Using as a model Jeffrey Race’s influential first-person Vietnam War–era analysis, War Comes to Long An, Malkasian (A History of Modern Wars of Attrition, 2002, etc.) evenhandedly examines the Garmser district in southern Afghanistan, where he was stationed as a political officer for the State Department between 2009 and 2011.
A desert strip intersected by the Helmand River, populated by the Pashtun and embroiled in the conflicts that have gained Afghanistan the epithet “graveyard of empires,” Garmser has proven to be the “hot place” designated by its very name, changing hands constantly among tribes and imperial powers. Since 1946, it has also been the key site of massive canal-modernization schemes subsidized by the West, requiring an injection of landless immigrant workers who would prove faithful supporters of the Taliban. Malkasian does a thorough job of sifting through the messy political turmoil since 1979, which slowly began to tear the place apart, and sticking to the effect on the people who live and toil there. In the 1980s, the tribal-led mujahedeen gained steam against the Soviet-backed communists, creating new leaders; the jihad sustained a kind of historical “mystique” as a time when all Muslims fought together before devolving into civil war. The Taliban’s arrival in 1994 established stability by controlling crime and violence, managing to govern what many considered an ungovernable country. The decade since the American invasion of 2001 caused much hardship for the people of Garmser, Malkasian writes. The Taliban retook the district in 2006 as a result of lost opportunities by the U.S., requiring subsequent massive intervention, reconstruction and political realignment. Will the Taliban return? Have U.S. counterinsurgency efforts paid off, and, most poignantly, has the investment of 100,000 troops made any difference? Malkasian offers slim optimism in this deeply engaging work.
Insightful, knowledgeable account of the "good war," intimately informed from the trenches.