The Best Defense

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 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?


The Best Defense

Quote of the day: Colin Powell on the roles of the national security advisor

A few months ago I was re-reading Colin Powell's memoir, My American Journey, and liked his summary of the job of being national security advisor: "judge, traffic cop, truant officer, arbitrator, fireman, chaplain, psychiatrist, and occasional hit man." (P. 352)

I re-read Powell's book and H. Norman Schwarzkopf's memoir, It Doesn't Take a Hero, back to back. I was surprised to find I enjoyed both more now than I did the first time, when they were first published long ago. I suspect this was because back then I read them as a reporter digging for news, while this time I was looking more broadly to understand both men and their sense of the Army in which they served.

Then I read Karen DeYoung's bio of Powell. "The Bush administration had clearly manipulated Powell's prestige and reputation, even as it repeatedly undermined him and disregarded his advice," she writes, and then asks, Why had he let them do it? Part of the answer, she concludes, was that "he had been winning bureaucratic battles for so many years that he simply refused to acknowledge the extent of the losses he had suffered." He also had a sense of duty, she noted. And, she concluded, "He was a proud man, and he would never have let them see him sweat." (Pp. 510-511, DeYoung, Soldier.)