Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War

Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War

Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War

Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War


Nearly 100,000 U.S. soldiers are deployed to Afghanistan, fighting the longest war in the nation's history. But what do Americans know about the land where this conflict is taking place? Many have come to have a grasp of the people, history, and geography of Iraq, but Afghanistan remains a mystery.

Originally published by the U.S. Army to provide an overview of the country's terrain, ethnic groups, and history for American troops and now updated and expanded for the general public, Afghanistan Declassified fills in these gaps. Historian Brian Glyn Williams, who has traveled to Afghanistan frequently over the past decade, provides essential background to the war, tracing the rise, fall, and reemergence of the Taliban. Special sections deal with topics such as the CIA's Predator drone campaign in the Pakistani tribal zones, the spread of suicide bombing from Iraq to the Afghan theater of operations, and comparisons between the Soviet and U.S. experiences in Afghanistan.

To Williams, a historian of Central Asia, Afghanistan is not merely a theater in the war on terror. It is a primeval, exciting, and beautiful land; not only a place of danger and turmoil but also one of hospitable villagers and stunning landscapes, of great cultural diversity and richness. Williams brings the country to life through his own travel experiences--from living with Northern Alliance Uzbek warlords to working on a major NATO base. National heroes are introduced, Afghanistan's varied ethnic groups are explored, key battles--both ancient and current--are retold, and this land that many see as only a frightening setting for prolonged war emerges in three dimensions.


Throughout the 2000s, I traveled across Afghanistan, living with warlords, interviewing Taliban who had been taken prisoner, meeting gray-bearded elders, talking to women newly liberated from Taliban strictures, and working with U.S. and Coalition troops serving in the country. My adventures ranged from the mundane—eating rice pilaf and flat naan bread in the Hindu Kush Mountains with Hazara-Mongol villagers—to the exciting—tracking suicide bombers for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. These experiences, combined with years in graduate school earning a PhD in Central Asian history, have given me insight into a country that has seemed to many to belong as much to the Middle Ages as to the twenty-first century.

For me there is no country on earth as primeval, exciting, and beautiful as Afghanistan. Although many people who have not been there define it in abstract terms as a grim land of opium barons, warlords, Taliban fanatics, and oppressed women, I know Afghanistan as a land of castles, incredibly hospitable villagers, stunning landscapes, and epic tales of empires and conquest. I have long wanted to share the story of this Afghanistan with Westerners.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to do so as an advisor to the U.S. military’s Joint Information Operations Warfare Command (JIOWC). There I met a group of thinking man’s soldiers who were focused on saving Coalition lives in Afghanistan by understanding the country’s history, society, politics, and terrain. They were desperately trying to provide the missing background context to ongoing military activities in the Afghan theater of operations, and I admired their desire for knowledge.

With the Taliban sweeping out of their sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal zones and conquering much of Afghanistan’s southeast by 2007, a palpable sense of urgency fueled their mission. Coalition troops were dying in larger numbers in Afghanistan than Iraq. Afghanistan, “the Forgotten War,” was, according to some pundits, in danger of being lost, and everyone understood that this might have catastrophic results for both the Afghans and the American-led NATO alliance. As the Taliban . . .

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