Background Image
Previous Page  90 / 104 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 90 / 104 Next Page
Page Background





Still Ours to Lose

e Wrong Enemy: America

in Afghanistan, 2001-2014

Carlotta Gall, Houghton Mi in,

2014 $28.00/hardcover; $9.24/Kindle,

329 pages.



Among the plethora of books coming out

on Afghanistan, Carlotta Gall’s stands

out for two reasons.

First is the length of time she has put

into covering the story—starting just

after 9/11 as a full-time

New York Times

journalist, but also in some ways going

back another generation. Her father,

Sandy, published


with the Mujahideen

in 1988 and gives

credit “to my daughter Carlotta, who

processed the words.” Carlotta’s under-

standing of Afghanistan spans the better

part of three decades, and she has stayed

with the story while others have moved

on, developing a true a ection and

respect for the Afghan people while com-

ing to terms with their contradictions

and aws.

Second is her emphasis on Pakistan.

e book’s central thesis comes from

a conversation with the late Ambas-

sador Richard Holbrooke, who coined

the phrase that is its title: “We may be

ghting the wrong enemy in the wrong


Gall is not alone in stressing this

point. Ambassador James Dobbins wrote

in 2008 that unless Pakistan can be per-

suaded to stand down from its militant

meddling in Afghan a airs “there is little

likelihood that Afghanistan will ever be

capable of securing its own territory,”

and Bing West covered similar ground


e Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the

Way Out of Afghanistan


Gall, however, uses her uncanny

Gall’s understanding of Afghanistan spans the better part

of three decades, and she has stayed with the story while

others have moved on.


access to follow the story in

detail back and forth across

the border, making explicit

the linkages that others

have merely extrapolated.

She appears to have spent

almost as much time in

Pakistan as Afghanistan,

citing in very comprehen-

sive detail how Islamabad

has for decades sup-

ported militant proxies in

Afghanistan and India to

keep its enemies o balance.

is is the government, she writes,

“that famously formed seven di erent

Afghan mujahedeen parties to ght the

Soviet Union, so that none dominated

the resistance.”

She delves into Pakistani politics with

sensitivity and depth, outlining the trag-

edy of missed opportunities to develop

a true civilian government, capably

led, and how the default of support

for Islamic militancy played out, with

frequent negative blowback for Pakistan


She writes of the sanctuary in the

tribal areas, and how the Taliban

recruited and pushed hundreds of young

men to their deaths in Afghanistan while

its leaders directed their a airs from vil-

las in Peshawar.

Gall doesn’t spare the coalition’s

many missteps, reporting in painful

detail the civilian casualties; the under-

funding of the operation and the diver-

sion of resources to Iraq; the cultural

misunderstandings and miscommunica-

tions; the support for the

new Afghan army (late)

without a parallel build-

ing of capacity in the civil

service and police; and

meddling in elections.

She also points out the

“lost opportunity” when,

just after the stunning

collapse of the Taliban

government in 2001, “many

Taliban members could

have been persuaded to

rejoin Afghan society if they

had not been pursued and arrested.” She

adds, “Some of their leaders could have

been used to bring the bulk of the Tali-

ban movement to a negotiated peace.”

It was a heavy read, and as an Afghan

veteran I was looking forward to the end.

But then, after the truly depress-

ing story (when considered against the

backdrop of Pakistani complicity) of the

demise of Osama bin Laden, Gall takes

an unexpected turn. In the nal chapter,

she relates how whole Afghan districts

turned against the Taliban in the spring

of 2013, starting in Panjwayi, the move-

ment’s birthplace.

e now-functioning Afghan secu-

rity forces were anchoring the shift in

attitude that had been sparked in large

measure by Taliban excesses, and the

government was nally starting to work.

“I had always believed the Afghans

in southern Afghanistan did not want

the Taliban and one day would stand up

against them,” Gall writes, describing a

Taliban movement that, as a result of the