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War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier Hardcover – May 1, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0199973750 ISBN-10: 019997375X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019997375X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199973750
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.4 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Malkasian evenhandedly examines the Garmser district in southern Afghanistan, where he was stationed as a political officer for the State Department between 2009 and 2011...deeply engaging work. Insightful, knowledgeable account of the "good war," intimately informed from the trenches." --Kirkus

"Malkasian is a fluent speaker of Pashto who spent two years as the senior political officer in Garmsir and became immersed in the area's history and intricate political structure. The book represents the kind of detailed study of Afghanistan that has been badly missing: Most people associated with the international military and development missions here come in for six-month or one-year stints. (Another valuable book, albeit with a vastly different background and purpose, is Noah Coburn's excellent ethnographic study, "Bazaar Politics.") One mark of Malkasian's analytical mettle is that he presents, more so than any other writer I've read, a clear and fair picture of the Taliban and why they enjoyed so much support in the south." --Mattheiu Aikins, New York Times

"In the nineteenth century Britain employed political officers on the troubled frontiers of its empire. They immersed themselves in their localities, learnt about the inhabitants and heard their stories. Carter Malkasian is an American twenty-first century political officer. Outwardly his deeply revealing book is about Afghanistan's experience of war over three decades, but it is also a mirror on the US itself. His message is clear: deep historical and cultural understanding is at the heart of good strategy." --Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, Oxford University

"Whether as cause or as effect, there have been very few books about America's longest war, and even fewer good ones. ... To this short list can now be added another great book on the Afghan war, Carter Malkasian's War Comes to Garmser." -- John A. Nagl, Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security.

"Afghan officials and U.S. commanders credit Malkasian with playing a critical role in the transformation of Garmser from one of the country's most violent, Taliban-infested districts to a place so quiet that some Marines wish they had more chances to fire their weapons." -- Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post (8/13/2011 profile of Malkasian)

"[Malkasian's] rich, shrewdly constructed history of the area shows how tribal elders used the United States and the Taliban as resources in their own turf battles, which often revolved around access to irrigated land... Malkasian's gem of a concluding chapter... is best appreciated after a close reading of the preceding chapters. The effort will be amply repaid."--Foreign Affairs

About the Author

Carter Malkasian spent nearly two years in the Afghan district of Garmser, in war torn Helmand province as a political officer for the US Department of State. For the last decade, he has studied war, and written about it, and worked in war zones, including long stints in Iraq's Al Anbar province. The author of Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare (named by Foreign Affairs as one of the ten books to read on counterinsurgency) and A History of Modern Wars of Attrition, he has also served as the director of the stability and development program at the Center for Naval Analyses. He has a Ph.D. in history from Oxford University.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By F. J. West on April 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Many of us have suffered through 13 years of preaching from on-high about "correct counterinsurgency" (COIN). The usual suspects reverently sanctified are Lawrence, Robert Thompson, Templer, Abrams, Komer (sic, Petraeus and now McChrystal. What these gentlemen have in common is a four-star rank and an ability to write theory.In essence, the COIN model they espoused was benevolent colonialism applied in the 21st Century by allowing feckless leaders like President Karzai to have total sovereign control. Democracy and decent government would be applied as Karzai and his cohorts chose.

Wow. In place of that idealism from 50,000 feet, Malkasian brings the reader down to the practical level of an Afghan district, where the insurgents, tribes,government officials and Americans clash, conspire and compete to create either a Taliban, a tribal or a Kabul-government dominance. The result is a political detective story told by an expert who has given five years to understanding insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has volunteered time and again as the Pashtun-speaking civilian adviser to our battalions. He is respected throughout the country at the battalion level. A true analyst, he tells you the facts and shows where there are mysteries no Westerner can unravel. He is currently an adviser to the commander of coalition forces, and still risks his life.

As you read this book, ask yourself: How did so many senior generals and officials, for a dozen years, insist that we Americans, or any outsiders, could build Afghanistan into a Western, economically-viable democracy?

The brilliance of Malkasian is that he does not lecture you. He tells you a story about power in a district, and lets you draw your own conclusions about theories from on high. This book is a classic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Padraig O'Cearbhaill on May 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
For the vast majority of Americans who have never been to Afghanistan, and often wonder as to whether or not we should continue our (the U.S. and NATO's) mission there, I highly recommend Dr. Carter Malkasian's "War Comes to Garmser" - a breath of fresh air from the stale punditry that often comes out of Washington, DC. The author has delivered a superb, tactical-level description of a highly complex environment that we have wrestled with for the past 12+ years - and has regularly done so through the eyes of the Afghans themselves.

Dr. Malkasian lived and worked alongside the U.S. Marines for two years; more importantly, he took the supreme effort to learn Pashto, and toiled hand-in-hand with the local Afghans - reminiscent of Homer Atkin's character in "The Ugly American". While acknowledging the myriad challenges towards achieving a peaceful Afghanistan, he equally leaves the door open to the possibility of a stable Afghanistan - but it will surely take a healthy dose of expectation management on our own part, and solution that is very much in line with Afghan norms.

For those who can expect to participate in a future counterinsurgency effort or a "Small War" - whether as an infantry grunt, a military planner, a political officer, or an economic development specialist - I think Dr. Carter Malkasian's "War Comes to Garmser" should be required reading - definitely one of the best works to have yet come out of America's longest war.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By CarrierofLadders on July 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Everyone who wishes to understand the unique dynamics at play in any given locality in Afghanistan needs to read this book. Carter Malkasian, who worked with US forces in Helmand Province and knows the area as well as non-Helmandi can, not only introduces you to the Garmser microcosm for the better part of a century, explaining the long term causes of current domestic mistrust and misunderstanding, but gives you an intimate picture of the local dramatis personae and their own part in the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan. It demonstrates incompetence, fallibility, and accident all too often have snatched war from the jaws of peace. "All politics is local" as Tip O'Neil well observed, and anyone who desires to see the roots of the instability and Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan will profit from seeing how 30 years of war in Garmser has played in relations between communities and individuals. Malkasian also happens to be a great writer, and is insightful and clear without dumbing it down. A micro-history with macro-implications, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By davidbfpo on December 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I have finally finished reading this slim book on the train commuting to London and Oxford and finally at home. His style and the content are simply gripping. Human terrain at it's best, context, details and insight.

I have not read many of the books on the contemporary Afghan conflict, it is for this "armchair" observer too sad. This book is different, it is about the Afghan people, their leaders, institutions and their visiting foreign guests.

The last chapter, the conclusion 'The End or the Intermission', is excellent. I expect those who have served anywhere in Afghanistan, outside the wire, will agree with his reflections and so taken from his final paragraph: 'What I think I can say is that Afghanistan surely will not be the last of America's interventions in messy wars in developing states - our history is too full to think otherwise......Garmser offers no answers as to whether such conflicts are worth it. It merely suggest they are likely to be troublesome, murky, messy and grey'.
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