- Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan
Historians prefer to let the dust settle on events to allow clarity and perspective before they analyze them. Antonio Giustozzi is not waiting for any dust to settle or for the passing of a "decent interval". His topic is relevant and evolving. He is trying to capture the minute and record it even as it changes.
The Taliban of today is not the broken conventional force of Spring 2002. Events in Afghanistan have followed a historic pattern. First, there was the defeat of the conventional (Taliban) force. The fight then passed to small, ineffective guerrilla groups. The guerrilla effort was low key, disorganized, and limited. Over time, Darwinism weeded out the slow and overly-bold from the guerrilla ranks and the resultant forces are larger, better-led, better-trained, and better-organized. Giustozzi calls the current guerrilla effort the neo-Taliban.
Effective research on the neo-Taliban is difficult since primary source contact can be hazardous to one's health. The researcher may be limited to secondary source material (much of which carries an institutional bias) and a small group of journalists (who usually fail to ask the important questions). In what may be Giustozzi's best book yet, he has amassed a huge amount of contemporary reporting, opinion, briefings, and interviews and then amalgamated them to produce a first-rate analysis of the state of the Taliban movement. The reviewer and he may disagree over some points in the analysis, but only time will show who was correct.
This is an important book as it shows the evolution of the movement into a more lethal entity. The Taliban are clearly not up to the strength or level of proficiency that the Mujahideen forces were during the Soviet-Afghan War, but the effectiveness of the Afghan government also does not yet match that of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Coalition support does not approach the support of the Soviet Union during the earlier war. This book goes a long way in trying to determine what the present Taliban movement actually looks like. Where the book is opaque, the available information is also opaque. The author uses far more Afghan sources than he has in the past-to good effect. Of particular value is his description of the Taliban strategy, Taliban military districts, and Taliban exploitation of divisions between tribal and religious leaders and between tribes.
This is a book for the minute, for 2008. If you are interested in the topic, do not wait for it to hit the remainders table. It will soon be out of date, but for now, it is current, relevant, and thought-provoking. It is also an easy read. I covered it during a two-leg flight from Kansas City to Toronto and still had time for a "Chicago Dog".
Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas