A Military History of Afghanistan
From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror
Ali Ahmad Jalali
The history of Afghanistan is largely military history. From the Persians and Greeks of antiquity to the British, Soviet, and American powers in modern times, outsiders have led military conquests into the mountains and plains of Afghanistan, leaving their indelible marks on this ancient land at the juncture of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In this book Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former interior minister of Afghanistan, taps a deep understanding of his country’s distant and recent past to explore Afghanistan’s military history during the last two hundred years.
With an introductory chapter highlighting the major military developments from early times to the foundation of the modern Afghan state, Jalali’s account focuses primarily on the era of British conquest and Anglo-Afghan wars; the Soviet invasion; the civil war and the rise of the Taliban; and the subsequent U.S. invasion. Looking beyond persistent stereotypes and generalizations—e.g., the “graveyard of empires"”designation emerging from the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century and the Soviet experience of the 1980s—Jalali offers a nuanced and comprehensive portrayal of the way of war pursued by both state and non-state actors in Afghanistan against different domestic and foreign enemies, under changing social, political, and technological conditions. He reveals how the structure of states, tribes, and social communities in Afghanistan, along with the scope of their controlled space, has shaped their modes of fighting throughout history. In particular, his account shows how dynastic wars and foreign conquests differ in principle, strategy, and method from wars initiated by non-state actors including tribal and community militias against foreign invasions or repressive governments.
“Jalali’s effective use of primary and secondary sources from a diverse range of participants in Afghanistan’s military history makes for a fascinating and important read. Utilizing Afghan, Indian, Pakistani, British, Soviet, and American accounts, the book comes closer than any other thus far in painting a complete picture of the turbulent history of this fascinating nation.”
“This magnificent achievement by Jalali should certainly become the new standard by which all other histories of conflict in the region are judged.”
—Military ReviewSee all reviews...
“Ali Ahmad Jalali has now written the most comprehensive English-language study of Afghan military history.”
—Michigan War Studies Review
“As a survey of nineteenth and twentieth century Afghan military history by an experienced Afghan historian drawing on sources in several languages—those of Afghanistan, English, and Russian—this book is especially valuable.”
—New York Military Affairs Symposium Review
“Readable and will be a good source for those interested in the military history of Afghanistan.”
“Professor Jalali’s book will be the authoritative and standard work for scholars, soldiers, statesmen, and citizens alike. Well written, thoroughly researched in multiple relevant languages, and, presented as only this highly educated Afghan army colonel, one time freedom fighter, former Afghan Minister of the Interior, and scholar could do. This is the balanced history required for a world community struggling to bring a meaningful peace to this troubled land.”
—Lester W. Grau, author of Operation Anaconda: America’s First Major Battle in Afghanistan and The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost
“Professor Jalali’s deeply researched, beautifully written, and humane book places today’s headlines in the context of centuries, reminding the reader that every society’s ways of warfare change with the challenges it faces and the resources of its leaders, society, and culture. Jalali takes us far beyond sound bites to place Afghanistan’s wars in the long panorama of human history.”
—Barnett R. Rubin, author of Afghanistan from the Cold War through the War on Terror
“A definitive history of Afghanistan depicting both insider and outsider perspectives. The author’s evenhanded analytical approach provides a clear and balanced picture of momentous military events that shaped the future of Afghanistan and influenced major political developments in the region. With its professional focus and unparalleled access to primary sources Jalali offers a unique and unrivaled study of the Afghan ways of warfare and lessons learned in the context of military history in general.”
—General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan Minister of Defense (2004–2012)
“To understand Afghanistan today and in the future requires an acute understanding of the country’s past. While this truism applies to every country and people, nowhere is it truer than in Afghanistan. Ali’s monumental work provides necessary context and essential new dimensions for that understanding at a time when precious few in the West (if not the world as a whole) possess it.”
—David M. Glantz, author of The Stalingrad Trilogy
“A must read for anyone seriously interested in Afghanistan.”
—Zalmay Khalilzad, Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and author of The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House
“Combining careful scholarship, a deep knowledge of Afghan society and world history, and decades of top level military and political experience in his native Afghanistan, Jalali’sstudy is a masterpiece. In lively detail he shows how both external and internal struggles have shaped the state’s ability to provide good governance at home, and implies that security and development must always go hand in hand in the future. This magnificent book will henceforth be the essential reading for anyone interested in the fate of Afghanistan.”
—S. Frederick Starr, chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program
“A Military History of Afghanistan is a unique work in scope, learning, and sources. The development of Afghanistan’s military is completely interwoven with the development of the Afghan state and provides a fascinating perspective through which to review and relearn Afghan history. The breadth of the Persian language as well as English language sources combined with the author's personal involvement with much of the recent history makes the work uniquely valuable.”
—Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann (ret.), President of the American Academy of Diplomacy, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, and, author of The Other War: Winning and Losing in AfghanistanSee fewer reviews...
Written by a professional soldier, politician, and noted scholar with a keen analytical grasp of his country’s military and political history, this magisterial work offers unique insight into the military history of Afghanistan—and thus, into Afghanistan itself.