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Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist National Book Award in Nonfiction finalist Helen Bernstein Journalism Award finalist 2014 Ridenhour Prize Winner New York Times Notable Book As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, the shocking tale of how the American military had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead. In the popul Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist National Book Award in Nonfiction finalist Helen Bernstein Journalism Award finalist 2014 Ridenhour Prize Winner New York Times Notable Book As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, the shocking tale of how the American military had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead. In the popular imagination, Afghanistan is often regarded as the site of intractable conflict, the American war against the Taliban a perpetually hopeless quagmire. But as Anand Gopal demonstrates in this stunning chronicle, top Taliban leaders were in fact ready to surrender within months of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, renouncing all political activity and submitting to the new government. Effectively, the Taliban ceased to exist—yet the American forces were not ready to accept such a turnaround. Driven by false intelligence from corrupt warlords and by a misguided conviction that Taliban members could never change sides, the U.S. instead continued to press the conflict, resurrecting the insurgency that persists to this day.Gopal’s dramatic narrative, full of vivid personal detail, follows three Afghans through years of U.S. missteps: a Taliban commander, a U.S.-backed warlord, and a housewife trapped in the middle of the fighting. With its intimate accounts of life in small Afghan villages, and harrowing tales of crimes committed by Taliban leaders and American-supported provincial officials alike, No Good Men Among the Living lays bare the workings of America’s longest war and the truth behind its prolonged agony. A thoroughly original exposé of the conflict that is still being fought, it shows just how the American intervention went so desperately wrong.


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Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist National Book Award in Nonfiction finalist Helen Bernstein Journalism Award finalist 2014 Ridenhour Prize Winner New York Times Notable Book As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, the shocking tale of how the American military had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead. In the popul Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist National Book Award in Nonfiction finalist Helen Bernstein Journalism Award finalist 2014 Ridenhour Prize Winner New York Times Notable Book As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, the shocking tale of how the American military had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead. In the popular imagination, Afghanistan is often regarded as the site of intractable conflict, the American war against the Taliban a perpetually hopeless quagmire. But as Anand Gopal demonstrates in this stunning chronicle, top Taliban leaders were in fact ready to surrender within months of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, renouncing all political activity and submitting to the new government. Effectively, the Taliban ceased to exist—yet the American forces were not ready to accept such a turnaround. Driven by false intelligence from corrupt warlords and by a misguided conviction that Taliban members could never change sides, the U.S. instead continued to press the conflict, resurrecting the insurgency that persists to this day.Gopal’s dramatic narrative, full of vivid personal detail, follows three Afghans through years of U.S. missteps: a Taliban commander, a U.S.-backed warlord, and a housewife trapped in the middle of the fighting. With its intimate accounts of life in small Afghan villages, and harrowing tales of crimes committed by Taliban leaders and American-supported provincial officials alike, No Good Men Among the Living lays bare the workings of America’s longest war and the truth behind its prolonged agony. A thoroughly original exposé of the conflict that is still being fought, it shows just how the American intervention went so desperately wrong.

30 review for No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Finally we have a journalistic nonfiction big and detailed enough to show the humanity behind the war in Afghanistan. I knew it could be done, had been done in fact, beginning with Rory Stewart’s chronicle of his walk though Afghanistan in 2002 just as the Taliban government fell. That book, The Places in Between, stands as the clearest, most in-depth view of the people and places with whom America has been involved for a decade. This book by Anand Gopal goes in that class. I am eternally gratef Finally we have a journalistic nonfiction big and detailed enough to show the humanity behind the war in Afghanistan. I knew it could be done, had been done in fact, beginning with Rory Stewart’s chronicle of his walk though Afghanistan in 2002 just as the Taliban government fell. That book, The Places in Between, stands as the clearest, most in-depth view of the people and places with whom America has been involved for a decade. This book by Anand Gopal goes in that class. I am eternally grateful to both men for finally exposing for us the beating heart of Afghanistan. Gopal’s exceptional journalism didn’t take hold of me at first. At first I was cringing at what I know to be true: that our military, acting on orders from above, landed in Afghanistan like creatures from outer space. They were good people, all, but their mission was undoable. They had no idea what was going on, who to trust, and how best to fulfil their mission, i.e., to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. The people shifted. The mission shifted. Our soldiers struggled, and we got reports of raids gone wrong. No wonder. Gopal tells us now how any American mission could never have worked in an Afghanistan as torn and bloodied as it was in 2001. This is the absolutely indispensable companion book to other books recounting American involvement in Afghanistan. The confusion on the ground was experienced by everyone, not just soldiers: no one knew whom to trust, who to follow, who to support. If you ever wondered who, in fact, is in Guantanamo, you have to read Gopal’s chapter “Black Holes.” By the time you have finished this chapter, you must see the absurdity and madness in the fog of war. “You survived one way and one way only: through the ruthless exploitation of everyone around you.” Men under fire act just like men after all."Dr. Hafizullah, Zurmat’s first governor, had ended up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed Police Chief Mujahed. Mujahed would up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed the Americans. Security chief Naim found himself in Guantanamo because of an old rivalry with Mullah Qassim. Qassim eluded capture, but an unfortunate soul with the same name ended up in Guantanamo in his place. And a subsequent feud left Samoud Khan, another pro-American commander, in Bagram prison, while the boy his men had sexually abused was shipped to Guantanamo. No one in this group had been a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda." The most affecting portrait Gopal shares is that of Heela, the Kabul University-educated wife of a UN worker in a farming village in Uruzgan. Her story illustrates the confusion and prejudice suffered by provincial residents through the period of the first election in 2004. A changing series of governors, and officials, each murdered by the one before left in place one of the most ill-tempered and combative. “this whole land is filled with thieves and liars…”--Hajji Zaman. It takes one to know one. Gopal gives us in-depth views from a Taliban leader, warlords, militiamen, fathers, husbands, wives, collaborators, militants, prisoners, and tribal leaders. These people we understand. Gopal allows us to see their motivations, their striving, their joys, their defeats. The dangers involved in the reporting is only mentioned in passing, but in a country where seismic shifts in alliances is everyday, it is a gift to have a journalist curious and capable enough to have done this work.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    This is one the best works of narrative non-fiction that I've come across in recent memory. Anand Gopal spent several years living in Afghanistan and has come back with this incredible book narrating the Afghan War through the lives of three people actually living through it. He follows the lives of Akbar Gul (a Taliban commander), Jan Muhammad Khan (a U.S-allied militia leader) and Heela Achekzai (a civilian woman), charting the course of their lives before, during and after the American invasio This is one the best works of narrative non-fiction that I've come across in recent memory. Anand Gopal spent several years living in Afghanistan and has come back with this incredible book narrating the Afghan War through the lives of three people actually living through it. He follows the lives of Akbar Gul (a Taliban commander), Jan Muhammad Khan (a U.S-allied militia leader) and Heela Achekzai (a civilian woman), charting the course of their lives before, during and after the American invasion. Other narratives also weave in an out, including those of U.S. soldiers and others who have fought in recent years. What comes across is how amorphous and fluid the distinctions between friend and foe are - one can be an enemy or a friend on paper but the reality day to day is much more complicated. Morality is not all lined up on any one side, and instead of flighty concepts such as ideology the thing that most everyone is focused on rather is survival in a tumultuous and insecure land. Through this narrative exposition the broader narrative of how the U.S. lost the war is told. A few months after the first bombs starting falling the Taliban had effectively ceased to exist. Its leadership had fled or was seeking to lay down arms and join the new order, and the rank and file had put down their weapons and returned to their villages to farm as they had in times before. But American alliances with brutal, rapacious local warlords - as well as an American insistence that there had to be an enemy there for them to fight - brought the movement back from the dead by brutalizing local populations and inadvertently enlisting credulous American forces in wiping out tribal rivals spuriously identified as Taliban members. After the first couple of months, there had been no real war to continue with and if America had proceeded more wisely it could've built on the situation from there, leading to a far better for Afghanistan and for themselves. Indeed the war in Afghanistan actually could've been a good thing, and with a wiser, more rational approach it indeed may have been. Instead defeat was effectively snatched from the jaws of victory. Had America and the new Afghan government instituted some kind truth and reconciliation (something for which former Talibs were clamouring) the war could've ended in short order. No one wanted to go launch a futile war against the new order, by the start of 2002 there was essentially no one wanting to launch a war to put back in place the Taliban government. But instead of seeking consensus to build an inclusive new Afghan government, the U.S. put back in power the same warlords who had raped and pillaged the country in the early 90s - this time with American military backing. They unleashed a predatory police force on the population (particularly in the rural Pashtun countryside) and wiped out any rivals to their corrupt new order, labeling them "Taliban" regardless of who they were. As such, they indeed gave birth to a resurgent Taliban movement just as their brutality had done once before a decade earlier - a movement which is now gaining in strength throughout much of the country. America for its part was able to bring incredible killing power to Afghanistan, but did not possess any deep knowledge of the country, its history or its people. As such, that incredible lethal force was often and regularly brought down on the wrong people - often those who were actually seeking friendship and alliances with them in the aftermath of Taliban rule. Given its disastrous recent history of "nation-building" this book stands as a strong exposition as to why such endeavors are undesirable. Not because American power is by definition malevolent, but because the people planning to institute such grandiose projects simply lack the knowledge and foresight about these places to do such things effectively. America might, 13 years later, finally be learning something about Afghanistan and how better to administer that country, but the nature of its political process means engagement longer than such a time are simply impossible. They're leaving now, having stayed just long enough to realize how much harm has been done due to all the things they didn't know when they first airdropped in. But in many ways this tragic story is told almost incidentally. The way the book is written is so personal, evocative and powerful that it really stands as unique literary achievement in its own right. The lives of the Afghans are portrayed in moving and inevitably humanizing detail, and it offers a picture of the war and Afghan society which is usually wholly absent from ordinary news reporting. At times the book contains an absolutely heart-stopping intensity; it was a page turner which I was not able to put down. As such, I really recommend this book unreservedly to anyone - its one of the most memorable non-fiction books I've come across in recent memory, and can be appreciated by all whether they are interested in Afghanistan or just the human condition itself. Was so deeply impressed that I can guarantee I'll be reading everything Gopal (a gifted, and seemingly pretty young journalist) writes from this point onwards.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Barry Sierer

    If you treat your friends like you treat your enemies, your friends will become your enemies. This is a lesson that the US has had to learn at great cost several times over. This is one of several points made in Gopal’s book that chronicles the struggles of a Taliban Commander, a pro US “warlord”, and a housewife in wartime Afghanistan. Gopal portrays the day to day savagery and chaos that existed during the civil war years of the 1990’s, as well as after the US invasion. The tales are tragic, bu If you treat your friends like you treat your enemies, your friends will become your enemies. This is a lesson that the US has had to learn at great cost several times over. This is one of several points made in Gopal’s book that chronicles the struggles of a Taliban Commander, a pro US “warlord”, and a housewife in wartime Afghanistan. Gopal portrays the day to day savagery and chaos that existed during the civil war years of the 1990’s, as well as after the US invasion. The tales are tragic, but not without hope. Gopal focuses largely on events in Urozgan province. According to Gopal; in the aftermath of the invasion, the US had a vast selection of allies to choose from including members of the former regime. However, once US forces settled on certain strongmen, they repeatedly fell for false intelligence that painted pro-US Afghans as Al Qaeda or Taliban, resulting in their detention or deaths at the hands of US forces. In one case, US special operations forces struck two rival (yet pro-US) groups of officials on a single night. Some Afghans were being held in Guantanamo Bay, in part, for their ties to pro-US groups and warlords such as Ismail Khan and Ahmed Shah Massoud (who was killed by Al-Qaeda just before 9/11). The survivors of these attacks could either risk further attacks (lying low was not an option) or flee. Caught between a predatory national government on one hand, and US forces that seemed strike at their own supporters on the other, with no access to government or NGO resources (which are filtered through the strongmen), many Afghans either joined the Taliban or simply played both sides in order survive. Gopal’s work is an excellent example of why is so important for us to intimately understand the people we engage with, including our adversaries.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Bazzett

    For the last dozen years or more U.S. consumers of the news have been force fed the American version, or “our side” of what has been happening in Afghanistan since the first American troops landed there at the end of 2001. Now, with Anand Gopal’s book, NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING, we are given a look at this long so-called ‘war against terror’ through Afghan eyes. Gopal, a respected American journalist who has also done stories from Egypt, Syria and other mid-East hot spots, made several trips For the last dozen years or more U.S. consumers of the news have been force fed the American version, or “our side” of what has been happening in Afghanistan since the first American troops landed there at the end of 2001. Now, with Anand Gopal’s book, NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING, we are given a look at this long so-called ‘war against terror’ through Afghan eyes. Gopal, a respected American journalist who has also done stories from Egypt, Syria and other mid-East hot spots, made several trips into Afghanistan over the past five years, conducting numerous interviews with various warlords, tribal chieftains, Taliban leaders, and ordinary citizens, all in an attempt to understand - what? Well, I suppose trying to figure out what in the hell was going on in this country torn apart by wars for over thirty years now - ten years of occupation and war with the Soviet military, then a bloody civil war, followed by a harsh Taliban rule, and now, the American war against the Taliban and the elusive Al Quaeda. Gopal has obviously done his homework, researching these wars in depth, but more than that, he has spent hundreds of hours on the ground in Afghanistan just talking with the people there, including three in particular, a warlord, a Taliban commander, and a woman, Heela, widowed by the war and left to fend for herself and her children in a region where women have no rights or standing. Perhaps the most shocking revelation comes early on in the book, when we learn that this whole war might not have happened at all if the U.S. had simply accepted Afghanistan’s offer to bring Osama bin Laden to justice themselves. But no, the U.S. demanded his extradition for a U.S. trial and there was no middle ground. And then, Gopal, tells us, the Taliban leaders all attempted to surrender within the first few months of the American invasion, but that didn’t work either, so most of them simply disappeared back into their home regions or decamped across the border into Pakistan. And so the U.S. forces were left without a visible enemy. “How do you fight a war without an adversary? Enter Gul Agha Sherzai - and men like him around the country. Eager to survive and prosper, he and his commanders followed the logic of the American presence to its obvious conclusion. They would create enemies where there were none ... Sherzai’s enemies became America’s enemies, his battles its battles. His personal feuds and jealousies were repackaged as ‘counterterrorism,’ his business interests as Washington’s.” And in the power vacuum that had formed after years of war, the feuds and jealousies between tribal leaders, warlords and would-be government leaders and politicians were not in short supply. George W. Bush might have offhandedly explained that we were ‘spreadin’ freedom, spreadin’ democracy’ in Afghanistan, but in fact we were the interlopers in an ancient and savage feudal society where revenge is a fact of life - a place where backstabbing, betrayals and sometimes outright bloody butchery had become common. Mullah Manan, a Taliban commander, gave Gopal this matter-of-fact, grisly account of a beheading, a reprisal against an Afghan who had collaborated with the U.S.-backed Karzai government - “... and when he struggled, two of the men placed their weight on his arms and body and tied his hands behind his back. He began to scream, a deep madman’s scream, and the Talibs looked on and waited. One of them lowered a butcher’s knife onto Sidiqullah’s neck as if measuring , and began to cut. It surprised Manan how long it took, how much work it was, to decapitate a man. Afterward, when they tossed the head aside, it looked to him like a deflated balloon.” The Mullah, in answer to Gopal’s question of how often this happened, “answered in his shy and quiet voice: ‘We were doing this two, maybe three times a month.’ ” But perhaps just as shocking as this casual butchery on the Afghan side is the way U.S. forces were so easily duped into targeting, killing and arresting innocent Afghans fingered by their personal enemies as terrorists or Taliban. And even then our troops often arrested the wrong man. These prisoners were then remanded to remote Field Detention Sites, and from these to the prisons in Bagram or Kandahar, or even shipped off to Guantanamo. And in all of these places they were often starved, beaten and tortured. These accounts often came from prisoners who had been subsequently released, sometimes after months or even years of incarceration. Many of these wrongfully accused and imprisoned came back hating the Americans, ripe for recruitment in the newly revived Taliban movement. Gopal recorded too many horror stories of alleged innocents, sometimes whole families shot and killed in raids by U.S. forces, based on so-called ‘intelligence from reliable sources.’ U.S. officials would initially call the dead “mostly militants,” and then much later cautiously say things like “there was some potential that some of those killed were civilians.” And then compensation would be quietly paid - two thousand dollars to each of the victims’ families. One such grieving and angry family member told Gopal - “When you go back to America, give Obama a message. You say you’ll give us roads and schools? I don’t give a sh** about your roads and schools! I want safety for my family. I have no doubt that Gopal’s book will be controversial for many reasons, not the least of which will be the negative image painted of U.S. involvement there for the past twelve years. But the thought that kept bothering me most as I read these accounts was how could I trust the veracity of these stories offered by Afghans, many of whom have proved themselves to be masters of deceit and betrayal, often causing their fellow countrymen to suffer and even die. The one saving grace here in the Americans’ favor is the way they helped the war-widowed Heela to escape her hopeless circumstances, save her children, and build a new life. But otherwise, I am afraid that Gopal’s book will fall victim to an endless “they said, we said” vein of discussion. Do we believe the official U.S. version of how this war has been waged, or do we believe these many first-hand accounts from Afghans? While I believe that Gopal did everything he could to cross-check his stories, I still wonder. And I suspect I will not be the only one. Yes, NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING will be controversial, but these are stories that needed to be told. Heartbreaking, disturbing stories. I applaud Gopal for gathering them and giving them a public forum in this well-written and compelling narrative. It is perhaps one of the most comprehensive look at the modern-day Afghan wars since Edward Girardet’s excellent KILLING THE CRANES. There is much to think about here. Highly recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ariel

    This book is amazing, amazing and depressing. I read it because my friend Tom, a correspondent in Afghanistan for years and years recommended it. The first part of the book lays out the lives of 3 Afghanis that serve as the groundwork for the whole book, which ultimately runs from the 1980s through the present day. I have never read a book that better captures the feeling a a life, a place, a history and a milieu. What he book ultimately shows is that Afganistan is made up of people and these pe This book is amazing, amazing and depressing. I read it because my friend Tom, a correspondent in Afghanistan for years and years recommended it. The first part of the book lays out the lives of 3 Afghanis that serve as the groundwork for the whole book, which ultimately runs from the 1980s through the present day. I have never read a book that better captures the feeling a a life, a place, a history and a milieu. What he book ultimately shows is that Afganistan is made up of people and these people act as anyone might expect them to if we actually put even a little bit of thought into what it would mean to be an Afghani in Afghanistan. People act for their own survival, to preserve their own lives and those of their family. They battle against those who render those actions useless. Through so so many interviews Gopal shows that the country was filled with hope in the early 2000s and fell back to chaos as American intervention pushed on a in a fight against ghosts. I wish it was the 60s and we could visit the country untorn by modern history, I wish we (we is all things America) had never put boots on the ground and we had funneled those billions of dollars into American schools, I wish we cared more about knowing everything there is to know then we cared about taking action and above all I wish Afghanistan peace and stability in spite of all the history that stands in their way. 'Sigh'.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    As we approach the “supposed” end of the American presence in Afghanistan it is useful to examine what might have been had the United States followed a somewhat different path. How did the war in Afghanistan go so terribly wrong? After a promising beginning with progress on Afghani infrastructure and some democratic improvements it has become a “Potemkin country” whereby health and educational improvements touted by the government are a sham. President Obama has promised that American troops wou As we approach the “supposed” end of the American presence in Afghanistan it is useful to examine what might have been had the United States followed a somewhat different path. How did the war in Afghanistan go so terribly wrong? After a promising beginning with progress on Afghani infrastructure and some democratic improvements it has become a “Potemkin country” whereby health and educational improvements touted by the government are a sham. President Obama has promised that American troops would exit the Afghani Theater completely; however based on events in Iraq and the performance of Iraqi forces against ISIS (the Islamic State) the Pentagon is now going to leave a residual force of about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan. Based on the current situation on the ground Anand Gopal’s book, No Good Men among the Living is a timely reevaluation of the American mission to Afghanistan, and what is important about the book is that it tries to examine what seems to have gone wrong through Afghani eyes. It is generally accepted that the first major error the United States made in Afghanistan was taking our eyes off our mission and redeploying American forces for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. An invasion that resulted in the removal of Saddam Hussein, but little else, based on the current plight of that country. Had the United States not turned away from Afghanistan and devoted its resources and talents to that country it is possible the situation we face today, the fear that once we withdraw the Taliban will continue its war on the Kabul government and eventually replace it might be different. As 2014 comes to a close the Taliban has resurrected itself in the south and it seems that only Kabul is under government control. Did events have to evolve as they have, perhaps not, as Gopal suggests. Anand Gopal, a journalist who has covered Afghanistan, Egypt and Syria for a number of important newspapers, and other news outlets attempts to explain what has gone wrong by following three people; a Taliban commander, an American supported warlord, and a village housewife who tries to remain neutral. By pursuing this approach Gopal provides the reader unique perspectives from which they can discern what the truth is concerning America’s attempt at nation building in Afghanistan. Gopal provides a brief history of Afghanistan dating back to 1972. He jumps to the Soviet invasion and summarizes the war conducted by the mujahedeen against Soviet troops. Gopal continues with greater depth in confronting events as the United States ignored the emerging civil war that took place between 1992 and 1996 and turned away from Afghanistan to pursue other interests. Gopal’s discussion of the Taliban’s refusal to turn over Osama Bin-Laden after 9/11 receives detailed treatment as does the American invasion and the evolution of the war in Afghanistan through 2013. Gopal’s historical treatment is insightful on its own, but what separates his approach from others is his concentration on the indigenous perspective. The first individual we meet is Mullah Cable, whose real name is Akbar Gul, a Taliban disciplinarian before 9/11 who fought against the Northern Alliance. Gopal asks how such a person declared war against the United States. He goes on to say that “in his tale I found a history of America’s war on terror itself…a glimpse of how he and thousands like him came to…become our enemy.” (9-10) Gul witnessed the excesses of the Taliban and turned away from its leader Mullah Omar. He also witnessed the power of American air strikes and the devastation they caused. Unsure of what to do he would escape to Karachi, Pakistan. The second character Gopal concentrates on is Jan Muhammad who was imprisoned and beaten by the Taliban for over a year. A former mujahedeen commander against the Soviet Union, he emerged as the governor of Uruzgam province after the American invasion. He befriended Hamid Karzai and eventually grew to be a powerful war lord and ally of the United States. The third character, Heela, is perhaps the most important of Gopal’s choices. A woman who faced Taliban extremism, the murder of her husband, maintained her dignity throughout a tumultuous period and emerges as a member of the Afghani Senate in 2011. All three provide a different perspective that is integrated throughout the narrative as Gopal discusses events in a non-chronological fashion, and how they might have been different had the United States pursued a more enlightened policy. Gopal’s central argument is very simple. American officials believed that jihadi terrorism could be defeated through the military occupation. In the wake of 9/11 that seemed feasible. But when one traveled through the southern Afghani countryside a different interpretation emerges. The contradiction is embodied in the sprawling jumble of what was Kandahar Airfield, the home of Burger King, barbed wire, and internment cages. It was the nerve center of American operations in southern Afghanistan. Gopal points out that “a military base in a country like Afghanistan is also a web of relationships, a hub for the local economy, and a key player in the political ecosystem.” (107) The US developed relationships with warlords throughout the region and began relying on them for intelligence. These were mostly the same warlords who were responsible for the atrocities during the 1990s. The problem emerged that these warlords cared more about their own power as it related to other warlords so they provided intelligence designed to get rid of their own enemies, not intelligence that would effective against the Taliban. What repeatedly occurred was that individuals and villages that were anti-Taliban and pro-American were arrested and bombed by the Americans. The internment cages and resulting torture that ensued resulted in little intelligence and at times the release of those individuals by the Americans with a slight apology. Instead of building relationship that could foster confidence, in the end the US and its allies drove people into the arms of the Taliban. A good example is Jan Muhammad, who used the United States to settle scores with tribal enemies and enrich himself and secure his own power by feeding the US false intelligence. The US would kill, arrest, torture Muhammad’s enemies, in a sense doing his dirty work, and as long as he was loyal he could carry on under the auspices of the United States. The US conducted raids against anyone it understood to have been remotely connected to the previous Taliban regime, even after they had put down their weapons and gone home. Gopal describes in detail the American justice and prison system developed at the Kandahar and Bagram air bases, and how they were linked to Guantanamo. Interrogators made little attempt to reconcile existing intelligence with any fresh information that was obtained. If you entered this system your jailers became further and further removed from the battlefield as you would be taken from place to place. Some of the charges bordered on the absurd, i.e., being accused of supporting the Northern Alliance, an American ally. Poor intelligence, poor coordination between different commands, and basic bureaucratic incompetence plagued American administration of the region. This was exacerbated by being manipulated by certain “warlord types” resulting in the arrest, torture, and imprisonment of many who were actually pro-American and working for the Karzai government. It was no wonder that by 2005 the Taliban experienced resurgence as the American presence was seen as an occupation and the Karzai government, a venal and vicious puppet of Washington. By 2007 the United Nations “estimated that the Taliban had reclaimed control of more than half of rural Pashtun territory countrywide. By year’s end, officials had logged more than five thousand security incidents-roadside bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, ambushes.” (207) As we approached 2009, following his election, President Obama launched a mini-surge that was somewhat effective, but as we approach the end of the American commitment we must ask was it worth it. For years we have known that the Karzai government was extremely corrupt and a road block for our mission, even though as we have seen, American patronage was ultimately responsible for the mess. Gopal finds that we are repeating our errors as we try and circumvent the central government “and deal with local power brokers, unwittingly cultivating a new generation of strongmen,” who have their own agendas. (274) By 2013 there were roughly 60-80,000 armed private security employees in the country, “almost all of them working for Afghan strongmen. Add to this 135,000 Afghan army soldiers, 110,000 police, and tens of thousands of private militiamen working for the Afghan government, the US Special Forces, or the CIA, and you have more than 300,000 armed Afghan men all depending on US patronage. You can’t help but wonder: What happens when the troops leave, the bases close, and the money dries up?” (276) You should also ask: What would have happened had the US understood the provincial culture of the Afghan countryside better and made different decisions? The major criticisms of Gopal’s book do not take away from its overall importance. He spends little time on the role of Pakistan and ISI, its intelligence service that fostered Taliban terror as it pursued its own agenda in Afghanistan, while at the same time publicly supporting its ally, the United States. The recent Taliban massacre of the school house in Peshawar shows that their double game can often bite them. Next, the Taliban, at times comes across as a virtuous movement of oppressed ethnic Pashtuns, who are fighting a just cause against a corrupt government and an invading force. As Kim Barker points out in her New York Times review of the book on April 25, 2014, “the sole serious Taliban massacre comes nearly three-quarters of the way through, in an account of how Talibs slaughtered a busload of Afghans on their way to find work in Iran.” You may not agree with all of Gopal’s findings and analysis, however he presents a unique approach to his research and is well worth a read for those still trying to figure out what went wrong, and what the future of Afghanistan might be.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Hai Quan

    One need only to review pages of recent history to see the evilness of almost all US administrations .They are the tools used by their king makers,the elusive, faceless ,nameless major stockholders of the global,transnational corporations dealing with gasoline and military hardware. They waged wars to rob crude oil deposits and to get more orders for their deadly merchandises from all sides of all conflicts ,. Except when they rob oil then they want to win in order to stick their snout into. the u One need only to review pages of recent history to see the evilness of almost all US administrations .They are the tools used by their king makers,the elusive, faceless ,nameless major stockholders of the global,transnational corporations dealing with gasoline and military hardware. They waged wars to rob crude oil deposits and to get more orders for their deadly merchandises from all sides of all conflicts ,. Except when they rob oil then they want to win in order to stick their snout into. the underground to suck.crude oil,otherwise for them it is of no consequence who wins .,who loses in all battles and all conflicts. They consider themselves as global citizens .Their loyalty rests ONLY with their bank accounts and their balance sheets...Do Not be fooled by their passports and be bewildered about their coolness when they see the flag draped coffins of the GI coming home Remember G.W BUSH JR 's disdain with the photo op with 'em coffins ? Do you think Kennedy wanted to win in the Viet nam war ? ( I m not discuss about whether he ,or anyone for that mater CAN OR UNABLE TO. win ) i simply ask you whether he WISHed to end that war ? Well if the pundits are to be believable the poor guy was murdered precisely because he was not only wished , but with the overwhelming protest in the whole world, he made a big mistake of disobeying his "buddies" (who had a habit to wear dark glasses ) , he was attempting to end that war and as we all knew, he has paid for this mistake with his life ! .What do you think ? ,years went by and with numerous investigative " commissions " we are still in the dark as who were the mastermind behind his murderer Or are we ? .What have they been up to .? THEY NEVER disclose to anyone about this truth ,but we know it through their actions Don"t you.see ? This fit nicely with all of them croc's and SNAKES in high places ,in government as well as corporations .Some examples : G W BUSH JR , CHENEY (you can really see a pair of horns protruding from his dome ) ...and now TRUMP.....(this guy really needs a war real fast to save his presidency ,teetering with his incompetence ,dark dealings in the past , and improper behavior toward women...) .& LOCKHEeT....GRUMMAN....BOEING....EXXON.....TEXACO... All of these DEVILS need wars to prosper,to make tons of greenback never mind tons of blood are spilling .No war,no oil , no order of gun,ammo , tank, rocket, jet bomber, jet carrier, sub ......etc , means no money. Why do I have to repeat this dark TRUTH? Why is the above facts still new to you ? Why most of you are or pretend you are still so naive , still think 'em croc's and SNAKES,the ruling gang and theirs King Makers mentioned earlier want to win wars,all 'em wars? What are their deadly merchandise for in time of peace ? Turn 'em to plowshares ? Dream on ! Incredible ! All of you dummies are still spending, or rather wasting a lot of time , money , ink , saliva and SANITY wondering arguing , discussing , proposing , shouting at each other : why there is, and there was no good American among our troop in here and there.......The fact is THEY are mostly good except a minority ( please read my review of CHARLIE RANGERS and HEART OF A SOLDIER....among other ) but they are and they were powerless hired guns who are and were sweep in the cascade of events initiated and directed by the evil Honchos in the White House ,the Pentagon and all of 'em politicians in all 3 branches of the RULING GANGS ! Let's apply this evil ,vicious "RULE" to the Viet nam ,& Middle East wars they waged..Why do you think they supported Diem and Bin Laden with military ,political,economic aids,,,big time then later pulled the rug under them and finally murdered them ? In fact a large number of the common serfs, American soldiers were killed and maimed by the very weapon supplied to Bin Laden by 'em croc"S AND SNAKES mentioned previously ! ( Including in this long list of their victims are thousands of Iraqi and 3 millions of Viet namese civilian casualties ) Wake up folks !

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Collins

    This is the other side of the story. With determined objectivity, Gopal does just what he claims: he tells the story of the War on Terror and the last fourteen years--particularly 2001 through 20010--of war and distrust in Afghanistan, "through Afghan eyes". The focus is not on the military or on the people in power, but on the men And women who are, very simply, attempting to survive in a climate of terror, poverty, and confusion. And Gopal begins on September 11, 2001, but in a fitting way for This is the other side of the story. With determined objectivity, Gopal does just what he claims: he tells the story of the War on Terror and the last fourteen years--particularly 2001 through 20010--of war and distrust in Afghanistan, "through Afghan eyes". The focus is not on the military or on the people in power, but on the men And women who are, very simply, attempting to survive in a climate of terror, poverty, and confusion. And Gopal begins on September 11, 2001, but in a fitting way for a book that is both troubling and all too believable: he begins in a town where everyone understands the Taliban as a failing force, and nobody knows of the attacks already occurring in America. He begins in a world where men and women are seeing their world beginning to make sense, where fighting has been ongoing since 1979 and is finally, seemingly, coming to an end, and where America is of no concern whatsoever. This is a difficult book because it is so very believable and so very simple. It makes sense of the news stories and the world which Americans have seen portrayed in nonsensical inflammatory terms, and it makes understandable--to the extent that terrorism and death can be understood--the ways in which a small extremist force overtook an entire world through what amounts, sadly, to gossip and confusion gone mad. For men and women in America who want to understand the war that has been ongoing for more than a decade, this is required reading, not telling the whole story, but telling the parts of the story which are too often glossed over or ignored. It is difficult reading because the entire book--and the entire forces of Afghanistan and America, as a result--are essentially operating in a mist of gray where there is very rarely a good or a bad, or at least not one of either which can be easily apprehended. There is, more than anything, confusion, and an imperative to survive. Gopal's work here is, very simply, disturbing and straight-forward. And it is two-sided. It should be required reading. As a side-note, it's worth noting that his writing is superb, and his history-telling is absurdly clear considering the quagmire of a subject he's taken on. Whether you read this for the narrative, for the writing, for the history, for the politics, or for the telling of the other side, this is worth your time. Absolutely recommended.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Gilmour

    Stunning. A unique, compelling, moving, beautifully written book of the war from the Afghan point-of-view. It is unlike anything I have read before, absolutely gripping. Finished it in three sittings, difficult to put down, reads like a thriller, makes you gasp. It's a reading experience not easily forgotten. The intimate true stories of these select Afghans are simply astounding and reveal so much about how badly the US handled the war, how they could easily have prevented the Taliban's return Stunning. A unique, compelling, moving, beautifully written book of the war from the Afghan point-of-view. It is unlike anything I have read before, absolutely gripping. Finished it in three sittings, difficult to put down, reads like a thriller, makes you gasp. It's a reading experience not easily forgotten. The intimate true stories of these select Afghans are simply astounding and reveal so much about how badly the US handled the war, how they could easily have prevented the Taliban's return with more insight and cultural understanding and fewer blundering assassinations of their own allies. If the country descends into hell after this year, it will be worth remembering the brutal warlords that now litter the country are American-made. This is a must read for anyone interested in contemporary Afghanistan and how wars go belly up.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Narayana

    This was my first book on Afghan war, and it turned out to be a grisly read - it felt like a thriller novel throughout. It must have taken courage to travel the war-torn country side, for quite a few chapters concluded with this theme : "A few months after I spoke with him, he was blown to bits by a suicide bomber/unnamed gunman/bomb blast." But what I liked best about the book was that the story-telling seemed unbiased. There are obviously many faces of the war that have not been revealed in th This was my first book on Afghan war, and it turned out to be a grisly read - it felt like a thriller novel throughout. It must have taken courage to travel the war-torn country side, for quite a few chapters concluded with this theme : "A few months after I spoke with him, he was blown to bits by a suicide bomber/unnamed gunman/bomb blast." But what I liked best about the book was that the story-telling seemed unbiased. There are obviously many faces of the war that have not been revealed in this book, many more sides of the story, and many more variables unaccounted for. But then the book is what it says - the war from the point of view of three people - an Afghan housewife, an ex-Taliban commander, and a US backed warlord. Throughout the book, you have the nagging feeling that if only the US had known this before hand, Afghanistan could have been be a peaceful country right now.

  11. 4 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    *Update 2/22/15*. The link below is about ISIS in Syria. Beneath that is my review about 'No Good Men...' http://www.theatlantic.com/features/a... ‘No Good Men Among the Living’ is making me crazy on several levels. I find myself sputtering, talking to myself, complaining, reacting as if someone had bumped me hard intentionally in a high school hallway. I can’t help it. The book’s subject matter is pushing all of my buttons at once. However, with the single exception of the author Anand Gopal expr *Update 2/22/15*. The link below is about ISIS in Syria. Beneath that is my review about 'No Good Men...' http://www.theatlantic.com/features/a... ‘No Good Men Among the Living’ is making me crazy on several levels. I find myself sputtering, talking to myself, complaining, reacting as if someone had bumped me hard intentionally in a high school hallway. I can’t help it. The book’s subject matter is pushing all of my buttons at once. However, with the single exception of the author Anand Gopal expressing a continuing frustration with how American ignorance of the tribes, organizations and people of Afghanistan led it to policies which caused the resurgence of the ‘destroyed’ Taliban, apparently disbanded two months after the American invasion, if those interviewed are to be believed, the author is scrupulous with facts, figures and objectivity. I am not without opinions though, and if you read my review, you will not get an objective statement. My opinions and ‘hot buttons’ of judgment are not based on any bias against being poor, illiterate, or because of the foreignness of culture. It is primarily pure outrage at injustice, ignorance, religious stupidity and male testosterone - all of which together has created a toxic hell for humanity in Afghanistan specifically, and generally throughout the world where so-called ‘feminine values’ are suppressed. Foremost, it is a great book. It was a 2014 National Book Award nominee for nonfiction. The research is amazing. Anand Gopal did not simply google information or gather information as an imbedded reporter. He went to Afghanistan alone and unaffiliated, and over a period of years, talked to Afghanistan Taliban members, warlords, and women who were trapped into lives which consist of three rooms or a family compound. He lived hardscrabble, walking and catching rides into the moonscape hills and exhausted valleys, going into abandoned and war-torn communities without electricity, schools or any other resources - finding the ordinary folks of Afghanistan. Then, he followed up on names, places, battles, torture sites, unspooling the tangled events between Americans, the elite Kabul authorities, the warlords and the Taliban, tracing back and forth using eyewitness accounts, naming names. He dug behind the ‘official’ story and he relates what the Taliban or the warlord men saw and were thinking during the Soviet invasion and then during the American invasion. He shows how quickly, and why, Afghan alliances shift and change, almost entirely driven by politics and affected by motivations of religion, tribal allegiance and testosterone, unleavened by education or knowledge of the world outside of Afghanistan. For example, some of the fighters were initially stunned by the bombing which American soldiers had called in when they were attacked, but not only because of the noise and damage. They did not know anything about airplanes or bombs. That is how ignorant and backward many Afghanistan people were, and to a degree, still are. Without electricity, education, roads, technology or contact with people beyond the next impoverished village of a few hundred souls, each run by a dominant family or two, how can they understand a wider context for their problems and issues? The author does a fantastic job with few descriptions outlining what the various Afghan understandings were. Frankly, I can barely imagine such a primitive, ingrown and ignorant life. The author is respectful and objective, but what comes to my mind are the West Papua and Amazon tribes, discovered only in the 1970’s, who were as shocked by the accruements of civilization as they are by the clothes and forms of strange men walking into their forests. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/wor... Because of war, and ancient trails which allowed for extremely limited visits by strangers and commerce (money and roads are scarce), the Afghans have become more aware of technology and weapons, and are now spending what money they can make or steal on such useful items of war and robbery as they can find. As I read the descriptions of some of the villages and battle sites the author visits, I kept thinking of the Mel Gibson Mad Max movies, which Afghanistan apparently resembles, at least to my mind, with the exceptions of how extraordinary the holds of primitive fundamentalist Islam and a complete lack of contact with the world outside of their country combined with no education has turned most of the men in this country into a land of Morlocks (H. G. Wells, ‘The Time Machine’). Despite the appearance of mature governance, legal formality and reason which most reporters and authors discuss when they find it in Kabul, in the former Northern Alliance, inside the Taliban and in the hundreds of smaller tribal associations, in my opinion, this is a country ruled by a male-gang mentality, and overrun by men who murder, rape and steal from each other based on something similar to our inner-city ghetto teenage logic and power struggles for dominance. There are over 40 different recognized tribes in Afghanistan and countless temporary sworn allegiances between them, linked by historical power plays, marriage, custom, and the basic requirements of pure survival. The author of ‘No Good Men among the Living’ interviews important and representative adult participants from many of these tribes, who were directly involved and eyewitnesses to the events he writes about. He was being as objective as possible, but I do not have to labor under such restrictions of judgement. Although I have never set foot in Afghanistan, I have been reading countless stories and books about this horrible country for decades, especially since some of the Saudi-created al-Qaedi organization hid themselves among the Afghanistan Taliban after attacking New York City. The linked interests of Pakistan, India, Iran, and even China have occasionally surfaced in my path of reading various respected media outlets of journalism and memoirs about Afghanistan. I also worked for a high school in my own checkered past, and spoke with some refugees. I grew up in a blue-collar/welfare neighborhood in 1950’s America where alcoholism was present in every other home, along with a mixture of uneasy white and American Native renters living side-by-side. I am no stranger to ignorance, poverty, male dominance, religious superstitions and ghetto gossip/struggles. I felt I had an immediate grasp of some of the problems the author was researching. After all, we are all human beings with much the same feelings and reactions, whatever the culture within which we are educated. I am linking a New Yorker Magazine article which discusses the author Dexter Filkins’s research, interviews and opinions as of 2012 regarding Afghanistan and the, at the time, guesses of the possible outcome of America’s withdrawal. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201... Below is a link where all of the elements present in Afghanistan have also combined to make an ancient land on a different continent a similar horror: Sudan. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/201... As you may suspect, most articles and books about Islamic countries in which the lives of people under theological laws and rituals are discussed and explained are written by men. These male authors can freely travel, talk, meet and socialize, although often, as the recent beheadings of journalists by terrorists demonstrate, under some risk. Women are MUCH more restricted in opportunities to travel and discuss openly their opinions, complaints or having access to governance or education, often being literally killed if they express an opinion. I have yet to see a book or article written by a man who gives the suffering of women under Islamic tyranny any in-depth coverage, except for just enough description for basically commenting, ‘too bad, so sad, oh well, moving on.’ Gopal is more expansive than other journalists have been on the subject with the inclusion of Heela’s story. One of the people the author interviewed was an educated woman, Heela. Despite her degree from the University of Kabul, she is made into a completely useless house slave (my opinion) when she marries Musquinyar, an arranged marriage. She also is a complete unquestioning fundamentalist Muslim, and she accepts her fate of purdah without question or qualm. The vagaries of war drive her family into a distant isolated village, where her difficulties demonstrate how terrible life is for a Muslim woman (my opinion). Given her education, she is able to overcome some of the strictures which Islam imposes on her life, but she does so almost driving herself insane with her fear of god and every person she meets (almost all of the Afghan men and women - neighbors, family relatives, leaders - who know or hear rumors about her pushing the Islamic envelope of permissible female humanity or ability will absolutely kill her or torture her for breaking Islamic rules). She has quite accepted and willingly kneels under the fundamentalist’s heavy hand of moral Islamic respectability, and she is no rebel. For example, at several points, the rules regarding Halal food leads her to starve herself and her children, rather than nourish herself (an intended wordplay on my part). In my opinion, her life is a tragic poisoned wasteland of madness. Heela’s survival is due entirely to her selected, tentative use of her education, in spite of her religion and culture. But even as she cleverly saves herself and her children, most of her efforts to survive are condemned by everyone she knows as being ‘un-islamic’. She herself experiences great shame and humiliation at being forced to act un-islamically to save her life. She prays to Allah to forgive her for being an educated person who wants to stay alive, basically (in my words). Is this not insane? The link below is a list of educated women who in the past contributed ideas, social good, science and technology to their societies and people, including for the benefit of males, throughout centuries. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o... What is pissing me off is not only the treatment of women in Islamic countries generally, but the focused interior viewpoint which includes only an incomplete look at the involvement of NATO in Afghanistan. Although the book is basically a balanced collection of testimonies and corresponding research about the religious and politically inspired troubles of a particular and a particularly backwoods Islamic country, and how the invasions from the Soviet Union and by America upset the centuries of custom and homegrown legal procedures Afghans had peacefully developed, as told by actual Afghans without filtering by the author except perhaps editing, I think it is a limited, narrow exploration which ignores why America invaded Afghanistan. There are other omissions as well. The author lets the statements which absolve the Taliban of any complicity in terrorist activities outside of Afghanistan stand without comment or rebuttal evidence. The author makes no mention of the music-driven recruitment videos made by Islamic terrorists, including the Taliban. The violence and declaration of war on infidels are stated by interviewees to be apparently only an al Qaeda aspiration, and apparently only because of the teachings in the madrassas of Pakistan. There is almost no mention of al Qaeda activities in Afghanistan, or of any collaborations between the Taliban and al Qaeda. Reading the book gives the idea that al Qaeda was a brief occasional guest of some Taliban, who simply passed through, without input or advice or having given any assistance to the Taliban. It may be, as the author learned through his conversations, that the Taliban organized itself into existence because of the lawlessness endemic throughout the country after the coalition of Western democracies, which helped to end the Soviet invasion, ‘deserted’ the mujahideen, leaving behind all of their munitions for warlords to grab and start a 4-year civil war, but the Taliban, uneducated and completely cut off from the world, not only organized but seemingly defeated the war-hardened gangsters without any financial assistance or battle advice or technology from al Qaeda or Pakistan extremists. I don’t doubt the widespread ignorance and lack of education throughout Afghanistan. I know the cruelty of poverty, starvation and the lack of resources. I understand the solace of religion, if not the adherence to the cruel punishments, the horrific prohibitions against natural human entertainments, interactions and pleasure, and hierarchical/sexual enslavement. I can see how having no infrastructure could cripple development, innovation and the economy. I think the stories, as told to the author, are considerably self-censored. I cannot accept that al Qaeda and the Taliban did not trade information and military support of any kind. The warlord and the Taliban interviewees probably left out the bits regarding torture, murder, and rape of their neighbors they personally committed or ordered. They definitely did not discuss whether they personally knew how much the common people hated them, or if in reflection, they could see how mistakingly evil they were in the name of Islam. I also think that, yes, the Americans did not know who the bad guys were, and shot up everybody; but I also think the Afghans did not wish the Americans success in their invasion (duh, right?), but many of them held out their hands to grab American money, weapons and aid, and lied about their countrymen, fellow brother Afghans, as being known to be supporters of the Taliban to criminally, immorally, un-islamically, gain possession of their neighbors’ property, businesses, inheritances, daughters and jobs. The settling of scores, getting revenge is and was a HUGE motivation for most Afghans - a real condemnation and ugly reality about Islamic culture. By allowing a strong male imprint to exist on the face of their civilization, every dark impulse which primarily resides in the male sex is allowed complete free expression with the total approval of religious law and morality. The outrageous twists of logic and justice to give men a pass while brutally punishing and killing women for the same ‘sins’ declares the horror of their theology to every other civilization in the world. There is a lot of moralistic and politically correct justifications and arguments being flung about by all participants, including journalists. The fact is al Qaeda attacked the United States explicitly wanting a war of religious faith - Islam against Christianity. The fact is the USA responded by attacking the countries in which America believed the militants had lived, been educated and militarily trained for jihad. Personally, I do not believe what George Bush, the President of the USA at the time, announced as to why he added Iraq to the invasion list, which as far as I can suss out, was some sort of preemptive strike because he thought Iraq might start a war with the USA, someday, only with nuclear weapons instead of commandeered commercial airplanes. Whatever. The plain truth is it was a War of revenge and retribution. Nation building was tacked on to satisfy those who: 1. felt guilty about how easy invading and destroying these two countries was; 2. excitement at the possible monetary rape the USA could extract; 3. genuine hope to realign these countries politically into rump democracies; and 4. genuine curiosity to see if nation building could be done. The Western world not only has real guilt at being so much richer than developing nations, but we also have genuine scientific curiosity about experimentation. I did not find a lot to complain about with Gopal’s writing - he truly is quite liberal in accepting that an Islamic society will operate under Islamic values, and he vigorously illuminates the views of as many different leaders and tribal members who voice particular attitudes that are held by various Afghan groups. His book primarily switches views between three people: ‘Mullah Cable’, Akbar Gul, a Taliban leader who earned his nickname because he enjoyed flogging people, especially women and children, with a cable; Jan Muhammad, a warlord; and Heela - making real some of the people whose thoughts he examines. He does have a theme besides historical interest: a highlighting of America’s ignorance and cultural incompetence about Islam and Afghanistan, its extremely violent kill-everything-and-everybody responses to all approaches including by those people offering a truce, and its decision to support certain immoral lying self-serving psychopathic tribal leaders over more responsible and moral tribal leaders and businessmen. He is genuinely impassioned about the lost opportunities America had to rebuild Afghanistan into a humane, inclusive Islamic society, creating a more prosperous and productive country (me, too, but I never believed it was remotely possible). He mourns the murders of surrendering Taliban members by American soldiers. He is as disgusted, as are we all, about the fatal betrayal of Islamists who supported and trusted Western soldiers to embody Western values and rules about warfare while conducting war. I am not certain if it is the author’s view or only of those he interviewed that the idea of international and NATO forgiveness of all international property destruction, killing and maiming caused by the acts of Islamic terrorism, and then a political and infrastructure refurnishing would have been the best way to end Taliban terrorism after bringing the war to their Afghanistan homelands for awhile. I think some may have thought justice would have best been served by America walking away after an initial two months of retributive invasion punishment, then leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans. The inference from Gopal’s text is that the Taliban men would have simply returned to their villages, and become the simple ignorant tyrants of starving women and children without complaint in their accustomed life of Middle Age Islamic values and impoverished ignorant isolation. What do you think?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Atar

    No Good Men Among The Living is absolutely a great book. It should be required reading for military officers and enlisted men alike. As well it should anyone interested in the Afghanistan war. It is an eye-opening read that will have a thought provoking response in most. However there are parts of the book that may be a bit to anecdotal than factual. In this case though the author says that he used his judgement of the people he had come to know over hours, days, weeks and months of meetings and No Good Men Among The Living is absolutely a great book. It should be required reading for military officers and enlisted men alike. As well it should anyone interested in the Afghanistan war. It is an eye-opening read that will have a thought provoking response in most. However there are parts of the book that may be a bit to anecdotal than factual. In this case though the author says that he used his judgement of the people he had come to know over hours, days, weeks and months of meetings and interviews, as well as other confirmed sources to believe the veracity of the stories he has shared in the book. In any case the book is worth reading. I could not put it down. Well done Anand Gopal

  13. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    This book takes everything you (even the already cynical among you) thought you knew about the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, strips it naked, renders it immobile in flexicuffs, hangs it upside-down from the ceiling for a few days, subjects it to every imaginable torture, throws it in a dusty street, then drives a truck over it again and again until it bears no resemblance whatsoever to anything that was once human(e). Of the many upsetting books I've read recently, this work of narrative nonf This book takes everything you (even the already cynical among you) thought you knew about the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, strips it naked, renders it immobile in flexicuffs, hangs it upside-down from the ceiling for a few days, subjects it to every imaginable torture, throws it in a dusty street, then drives a truck over it again and again until it bears no resemblance whatsoever to anything that was once human(e). Of the many upsetting books I've read recently, this work of narrative nonfiction -- in which Gopal weaves together, on the basis of hundreds of hours of in-country reportage, the personal stories of Taliban insurgents, U.S.-backed provincial warlords, sewing circle workers, and more -- is by far the most distressing. At times I couldn't believe the litany of atrocities that Gopal reports here, and indeed I wondered how he was able to verify the information relayed to him by his less-than-reliable Taliban or government mouthpieces, but if even 20% of what is written in this book is true, it's still plenty damning enough. Over and over the figures in this tragic narrative wonder: what and who is this war for? No matter how many victories Afghan politicians or Taliban leaders might claim in their spin rooms, it seems clear that for the average Afghan citizen, every "victory", no matter what side it favors, comes with too horrendous a price tag. A painful and essential read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Black and white thinking just doesn't work in a gray labyrinth. That's why America -- and the Soviet Union earlier -- struggled in seeking to fashion Afghanistan's government and politics. Perhaps there should be a rule requiring Afghanistan be colored gray on any map as a warning about how gray and tangled it is. At least that's my conclusion from reading Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes . Although attempting to tell the story Black and white thinking just doesn't work in a gray labyrinth. That's why America -- and the Soviet Union earlier -- struggled in seeking to fashion Afghanistan's government and politics. Perhaps there should be a rule requiring Afghanistan be colored gray on any map as a warning about how gray and tangled it is. At least that's my conclusion from reading Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes . Although attempting to tell the story of America's military efforts in Afghanistan from the perspective of the Afghanis, it provides a much deeper insight. Gopal, who was an Afghanistan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor, spent a great deal of time traveling the country, seeking to meet and understand various elements of the society. With hundreds of hours of interviews and who knows how many dangerous miles, he uses the lives of enemy, ally and civilian to explore life there since 9/11. Although discussing numerous other fighters and tribal leaders, No Good Men Among the Living is built around a Taliban commander (who was among many who tried to surrender to the U.S.), a member of the U.S.-backed Afghan government (who was among many using that relationship to build wealth and power and extract revenge against rivals), and a Kabul University-educated woman (who ends up a burqa-clad housewife in a remote, conservative village). What do their lives tell us? That almost any alliance is subject to change when there is an advantage in doing so. That the clannish nature of the various ethnic groups creates fissures that greatly influence alliances and loyalties, fissures outsiders may not recognize and certainly may never understand. That urban and rural life are dramatically different worlds. That putting people and things into black and white categories is largely fatal to any attempt to create a "better" Afghanistan. Take the Taliban commander, Mullah Cable, for example. Cable, a Pashtun whose given name is Akbar Gul, has no formal religious instruction. He ended up in the Taliban (largely-Pashtun based) when his brother and cousin were executed in Kabul by a Uzbek militia group that was part of the Northern Alliance. Still a teenager, Cable joined a Pashtun militia group and by 2001 was a leading frontline commander for the Taliban. It was during this time he became known as Mullah Cable -- using a cable as a whip. Yet September 12, 2001, didn't dawn with him seeking jihad against the United States, a place he can't find on a map. Rather, he and many others intended to surrender and abandoned the Taliban all together. He made his way to Kabul for a while and then left for Pakistan, hoping to "piece together a Taliban-free future" and a "life at peace." Gopal then details how the ethnic and political rivalries between and among the Northern Alliance, former Taliban and various ethnic groups led this new potential ally -- or, at least, a neutral noncombatant -- back to Pakistan and to becoming a member of a newly resurgent Taliban. The flip side of the coin is Jan Muhammad, who rose from being a school janitor to a commander of the U.S.-backed mujahedeen fighting the Soviets to governing and leading thousands of fighters in Orzugan, a southern Afghanistan province. He lost that position when the Taliban came into power and joined an anti-Taliban group associated with Hamid Karzai, who would become the country's president following the U.S. invasion. Muhammad, a longtime friend of Karzai's, became a close adviser but was arrested by the Taliban and thrown into prison. His scheduled execution was averted by the U.S. invasion and Karzai made him governor of Orzugan the following year. Although an ally, Muhammad and others who governed various areas in the provinces had access to millions of U.S. dollars and the ear of the U.S. military. Frequently, they used that ear to solidify their control, identifying competitors and rivals as terrorists, resulting in arrests, detention, torture and U.S. raids and bombings that killed innocents. Perhaps the most intriguing story is Heela's, in part because of its seeming incongruity. She and her husband lived and worked in Kabul, where the restrictions on women were far less than in the countryside. After mujahedeen took Kabul and three years before the Taliban prevailed in the civil war, the Supreme Court issued a decree that the government dismiss female employees and close schools for girls because "schools are whorehouses and centers of adultery." The decree also said women should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary and only after asking their husbands' permission and, if they did, "they are to cover themselves completely." The following summer, the civil war led Heela and her husband to escape to his home village in Orzugan, where such restrictive rules had existed for decades. Yet this college-educated woman took to her full body burqa and quickly adapted to the strictures on her activities. When her husband surreptitiously takes her and their children to the pharmacy he runs in a nearby village after the U.S. invasion, it is the only family outing she had while living in the province. Yet while Heela comports with the local views on the role of women, those in power recognize the potential of an educated woman in the provinces. The Taliban arrange for her to be trained in midwifery and nursing. The Karzai government selects her to supervise a vocational training center and help register woman voters. Yet the ongoing internecine conflicts lead to family tragedy and, ultimately, she would be elected to the National Assembly to represent those who frowned upon and opposed those activities and the modernity her pre-village life represented. No Good Men Among the Living demonstrates how, from the era of Soviet control until today, every ally, enemy and citizen encountered and adapted to shifting alliances and governments. Gopal's explanation of the historic background to these shifting camps and political situations is among the best I've read. The men in power did so in ways that would benefit them most. Women were far more constrained not just by the type of government but tradition and location. The bad guys might have been good guys. The good guys may have been little different from the bad guys. The book's examples of how our "allies" exploited U.S. power are devastating and how U.S. policy would "create enemies where there were none." Amidst all this, the population was left to deal with whomever was perceived as good or bad at the time -- something that was not always congruent with the view of the U.S. military -- and the results of the U.S. belief that the war on terror be a matter of black and white. As Gopal points out, “Living a war is different from fighting one; it mean keeping yourself somewhere in the gray area of survival.” At times, No Good Men Among the Living seems to gloss over the actions of the Taliban and focus more on somewhat localized tribal and ethnic rivalries and power struggles. Likewise, little is said about the role of Pakistan in these events and the resurgence of the Taliban. Yet one point Gopal brings home is that the Taliban sprung from and thus represents a part of Afghan culture and politics. The U.S., like Russia and Britain before it, is, and always will be, an outside power whose own aims dramatically alter the balance of power and the lives of all Afghanis. (Originally posted at A Progressive on the Prairie.)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    This is an excellent yet harrowing and heart-wrenching account of the American occupation of Afghanistan. Gopal tells the stories of a number of Afghans affected by the war, focusing primarily on the three described in the synopsis (a high-ranking pro-Karzai official, a Taliban commander, and a housewife caught between the various factions). Gopal's narrative succeeds best when it focuses on its chief mission - not accepting what his sources tell him as absolute truth, but telling their stories This is an excellent yet harrowing and heart-wrenching account of the American occupation of Afghanistan. Gopal tells the stories of a number of Afghans affected by the war, focusing primarily on the three described in the synopsis (a high-ranking pro-Karzai official, a Taliban commander, and a housewife caught between the various factions). Gopal's narrative succeeds best when it focuses on its chief mission - not accepting what his sources tell him as absolute truth, but telling their stories as the actors themselves viewed and perceived them. Of course, one danger in this type of reporting is the potential for politicization. For example, local elders still fearful of Taliban pushback might be disinclined to antagonize the Taliban (even to - or especially to - a reporter). With that in mind, I found myself often looking at the back of the book for source material whenever, for example, someone the author described as innocent was locked up by the Afghan or American governments. Between the source material and Gopal's acknowledgements, I came away largely satisfied that the material was usually well-vetted. Ultimately, however, this book is again about the perceptions of the Afghans. Whether the U.S. government believes it has killed and arrested scores of high-ranking people who were innocent or had switched to the pro-American side, Afghans undoubtedly believe this version of events. At the very least, understanding the perspectives of locals is essential for the United States to understand local grievances and how it can best proceed going forward. While the book shows both the tragedy and hope of the post-Taliban Afghanistan, it is undoubtedly an excellent account of how the American occupation was hijacked by and became hostage to old tribal conflicts. It will stand for years to come as the best account of how the war has affected the lives of Afghans.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kathe Coleman

    Excellent book 5 stars. This review says it all. "Told through the lives of three Afghans, the stunning tale of how the United States had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead In a breathtaking chronicle, acclaimed journalist Anand Gopal traces in vivid detail the lives of three Afghans caught in America’s war on terror. He follows a Taliban commander, who rises from scrawny teenager to leading insurgent; a US-backed warlord, who uses the American militar Excellent book 5 stars. This review says it all. "Told through the lives of three Afghans, the stunning tale of how the United States had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead In a breathtaking chronicle, acclaimed journalist Anand Gopal traces in vivid detail the lives of three Afghans caught in America’s war on terror. He follows a Taliban commander, who rises from scrawny teenager to leading insurgent; a US-backed warlord, who uses the American military to gain personal wealth and power; and a village housewife trapped between the two sides, who discovers the devastating cost of neutrality. Through their dramatic stories, Gopal shows that the Afghan war, so often regarded as a hopeless quagmire, could in fact have gone very differently. Top Taliban leaders actually tried to surrender within months of the US invasion, renouncing all political activity and submitting to the new government. Effectively, the Taliban ceased to exist—yet the Americans were unwilling to accept such a turnaround. Instead, driven by false intelligence from their allies and an unyielding mandate to fight terrorism, American forces continued to press the conflict, resurrecting the insurgency that persists to this day. With its intimate accounts of life in war-torn Afghanistan, Gopal’s thoroughly original reporting lays bare the workings of America’s longest war and the truth behind its prolonged agony. A heartbreaking story of mistakes and misdeeds, No Good Men Among the Living challenges our usual perceptions of the Afghan conflict, its victims, and its supposed winners. Anand Gopal is a freelance journalist covering Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, and other international hot spots. He has served as an Afghanistan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor, and has reported for Harper’s, The Nation, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy, among other publications. Gopal is a fellow at the New America Foundation.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris Chester

    A wonderfully-written story about the American war in Afghanistan told from the point of view of the people who lived it. As is most often the case, the narrative about the war that seems to prevail is the government's: that the Taliban harbored terrorists, they were routed, and then were allowed to recover when the country turned its attention and resources to the boondoggle in Iraq. The story Gopal tells is more complicated, but rings true because of that. The Taliban is not a discrete category A wonderfully-written story about the American war in Afghanistan told from the point of view of the people who lived it. As is most often the case, the narrative about the war that seems to prevail is the government's: that the Taliban harbored terrorists, they were routed, and then were allowed to recover when the country turned its attention and resources to the boondoggle in Iraq. The story Gopal tells is more complicated, but rings true because of that. The Taliban is not a discrete category of people, he explains. The tribes of Afghanistan tend to swing back and forth in their allegiances, seeking to curry favor with whatever group or leader held the greatest perceived potential for spoils. So when the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan, they were largely successful in routing the Taliban and restoring the country to order. But because we have this idea that the Taliban and terrorists represent this discreet group of people worth fighting, we continued to pursue them where they no longer existed. Local warlords caught on to this, and began to use the accusation of "Taliban" or "al Qaida" to send American bullets down on their political enemies. Do this for long enough, and you've bred a new generation of Taliban. Only these folks are more savvy. We destroyed an enemy only to create it anew, mostly through ignorance and hubris. Gopal does a wonderful job telling this story using a handful of characters that he follows throughout the story. His narrative writing is thrilling, if a bit artificially so, but it conveys the ambiguity of the situation as it must appear on the ground. To those considering supporting past or future wars, this book is probably worth a read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    This book delivers on its titular promise to show an Afghan perspective on the war. An excellent narrative non-fiction account of post-2001 Afghanistan, focused specifically around the lives of Uruzgan powerbroker Jan Muhammad Khan, (future) senator Heela Barekzai, and a Taliban field commander, Akbar Gul. The author brings out their stories in powerful personal detail while also illuminating the broader trends of the conflict, particularly the ways in which blindly groping U.S. counter-terroris This book delivers on its titular promise to show an Afghan perspective on the war. An excellent narrative non-fiction account of post-2001 Afghanistan, focused specifically around the lives of Uruzgan powerbroker Jan Muhammad Khan, (future) senator Heela Barekzai, and a Taliban field commander, Akbar Gul. The author brings out their stories in powerful personal detail while also illuminating the broader trends of the conflict, particularly the ways in which blindly groping U.S. counter-terrorism operations gave figures like Khan license to remake the political and security order (eventually prompting violent backlash from reactivated Taliban networks). These stories are familiar, but retold to devastating effect here. The book also effectively reaches back into the civil war era and the early days of the 2001 operation to oust the Taliban, and still manages to be concise and highly readable - I finished it in a weekend. I follow the conflict from afar on a more or less daily basis through the news and various studies and policy papers, and have skipped over several of the recent book-length Afghanistan accounts, but am glad I made the time for this one.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mike Davis

    This is a sobering account by author Anand Gopal, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The Nation, The New Republic, Harper's and others, of the dysfunction and chaos in Afghanistan following Russian and American involvement in Afghan politics and their lack of understanding of the culture. It documents atrocities by American troops and gives a look at the corruption that springs from foreign involvement. Most revealing, it gives perspectives from three Afghan civ This is a sobering account by author Anand Gopal, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The Nation, The New Republic, Harper's and others, of the dysfunction and chaos in Afghanistan following Russian and American involvement in Afghan politics and their lack of understanding of the culture. It documents atrocities by American troops and gives a look at the corruption that springs from foreign involvement. Most revealing, it gives perspectives from three Afghan civilians caught up in the conflict. I don't know how accurate the accounts are - they seem to be well documented and the author lived there for 3 years gaining the confidence of those interviewed - but if there is any semblance of truth in what he writes, this should be required reading for all U.S. politicians, military and persons in positions of foreign policy trust. It is not an anti-administration or anti-political account as much as anti-military intelligence, and CIA; and foreign policy ignorance. How fitting following the current Afghan elections ... This was an advanced reader copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John DiConsiglio

    A noble attempt to chronicle the Afghanistan war from the Afghan perspective. Journalist Gopal is at his best telling the nation’s tragic story through 3 characters: a Taliban fighter, a US-allied warlord & an ordinary housewife. Less interesting are his 30,000-feet-above-the-Hindi-Kush observations. Refreshing to look through eyes other than American soldiers or Western reporters. There’s powerful, moving stuff here. But the histories & stories blur together. Disclaimer: I have war-writing fati A noble attempt to chronicle the Afghanistan war from the Afghan perspective. Journalist Gopal is at his best telling the nation’s tragic story through 3 characters: a Taliban fighter, a US-allied warlord & an ordinary housewife. Less interesting are his 30,000-feet-above-the-Hindi-Kush observations. Refreshing to look through eyes other than American soldiers or Western reporters. There’s powerful, moving stuff here. But the histories & stories blur together. Disclaimer: I have war-writing fatigue. But, ultimately, one desert outpost & war-ravaged goat farm looks like another. Drags early, picks up.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    This is a masterpiece of reportage. Gopta weaves individual stories of turmoil, pride, despair, and perseverance into a living tapestry of the failure that is the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It's astounding to read American military cruelty and diplomatic idiocy and its aftershocks in the lives of everyday Afghans. What's most frustrating is how the American drive to "fight terror" from 2002-05 only lead to resurgent violence and instability. One can only come away deeply skeptical, at the very lea This is a masterpiece of reportage. Gopta weaves individual stories of turmoil, pride, despair, and perseverance into a living tapestry of the failure that is the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It's astounding to read American military cruelty and diplomatic idiocy and its aftershocks in the lives of everyday Afghans. What's most frustrating is how the American drive to "fight terror" from 2002-05 only lead to resurgent violence and instability. One can only come away deeply skeptical, at the very least, of American military intervention anywhere ever.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Yasmine

    Great primer on Afghanistan's three-decade history of war and how the US completely bungled its mission there. There were things I thought I knew which came into sharper focus and things I never knew at all which were utterly depressing to learn. The format of the book, mostly told through the eyes of three individuals who were caught up in the chaos, helps keep it very engaging and not at all dry or academic. Good starting point for further reading.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Trevithick

    Amazing. A must-read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ben Anderson

    The best book of the war so far. Explains everything and shows the foreign forces to be the often misguided bit players that they were. Anand Gopal is right about everything. Brilliant.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bookinterest

    Well written and horrific account of how the Afghans are living in day to day survival in a war that has dragged on for over 2 decades.

  26. 4 out of 5

    wally

    finished this one this morning, 4/23/17, good read, i liked it and then some, so 3.5 stars. i wanted to read something...historical...political...and i wanted that something to be written by someone with few obvious signs of agenda. anymore, in our world, the sides are drawn and damn the truth. so...this. a library loan, kindle. there are more than simply the three main characters herein that gopal focuses the lens. there are a myriad of others and small portions of their lives are included here finished this one this morning, 4/23/17, good read, i liked it and then some, so 3.5 stars. i wanted to read something...historical...political...and i wanted that something to be written by someone with few obvious signs of agenda. anymore, in our world, the sides are drawn and damn the truth. so...this. a library loan, kindle. there are more than simply the three main characters herein that gopal focuses the lens. there are a myriad of others and small portions of their lives are included here as it relates to afghanistan. gopal's telling emphasizes a number of things...the soviet invasion and occupation of the country, what that ultimately led too...a country that had been governed by tribal elders prior to that invasion was after the soviet withdrawal governed otherwise. i don't know that i have the terminology correct, but suffice to say that the invasion, occupation, and withdrawal created changes in the country. gone was one way of life, replaced by another...and after, now after that invasion civil war. a rather long and protracted civil war...and whereas tribal elders in the past may have had an influence on the turn of life, now it was others, country in upheaval. civil war. warlords. still tribes...that was (and probably always will) still relevant, but with other "types" of people at the helm. and then 9/11. and then the invasion of the country by the u.s.a. cue those with images of the falling towers firmly fixed in memory. gopal makes a convincing argument that the u.s.a. made mistakes, often, and repeatedly. the concept of justice, an idea that all people hold dear, is trampled. warlords at the helm after the invasion and withdrawal...warlords replaced by taliban...tribes still aplenty. and another force looking for the boogey man. guided to an assortment of "boogey men" by any and all. the taliban had either laid down their arms or fled the country. gopal suggests there was no or little "war" to fight in that regard two months into the invasion. but still...a force...there and ready. and what is a force without a problem to face? so old tribal problems....events form the civil war...surface. the u.s.a. is quick to respond. and they made mistakes. torture. imprisonment of those in truth not guilty...or, not guilty of the wrongs laid at their feet. often...gopal records more than a few instances...where a man is accused, grabbed, beaten...held...eventually released...only to have the process repeat itself. and this continues to the point where former taliban, either those in pakistan, or those who laid down their arms..."return to work" as it is euphemistically called. the money huge amounts of money. and some 'warlords' made a profit because they saw opportunity. and the process fed itself. problems...money problems money...cue up old angers problems money...on and on. but too...even as gopal portrays the manner in which the invading army is easily led to the wrong door to kick down. one has to wonder if those who spoke with gopal, too, provided him with what they perceived he wanted to hear. who funded gopal for the number of years he spent in afghanistan? perhaps it is located somewhere in the kindle telling...i read an acknowledgments that was a paragraph short. don't know. a small note one item of interest to me is that one of the three whose lives gopal fouses on, the woman...neel or something like that...her husband, at one time, reads the koran. there's a sense that this is the first time for the man. read it clean through. he celebrated, after a fashion. makes me wonder what is it like for the life an "average" people whose flavor is muslim. all things considered. something to wonder about. what else? i'm sure there's things i'm forgetting at the moment. all in all, good read. i liked it and then some, as i said, 3.5 stars. there was one patch, somewhere around the 40%-mark-read, that was a tad convoluted, two to three kindle pages long. some readers complained about time shifts. gopal does shift around in time, trying to tell the tale...and he is instructive in that regard, he does use signposts, dates. oh yeah. another thing. he touches, ever so briefly at times...on what i'll call other influences. pakistani so than others that he touches less frequently...saudi arabi and other countries, as in money. one thing clear...you consider u.s. involvement there...going on what? many years now. the u.s. made some serious mistakes...those mistakes influenced afghans to "go back to work" as it is called. too, when good is accomplished, that influenced afghans. through it all, there are corrupt men taking advantage.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    This book should probably be required reading for anyone studying IR or aiming to get involved in foreign policy in any capacity. No class can communicate the impact of America's longest war with such raw and human focus as this book does, and the lessons apply not only to US action in Afghanistan but probably all policies that involve foreign action. The book is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism, somehow managing to use a foundation of rigorous and detailed fact-finding to project a This book should probably be required reading for anyone studying IR or aiming to get involved in foreign policy in any capacity. No class can communicate the impact of America's longest war with such raw and human focus as this book does, and the lessons apply not only to US action in Afghanistan but probably all policies that involve foreign action. The book is a remarkable feat of investigative journalism, somehow managing to use a foundation of rigorous and detailed fact-finding to project a sweeping understanding of the war's broad reach. Gopal brought to life theories I've read about in articles, all of which in those formats offered clear analyses of what went wrong (for example, the fact that both the Soviets' and US' outsourcing of war activities inevitably tied counterterrorism to a new contract economy, preventing any hope for reform). But the amazing thing about this book is that Gopal deftly communicates the sweeping scope of US failures, covering everything from cultural incompetence to bureaucratic inefficiencies and counterproductive incentive systems, while all the while remaining grounded in the intimate human cost. Gopal does this through explorations of a few people with whom he conducted interviews for a number of years. The most compelling person in my view was Heela, a woman who through the course of the book goes from living in a Taliban-occupied village to becoming the first female regional Senator, along the way losing her husband and witnessing her children maimed and captured. The title is derived from the saying that "there are no good men among the living, and no bad men among the dead," which is described by Gopal as epitomizing the failure of US-imposed categories on the people of Afghanistan. Heela's story drives this point home. Her raw reflections underscore my main take away from this book: that strategy/policy as I and my classmates study it is insufficient without a simultaneous reckoning with profound human, individual experience. The book closes with this quote: "Winning a war such as this was not about... democracy or jihad, freedom or honor. It was about resisting the categories chosen for you; about stubbornness in the face of grand designs and schemas... To win a war like this was to master the ephemeral, to plan a future while knowing that it could be over in an instant. To comfort your children when the air outside throbs in the middle of the night, to squeeze your spouse's hand tight when your taxi hits a pothole on an open highway, to go to school or the fields or a wedding and return to tell about it. To survive."

  28. 5 out of 5

    Raghu

    The US has been at war for the past fifteen years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and there has been an enormous amount of footage on TVs and a lot of analysis in news magazines and blogs on what has been going on there, why we are there and how it is all panning out. But most of it is from a perspective, dominated by Western security interests. We don't know much about how the Iraqis or the Afghans themselves view the same events and other issues of war and even less about what they re The US has been at war for the past fifteen years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and there has been an enormous amount of footage on TVs and a lot of analysis in news magazines and blogs on what has been going on there, why we are there and how it is all panning out. But most of it is from a perspective, dominated by Western security interests. We don't know much about how the Iraqis or the Afghans themselves view the same events and other issues of war and even less about what they really see as a solution. This is where Gopal's book comes in, giving us a window into how Afghans see the war on terror and the NATO-US military occupation of their land. Early into the book, one realizes that it is ignorance to speak of a composite 'Afghan' view because Afghans themselves are divided culturally into any number of ethnic and tribal groups and each group or set of groups could have a different stake in this conflict. Protection of tribal interests from enemies makes them form alliances with political groupings like the Northern Alliance or the Taliban or the government in Kabul. The same interests determine which other tribes are allies, irrespective of political affiliations. In addition, sheer survival in a largely lawless environment make the tribes adjust with even their enemies if their enemies can provide them security. It is this maze of shifting allegiances which foxed the Russians during their occupation and seems to be the bane of Americans as well, as Gopal reports. To me, it is surprising that the foreign policy establishment of the US is not able to decode this. After all, US foreign policy is always based on what is ultimately in American interests irrespective of our belief in democracy and human rights. As a result, we ally at times with military dictators in Pakistan and Egypt, at times with fundamentalist regimes like Saudi Arabia and at times with even rivals like China and Russia. So, how come that it becomes 'inscrutable tribal behavior' when the Afghan tribes do the same thing? As I read the book, I felt that each tribe within each ethnic group is like a small nation of its own and they act simply to protect their 'national' interests, just as the rest of the world does. This book makes fascinating reading, bringing out the Afghan view through three individuals - Jan Mohammed Khan, Akbar Gul and Heela Achakzai. If there is one thing that comes across from all three of them as upper most in Afghan minds, it is that survival is primary over everything else today in Afghanistan. It makes a mockery of all the high-sounding rhetoric on democracy, governance and women's rights as primary in Afghanistan. Akbar Gul is a Talib commander. He runs away to Pakistan as the Americans power into Kabul in 2001. Slowly, he returns to Afghanistan, renounces the Taliban, sets up a phone-repair shop and tries to pick up the pieces of his life. But unfortunately, he belongs to the wrong tribe - Ghilzai - and not the Popalzai tribe from where Hamid Karzai, much of his cabinet, the police and the regional strongmen hail. Corruption in the Karzai bureaucracy and heavy-handedness of the US military hound Akbar Gul in his apolitical life and he is eventually forced to return to Taliban in search of reclaiming the dignity and security of his tribe and village. Jan Mohammed Khan (JMK) is the pro-American strongman in the book. He is a Karzai-protégé and a Popalzai. He rises from humble beginnings to become the governor of Uruzgan province and provides services to the US army in security and logistics. In this process, he makes millions of dollars from the US military base and also has the trust and ear of the Americans. He uses this trust to eliminate his competitors and rivals to his business, even if they are American allies, by tagging them as 'Taliban' and letting the US finish them off for him. If they are not finished off, they are either arrested and detained by the US, often in the torture zone of Bagram air base. The only heart-warming story in the book is the one of Heela, the Afghan woman, who comes from a progressive Kabul family, gets a college education and marries Musqinyar, a broad-minded young communist in the 1970s. The ascent of the Taliban in the 1990s drives them to Uruzgan in the hinterland. Her life shows the debilitating constraints on a woman in Uruzgan to lead anything like the life of a free individual. But she soldiers on, by providing medical services and sewing lessons to women in the region. However, tragedy strikes her as Musqinyar is shot dead by JMK's henchmen. But Heela survives miraculously as a widowed woman and eventually emerges as a senator in Karzai's parliament. Gopal's main thesis is that Afghanistan should not be viewed through the prism of neat compartments like the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, the Kabul Government and so on. It is a mosaic of shifting and permanent ethnic and tribal interests and their conduct in life is dictated largely by their indomitable spirit to survive. Neither the Russians nor the US have grasped this fully, according to the author. Gopal says that much of the claims made by the US-led coalition in healthcare, education etc do not stand to scrutiny under closer examination. The US presence in 400 bases around the country supports some 300000 armed Afghan militiamen now. When these bases close and the US soldiers leave, Gopal feels that these militiamen might return to the days of the early 1990s when there was no real authority in Afghanistan and lawlessness was rampant, robbing and raping at will. The image of the Taliban as well as that of the regional strongmen in the book is something one can empathize with. In fact, Gopal says that the Taliban was ready to give up arms and make peace with the US in 2002 but the US was too gung-ho about killing terrorists that they never gave it a chance, thereby losing a golden chance to avoid the trillion-dollar war. The author also has steered clear of the role of Pakistan and its Intelligence's role in the conflict. It may be because he just wanted to present an Afghan view of the war. Certainly, the book is critical of the role of US and its Western allies. It suggests naïveté on the part of the US military in the way Afghan tribal loyalties played them against their own interests. Elsewhere, we have seen that the Pakistani military also played the double game successfully against the US military. Now, we see the rhetoric on Syria has the same overtones of simplistically partitioning the combatants as ISIS, Assad forces and the 'rebels'. Are we heading for involvement in yet another conflict where we do not understand the complexities? The author's résumé reminds me of another intrepid journalist who reported from the killing fields of the Congo in the past decade. Anjan Sundaram, after giving up a doctoral programme in Mathematics in Yale, went to the DRC as a stringer for AP. Similarly, Gopal, after giving up a Ph.D in Physical Chemistry in UPenn, has gone to Afghanistan to report on it. To his great credit, he learnt both the Pashto and Dari languages so that he could interact directly with the Pashtun tribes without the filter of an interpreter. Very commendable. An engrossing and illuminating book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This was incredible writing and reporting. I have rarely read a book that made me put it down in impotent anger and sadness so many times. The chaos we fostered in Afghanistan is a tragic and bloody testament to the hubris of a world power attempting to alter a society it knew nothing about. The previous accounts of the Afghanistan invasion and occupation I've read had been written from a military or intelligence perspective. There were national interests and enemies at the core of those narrati This was incredible writing and reporting. I have rarely read a book that made me put it down in impotent anger and sadness so many times. The chaos we fostered in Afghanistan is a tragic and bloody testament to the hubris of a world power attempting to alter a society it knew nothing about. The previous accounts of the Afghanistan invasion and occupation I've read had been written from a military or intelligence perspective. There were national interests and enemies at the core of those narratives. They could never quite explain the morass of internecine conflict that seemed to be the Afghan reality. In Gopal's work (the result of 3.5 years of on the ground reporting and access to all sides), the cruel irony of our hubris becomes clear. In our mission to eradicate terror, we created far more. A must read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erick

    Be prepared to see just how lame things are for those living in Afghanistan and how America colossally screwed up it's chance to be a savior instead of a bunch of lumbering idiots who made things worse. This book is filled with stories that show how America didn't have a clue, ended up killing it's own allies numerous times, and just found every way possible to mess things up because they were more interested in political expediency than actually helping the Afghans. It also manages to help you Be prepared to see just how lame things are for those living in Afghanistan and how America colossally screwed up it's chance to be a savior instead of a bunch of lumbering idiots who made things worse. This book is filled with stories that show how America didn't have a clue, ended up killing it's own allies numerous times, and just found every way possible to mess things up because they were more interested in political expediency than actually helping the Afghans. It also manages to help you have a little bit of empathy for some individuals who became part of the Taliban because things were so tough that they really had no other logical option. Overall, this book is great because of how it humanizes these groups of people that, especially for foreigners, we treat with contempt and don't even bother to understand normally.

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