Stenersen, Anne (2017) Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 197 pp.

ISBN: ​978-1-107-07513-9 (print) / 978-1-107-42776-1 (online)

Kristian B Harpviken

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

​This book is a systematic and methodologically meticulous account of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan from 1988 to 2001, based on a host of original sources (in Arabic, Dari, Russian, Pashtu and English) as well as interviews and secondary literature. The account is by far the most complete on the subject but also exemplary in pointing out where the evidence is inconclusive. The overarching strategic objective of Osama bin Laden, Stenersen demonstrates, was regime change in the Islamic world. He was increasingly convinced that this could only be achieved by breaching the alliance between those regimes and the USA, their ultimate protector. From 1988 to 1992, Al-Qaida actively worked with multiple resistance organizations in Afghanistan. By 1992, following the fall of the so-called communist regime in Kabul, Al-Qaida found it theologically unjustifiable to engage in the ensuing civil war. The main leadership went to Sudan for four years, building organizational capacity that would later be deployed in the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In spring 1996, bin Laden and his entourage returned to Afghanistan at the invitation of former friends within the resistance. The latter were under strong pressure from a new movement, the Taliban, who took control over Kabul a few months later. Slowly, Al-Qaeda built relations with the Taliban, who it saw as a manifestation of its larger revolutionary project. The book concludes with an analysis of the 11 September attacks in the US. Al-Qaida is portrayed as a dynamic and adaptable organization, driven by a clear strategic vision, yet, also bureaucratic, systematic and hierarchical. The book fills a major gap in the literature and is bound to become the key reference on the topic.