The Nowhere War
Thirteen years into the Afghan invasion, the Americans lack a mission
No Good Men Among the Living:
America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes
by Anand Gopal
$27.00 List Price
FOR A LONG TIME, it has been unclear why the Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan. In 2001, when the Bush administration launched the invasion, the mission was to destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership. But thirteen years later, with Osama bin Laden dead and Al Qaeda’s operations and leaders dispersed well beyond Afghanistan’s borders, how can we sum up the main objective of America’s longest-running war? Who is the enemy now?
Even during the run-up toAfghanistan’sApril presidential election, as bombs exploded at day-care centers and assassins shot up five-star hotels, those Talibs—were they Talibs?—likely still seemed faceless to Americans: men without families, histories, or names. The Afghans are too mysterious, too far away. Somehow, no matter how many thousands of journalists, soldiers, and aid workers are sent to Afghanistan, their collective knowledge of this American war still fails to penetrate a society so well defended against its imperial self.
That’s why Carlotta Gall’s The Wrong Enemy and Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living are such valuable guides to this conflict. Both books show the confident clarity that comes from perspective, time, and painstaking effort. For an American reader, they are a reckoning with denial, like discovering a loved one’s double life; what they describe doesn’t at all resemble the past we thought we knew. Their combined testimony prods us to an important, if painful, conclusion: The problem in Afghanistan was not that the good guys made mistakes in the good war, but that the Americans were careless, thuggish, and
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