The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight

The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight

The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight

The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight

Synopsis

Focusing on key episodes in Afghanistan's long history of conflict with foreign forces from the early nineteenth century to the present, this book sheds new light on the Afghan "Way of War." Robert Johnson shows that, contrary to the stereotypes of primitive warriors enflamed with religiousfanaticism, Afghan warfare has been marked by constant change as Afghani methods evolved to face new threats. From the dynastic struggles and popular resistance movements of the nineteenth century to the ideological confrontations of recent decades, Afghans have long resisted political coercion, military intervention, and foreign influence. To do so, they have developed sophisticated strategic approaches todeal with both internal unrest and foreign intrusion, while at the tactical level outthinking and outfighting their opponents at every step. The final part of the book, which deals with how the Taliban has contested Western intervention by borrowing from traditions in Afghan history and culture,will be of considerable topical interest in light of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

Excerpt

The difficulty in defeating the neo-Taliban insurgency has compelled the Western armed forces to investigate the socio-cultural aspects of their adversaries, and to look deeply into the British and Soviet historical experience of fighting the Afghans. However, one of the immediate problems in this regard is that almost all the prominent historical sources on the various Afghan conflicts are written from a Western perspective. The paucity or absence of written records from the Afghan side, certainly until very recent times, has meant that analysts are deprived of one crucial element: what the Afghans thought, judged and decided when they conducted their operations. Much, of course, has been written on the tactical prowess of the Taliban and the Mujahideen, or on Islamic Jihadism and Afghan history, and there is now an increasing body of literature on the conflicts between various social groups in Afghanistan, but there is still precious little analytical history on military operations in the region which illustrate the difficulties, achievements and decision-making from the Afghan side.

In Western military histories, Afghans and ‘tribesmen’ have invariably been presented as simply reactive to British or Soviet manoeuvres. As a consequence, various contemporaries and scholars constructed stereotypes about the Afghans, and these have accumulated to the extent that it appears there was a simplistic Afghan ‘way of war’, a phenomenon consisting almost entirely of religious mobilization and individuals’ fanatical courage but deficient of any concepts of tactical evolution or of strategy. Patrick Porter has recently challenged this assumption and notes that the pursuit of victory is not a purely Western con-

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