THE WRONG ENEMY by Carlotta Gall


America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014
Email this review


A longtime New York Times war correspondent delivers a moving, on-the-ground chronicle of her years covering the Afghanistan War.

During two decades of thorough journalistic coverage in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gall (co-author: Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus, 1998) has developed important contacts, observing closely how, in many cases, the “deserving cause for self-determination” was co-opted and transformed by extremist Islamist groups. She has seen enormous suffering on all sides but especially by the Afghanis, the pawns of superpower struggles. She chronologically delineates how this has happened in Afghanistan, where the Americans walked into the “Islamists’ trap”—not unlike the Soviets before them—playing a 13-year cat-and-mouse game with the Taliban, who continue to successfully resist through sheer attrition and ferocious determination to expel the foreigners. Moreover, Gall clearly implicates the Pakistan military intelligence, ISI, for sheltering and protecting Taliban and al-Qaida leaders, especially Osama bin Laden, since their expulsion from Afghanistan in late 2001. Indeed, this is the leitmotif of Gall’s work: that Pakistan has used “proxy forces” from the beginning to “project its influence beyond its borders”; these have included not just the Taliban, but also Kashmiri militants in India. Gall offers vivid portraits of the key players—e.g., Taliban commander Mullah Omar and American-backed Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai—and many of the Taliban fighters she tracked down and interviewed in exile, consolidating their power from the wings. Gall sees a terrible lost opportunity by the United States in not offering a safe haven for many of the former Taliban fighters: Americans imprisoned important leaders and thereby left a dangerous vacuum. Heavy-handed U.S. military presence did not win the trust of the Afghanis, and jihadism, suicide bombings and assassinations ensued. The author offers a compelling account of the attack on bin Laden’s compound, the repercussions of which are still being felt.

Gall admirably never loses sight of the human element in this tragedy.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-544-04669-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2014


NonfictionSWIMMING WITH WARLORDS by Kevin Sites
by Kevin Sites
NonfictionRED LINE by P.J. Crowley
by P.J. Crowley
NonfictionHOPELESS BUT OPTIMISTIC by Douglas A. Wissing
by Douglas A. Wissing