In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Good War

The Good War. Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
by Jack Fairweather
Basic Books, New York, 2014. 395 pp.

It is often stated that "Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires." I suppose Afghanistan was the graveyard of the brief post-Cold War dreams of an Imperial America using its military might to spread democracy and Western values to the oppressed peoples of the globe under a Pax Americana. Afghanistan was at least the graveyard of a lot of naive good intentions.

After reading a lot that was focused very narrowly on the Canadian efforts in Afghanistan, and much of that having a very personal point of view, I thought I should read something broader and get some sense of the wider strategic and political scope of the war.

This book delivered that. Fairweather lays out the background from the overthrow of the King of Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban to 9/11 and the American response until the final withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014. He follows the decision making in Washington, London and Kabul and how political pressure influenced military decisions, plus how military pressure influenced the political.

The author maintains objectivity with both Bush and Obama. Even Karzai is depicted fairly objectively. But all come in for criticism. Even international aid organisations are taken to task for their patronising approach which ended up undermining the government and contributing to the instability they were trying to fix. Pouring in money didn't help, pouring in troops just made things worse. Classic COIN OPS just drove the population to side with the insurgents instead of separating them. Allies like Pakistan actively aiding the insurgents didn't help either.

The politics of the war were agonisingly complex and beyond the scope of a blog post, so I'd highly recommend that you read the book for yourself to gain some insights.

But a few things did strike me. The Americans in the east, the British in Helmand and the Canadians in Kandahar were fighting three very different wars. The slowness with which the Americans and British equipped their troops with MRAPs is appalling. The American author's take on operation MEDUSA is also interesting; in a Canadian book on the battle, TF Grizzly, composed of American special ops, the remains of C Coy 1RCR (down to half strength after attacking the White School House and then being strafed by an A-10 before they could renew the attack) and some ANA, is tasked with pinning the Taliban and keeping their attention on Masum Ghar in the south while the weight of the NATO attack is shifted to B Coy 1RCR driving in from the north. In this book the author credits the American special ops with winning the battle and implies the RCR didn't really try at the White School House and that Omar Lavoie, CO of the RCR wasn't up to the job. So I also wonder about his views on the British experience in Helmand.

Except for that it's a good book for the strategic overview.


  1. I was in Afganistan in 05-06 and I saw a lot of what the author seems to touch on first hand. Also would with who I am guessing where the RCR for a bit out of Ghazni province. Have a T-shirt some where in storage from one of the guys.

  2. The British troops I talked to while I was in Suffield didn't always give each other good reviews. The quality of British battle groups was mixed, just as it was with ours. There are some who think the Brits made it worse for themselves by mistaking the conflict of local tribes for a Taliban insurgency and then making it worse. Also to blame I think is that we went in to Afghanistan to deny Al Qaeda a safe base and then got seduced by a policy of nation building. All the talk of schools for girls was good, and appealed to western liberal idealism, but it wasn't a desired strategic effect at the outset. It might have been easier, in retrospect, to go in, oust the Taliban, and then leave a 4000 strong brigade group in Kabul to prop up the President, aka, the Mayor of Kabul.

    1. Yes, the complex interweaving of tribal conflict, Taliban insurgency and local vs central government is explored in the book a lot. Plus many instances where we pushed our Western liberal ideals and ignored local concerns/needs.

    2. Would happen alot, go to one village where are the taliban?
      They are over in the valley next door, very bad men.
      Next valley over.
      Where are the Taliban?
      They are in the village you just came from, very bad men.