Tag Archives: Afghanistan War

“The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior Who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime” by Bryan Glyn Williams

Copyright 2013, includes maps and notes. A follow-up on my post of December 27, 2016.

This is an unusual book about an unusual person. The book is unusual because it’s rare for a biographer to be able to interview a warlord from “another world”. Dostum (born in 1954) was raised under conditions that were medieval, speaking a language that was not “recognized” by any government, part of an ethnic tribe (the Uzbek) then split by the national border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. What is a warlord, anyway? What does it mean to be part of a “tribe”, as opposed to a community, state, or religion?

It seems all I can do here is ask questions. What is the relationship between modernization and religion? Is modernity inherently secular?

What does Williams’ biography tell us about Dostum? His name was Abdul Rashid. “Dostum” was added by his followers, and means “friend”. He was educated to about age 12, trained in the sports important to Afghan men (horseback riding and wrestling), then worked in the gas and oil industry. He served in the Afghan army 1974 – 1976, then signed up with the Afghan Communist army in 1978, in order to prevent his brother from being drafted. “By the mid-1980s he commanded around 20,000 militia men and controlled the northern provinces of Afghanistan”. (Wikipedia) What?? How?! This is where Dostum’s history strains the credulity of the reader. It sounds impossible. Dostum’s militia was initially mostly mounted on horseback, armed with rifles. Who fought that way, in the 1980s? How did it work? Williams gives us Dostum’s version of the story. Dostum’s assistance to the US military after 9/11 critically facilitated the downfall of the Taliban. Unfortunately, some Americans thought further intervention in the Middle East was going to be similarly “easy” in terms of American investment in lives and troops. “Light footprint” warfare has not become the norm.

I looked for current information. Dostum is now Vice President of Afghanistan. As of April of 2016, he is barred from entry into the United States. He has been accused of war crimes. Some details are provided in Williams’ book. His personality is described as “volatile”.

Dostum now has accounts on Facebook, Twitter and U-Tube. He has traveled from the distant past to 2017 in sixty years. If nothing else, he is possessed of astonishing adaptability and leadership. I hope he will continue to contribute to the fight against extreme religious fundamentalism. His social orientation is primarily secular, and his attitude towards women is modern.

Williams is an academic. He describes his sources as “wonderful storytellers”, but not fact-oriented linear thinkers. His field work was performed under stressful conditions, and complicated by of the number of languages involved. “The Last Warlord” is important reading if you want to understand international geopolitics. But you can also read it as a wild tale of adventure!

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“America’s Wars” #1 – “War Journal – My Five Years in Iraq” by Richard Engel

This book (published in 2008) starts in 2002 or 2003, when Engel entered Iraq before the war began, intending to wait out the early “shock and awe” stage, which I think he assumed would promptly lead to the fall of Saddam Hussein and regime change. He expected to witness to the most exciting event of the decade.

Engel was (and is) courageous to the point of recklessness. It was no surprise to learn that his marriage ended during his time in Iraq. Engel is a highly credentialed journalist (ABC and NBC) and speaks Arabic. He was working freelance when he decided to enter Iraq and await the invasion.

Engel discusses “war porn”. I think he means images and anecdotes that are true, shocking and add nothing new or significant to anyone’s understanding. The most descriptive word is “gratuitous”. I have encountered that kind of “porn” in other places, even in fiction. I won’t recommend “World Made By Hand” to anyone, despite its interesting plot premise. I threw it in the trash, a very rare fate for any book that passes through my hands.

Engel wrote another book about Iraq and reported as well on Afghanistan and the Arab Spring. In 2012, he and his news crew were kidnapped and held for five days (according to Wikipedia), an experience Engel wrote about in Vanity Fair. I hope he stays alive and keeps writing.