Read: October 2022

Inspiration: With increasing media coverage as the US pulled out of Afghanistan in 2022, I wanted to understand the history of the US in Afghanistan


Written with the help of ChatGPT, below is a brief summary to understand what is covered in the book.

“In the Graveyard of Empires”, published in 2009 by author and political scientist Seth Jones, examines the history of the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and the challenges it has faced in trying to stabilise the country. The book discusses the ways in which Afghanistan’s strategic location and natural resources have made it a target for foreign powers, and the ways in which these powers have sought to exert influence over the country. It also covers the events of the past two decades, including the Taliban’s rise to power, the U.S. invasion in 2001, and the ongoing conflict in the country. In the Graveyard of Empires is a comprehensive and thought-provoking look at the United States’ role in Afghanistan and the challenges it has faced in trying to bring stability to the region.

Unedited Notes

Direct from my original book log, below are my unedited notes (abbreviations and misspellings included) to show how I take notes as I read.

Insurgency=political-military campaign by non state actors seeking to overthrow gvt or secede from a country—can be violent or nonviolent tactics, Afghan 2001 saw US surge post 9/11 and install gvt with President Karzai—big success but then Iraq distract and resources not persist, terorrist movements like Al Qa’ida to Pakistan bases and by 2006 insurgency back, Afghan is about about local politics which taliban and AQ known intimately, modern afghan founded mid 1700s by Ahmed Shah Durrani, 1800s Britain and Russia fight with Afghan in middle—3 brutal wars for britain to fight off russia in afghan, Soviet invade Afghan 1979 and US help resist with afghan leaders who later turn on US (Hekmatyae, Haqqani), USSR withdraw 1989–million afghans dead, US begin 2001 with “light footprint” approach which overthrown taliban but then insurgency push back vs light resources—US had chance to win, some say insurgency due to ethnic conflict (Pashtun vs Uzbek, Takij, Hazara), others say econ opportunism of insurgents/greed, real answer is weak governance/institutions (corrupt) and religious ideology, combo of gvt collapse and religious mvmt take hold (big rural factor), 1960s under zahir shah mainly positive but stall 1970 and frustration arise ultimately with coup by Dauod 1972 (former PM 53-63), US not oppose coup b/c Dauod known as progressive, soviets invade 1979 and try to keep control via military/secret police but population not behind them as economy flail, soviet attack rural areas controlled by tribes—by 1984 millions either to pakistan/iran or kabul city center, ISI in pakistan begin to train mujahideen fighters ’83-’87 vs soviets, soviets move to withdraw ’86 as failing/soviet people upset—lose in tribal rural areas, mujahideen ruthless, US ramp up support via $ then weapons (“Stingers”) to ISI/muja ’85/’86 to hurt soviets too (china and saudi support ISI also), early 90s civil war as soviets leave and US not stay involved created destroyed country ripe for new Taliban to rise with extremism/anti US 1996 mullah omar lead mvmt—al qaeda support, Pashtun tribe rule afghan almost all modern era minus few pockets, taliban started by students, “talib” is islamic student who seeks knowledge (mullah gives knowledge), sought sharia islamic way of life and to cleanse war efforts, focus on tribal areas for support, Kabul run by Tajik tribe member Rabbani with west support and taliban say can return to pashtun control (helped get rural support 1994), incredibly harsh social rules but many accept as cost for stability, 1988 bin laden organize founding of al-qa’ida, when iraq invade kuwait ’90 and saudi align with US for help enrage bin laden not use his muslim fighters as saddam threaten SA, bid laden was on US radar—’98 even report he was trying to get WMD to use vs US interests, post taliban overthrow Bush/Rumsfeld/UN debate scale of peacekeeping—end up with light footprint just in kabul, could take areas from taliban but not hold, sought to avoid soviet misstep with too many americans, bush invoke marshall plan idea reference ’02 (lots of aid but not really happen), iraq steal attention, peacekeepers and int’l soldiers per afghan incredibly low—frame as counterterrorism focus not counterinsurgency or nation building, Karzai elected president oct 2004, but taliban and al q’ida pushed to pakistan/iran not shut down, meanwhile security in iraq detoriorate ’03/04 post Saddam fall and iraqis upset, 2005 US continue to move key ambassadors and seasoned personnel to Iraq which was bad move given local ties (iraq violence was worse but taliban still active from pakistan, smaller targeted scale), insurgency is a campaign of nonstate actors to overthrow gvt via nonconventional or convent tactics on small and large scales, in afghan insurgents were taliban but also hezb-i-islami and haqqani network and al qa’ida and tribal militias from pakistan and afghan, support of local population key to win (struggle b/w local gvt and insurgents as external actors rarely stay for conflict duration), weak and ineffective governance is necessary precondition—fail to meet basic needs and locals seek to govern for self, by 2005 insurgency ramp and local afghan police cannot counter or serve locals well, particularly in rural people lack electricity/water so support taliban as provide help/security as well as intimidate, poppy/drug trade explosion post taliban regime fall also undermined governance efforts as illicit trade expand (30% taliban funding ’05 from drugs), President Karzai brother even implicated in drug trade corruption, 2006 insurgency perfect storm as US/NATO not commit enough resources (particularly in local/rural areas, top down fail), afghan interim gvt set up with Bonn Agreement 2001 was multinational coalition (US, italy, germany, nato) but focus on kabul and not all pick up weight, national caveats allow certain countries to opt out of offensive combat missions (GER) which hurt efforts, ultimately NATO could clear areas but not sufficient resources to hold and strengthen, western afghan used to be under control of iran shah til 1857 treaty of paris British push back, iran support taliban but odd b/c sunni taliban vs shi’ite iran—had been close to war 1998, US efforts 06-08 frequently undermined by civilian casualties enraging local afghans to side with taliban (hurt any efforts at actual infrastructure development), pakistan and ISI work against US efforts—not fully against taliban, weak governance fuels insurgency as villagers unhappy and not provided for, must be harsh on pakistan to succeed in afghan (work with india too as pak and india fight over afghan strategic interest, cannot just focus on al qa’ida without also taliban/haqqani/other insurgents—taliban provide sanctuary to these groups, bottoms up local focus is key along with central gvt (but cannot ignore local)

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