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A. J. Campagna
5.0 out of 5 starsThis book tells how the Taliban supports itself.
Reviewed in the United States on January 27, 2020
Excellent factual explanation of the way the talibs support their war. Now dated it still is very relevant. Her suggestions were made to the state Dept until the military took over in 2007. I was in the Afghan aor from 2006 thru 2009 as a contractor destroying poppies from Jalalabad to Kandahar to the Chinese border.
3.0 out of 5 starsAn important issue, drowning in detail and poor structure
Reviewed in the United States on January 2, 2010
By the time I finished this potentially very interesting work about an unquestionably important topic, I was downright irritable at the circuitous, repetitive and sometimes impenetrable book about what is almost certainly one of the key national security issues we face: the link between narco-trafficking and the terrorism that its profits finance.
Just from keeping up with the news, I knew this was an important topic and one I wanted to learn more of. Alas, this book didn't help much. Part of the problem is the structure -- Peters seems to make the same point over and over again, leaving me wondering why no editor had taken her material in hand and imposed some kind of order and coherence on it. Every so often, a segment would grab my attention, such as her quest into "HJK", the Afghan drug kingpin she compares to Khun Sa, the warlord of the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia. But then she quickly relapses into making the same point in different ways, relying more on comments from anonymous Westerners and other security officials than other first-hand observations, and quoting reports by other journalists. Why??? if she has spent the last decade in the region, surely she can bring her own observations and reporting to bear, instead of quoting her peers on what seem like banalities, such as: "What is new is the scale of this toxic mix of jihad and dope," writes journalist David Kaplan." That's the same point she's making in 17 different ways in the book; why quote another observer to make it #18?
Putting together this tendency to "tell" rather than "show" the reader what is happening, her reliance on other journalists' narratives to tell the story, and the circuitous nature of the book, left me with a disappointing book on my hands, and one that often felt as if it were written for a wire service or perhaps and news magazine and then streeettttchhhhed to fill an entire book. I'm sure there was new information in here, but frankly, you'd have to be following the drugs/terrorism connection with more than just average curiosity to detect it as it doesn't stand out. This struck me as an effort to drill down more deeply into one part of the vast interlinked criminal world that Misha Glenny chillingly outlined in
McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld
, but it didn't come close to matching Glenny's book in reach or style.
Recommended only to those with a compelling interest in the subject and enough tolerance for ponderous prose to wade their way through this in search of the nuggets it probably does contain. It's certainly a 5-star book, but I can't, in good conscience, award it more than three stars. Even
Opium Season: A Year on the Afghan Frontier
, which is little more than a memoir by a young member of one of the anti-opium taskforces that have tried combating the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan ended up providing me with more insight into the broad issue, including the perspective of the Afghans themselves.
I bought this book as a gift for my boyfriend...this is his review...
Found the book a good and interesting read of investigative journalism. Her "boots on the ground" approach enabled her to interview and interact with various and divergent groups of Afghanis, while in country. This assisted the reader to gain a better understanding of what actually is taking place in this region of the world. My only criticism, is her last chapter. She feels compelled to resolve the problems of this nation and its perpetual turmoil. My recommendation is that the author re-read her own writings and come to the logical conclusion that this reader has made. Intervention from the West into Afganistan, no matter how well intentioned, (as expertly revealed throughout her book), will fail miserably! I believe history will also support this conclusion.
4.0 out of 5 starsA Journalistic Account of the Afghanistan Opium Trade
Reviewed in the United States on June 6, 2010
As a journalist with a deep interest in Afghanistan, Gretchen Peters offers an extensively researched account of the evolution of the heroin trade within Afghanistan and Pakistan. The recent escalation of hostilities in the region and the resurgence of the Taliban can be directly attributed to the proliferation of poppy fields. Furthermore, Afghanistan can now be described as a narco-state that parallels the development of the FARC within Colombia more closely than the insurgency in Iraq. From personally meeting many of the major players within the opium trade to relentlessly obtaining access to confidential intelligence cables and documents, Peters has gone to great lengths to provide a substantiated narrative of the Afghanistan heroin trade.
While Peters has extensively researched the connections between the Afghanistan insurgency, the numerous regional actors, and the poppy trade, the book suffers from a lack of broader context. Little discussion is given to the flows of opium once it exits the region beyond a brief mention of Europe being the primary recipient. Without a complete understanding of the opium markets that Afghanistan fuels, policy solutions will suffer as opium markets adapt to one-sided efforts.
This book is very much a journalistic account of the topic and suffers from a lack of theory. Peters largely neglects theoretical discussion of counterinsurgencies or counternarcotics operations. Many of Peters' conclusions coincide with counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine and could have greatly benefited from incorporating principles of COIN within her work, giving it a more substantial theoretical basis. The U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual is excellent supplemental reading for anyone engaged with these issues.
Several important topics could have used far more discussion and depth. For example, Peters quickly dismisses the initial strategy for the Afghanistan invasion as inadequate "with predictably unfortunately results. (105)" Since the awareness of COIN doctrine has been a relatively recent phenomena (the U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual was published in 2006), initial operations within Afghanistan may have suffered from a lack of theoretical understanding of the nature of the conflict instead of blatant strategic errors. For Peters to claim that the current situation in Afghanistan was predictable from the start, far more depth is needed.
Peters's discussion of Iran is also cursory. Even though Peters does document several instances of Iranian involvement, Peters avoids exploring whether or not this involvement is the result of official Iranian policy or the result of a few Iranian actors searching for profit.
In contrast, the connections between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly the ISI, are discussed extensively.
A pivotal book for understanding Afghanistan. Those interested in illicit networks, the intricacies of the Afghanistan insurgency, or the complexities of the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship will also find this book fascinating. The book is also easily accessible for readers without a background on these topics.
For more reviews and a summary of Peters' main points, find us at Hand of Reason.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Review by the Author of WHITE MONSOON
Reviewed in the United States on August 25, 2018
This is by far the bravest book ever written about the world's Afghanistan heroin problem. Gretchen put herself in extremely dangerous situations and went to extraordinary lengths to compile the complete history of this country's unstoppable contribution to the worldwide and ongoing heroin epidemic. One word, Gretchen. THANKS
This is a must for afganistan watchers, so next time we hear about a british squaddie being killed by an IED, we need to think about what is going on out there and where do we go wrong-this book sets the record straight. The Taliban and the drug lords, with politicians and money men, have concocted a crazy quilt of drug related operations all over afganistan and to understand it, we need to read this book.