Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

An Afghan primer

I recently got a note from a friend who is deploying to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer, and who, knowing I had lived there, asked for some reading suggestions to better fathom what he is getting into. I love Afghanistan, feel that we haven’t done right by it over the last 30 years, and want ...

590884_090102_afghanistan2.jpg
590884_090102_afghanistan2.jpg

I recently got a note from a friend who is deploying to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer, and who, knowing I had lived there, asked for some reading suggestions to better fathom what he is getting into. I love Afghanistan, feel that we haven't done right by it over the last 30 years, and want to do anything I can to help Americans understand the place better. Fwiw, here is what I sent to him:

Not only are you living in interesting times, you got yourself an interesting job for those times.

Here are a few preliminary thoughts:

I recently got a note from a friend who is deploying to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer, and who, knowing I had lived there, asked for some reading suggestions to better fathom what he is getting into. I love Afghanistan, feel that we haven’t done right by it over the last 30 years, and want to do anything I can to help Americans understand the place better. Fwiw, here is what I sent to him:

Not only are you living in interesting times, you got yourself an interesting job for those times.

Here are a few preliminary thoughts:

Best books on the last couple of decades in Afghanistan: Steve Coll’s ‘Ghost Wars’ and Ahmed Rashid’s ‘Taliban.’ (I haven’t read Rashid’s more recent ‘Descent into Chaos,’ but he is a very good journalist, so it is probably worthwhile.)

Best books on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan: Grau’s ‘The Bear Went Over the Mountain’ and ‘The Other Side of the Mountain’–the latter is muj tactics during that war.

Best overall introduction to Afghanistan: Louis Dupree’s ‘Afghanistan’ (more an encyclopedia than a narrative, but well worth your time for someone in your position–everything from geography to poetry).

Two fun reads:

Peter Hopkirk’s ‘The Great Game’ (about the British vs. the Russians in the 18th and 19th centuries)

James Michener’s ‘Caravans’ (no joke–considering that mission you are taking!)–and as I recall quite a lot of it takes place in the area where you will be.

Here is some other stuff you may find helpful:

–naval postgraduate school website on afghanistan–everything from where poppies grow to an ‘introduction to afghanistan’:

http://www.nps.edu/Programs/CCS/

–another good website on afghanistan–guys reads and posts a lot of relevant academic work (how tribes in afghanistan work, where power resides, etc), and also tracks military bloggers he thinks know something:

http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/

naval postgraduate school electronic publication ‘strategic insights,’ good for commentary on iraq, afghanistan, terrorism, counterinsurgency–but is definitely strategic, not tactical:

http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/si/archiveDate.asp

good overall website on afghanistan:

http://afghanistan-analyst.org/default.aspx

map of afghanistan:http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/afghanistan_pol_93.jpg

maps of kabul: http://www.unomaha.edu/afghanistan_atlas/maps3.html

AFGHANISTAN – A Country Study By library of congress

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/aftoc.html

Photo of Afghan day laborers via SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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