Having spent a while reading about Afghanistan, I’ve collected some resources for anyone who’d like to learn a little more about that godforsaken country and about what various strategists think ought to be done. Pretty much everything I’ve listed below is useful to read, even if you don’t agree with all of the conclusions that analysts come up with.
A good place to start is The Forgotten Front, published more than a year ago by the Center for American Progress. Written by Caroline P. Wadhams, an extremely bright young analyst, and Lawrence Korb, a veteran defense expert, it’s a primer about the war. Many progressives won’t like their conclusion that the United States needs to send more troops. (At the time, when the US had 25,000 troops in country, CAP recommended adding 20,000 more. Currently, there are 36,000 US forces, and President Obama has ordered the deployment of 17,000 more.) And CAP puts too much emphasis on NATO, saying, “A failure in Afghanistan would throw NATO’s relevance into doubt” — as if the war were about NATO, not Afghanistan. But “The Forgotten Front,” even though it is somewhat overtaken by events, is a very useful guide to the issues in the war, complete with maps, charts and graphs.
One of the very best analysts on Afghanistan is Seth Jones of the RAND Corporation. His book-length monograph is called Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Especially valuable for those seeking to understand who, exactly, we’re fighting in Afghanistan is Chapter 4 of Jones’ report. “Insurgents and Their Support Network.” He writes:
The insurgency in Afghanistan included six main insurgent groups: the Taliban, Hezb-i Islami, the Haqqani network, foreign fighters (mostly Arabs and Central Asians), tribes based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and criminal networks.
Jones provides an extremely useful tour of the insurgency, making clear to anyone who reads it that the United States is engaged in a struggle against an opponent far richer and more complex than “the Taliban.” (You can read a lot more of Seth Jones’ work here.)
In connection with Jones’ report, read RAND’s James Dobbins’ testimony, on February 26, 2009, to the Senate Armed Service Committee, also called Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Dobbins, President Bush’s first envoy to Afghanistan who also served as liaison to the Afghan exile opposition before 2001, says that since the Taliban operate mostly in the country’s south, with headquarters in Pakistan’s Baluchistan region, that the United States ought to consider targeting the Taliban inner shura (“council”) with the same Predator drones that it’s using further north in the tribal areas of Pakistan.