The best books on the War in Afghanistan

Who am I?

Phil Halton has worked in conflict zones around the world as an officer in the Canadian Army and as a security consultant and has extensive experience in Afghanistan. He is the author of two novels and a history. He holds a Master's Degree in Defence Studies from Royal Military College of Canada, and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from Humber College. 


I wrote...

Blood Washing Blood: Afghanistan's Hundred-Year War

By Phil Halton,

Book cover of Blood Washing Blood: Afghanistan's Hundred-Year War

What is my book about?

The war in Afghanistan has consumed vast amounts of blood and treasure, causing the Western powers to seek an exit without achieving victory. Seemingly never-ending, the conflict has become synonymous with a number of issues ― global jihad, rampant tribalism, and the narcotics trade ― but even though they are cited as the causes of the conflict, they are in fact symptoms.

Rather than beginning after 9/11 or with the Soviet “invasion” in 1979, the current conflict in Afghanistan began with the social reforms imposed by Amanullah Amir in 1919. Western powers have failed to recognize that legitimate grievances are driving the local population to turn to insurgency in Afghanistan. The issues they are willing to fight for have deep roots, forming a hundred-year-long social conflict over questions of secularism, modernity, and centralized power. The first step toward achieving a “solution” to the Afghanistan “problem” is to have a clear-eyed view of what is really driving it.

The books I picked & why

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My Life with the Taliban

By Abdul Salam Zaeef,

Book cover of My Life with the Taliban

Why this book?

There are few books available in English that describe the Taliban’s point of view, not just of the war, but of the many years leading up to it. Mullah Zaeef was a senior member of the Taliban government before the US invasion, and he explains a lot of the thinking behind the Taliban’s decisions and policies. Perhaps more importantly, he tells his own life story, which makes those decisions relatable on a human level. A very readable autobiography.

My Life with the Taliban

By Abdul Salam Zaeef,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Life with the Taliban as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Abdul Zaeef describes growing up in poverty in rural Kandahar province, which he fled for Pakistan after the Russian invasion of 1979. Zaeef joined the jihad in 1983, was seriously wounded in several encounters and met many leading figures of the resistance, including the current Taliban head, Mullah Mohammad Omar. Disgusted by the lawlessness that ensued after the Soviet withdrawal, Zaeef was one among the former mujahidin who were closely involved in the emergence of the Taliban, in 1994. He then details his Taliban career, including negotiations with Ahmed Shah Massoud and role as ambassador to Pakistan during 9/11. In…


Poetry of the Taliban

By Felix Kuehn, Alex Strick Van Linschoten,

Book cover of Poetry of the Taliban

Why this book?

The Taliban have long used poetry as a means of disseminating their messages, and their website features work in many different languages. Poetry has a very long tradition in Afghanistan, and so while the Taliban have tapped into this cultural current, it would be wrong to dismiss all of the poetry written (or even published) by the Taliban as mere propaganda. The poems in this work provide insight into the hearts and minds of Taliban fighters, who long for peace and for a multitude of things lost in war, who celebrate victories and lament defeats. A very human view of what are often seen as a faceless enemy.

Poetry of the Taliban

By Felix Kuehn, Alex Strick Van Linschoten,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Poetry of the Taliban as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Taliban are synonymous with the war in Afghanistan. Doughty, uncompromising fighters, they plant IEDs, deploy suicide bombers and wage guerrilla warfare. While much has been written about their military tactics, media strategy and harsh treatment of women, the cultural and sometimes less overtly political representation of their identity, the Taliban's other face, is often overlooked. Most Taliban fighters are Pashtuns, a people who cherish their vibrant poetic tradition, closely associated with that of song. The poems in this collection are meant to be recited and sung; and this is the manner in which they are enjoyed by the wider…


Poppies, Politics, and Power: Afghanistan and the Global History of Drugs and Diplomacy

By James Tharin Bradford,

Book cover of Poppies, Politics, and Power: Afghanistan and the Global History of Drugs and Diplomacy

Why this book?

Drug trafficking has become entwined with Afghanistan in the minds of many, though the true situation is often misunderstood. Bradford’s meticulous research not only clearly explains the present situation, it places it in the broader historical context that is almost always missing. The legal trade in opium has deep roots in Afghanistan, and even in the present day, there are as many senior government officials benefiting from it as there are insurgent leaders. He also explores the growing problem with addiction that plagues Afghanistan, humanizing a complex problem.

Poppies, Politics, and Power: Afghanistan and the Global History of Drugs and Diplomacy

By James Tharin Bradford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Poppies, Politics, and Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Historians have long neglected Afghanistan's broader history when portraying the opium industry. But in Poppies, Politics, and Power, James Tharin Bradford rebalances the discourse, showing that it is not the past forty years of lawlessness that makes the opium industry what it is, but the sheer breadth of the twentieth-century Afghanistan experience. Rather than byproducts of a failed contemporary system, argues Bradford, drugs, especially opium, were critical components in the formation and failure of the Afghan state.

In this history of drugs and drug control in Afghanistan, Bradford shows us how the country moved from licit supply of the global…


An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012

By Mike Martin,

Book cover of An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012

Why this book?

Martin was a British Army officer who learned to speak fluent Pashto, and spent long hours talking with and gaining the trust of various players in Helmand Province. Based on those discussions, he has put together the only oral history of the conflict there available in any language. By starting in 1978, he clearly shows that the fighting thirty years later had much deeper roots, and that more often than not, the causes of conflict were not apparent to Western eyes.

An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012

By Mike Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Intimate War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An Intimate War' tells the story of the last thirty-four years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In the West, this period is often defined through different lenses -- the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.

This book -- based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pashto -- offers…


The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan

By Artyom Borovik,

Book cover of The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan

Why this book?

Borovik was a very well-known journalist in Russia, whose work gives an inside view of the Soviet military machine in Afghanistan. Far from being the all-powerful monolith that it is often portrayed as, Borovik shows the human aspect of war with unblinking candor. Although it is a journalistic account of what he saw and experienced, his writing elevates the subject to the level of literature. The misery and shattered idealism of the defeated Soviet soldiers resonates today.

The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan

By Artyom Borovik,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hidden War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is a record of the author's experiences during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He lived and travelled with the Russian soldiers, went into combat with them and shared the terror, helplessness and despair of waging war in a foreign land against an unseen enemy for unclear purposes. The book also explains how and why Russian troops went into Afghanistan. It describes the drug problems, criminal behaviour and psychiatric disorders prevalent among veterans and concludes with an account of the Russian withdrawal and its aftermath.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Taliban, Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom?

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