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September 21, 2021 10 min
THE LONG WAR: The Inside Story of America and Afghanistan Since 9/11 (St. Martin's Press, on sale October 5, 2021, $29.99), by award-winning foreign correspondent David Loyn, tells the most complete and detailed story yet on the 20-year campaign in Afghanistan - America's longest war.

At first, it was easy for the U.S. to defeat the Taliban with overwhelming air power. However, they've risen again amid general discontent across Afghanistan, coupled with rampant corruption and instability within the government in Kabul. Eight Generals (seven American, one British) led the war against the Taliban. Loyn interviewed Generals David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, David McKiernan, and Dan McNeill at length about their leadership during the war. Collectively, their military experience dated as far back as Vietnam; however, they now found themselves tested as never before. McChrystal, for instance, had the reputation of a "warrior monk," and was considered one of the most gifted military leaders of his generation. So where did they all go wrong?

THE LONG WAR uncovers failures at the beginning of the war that made long-term engagement inevitable, arguing that the decision to rely on a "light footprint," and give large amounts of cash to tribal warlords allowed fractures to emerge, and created a vacuum shortly after the initial defeat of the Taliban. That alone was a recipe for prolonging the war and made necessary the need for a much larger ground force. In addition, the U.S. failure to understand the context of its relationship with these warlords resulted in the blocking of a functioning country (that had its own skilled army with the ability to defend itself), and an honorable elected government (not one that ended up rife with massive corruption).

If that wasn't enough, the distraction of the simultaneous plan for war in Iraq led to a loss of focus on stabilizing the government in Kabul and the nation as a whole. It soon became the "other war," at least until the Obama administration ordered a 2010 surge in U.S. troops to defend the gains initially made there in 2001-2002.

Afghanistan was the only war in NATO's 70-year history which began under its founding principle: an attack on one is considered an attack on all. Holding together this intricate web after 9/11 was a unique leadership challenge, calling on highly developed political and military skills. Throughout these two decades, the generals had to fight the Taliban while juggling the political rhetoric coming from Washington D.C., Brussels, and Kabul. And, they had to lead troops in the field while grappling with the multi-dimensional puzzles of the most significant geopolitical event of the new century.

Full of in-depth interviews with the four-star generals who commanded the international coalition of troops - at its peak 150,000 strong, 100,000 of them Americans - THE LONG WAR provides the most vivid inside story yet written of the challenges they all faced during the combat years. It explains the deteriorating situation on the ground and the complex challenges of protecting the lives of thousands of American and European soldiers, all while facing down intense criticism from the public and political leaders.

David Loyn, who covered Afghanistan intensely for years as a reporter for the BBC, and then later as a U.S. government-funded strategic communication advisor to the Afghan president, is as versed as any media expert on both modern day Afghanistan as well as centuries of the country's conflicts.
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