the bloody 1980s mujahedeen resistance followed by the vicious 1990s civil war which led to the Taliban regime whose refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden after 9/11 provoked the American invasion. While maintaining the righteousness of our cause, Williams delivers a painful account of the bungled follow up and remains lukewarm about the chance of a satisfactory outcome. Illus., maps. Nov.)