In This Review

Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground
Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground
By Jonathan Steele
Counterpoint, 2011, 256 pp


Steele, a veteran foreign correspondent for The Guardian, frames this exploration of the past three decades in Afghanistan by comparing the intervention of the Soviet Union in the 1980s with that of the United States in the first decade of this century. Both were ill conceived and should have been avoided, Steele argues, but the Soviets showed a better ability to cut their losses than have the Americans (and their NATO allies) thus far. Steele sets out to debunk “thirteen myths about Afghanistan,” including the false notions that the Afghans have always defeated foreign armies, that the Soviet invasion was an unprovoked attack, that the Taliban are much more oppressive than previous regimes (an admittedly low bar), and that the Taliban do not have any popular support. Steele views the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the anti-Taliban commander assassinated two days before 9/11, as no better than their opponents and offers a relatively positive appraisal of the period (1978–92) when Afghanistan was ruled by Afghan Communists, who, after all, did represent urban modernity. This eminently readable book is surely the most compelling revisionist history available of Afghanistan in the modern era.