A definitive account of the American experience in Afghanistan from the rise of the Taliban to the depths of the insurgency.
After the swift defeat of the Taliban in 2001, American optimism has steadily evaporated in the face of mounting violence; a new “war of a thousand cuts” has now brought the country to its knees. In the Graveyard of Empires is a political history of Afghanistan in the “Age of Terror” from 2001 to 2009, exploring the fundamental tragedy of America’s longest war since Vietnam.
After a brief survey of the great empires in Afghanistan—the campaigns of Alexander the Great, the British in the era of Kipling, and the late Soviet Union—Seth G. Jones examines the central question of our own war: how did an insurgency develop? Following the September 11 attacks, the United States successfully overthrew the Taliban regime. It established security throughout the country—killing, capturing, or scattering most of al Qa’ida’s senior operatives—and Afghanistan finally began to emerge from more than two decades of struggle and conflict. But Jones argues that as early as 2001 planning for the Iraq War siphoned off resources and talented personnel, undermining the gains that had been made. After eight years, he says, the United States has managed to push al Qa’ida’s headquarters about one hundred miles across the border into Pakistan, the distance from New York to Philadelphia.
While observing the tense and often adversarial relationship between NATO allies in the Coalition, Jones—who has distinguished himself at RAND and was recently named by Esquire as one of the “Best and Brightest” young policy experts—introduces us to key figures on both sides of the war. Harnessing important new research and integrating thousands of declassified government documents, Jones then analyzes the insurgency from a historical and structural point of view, showing how a rising drug trade, poor security forces, and pervasive corruption undermined the Karzai government, while Americans abandoned a successful strategy, failed to provide the necessary support, and allowed a growing sanctuary for insurgents in Pakistan to catalyze the Taliban resurgence.
Examining what has worked thus far—and what has not—this serious and important book underscores the challenges we face in stabilizing the country and explains where we went wrong and what we must do if the United States is to avoid the disastrous fate that has befallen many of the great world powers to enter the region.
About the Author
Seth G. Jones is the senior vice president, Harold Brown Chair, and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), as well as the author of Three Dangerous Men, A Covert Action, In the Graveyard of Empires, and Hunting in the Shadows. He lives outside of Washington, DC.
A useful and generally lively account of what can go wrong when outsiders venture onto the Afghan landscape.
— Steven Simon - Foreign Affairs
This is a serious work that should be factored in as a new policy in Afghanistan evolves.
— Jay Freeman - Booklist
Seth G. Jones’s book provides a vivid sense of just how paltry and misguided the American effort has been.… In the Graveyard of Empires will help to show what might still be done to build something enduring in Afghanistan and finally allow the U.S. to go home.
— Dexter Filkins - The New Republic
[An] excellent book.
— James Blitz - Financial Times
How we got to where we are in Afghanistan.
— Matthew Kaminski - Wall Street Journal
[Zeroes] in on what went awry after America’s successful routing of the Taliban in late 2001.
— Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times
A blueprint for winning in a region that has historically brought mighty armies to their knees.
— Doug Childers - Richmond Times-Dispatch
Offers a valuable window onto how officials have understood the military campaign.
— Robert D. Crews - San Francisco Chronicle
Seth Jones . . . has an anthropologist’s feel for a foreign society, a historian’s intuition for long-term trends, and a novelist’s eye for the telling details that illuminate a much larger story. If you read just one book about the Taliban, terrorism, and the United States, this is the place to start.
— Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century
A timely and important work, without peer in terms of both its scholarship and the author’s intimate knowledge of the country, the insurgency threatening it, and the challenges in defeating it.
— Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University, author of Inside Terrorism
A deeply researched and well-analyzed account of the failures of American policies in Afghanistan, In the Graveyard of Empires will be mandatory reading for policymakers from Washington to Kabul.
— Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know
Seth Jones has combined forceful narrative with careful analysis, illustrating the causes of this deteriorating situation, and recommending sensible, feasible steps to reverse the escalating violence.
— James Dobbins, author of After the Taliban: Nation Building in Afghanistan