The American War in Afghanistan | Carter Malkasian

Summary of: The American War in Afghanistan: A History
By: Carter Malkasian


Embark on a journey through the tumultuous history of the American War in Afghanistan, spanning from 2001 to 2021. This book summary delves into the complexities of the conflict, exploring the reshaping of global politics, American military strategy, and Afghan society. Discover the intricate geopolitical landscape of Afghanistan, its ethnic diversity, and how its history of foreign invasions and internal strife paved the way for the rise of the Taliban and, ultimately, the US invasion. Through engaging and clear language, the summary offers an insightful analysis of the military, political, and social developments that took place during this turbulent period.

Afghanistan’s Dark Legacy

The United States military occupied Afghanistan for two decades, leaving a footprint that reshaped global politics, American military strategy, and Afghan society. The conflict extended Afghanistan’s already drawn-out civil war and disrupted millions of Afghan lives with violence and destruction. Looking back, the true legacy of the conflict remains complex, muddled, and marred by failure and disappointment. Afghanistan, a country with a rich history, has constantly fended off foreign invasions. Its people are ethnically and culturally diverse with a population of about 33 million. Despite creating a unified Afghan polity, the Taliban, a militant group of Islamic fundamentalists, instituted strict social and economic reforms, severely curtailed women’s rights, and fueled religious extremism. Afghanistan’s dark legacy continues to unfold.

The US Invasion of Afghanistan: A Quick Success, Slow Failure

On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The US identified al-Qa‘eda as the culprit, and demanded that the Taliban turn over its leader, Osama bin Laden. When negotiations broke down, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom to unseat the Taliban and disrupt al-Qa‘eda. The Northern Alliance, together with the US military, quickly overpowered the Taliban, and installed Hamid Karzai as the interim president of Afghanistan. However, when the US attempted to reconstruct Afghan society, it faced difficulties, despite President Bush’s optimism that a small US military presence could stabilize the country. The invasion became a quick success, but a slow failure, due to various challenges.

Taliban’s Counter-Offensive

This book summary describes the years 2002-2005 when the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, prepared for a counter-offensive that was launched in 2006 when Mullah Dadullah commanded about 7,000 soldiers. The campaign was a success for the Taliban due to the Afghan government’s poor planning and the US military’s redirection of resources to Iraq. The Taliban’s victory allowed the party to control large portions of Kandahar and Helmand, which gave the party control over the region’s illegal poppy trade, a major economic engine in the Afghan economy, and maintained relative political stability.

Turmoil in the Eastern Front

The eastern front of the Afghan War was plagued with rugged landscapes, complex social dynamics, and diverse enemy forces. US forces under Operation Mountain Lion battled Taliban soldiers and other militant groups but suffered setbacks, including the emblematic Wanat battle. The eastern front further hampered US forces, who committed more troops but still struggled to win, leading to a wake-up call for coalition forces.

Barack Obama’s Afghan War Strategy

Inheriting the Afghan War, President Obama approved the Surge, deployed additional troops, and used counter-insurgency tactics to stabilize the country. While the strategy halted the Taliban’s advance, its impact was temporary, and it came at a high cost.

In 2009, Barack Obama inherited the Afghan War and faced a critical decision as the newly-elected president. The Surge, a strategy proposed by military top-brass, recommended deploying an additional 20,000 troops to Afghanistan. The goal was to use new counter-insurgency techniques developed in Iraq to change the tide of the war. Obama considered his options and finally approved an additional deployment of 17,000 troops on February 16th.

The Surge temporarily changed the course of the war and was overseen by General Stanley McChrystal. In the southern province of Helmand, 12,000 marines were embedded with local military and police to support counter-insurgency operations. The Surge also implemented Operation Hamkari in Kandahar to gradually secure territory around the region’s major population center, Kandahar City. By 2012, the Taliban were losing control of the region, and the province was more secure than it had been in years.

However, the Surge came at a high cost. Thousands of American and Afghan soldiers were killed or wounded, and the treasury spent nearly $110 billion per year for temporary stability. By the end of 2012, the US was ready to enter peace talks with the Taliban, as the Taliban were determined to wait it out. Overall, the Surge was a temporary reprieve that halted the Taliban’s advance, but its impact was only short-term, prompting the administration to change the overall strategy. Instead of seeking complete defeat of the Taliban, the US military used a focused surge of troops to disrupt and slow down their advance. The goal was to stabilize the country long enough to turn complete control over to the Afghan government within two years.

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