The turbulent history of Afghanistan and its most powerful and influential army general through the eyes of an American historian.
Dubbing it one of his life’s greatest challenges, Williams (Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America’s Longest War, 2011), a former CIA tracker and Islamic history instructor, traveled extensively throughout central Asia to probe the region’s historic bounty and, moreover, to discover the intriguing man behind the Taliban’s demise, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, Uzbek commander of the Northern Alliance opposition. Williams easily appreciated an area uniquely accommodating of both modern Western and traditional Afghan customs. Undeterred by its characteristic sand, heat and whipping windstorms, he writes excitedly of the 2003 and 2005 visits to Mazar-i-Sharif, where Dostum’s imperial compound awaited him and where questions about the warlord’s refuted reputation as either a ruthless drug baron or a respected leader of the Afghan people could finally be answered. Somewhat unexpectedly, though with aplomb, Williams charts Dostum’s scrappy, “primitive” origins from army soldier to military warlord alongside the expansive history of Afghanistan, through Taliban fundamentalism, the assassination of military leader Ahmad Massoud, 9/11 and the play-by-play details of the warlord’s American-assisted victory. As expected, the politics of war figures heavily throughout the book, as does Williams’ version of Dostum’s crucial role in redefining the area under his refined regime. Still, while the minute details of Afghanistan’s vast history are mostly engaging, they absorb most of the book’s promising exclusive-with-a-warlord punch, leaving the author’s brief time interviewing Dostum and touring the grounds almost as an afterthought.
More historic chronicle than biographic exposé—will appeal mostly to academics and those with an intense interest in the collapse of the Taliban.