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War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier

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War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier

By Carter Malkasian
Oxford University Press, 2013
352 pp. $27.95
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The title of this fine book implies that there may have been a time without war in Garmser, a district in southern Afghanistan. But aside from an interlude in the 1970s, when the U.S.-funded Helmand Valley Development Project brought irrigation to the district (along with Peace Corps volunteers and a flood of bureaucratic acronyms), the story of Garmser is one of tension and violence with a high toll in human life. In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Malkasian spent two years in Garmser as a State Department political officer. His rich, shrewdly constructed history of the area shows how tribal elders used the United States and the Taliban as resources in their own turf battles, which often revolved around access to irrigated land. Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s intelligence service are irrelevant to this tale, which is unusual for a book about Afghanistan. Malkasian’s gem of a concluding chapter—which analyzes the opportunities the United States missed during the early years of the war and offers specific recommendations on what could and should be done now—is best appreciated after a close reading of the preceding chapters. The effort will be amply repaid.

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