December 15, 2006

Name: Grunt MP
Posting date: 12/15/06
Stationed in: Southern Afghanistan
Hometown: Western Massachusetts

The responses to my post/memorial to my fallen comrade, Scott Lundell, and the responses to others posts on this blog, brought to my attention the fact that many people have a difficult time differentiating between Iraq and Afghanistan, and the very different reasons for entering into these two very different conflicts. I implore you to arm yourself with knowledge. Below you will find a reading list that I put together before I came here (to Afghanistan) so I would better understand the land, conflict, history and people I was about to spend a year of my life involved with. I hope this list will help all those who seek some insight into the complexities of these conflicts.


Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban, by Stephen Tanner
        This was the first book I read specifically about Afghanistan, and it is probably one of the best history books I have ever read. It's well written and extremely informative. If you only read one book on this list, read this one. But I strongly suggest you read at least two.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Steve Coll
        If you only read two books on this list, make this the second. It will give you insight into Afghanistan, our reasons for being here, and the history of our involvement here.

Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile
        This reads like a fiction thriller but it's all true. I can't tell you how much fun it was to read. You won't want to put it down. It's a good-sized book, but you'll fly through it. It's an excellent source of information on how the US supported the Mujaheddin during the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan.

Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda; A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander, by Gary Berntsen and Ralph Pezzullo
        This book starts off a little like a chest-pounding, machismo spy thriller, but settles down very quickly and is very informative. For me, what was really amazing was finding out that one of the candidates whom I was a TAC Officer for this past January-February, before mobilizing, was on the first Special Forces ODA team.

Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, by Sean Naylor
        A very good book about the biggest US engagement in the Afghan war, the strategic mistakes made by higher echelons of the military, and how disconnected they and their civilian counterparts and bosses are from the commanders and troops on the ground. It makes a good argument for the necessity of artillery on today's modern battlefield, and describes the extensive problems with Joint Forces Operations that result in military bureaucracy. This book really pissed me off at times, and some things still haven't changed. It has some amazing stories of heroism and tragedy.

This Man's Army: A Soldier's Story from the Front Lines of the War on Terrorism, by Andrew Exum
        Not as riveting as some of the other books, but Andy Exum was an Infantry Platoon Leader (2LT) when 9/11 happened, and his platoon was involved in the tail end of Operation Anaconda. What I found very interesting and inspiring is what he chose to do when he left the Army, and his feelings towards our generation's commitment to this region in the future.

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid
        I started to read this right before leaving for here and have yet to finish it, but I will complete it in the next month or so. I think this is the most informative and honest account of the Taliban and how they came into existence. It has opened my eyes, and has given me a clearer picture of my enemy and how we should be fighting them if we really want to win and rebuild Afghanistan.

The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart
        Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan in January of 2002.  This is his personal account. It's a wonderful story, an easy and enjoyable read.  I recommend this as a supplement to these other books because of his cultural and historical knowledge of Afghanistan, which he had prior to his journey.

Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid
        An amazingly informative writer, his books are probably the most information-dense volumes I have ever read.
Although this one is just over 200 pages long, it took me longer to read than any of the others on the list. Being from Pakistan, with regional contacts, he was able to get in and meet people to a degree I think would be impossible for a Western writer. It deals with the five countries north of Afghanistan: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It gave me a greater understanding of the reasons for the rise of Militant Islam in this region, and how it has affected and could affect Afghanistan.


Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, by Richard Clarke
        This is a very well-written explanation of the events/reactions within the White House over the four presidencies that led to 9/11.

Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam & the Future of America, by Michael Scheuer
        You won't find a better or more informed writer when it comes to Osama Bin Laden. I appreciate his honesty and his comparisons, which bring home to the reader what Osama Bin Laden means to so many Muslims, and the brutal and multi-pronged attack the West needs to make if we are going to win this war. It will open your eyes and make you realize on a truly visceral level that we are at war with Al Qaeda, and more broadly with militant Islam, and that they fired the fist shots long before 9/11. Read this before Imperial Hubris.

Imperial Hubris: Why The West Is Losing The War On Terror, by Michael Scheuer
        Michael Scheuer was the lead guy on the CIA's Bin Laden unit, and this book is the follow-up to Through Our Enemies' Eyes.  It changed the way that I view Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and US Middle Eastern policy.  Read Through Our Enemy's Eyes, 2nd Edition first, then this.


No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah, by Bing West
        This book will bring you the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War in amazing, heart-wrenching detail. It also does a very good job of tying in the political/higher command missteps that could have headed this off in the spring of 2004. This book made me cry.  Semper Fi.

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq, by John Crawford
         My generation's The Things They Carried.  This book will give you a better understanding of what infantrymen, who are mostly very young men, are like, and what their day-to-day lives in a combat zone are like. I really related to this book on a lot of levels. It also demonstrates how misused and abused the National Guard was in the beginning of the Iraq war, though it has gotten better since. It disgusted me how this kid's unit was treated.


Fools Rush In: A True Story of Love, War, and Redemption, by Bill Carter
        This book is not about Afghanistan. It's about Bill Carter's journey to Sarajevo in the middle of the Bosnian War. This is some of the most amazing writing I have ever read. This book will kick you in the stomach with its honesty and colorfully descriptive writing. I have never read someone who can describe love and loss as well. If it doesn't bring you to tears, or almost bring you to tears, you're not human. 


Bear Went over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan, by Lester W. Grau

The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War, by Ali Ahmad Jalali & Lester W. Grau

These last two books are very dry and repetitive, and were both written to give military staff officers a better understanding of the tactics of the Soviets and the Mujahideen. They use short story formats with diagrams. I am a huge military history buff, but I couldn't get through more than two chapters of The Other Side of the Mountain. So if you need something to aide you in falling asleep, then these are wonderful companions/tools. But I felt I should include them, just in case there's someone out there with a real craving for the information.


Dear Grunt, thank you very much for the book list. Wonderful to get a recommendation from someone with your POV. Blessings.

Good Lord, Grunt MP. I am humbled by your intellectual hunger. Your book list boggled my mind. Thank you for posting it. Be safe, Be well.

I can 't wait to go to the library! Thanks!

Read a book by Charles Allen called GODS TERRORISTS. "In the late eighteenth century a violently intolerant interpretation of Islam took root in the Arabian desert.....This holy war was waged chiefly on India's Northwestern frontier with Afghanistan as the Wahabbi mullahs worked tirelessly to bring the Pathan tribes of the area out in armed revolt" The current situation in Afghanistan has happened half a dozen times in the past two hundred years. The book makes clear how it was defeated every time mainly because the locals lost patience with the fanatics. Leave them alone and they will sort themselves out.

Thanks for the booklist, will see about getting some of them read and in my libraries. Be careful out there.

Great reading list; I appreciate your commentary with each title. Sought out your eulogy piece. I'm sorry about your loss. I hope you are keeping it together.

Thanks for the fabulous annotated book list and for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Thanks for all that you are doing. Stay safe.

I am sorry you lost a friend. Thank you for posting this list.

If you are in the mood for some Iraqi culture and hitory, Elizabeth Fernea's "Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of and Iraqi Village" is a good one.

Thanks for the book list.

My God, I thought I was well read!! I concur with your assessment of No True Glory. Its extremely good, explains everything, but is not PC. Thanks for the list.

WRONG premise

only morons 2% bell curve, (like G bush )
dont know the difference

but thanks for list

If you haven't read "The Kite Runner", I highly recommend it. It's a work of fiction, but follows the life of a boy born in Kabul in the mid 60's, and provides some interesting insights into the country. It's a quick read, highly entertaining, and insightful.

Was going to type a reply of thanks for your list, but am too busy printing it out and getting ready to hit the booksellers!

dear grunt: thanks for the book list, and telling us about your loss. Not much to say except bye.. please remember that a lot of us know the difference between afgan and iraq, also add " the kite runner" to your list. another point of view - turns the locals into humans, not just tcn's. Stay safe

Thanks for your list; my "to read" pile just got bigger!

For those who are looking for cultural perspectives on Afghanistan, rather than political, I agree that The Kiterunner is a good one.

I also highly recommend The Bookseller of Kabul, which was written by a Western author who lived for three months with a literate, middle class, and urban Afghan family. The book recounts the tragedy, contradictions, rivalries, and daily frustrations of an Afghan family before and after the fall of the Taliban.

Another book is "The Great Game" by Peter Hopkirk

Rob Newmans' "A History of Oil?" Availible on Google video

Dude, the only "book" that is relevant to Iraq is that the Saudis want us to stay there and Bush serves the Saudis like a lapdog so we will not leave while Bush is President. There is a penalty to be paid for forgetting history. There is also a penalty to be paid for getting bogged down in history and forgetting about the real world that we live in today. Lesson #1 for you and all the other soldiers out in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are Americans. Not Afghanis, or Iraqis. We are in their countries. They are not in ours. The only foreigners who are invading or occupying our country are Latin Americans. You are essentially in Afghanistan and your fellow soldiers are in Iraq wasting time, money and lives trying to keep Afghanis out of Afghanistan and Iraqis out of Iraq, all while letting our country be overrun with Latin Americans. That is your first problem, and the history of ignoring that problem and focusing on other problems is what you should be concerned with. When you're not dodging bullets and trying to get home.

Good luck in getting home in one piece, alive.

You might also like this narative of another soldier in Afganistan over 100 years ago. Little changes.

You might also like this narative of another soldier in Afganistan over 100 years ago. Little changes.

Great List, scary how many I've read. Suggestions for the Bottom (Maybe) list, The Soviet-Afghan War translated by Grau & Gross, the Soviet General Staff Study, and The Road to Kabul by Brian Robson, recently reprinted (Originally in 1986), cheapo from Hamiltons. More or less the best popular account of the (British) Second Afghan 1878-1881.

Thanks for the list. I like to think of myself as someone who tries to enlighten myself in matters that happen outside of the United States borders.

Many years ago, I read Michener's "Caravans". Fictional history of someones adventures in Afghanistan. Have you read it, and if so, what is your impression of it?

Keep your wits about yourself, come home safe.

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