Selections from Registan.net
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
“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 www.allthingscounterterrorism.com
Afghanistan Journal is Foust’s first book. It’s a collection of his writings– mainly those he blogged at Registan.net– 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.
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
The Persuadable Taliban
Letting the Message Drive the Operation
The Garrison Problem
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
HIGs Are Pigs
Nuristan Violence Part of a Years-Long Campaign?
Maybe, Finally, Some Accountability?
Conceding Territory, And What It Means
How Do You Do the “Build” Part of COIN in a Crashed Economy?
Garmsir, Again (Again)
Vetting Haji Zahir
How to Move Forward in Marjeh
Kapisa Province: A COIN Case Study in Afghanistan
In Alisay Valley, the Fight Continues
Tracking Progress in the Alisay Valley
ISAF Goes Social
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?
Security Solutions for Afghanistan
Macro-indicators of Afghanistan:
Do They Mean Anything? Should We Care?
Quote of the Weekend
Attacks in Khost, Police Respond Again
Oh, the Shinwari
Means-testing the Drone War
Romancing Hekmatyar (and Other Related Monsters)
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
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
–Michael Cohen, senior fellow, American Security Project
–Leah Farrall, of www.allthingscounterterrorism.com
–Nasim Fekrat, Afghanlord.org, and director, Association of Afghan Blog
–Anatol Lieven, former journalist in Afghanistan; professor in the War Studies Department, King’s College London; and senior fellow of the New America Foundation
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 Registan.net 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
–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)