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I’m not sure I’ll ever finish reading Descent into Chaos: the United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, but like his previous book, Taliban, he proves himself immensely knowledgeable about Pakistan’s role in the “Afghanistan problem.” While both Descent and Taliban offer readers a framework for understanding the many strands of the conflict in Afghanistan, Rashid amps up his criticism of the many failures of the Bush administration, the tangled mess of Afghani warlords, and what he perceives to be the “terrorism central,” Pakistan, in his latter work.
Folks, Rashid does not skimp on the details. The book is jam-packed with information. You’ll find that if you are prone to underlining important passages in books that nearly every page will be thoroughly marked up.
If you want commentary on the last 10 years of turmoil in Central Asia, go for Descent into Chaos. If you want a more comprehensive understanding of Central Asia and the making of terrorist states, read Taliban. If you go for both, be sure to space them out and have plenty of trash fiction to read in between Rashid’s books.
I might or might not be going against the liberal grain here. You can let me know.
I’ve been musing over the war in Afghanistan. Call me right-wing but I think the U.S. should be there. This Taliban bullshit has to end. If the generals and folks on the ground say they need more troops, give them more troops. I saw a report last night on NBC that said violence is up in Afghanistan and is at an even higher rate than in 2001. I find this statement/report misleading. Afghanistan was the focus on the War on Terror for about two seconds before the distraction of Iraq’s “nuclear arsenal” became priority. Violence is up because although we have transitioned troops there for a while in that country, the Taliban have been allowed to strengthen as U.S. efforts focused on Iraq. It was going to be a long fight anyway—I don’t think we went to Iraq for the right reasons and it took forever for troops to get out of there—as a result, the American public’s patience for waiting has been (understandably) reduced. These folks (Taliban) have been entrenched in war for forever; I think it’s a matter of adaptation and governmental/military evolution.
One book leads to another and then you’re nose-deep in Middle Eastern conflict non-fiction. Lone Survivor inspired me to learn more about the Taliban for myself. So, I checked out a book at the library called Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, who is a Pakistani journalist who has followed the Central Asian region (which loosely includes Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) for many, many years and has managed to condense his experiences into a succinct summary of the regional difficulties that have given rise to terrorism and the Taliban.
This is an overview of political, economic, and cultural strands that have combined to spawn a new breed of extremism that has infiltrates Central Asia, especially Afghanistan, and beyond. This is not a political finger-pointing book; no side is innocent and no side is responsible for everything that has taken place in the region. Rashid details the emergence of the Taliban, the role of jostling ethnic groups for power, the atrocities committed on virtually every side of the conflict(s), the West’s blind eye (especially when it benefitted the U.S. in their attempts to take shots at Russia and Iran) to the rise of extremism, and the wooing of the Taliban by oil companies.
This is dense reading, readers. One has to concentrate and underline and be able to refer back. There are several handy-dandy appendices, which help readers have the overall timeline, summary of major events, and definitions of unfamiliar words (in the West) for reference. The index is invaluable. Still, even if I haven’t processed everything (and it would take many, many, many readings and outside research), I am aware that I had NO awareness about Central Asia before. If you’re interesting in learning more about it yourself, give this one a try.
Gurglings of a conflicted mind, an exploratory post.
I read this book, and it’s haunting me. It’s about a Navy SEAL team that went on a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan. The team was compromised by local goat herders, who they allowed to live…to their own detriment. The goat herders presumably alerted the Taliban and a battle ensues. Four U.S. SEALs vs. 120 Taliban members. Not good odds…and only one member survived (obviously the author), thanks to his teammates’ continued efforts to fight once they were wounded, his lieutenant’s bravery, his own training (and bravado), and, surprisingly, Afghan villagers. The gunfight and subsequent deaths of Luttrell’s comrades is horrifying and stays with you long after you’ve read and reread the passages. (It reminds of how I felt after watching Bagdad E.R.)
It’s a timely read, too, as U.S. forces are again starting to concentrate their efforts in Afghanistan. This book sparked an interest in me to find out more about the Taliban, the complexity of war, and our troops’ experiences. Luttrell was tortured by the Taliban for a day or so, but never goes into exactly what that entailed and it wasn’t clear to me how he escaped. I have read a lot about torture techniques lately, and I can only imagine what they might’ve done to an American soldier (and a Special Ops guy at that).
Here’s the rub: Luttrell is no fan of liberals. He seems to be right wing all the way (a paraphrase: We were going to Afghanistan to do God’s good work on behalf of the U.S.A. and our commander-in-chief, George W. Bush). Especially in the beginning, before I had a chance to become engrossed in Luttrell’s story, I was furious. Obviously, I am left wing so of course I disagreed with nearly every one of his stances (the propaganda of the “liberal” media, how liberals have bleeding hearts but no good sense…). More than that, I was irritated that Luttrell took so much time taking swipes at liberals that it distracted me from such a compelling story.
The thing is, I think liberals should read it. Yes, we know all the bullshit things that are said about “lefties,” and Lord knows we have all bemoaned the audacity of the right, but having read the whole book, I understand the right-wing stances a lot more. I even have begun to rethink my own stances. Luttrell says once diplomacy is exhausted and you send the military into combat that we as the American public should give them free reign to fight the battle they are there to fight. As in the Taliban doesn’t adhere to the Geneva Convention rules, while Americans do, and this creates problems in the field. For example, the team in the book was compromised by goat herders and the military reasoning would suggest that if these guys wanted to live, they needed to prevent the goat herders from leaving…whether by restraining or killing them. Okay, easy enough. Tie the goat herders up and be done with it, but these guys weren’t expecting to be compromised and they had no way to simply restrain the goat herders. (The dilemma is much more clearly articulated in the book.) They let the goat herders go, in part for fear of being charged with murder once the liberal media got wind of it. Look. When I read that, I was like, wtf, dude. These were unarmed civilians. There’s a clear ethical path to take.
But then our soldiers’ heads and bodies got blown up, the Taliban fired several rounds into the faces of death soldiers just for kicks, and this made me physically ill. Because I realized this: the goat herders lives were not more important than those soldiers’ lives. Three goat herders for the lives of soldiers. I sound fucking right wing, I know, but I am angry. I think there should be more freedom to fight battles the way enemies do. I don’t agree with having no oversight…I mean there has to be some rules. I have no idea how war should work. In situations where America is in a battle (even if the “reason” we’re there is insane), I would prefer that our soldiers (who are there to serve whether or not they agree with the reason(s) we’re there) live versus the “enemy.” I’ve come to see that’s where Luttrell is coming from…that war is his life and his teammates are his family. Or something like that. He’s passionate and he has a right to be.
But back to the clear ethical path. The team was unable to make radio contact with their headquarters once they were compromised. They were on their own and keep in mind, their pickup was preplanned for several days later. No one was coming to get them early and high-tail it out of there before havoc ensued. It was their lives or the herders. And Luttrell wonders, was it the “right” choice in the end? He makes a good point: the American public doesn’t really want to know what has to be done in order to fight wars or win battles. Or more honestly, Luttrell has me pegged: I don’t necessarily want to know what happens until after the fact, until after it’s lost its reality, until it becomes a story instead of the here-and-now. It’s gruesome, but someone has to go out there and figure out where Taliban officials are and even kill them if need be. Why does it make sense to me that blood will run no matter what? I am so conflicted about feeling gun-ho about war tactics. My stance is, apparently, just this: do what you do. It’s all so ugly and once I start to imagine what it must be like to have your thumb blown off or half your skull ripped away and still be alive and know you’re dying, I can’t un-imagine it. So maybe it’s better for me not to see it in the first place.
For all these thoughts in my head, I still have absolutely no doubt that American soldiers were sent into harm’s way before diplomacy had been exhausted where Iraq was concerned. The Taliban and Afghanistan were trumped by Iraq and it’s inexcusable that American soldiers have been murdered so that public cheer for the war on terror would rise again. Soldiers were murdered for and by distraction. And President Bush and the rest of us will be frantically trying to scrub the blood stained on our hands forever.
Anyway, if you can stomach the right-wing rants and the blood and guts, you might give this a go. Or you can refer back to my scathing review of Luttrell’s book as I was reading the first part of the book: https://medicatedlady.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/we-had-an-idiot-as-president-gods-wicked-sense-of-humor-exposed/ That post was not exploratory; it was decisive….I think I felt as left-wing as he is right-wing. And now that it’s marinated, look how my thoughts scatter. I’m my own personal clusterfuck of ideas.