Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

AFGHANISTAN-The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

AFGHANISTAN-The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight

Article excerpt

AFGHANISTAN The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight, by Robert Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 400 pages. $29.95.

Reviewed by Mark Jacobsen

Ever since B. H. Liddell Hart wrote his influential The British Way in Warfare in 1934, his title has spawned a minor industry in such studies, the best being Russell Weigley's The American Way in War. The eminent contemporary British military historian David French has written two such books: The British Way of War Reconsidered and his most recent study, The British Way in Counterinsurgency (2012). In the United States, Thomas Mockaitis has written two excellent studies of the British way of colonial warfare. All of these studies survey organized armies' and governments' culture and preferences in warfare.

But the book under review is something altogether different - a study of a people's way of warfare against first other Afghans and then against British, Soviet, and now American invaders and occupiers - mixed with a shrewd analysis of intra-Afghan violence. There are now many narrative histories of modern Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan. This book, however, excels in its ability to explain afresh what is in many respects a familiar story of state fragility, foreign interventions, apparent but only temporary success, deepening troubles, and final evacuation. Then follows civil war and despotism. He argues that Afghan fighting techniques, including mutilation and massacre, reflect less a savage nature than the best available methods to encourage invaders to depart. Even if Afghan warriors can seldom best an organized army in the field, they can strike at exposed lines of communication and force it to withdraw, as effective as victory in battle. To describe these practices, he employs the voguish term "asymmetric warfare," a reasonable phrase given that many of its closest readers will be in the military. …

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