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Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground Hardcover – October 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Advanced Praise for Ghosts of Afghanistan:

"Steele has covered events in Afghanistan for many years, and he skewers with palpable glee the myths and half-truths that are peddled by politicians, generals, official spokesmen, and too many commentators." —The Observer

"With the debate raging over whether to negotiate with the Taliban, or continue to slaughter its leadership in night raids in the hope of forcing a weakened movement to the table later, the author notes the grip of history on US military decision-making." —The Telegraph

"In this original look at the West's obsession with Afghanistan the ghosts include, of course, the inevitable innocents who fall in war but also the public myths, official lies and inconvenient truths that lie behind so much of the bloodshed there. In a riveting chapter, Steele also puts to rest the notion that America had no choice but to go to war after Osama bin Laden's orchestration of the 9/11 attacks." —Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

"Ghosts of Afghanistan is the best single book on the inter-related US policy crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan and should be read by all students of foreign affairs." —Selig S. Harrison, author of Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal

"Jonathan Steele provides an astute and powerful analysis of Afghanistan's recent history. As a correspondent who witnessed many of the key events at first-hand, his account is enriched by insights from Afghans from across the political arena, which both contribute to an understanding of the country's turbulent history and help to demolish some of the prevailing myths. This work raises important questions about the purpose and effectiveness of ten costly years of international engagement in Afghanistan, and should be required reading for those planning the imminent transition to full Afghan control." —Jolyon Leslie, author of Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace

"Drawing on more than three decades of reporting from and on Afghanistan, Jonathan Steele offers the best account yet of why, in ignoring the lessons of the Soviet intervention, the Americans are condemned to make many of the same mistakes. He explodes the key myths about the Russians' record. He shows, quietly, how the only sane solution is the one Gorbachev adopted almost from the moment he took power: involve all the internal parties, including the insurgents, and the regional powers in brokering peace. A brilliant and disturbing book by one of the most acute and best informed contemporary observers of Afghanistan." —Sherard Cowper-Coles, British Ambassador to Kabul 2007-2009 and Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 2009–2011

"Jonathan Steele is a thirty-year veteran of the twists and turns of foreign involvement in Afghanistan. His simple and compelling central premise is a frustratingly circular story of how the foreigners, Russians or Americans and their British and other allies, never seem to learn that Afghans are their own people. The author is word-weary and war-weary in his account of outsiders’ Afghan myths but he does not allow this to get him, or the reader, down. He offers a sparely written, fast paced indictment of the follies of Afghan’s foreign occupiers." —Mark Malloch Brown, former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General

"Few journalists have been on the ground in Kabul from the early days of a more-than-thirty-year war. In Ghosts of Afghanistan Jonathan Steele provides fascinating detail of memorable meetings and moments over the past three decades, boldly challenging widely held views of Afghanistan's turbulent history from Soviet to American involvement. This is essential reading at a time when the West is pondering the legacy of its intervention and trying to find a way forward." —Lyse Doucet, BBC

"Throughout history Afghanistan has shown the foolishness of great powers trying to order the world after their own lights. Time and again, invaders have tried, and retreated in bloody defeat. Today NATO, far away from its supposed theatre of concern, is making even worse mistakes than the Russians did in the 1980s. With a thirty-year experience of reporting assignments in Afghanistan no-one has studied this extraordinary country more closely than Jonathan Steele, nor charted so meticulously how outside intervention has worsened internal discord. His is a sobering essay on the empire of folly." —Simon Jenkins, author of Thatcher & Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts

"Jonathan Steele has covered the sweep of thirty years of history in Afghanistan and chronicled the lessons of first the Russian, and then the American-led occupations. They are lessons President Obama and his allies have still not fully grasped. This excellent book is a painfully honest account of successive unwinnable wars. It is the text book Mr Obama and others will need if Afghanistan is ever to be left to find its own peace and prosperity." —Jon Snow, Channel 4 News (UK)

"This book is a gripping history of the wars in Afghanistan explaining why successive outsiders have consistently got things so wrong. It is, at the same time, an intensely moving account of how that history was experienced by individual Afghans whom Jonathan Steele encountered in more than thirty years of reporting those wars." —Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance, London School of Economics

About the Author

Jonathan Steele was educated at Cambridge and Yale. He was Washington Bureau Chief, Moscow Bureau Chief, and Chief Foreign Correspondent for The Guardian. He is currently a columnist on international affairs. His previous book Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq was published in 2008. In May 2011, Steele won the One World Media Press Award for his reporting from Afghanistan. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582437874
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582437873
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,214,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By JYK on November 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Steele has been covering Afghanistan for over twenty years, and his knowledge and expertise clearly show as he goes about debunking thirteen myths surrounding the country.

Myth #1: The Taliban have little popular support.
Myth #2: The Soviet invasion was an unprovoked attack designed to capture new territory.
Myth #3: The Soviet invasion led to a civil war and Western aid for the Afghan resistance.
Myth #4: The USSR suffered a massive military defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of the mujahedin.
Myth #5: Afghans have always beaten foreign armies, from Alexander the Great to modern times.
Myth #6: The CIA's supply of Stinger missiles to the mujahedin forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
Myth #7: After the Soviets withdrew, the West walked away.
Myth #8: In 1992 the mujahedin overthrew Kabul's regime and won a major victory over Moscow.
Myth #9: Soviet shelling destroyed Kabul.
Myth #10: The Taliban were by far the harshest government Afghanistan has ever had.
Myth #11: The Taliban invited Osama bin Laden to use Afghanistan as a safe haven.
Myth #12: The Taliban are uniquely harsh oppressors of Afghan women.
Myth #13: Banning girls from school is a Taliban trademark.

Clearly-analyzed and insightful, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in learning about this strategic but mysterious country that has become the ground for much bloodshed and violence over the years.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nathan B on December 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jonathan Steele is "that guy" - the one who knows everyone, but never really comes up on the radar himself. Having spent several decades traveling to Afghanistan off and on, he seems to have interviewed nearly anybody who is anybody: he even interviewed the mujahid Hekmatyar by fax. His perspective is that of an experienced journalist who after decades of reporting wants to opine on the subjects he has worked on.

"Ghosts of Afghanistan" is organized around the chronological narrative of Mr Steele's visits to the region. He begins in earnest with the 1980s, focusing on the PDPA, from Karmal to Najibullah, the brief rule of the Mujahideen, the rule of the Taliban, and then the post 9/11 world in Afghanistan. The narrative is quite readable.

Mr Steele's telling of history avoids attributing change to broad movements; rather, he tends to attribute change to the choices of particular individuals, many of whom he met. This differentiates him from most academic historians. Mr Steele gives particular attention to western mythology about Afghanistan, such as the alleged defeat of the Soviets by the Mujahideen, and many claims that America abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviets left. The truth is not always flattering.

American readers will at multiple occasions be forced to grit their teeth as Mr Steele's British origin makes itself manifest. At one point he seems to suggest that America is cowardly for using air power, apparently preferring to see more Americans die on the ground. He could easily have made his point with more sensitivity - that air raids alienate and kill with less discrimination. His conclusion focuses in on the plight of the diaspora, which he says moved him the most because of the loss of their culture.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on December 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Steele has 30 years' experience reporting as a foreign correspondent, from Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The 9/11 attacks were 'criminal attacks' by a non-state actor. Afghanistan's armed forces had not attacked the USA. UN Resolution 1368 called on all member states to bring the perpetrators of terrorism to justice. Resolution 1373 authorised police measures against terrorists.

Neither authorised the use of military force, neither so much as mentioned Afghanistan. We don't need a 'war' on terrorism. We need to deal with terrorism by a mixture of politics and good police work.

64,000 foreign troops were in Afghanistan when Obama took office in January 2009; by 2011, it was 142,000, but there is no military solution. The main recruiters for the resistance are the presence and behaviour of foreign troops, and the Karzai government's corruption.

Yet Obama still repeats Bush's claim that the war is a war of necessity. Obama said that the Taliban 'must be met with force, and they must be defeated.' In February 2009, he ordered another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and in December another 33,000. Gorbachev's troop surge of 1985 did not work either.

Afghanistan is strategically valueless ' it has never been a gateway to anywhere, more a dead-end. The war is a stalemate.

Coalition forces killed 230 civilians in 2006, 629 in 2007, 828 in 2008, 596 in 2009 and 440 in 2010. In 2010, 711 foreign troops were killed (up from 512 in 2009), including 499 US and 103 British: the bloodiest year so far. The number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted rose by 62 per cent. They killed 268 troops, as many as in the three years 2007-09.

Two British soldiers are killed every week.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you read only one thing on Afghanistan this year, make sure it's this. Mr. Steele has condensed 30+ years of covering this rugged patch of country into one in-depth volume. The amount of scrupulous detail here is simply amazing, delivered with the modest nonchalance of truly great insight and analysis. This is the kind of volume that proverbially *should* be read by political and military leaders - but won't be, precisely because it calmly yet mercilessly slaughters all their illusions and vanity. There is no Santa Claus in Afghanistan.

When he says Afghanistan is the poorest country on earth, this is always debatable. Haiti and Somalia are equal candidates for bottom honors. Like most such places it's a concept more than a reality, held in place on the map only by the borders of its neighbors. One criticism: I wish he'd spent more time tying the economic interest with the political/military history. Afghanistan sits on top of one of the richest mineral caches on earth, and this was not just discovered a few years ago. Signs and hints of this wealth have been known for quite a while, and this must be added to all the strategic and geo-political concerns that have made it a global cauldron - with some of the earth's poorest, least comprehending people the usual victims of great power pride and righteousness.
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