In This Review

The Ledger: Accounting for Failure in Afghanistan
The Ledger: Accounting for Failure in Afghanistan
By David Kilcullen and Greg Mills
Hurst, 2021, 368 pp.

This polemic, eloquent, and bleak book is one of the first to address the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021. It opens with the authors scrambling to help friends and colleagues who had worked with coalition forces escape the Taliban’s retribution. Kilcullen and Mills know the country and the conflict well, having spent many years between them advising both civilian and military leaders on the war in Afghanistan. They eviscerate the Biden administration for what they see as its betrayal of the people of Afghanistan, but their analysis points to multiple failures spread over the previous two decades. The United States occupied the country in 2001 without any long-term strategy, and the Bush administration soon distracted itself with its invasion of Iraq. The U.S.-led military coalition chased unrealistic goals and misunderstood the enemy and Afghan society and politics. Economic assistance to the Afghan government in Kabul fueled corruption as much as development. Pakistan never abandoned the Taliban. Many of the lessons of the last two decades should have been learned from the U.S. debacle in Vietnam or the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.