Best Defense

By request: So you’re heading to Afghanistan?

A reader deploying to Afghanistan asks that I re-post the Afghan primer I carried back in December, when this blog was brand new, and no one read it. The primer was a note I’d written to a Marine intelligence officer I know who was heading to southern Afghanistan. Here you go: Not only are you ...

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A reader deploying to Afghanistan asks that I re-post the Afghan primer I carried back in December, when this blog was brand new, and no one read it. The primer was a note I’d written to a Marine intelligence officer I know who was heading to southern Afghanistan.

Here you go:

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

AFGHANISTAN: A Country Study By library of congress: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/aftoc.html

Also, here is the 101st Airborne reading list for Afghanistan I carried in October. And here is their lessons learned about getting ready to deploy.

US ARMY/flickr

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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