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The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 Hardcover – April 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


"A valuable contribution to a hefty body of work on the American war in Afghanistan that has become stale and somewhat hackneyed. It provides a raw, unvarnished and important look at one of the darkest and least understood parts of the Afghan war….Ms. Gall, a reporter for The New York Times in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than a decade, beginning shortly after Sept. 11, is in an extraordinary position to write this important and long overdue book." --The New York Times

"The Wrong Enemy is a timely survey of a military and diplomatic undertaking that has exacted a stiff tribute from Afghans and NATO forces in lives, treasure, and national prestige. Gall is right to confront the uneasy truths involving Pakistan’s double-dealing while also identifying coalition shortfalls...When it comes to informative, credible reporting from Central Asia over the past decade, Gall ranks with journalists like Dexter Filkins and David Rohde who have written about Afghanistan with authority and context. But Gall is perhaps uniquely positioned to tackle the troubling questions she raises about Pakistan's alleged support of terrorism...As the US and NATO prepare to possibly withdraw all forces from Afghanistan at the close of this year, Gall’s book qualifies as a must-read." --The Christian Science Monitor

"Gall's long years of reporting for the New York Times from the front lines of the war are clear in this book, particularly in her vivid reconstruction of how things went rapidly downhill after the easy U.S.-led victories over the Taliban at the end of 2001...To her credit, Ms. Gall gets the most important thing right. She underscores the danger of the U.S. turning its back on Afghanistan, which, while still fragile, shows more signs of modernity than ever before. The repercussions of the U.S. drawdown 'are already inspiring Islamists, who are comparing it to the withdrawal of the Soviet Union' after its defeat at the hands of the mujahedeen. Unlike the Obama administration, Ms. Gall recognizes that radical Islam can't be ignored or wished away." -- The Wall Street Journal

"A strong, well-crafted account by an informed observer." --The Economist

"The author offers a compelling account of the attack on bin Laden's compound, the repercussions of which are still being felt. Gall admirably never loses sight of the human element in this tragedy." --Kirkus


About the Author

CARLOTTA GALL has worked for the New York Times since 1999, including over ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  She previously worked for the Financial Times and The Economist.  In 2007 she was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544046692
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544046696
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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79 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Paul Dueweke on April 10, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

Gall has used strong journalism skills to render a compelling discussion of the U.S. experience in Afghanistan since the 9/11 Jihad. The reader quickly understands that there are truths about our War in Afghanistan that we have not learned in the Mainstream Media. We all have heard countless times that our enemy is al Qaeda and its enabler, the Taliban. But what Gall teaches us is that the Taliban is not just some organic organization left over from the Soviet occupation. The Taliban owes its founding and continued existence to the Pakistan Government, more specifically the ISI (Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence).

Gall's story is mostly linear so it is easy to follow. It is replete with details of her fact finding over a dozen years in Afghanistan and Pakistan and years before in that part of the world. Gall gives eyewitness accounts of the collapse of the Taliban crushed on the ground by the Northern Alliance and the United Front and completely decimated by U.S. bombing.

Gall spends some time describing Hamid Karzai and Mullah Omar. Karzai quickly rose to the top the U.S. list of trusted Afghans and then was elected President. Omar was an Afghan and the long-time leader of the Taliban. Gall contradicts the standard wisdom that has evolved over the years about the ineptness of Karzai. She maintains that Karzai is a skilled politician and effectively bonded together the War Lords into an Afghan State and has tried to get the U.S. and the Media to understand that the real enemy lies in Pakistan. His great failing, however, is his ineptness at administration and his micromanaging.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By jem on April 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
As America prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan after nearly thirteen years of warfare, thousands of deaths, and endless devastation to the country's physical environment, we finally have a skilled reporter who has been there from beginning to end confirming what many of us suspected. We've committed untold resources to fighting the wrong enemy and neglecting the source of the problem.

As the Taliban resurgence began soon after their 2001 defeat, even from the distance, many Americans began questioning the role of the Pakistan military in arming and directing the activities of the Taliban in Afghanistan, knowing that Mullah Omar and other key leaders had fled to and remained sheltered in Pakistan. The US government maintained that it was necessary to provide financial and military aid to Pakistan to retain them as an ally. The 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden in close proximity to Pakistan's key military site confirmed Pakistan's duplicity to the world.

Gall's book reflects her long term relationships with Afghan, Pakistani, and US military leaders as well as networks among Afghan civilians. Her interviews reflect changing perspectives from all sides and create a balanced picture of the problem the US has failed to confront. She praises the US and NATO surge that defeated the Taliban for the second -- and far more difficult time -- but warns how difficult it will be for any Afghan central or local governments to continue to defeat the Taliban if the world does not acknowledge and deal with Pakistan's paranoia about India that causes the ISI to seek surrogate fighters to control neighboring Afghanistan.

For anyone who wants to understand what went wrong, this book is fascinating reading.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Carlotta Gail's well-done history of the Afghanistan conflict is valuable for how it breaks free of the US-centric news and storylines we often get. There's no shortage of soldier's stories, or accounts from US unit actions, but few books that tell the larger story beyond American interests.

And that's vital to know and this book reminds a reader why the Afghanistan effort was doomed to fail in the way the US conducted it. From 2001 going forward, the US behaved like our actions were the only ones that mattered and the regional situation had no influence on the military operations in Afghanistan.

That hubris failed to take into account Pakistan's national interest in keeping the Taliban, if not in power, at least a legitimate force outside their borders. Since Pakistan is dealing with Muslim extremists in their own borders, it's in their best interest to keep Afghanistan as a way to relieve that pressure - so for Karzai to be successful, for the Taliban to be evicted, meant they would then be operating in Pakistan...which that country did not want.

So while they were an "ally" in name, Gall lays out a compelling argument that in every action they were working at cross-purposes with the US, and often in direct opposition. I can't even blame Pakistan - it's really no different than the US invasion of Iraq. Since WE considered Saddam Hussein's government a national threat, our mission to remove him was more important than what it would do to the regional situation (empowering Iran, etc). In this case, Pakistan has no advantage by helping Karzai or the US - but DOES have an advantage in helping the Taliban. Not because they "like" them, but because it serves their strategic and national interest.
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