How to learn about what’s really going on in Afghanistan


[Feature photo: The U.S. Army]

I taught an ESL class in March where I asked my students to talk about current events. All of my students are Japanese retirees (or close to it) and they were interested in either the ongoing violence in Ukraine (although they pronounce it oo-cyr-aine and I pronounce it you-crane and we didn’t understand each other at first) or local news.

When it was my turn I said that that month was the first month with no US combat casualties since 2002. They didn’t know a lot about Afghanistan and even less about why US troops were there so I answered their questions, but realized that my knowledge was only about recent events there and I had a lot to learn.

So I’ve been reading.

Taliban by Ahmed Rashid is a very detailed history of the rise of the Taliban and the reason they were able to come to power in Afghanistan. This book is dense with specific information and a few times I thought I would be unable to process any additional information but it is insightful and answered a lot of my questions about their origin and their connection to Al Qaeda.

Speaking of…

The Looming Tower taught me an enormous amount about modern radical Islam and the birth and influence of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Ladin and the lead up to the September 11th attacks. It’s extremely well written and builds the players in the story into interesting characters. There is a glossary of important people in the back of the book, but I almost didn’t need it because he builds them into interesting characters with human motivations.

And now I’m taking a step back and reading A Peace to End all Peace which tells the story of how the modern Middle East was born. I think I should have read this one first, because I would have better understood geographic and cultural boundaries that are important in the other two books. This book is, like Taliban, is chock full of specific information on treaties, correspondence between government agencies, and troop movements, but it is easier to read and separated into short thematic chapters that allow me to take frequent breaks to let it all sink in.

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