Afghanistan Journal

Selections from
by Joshua Foust

Foreword by Steve LeVine

[I]f one wants to understand why the United States military is losing the war in Afghanistan, Afghanistan Journal might just be the best place to start.Michael Cohen, senior fellow, American Security Project

Afghanistan Journal

“The coldest I have ever been in my life was in the mountains of Afghanistan. I was in a helicopter with the windows and doors open. It was dark, the middle of winter, and I wasn’t wearing a jacket. But up there, something became clear to me: America is fighting its wars all wrong… “

Thus starts Joshua Foust’s riveting and thoughtful account of the U.S. military’s engagement in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010.

In early 2009, Foust, a long-time Afghan-affairs aficionado and respected blogger, got his first chance to go to the country he had been fascinated with for so long. He brought to the trip not just a wealth of knowledge about the country, but also an intelligence and sensitivity that informed all his writings during and after the trip.

Foust’s unflinching willingness to highlight the paucity of understanding of Afghanistan in much of the contemporary discourse and to confront punditry passing for analysis makes this work important reading for those interested in better understanding the conflict.Leah Farrall, of

Afghanistan Journal is Foust’s first book. It’s a collection of his writings– mainly those he blogged at– that starts from the observations he blogged during the visit he made to Afghanistan, January-March 2009. It then looks in more detail at the situation within some of Afghanistan’s key provinces, including Helmand, Nuristan, Kunar, and Kapisa. In the final part of the book, he looks at some of the broader policy issues involved– and at the ways Americans discuss (and on many occasions, mis-discuss) them.

Foreword, by Steve LeVine

Part I

1. Dispatches From FOBistan
A Week of CRC
The Latrine Graffiti of Kuwait
Escape from Kyrgystan
The Kyrgyz Magiciennes of Bagram
Let’s Think About Kabul
Fixing Afghanistan Starts With Fixing Ourselves
This Place Is a Prison, and These People Aren’t Your Friends
The Army’s Woeful IT Policies Spoil the War Effort

2. Traveling through Kapisa and Khost
Detour through Parwan
Maladies of Interpreters
The Unreality of Kabul
Kapisa, in Pictures
The Importance of Political Affiliation
The Importance of Local Solutions to Local Problems
Sad 59
The Persuadable Taliban
Letting the Message Drive the Operation
The Garrison Problem

Part II

3. Kunar and Nuristan

What Role Do Civilian Casualties Play?
Did the U.S. Have Advance Warning of the Attack on the Wanat Firebase?
The Kunar-Chitral Region Remains a Dark Mystery
Intercepting Wood in Kunar
Withdrawal Is Not (Necessarily) Surrender
Afghanistan Journal
HIGs Are Pigs
Nuristan Violence Part of a Years-Long Campaign?
Maybe, Finally, Some Accountability?

4. Helmand

Selection Bias
Conceding Territory, And What It Means
Garmsir, Again
How Do You Do the “Build” Part of COIN in a Crashed Economy?
Garmsir, Again (Again)
Mythbusting Marjeh
Vetting Haji Zahir
How to Move Forward in Marjeh

5. Kapisa
Kapisa Province: A COIN Case Study in Afghanistan
In Alisay Valley, the Fight Continues
Tracking Progress in the Alisay Valley
ISAF Goes Social
Kapisa Teeters
Possibly, Kapisa Insurgent Figure Detained

6. The Region
Delayed by Tragedy, a New Refugee Flight
Joining Defensive Alliances
Central Asia’s Loming Water Wars
Looking at Tajikistan
Are Terror Groups Faked? Does the IJU Even Exist?
Possible Proof of Iranian Support for the Taliban
Spilling Over in Central Asia?

Part III

7. Strategy
Security Solutions for Afghanistan
Macro-indicators of Afghanistan:
Do They Mean Anything? Should We Care?
Maintaining Perspective
Quote of the Weekend
Attacks in Khost, Police Respond Again
Oh, the Shinwari
Means-testing the Drone War
Romancing Hekmatyar (and Other Related Monsters)

8. Policy

The Human Failure of the Afghanistan Mission
The Issue of Aid
The Problem with PRTs
A Problem More Serious Than Bias
New Data for the Shindand Bombing
Handling Civilian Casualties and Their Aftermath Is a Critical Failure
Gameplanning a Solution In Media Res
Local v. National Control
From “Whole of Government” to “Whole of Place”
The Afghanistan Study Group Report:
An Exercise in Determined Ignorance

9. Counternarcotics

Can Afghanistan Be Saved? Not with the
Current Opium Policy
How Opium Is Crashing Afghanistan’s Economy
Peas in a Pod
How Do You Stop the Poppies?
Thinking about Alternative Livelihoods
Poppy-Free, At Long Long Last
Pragmatism, Not Idealism
The Nangarhar Swing
Opium Is an Economic Problem, Not a Cause
Can We Please Stop Trying to Turn Afghanistan into Columbia?
The Hidden Finances of Insurgency
What is Going on in the Poppy Fields of Afghanistan?
Some Tricky Numbers

10. Press and Pundits

Sloppy Logic in the Blogosphere
Dateline Afghanistan: Covering the Forgotten War
Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls
Why We Fight
Digging Deeper into the Pashtun Tribal Areas
The Inexplicable Longevity of Selig S. Harrison
Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda, by Gretchen Peters
ABC News’s Obsession with Afghan Nightlife

Glossary and Abbreviations
List of Major Ethnic Groups

Map 1: Afghanistan: The Region
Map 2: Afghanistan: Northeastern Border
Map 3: Afghanistan: The Provinces

After nine years of war in Afghanistan, the United States seems no closer to the proverbial light at end of the tunnel; and in Afghanistan Journal Joshua Foust vividly explains why. With the lacerating and intellectually honest tone that has long characterized Foust’s writing, Afghanistan Journal brings together four years of online dispatches that chart—in often stark terms—the many blunders that have characterized the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It doesn’t always make for easy reading, but if one wants to understand why the United States military is losing the war in Afghanistan, Afghanistan Journal might just be the best place to start.
–Michael Cohen, senior fellow, American Security Project
Afghanistan Journal charts Foust’s exploration of America’s war in Afghanistan and his efforts to bring greater understanding and empathy to how Afghans experience their surroundings in a time of war. Foust’s unflinching willingness to highlight the paucity of understanding of Afghanistan in much of the contemporary discourse and to confront punditry passing for analysis makes this work important reading for those interested in better understanding the conflict.
–Leah Farrall, of
Joshua’s writing is remarkable . . . . His critical and analytical thinking skills really help readers gain a better understanding of the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan. Based on his experience on the ground, working as an adviser to the U.S. Army, and on the passion with which he has sought to learn about the Afghan people and their culture, he presents a way of thinking about the country very different from the way it has been portrayed (or too frequently, neglected) by the mainstream media over the past few years.
–Nasim Fekrat,, and director, Association of Afghan Blog
Joshua Foust’s memoir/blog is a fascinating first-hand report from the extraordinary SNAFU that is the US and allied campaign in Afghanistan. It is deeply depressing, but indispensable for an understanding not just of US efforts in Afghanistan, but the contemporary US military in general.
–Anatol Lieven, former journalist in Afghanistan; professor in the War Studies Department, King’s College London; and senior fellow of the New America Foundation
Joshua Foust’s collection of dispatches from Afghanistan gives a unique perspective by weaving together on-the-ground observations of the U.S.’s military engagement with his deep understanding of the politics, culture, and history of the region. Through his dispatches, he chronicles how the broad American mission in Afghanistan has largely failed because of the military’s inability to adapt so that its strategies run counter to its goals.

Through his travels, Foust highlights stories of personal engagement with Afghans which illustrate that often small, simple solutions work better than large, complex approaches. His chatty and casual style makes this collection of writings accessible and easy to understand and his personal thoughts and reactions are a much-appreciated inclusion.

Whether the reader – military or civilian — has spent years on the “Afghan beat” or simply has a passing interest in the subject, Joshua Foust’s Afghanistan Journal: Selections from will provide a wealth of insight into a country, and people, that have often been discussed only as a series of stereotypes. Foust has taken a vast and complex subject and broken it down in a way that leads to greater understanding.
–Naheed Mustafa, Pakistani-Canadian writer

Afghanistan Journal provides a civilian, ground level corrective to much that is written on Afghanistan. It should be read particularly by those with operational level responsibilities for the war since it points how in how many ways we could do better if we take the time to learn the multilevel reality of his observation that it is ‘policies, not presence, which drive sentiment.’
–Hon. Ronald E. Neumann, president, American Academy of Diplomacy; U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, 2005-2007

Afghanistan Journal is available in Paperback ($20.99) and Ebook ($9.99)


248 pages, 6″ X 9″
Published June 2011
ISBN 9781935982029