Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

What Tom would like to read in a history of the American war in Afghanistan

I think I’ve mentioned that I can’t find a good operational history of the Afghan war so far that covers it from 2001 to the present. (I actually recently sat on the floor of a military library and basically went through everything in its stacks about Afghanistan that I hadn’t yet read.) Here are some ...

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I think I've mentioned that I can't find a good operational history of the Afghan war so far that covers it from 2001 to the present. (I actually recently sat on the floor of a military library and basically went through everything in its stacks about Afghanistan that I hadn't yet read.)

Here are some of the questions I would like to see answered:

--What was American force posture each year of the war? How and why did it change?

I think I’ve mentioned that I can’t find a good operational history of the Afghan war so far that covers it from 2001 to the present. (I actually recently sat on the floor of a military library and basically went through everything in its stacks about Afghanistan that I hadn’t yet read.)

Here are some of the questions I would like to see answered:

–What was American force posture each year of the war? How and why did it change?

–Likewise, how did strategy change? What was the goal after al Qaeda was more or less pushed in Pakistan in 2001-02?

–Were some of the top American commanders more effective than others? Why?

–We did we have 10 of those top commanders in 10 years? That doesn’t make sense to me. 

–What was the effect of the war in Iraq on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan?

–What was the significance of the Pech Valley battles? Were they key or just an interesting sidelight?

–More broadly, what is the history of the fight in the east? How has it gone? What the most significant points in the campaign there?

–Likewise, why did we focus on the Helmand Valley so much? Wouldn’t it have been better to focus on Kandahar and then cutting off and isolating Oruzgan and troublesome parts of the Helmand area?

–When did we stop having troops on the ground in Pakistan? (I know we had them back in late 2001.) Speaking of that, why didn’t we use them as a blocking force when hundreds of al Qaeda fighters, including Osama bin Laden, were escaping into Pakistan in December 2001?

–Speaking of Pakistan, did it really turn against the American presence in Afghanistan in 2005? Why then? Did its rulers conclude that we were fatally distracted by Iraq, or was it some other reason? How did the Pakistani switch affect the war? Violence began to spike in late 2005, if I recall correctly — how direct was the connection?

–How does the war in the north fit into this?

–Why has Herat, the biggest city in the west, been so quiet? I am surprised because one would think that tensions between the U.S. and Iran would be reflected at least somewhat in the state of security in western Afghanistan? Is it not because Ismail Khan is such a stud, and has managed to maintain good relations with both the Revolutionary Guard and the CIA? That’s quite a feat. 

Anybody got a recommendation on what to read that covers all this? Maybe articles that explain some of it?

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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