Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, 'Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence' and Leo Docherty, 'Desert of Death: A Soldier's Journey from Iraq to Afghanistan'

IssueOctober 2007
Review by Gabriel Carlyle

Following the “collapse” of the Taliban in November 2001, Afghanistan fell off the radars of most anti-war activists. Consequently, many of us have quite a bit of catching up to do - which makes the publication of Bleeding Afghanistan extremely welcome.


Written by two US activists whose work with the Afghan Women's Mission - a non-profit organisation raising funds and awareness for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) - pre-dates 9/11, this is probably the book for activists to read on the subject.

Part one (“Destroying a State”) surveys the US's pre-9/11 role: funnelling billions of dollars to the most violent and fundamentalist jihadi groups it could find, during the Soviet occupation (in a covert op that allegedly started prior to the latter's invasion), and averting its eyes during 1992-1996 as its protégés used US weapons to tear the country to pieces.

Part two tackles the 2001 invasion, Washington's role in re-establishing warlord control over much of the country, and Afghanistan's role in the US's global archipelago of prisons. A particular standout is Chapter 4 which shows, in great detail, how Washington manipulated Afghanistan's political process in order to create a “client democracy”

Part three (“Rhetoric vs Reality”) looks at the Bush administration's exploitation of women's rights, the media's failure to provide critical coverage, and the real reasons behind the invasion and occupation (exploding some conspiracy theories along the way).

Finally, an epilogue offers some suggestions for activism and solidarity.

Written prior to the start of the major NATO offensives in southern Afghanistan last year, the authors call for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, “but only after disarmament [of the warlords] is complete.” The UN should play a central role, they argue, and the mandate of a genuine peacekeeping force should be “strictly limited to preventing attacks on civilians by all armed groups.”

However, after almost 6 years of occupation such a prospect seems as distant as ever, whilst ongoing military operations are killing hundreds of civilians and aiding Taliban recruitment.

Indeed, as Leo Docherty, former aide-de-camp to the British commander in Helmand (in southern Afghanistan) asserts in the epilogue to his pacily written account of his time in Iraq and Afghanistan (which ends just as the NATO offensives were getting underway) “a peaceful, developed Helmand cannot be won by the sword, and the longer we try, the greater the tragedy.”

Topics: Afghanistan
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