Kristian Berg Harpviken
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
This is one of the first book-length analyses of the massive international intervention in Afghanistan – written by two who served in its midst. Kilcullen & Mills draw our attention to the absence of a long-term political strategy and to the lack of an understanding of Afghan power dynamics. They list four main reasons for the intervention’s ultimate failure: 1) politics (no early accommodation of the Taliban); 2) regional engagement (need to confront Pakistan); 3) corruption (massive aid); 4) economic development (only for the few). The account is backed up by personal experiences, facts and figures, as well as analyses by other experts. In the concluding chapter, the authors offer a list of ten things that could have been done differently, in large part overlapping with their reasons for failure. Even though the authors admit that ‘the overuse of kinetic force … was often extremely counterproductive’ (p. 128), the listings follow a logic in which the military strategy and the use of force do not become key factors in causing the failure. That applies even to an otherwise illuminating account of the final few months leading to the Afghan government’s collapse and makes it appear as though a combination of Afghan political courage and a continued flow of US military supplies could have held the Taliban at bay. The rapid production of this book has come at a certain cost, both to the narrative flow and to the publisher’s quality assurance. Yet, as new insights and analysis of why the Afghan project failed keep coming, this book will remain a key source, not only for being early, but also for its insight and for offering an insiders’ critical assessment.