Little America

Little America From The Award Winning Author Of Imperial Life In The Emerald City, A Riveting, Intimate Account Of America S Troubled War In Afghanistan When President Barack Obama Ordered The Surge Of Troops And Aid To Afghanistan, Washington Post Correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran Followed He Found The Effort Sabotaged Not Only By Afghan And Pakistani Malfeasance But By Infighting And Incompetence Within The American Government A War Cabinet Arrested By Vicious Bickering Among Top National Security Aides Diplomats And Aid Workers Who Failed To Deliver On Their Grand Promises Generals Who Dispatched Troops To The Wrong Places And Headstrong Military Leaders Who Sought A Far Expansive Campaign Than The White House Wanted Through Their Bungling And Quarreling, They Wound Up Squandering The First Year Of The Surge Chandrasekaran Explains How The United States Has Never Understood Afghanistan And Probably Never Will During The Cold War, American Engineers Undertook A Massive Development Project Across Southern Afghanistan In An Attempt To Woo The Country From Soviet Influence They Built Dams And Irrigation Canals, And They Established A Comfortable Residential Community Known As Little America, With A Western Style School, A Coed Community Pool, And A Plush Clubhouse All Of Which Embodied American And Afghan Hopes For A Bright Future And A Close Relationship But In The Late S After Growing Afghan Resistance And A Communist Coup The Americans Abandoned The Region To Warlords And Poppy Farmers In One Revelatory Scene After Another, Chandrasekaran Follows American Efforts To Reclaim The Very Same Territory From The Taliban Along The Way, We Meet An Army General Whose Experience As The Top Military Officer In Charge Of Iraq S Green Zone Couldn T Prepare Him For The Bureaucratic Knots Of Afghanistan, A Marine Commander Whose Desire To Charge Into Remote Hamlets Conflicted With Civilian Priorities, And A War Seasoned Diplomat Frustrated In His Push For A Scaled Down But Long Term American Commitment Their Struggles Show How Obama S Hope Of A Good War, And The Pentagon S Desire For A Resounding Victory, Shriveled On The Arid Plains Of Southern Afghanistan Meticulously Reported, Hugely Revealing, Little America Is An Unprecedented Examination Of A Failing War And An Eye Opening Look At The Complex Relationship Between America And Afghanistan

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is an Indian American journalist He is currently assistant managing editor for continuous news at The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994 Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Chandrasekaran holds a degree in political science from Stanford University, where he was editor in chief of The Stanford Daily.At The Post he has served as bureau chief in Baghdad, C

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  • Hardcover
  • 384 pages
  • Little America
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran
  • English
  • 08 October 2017
  • 9780307957146

10 thoughts on “Little America

  1. says:

    I would have rated this book better, but there are a few things I feel the author got wrong Overall, I would say this is an excellent history of the Afghan war circa 2008 2011 He delves deep into the political and diplomatic situation, as well as the philosophical debate within the military regarding counterinsurgency all necessary discussions for a proper history However, as a veteran of 5 2 Stryker Brigade, I saw a lot of this happen personally, and feel reality was slightly different in several instances He is absolutely right that the senior commanders in southern Afghanistan did not like Colonel Tunnell He was not a fan of Petraeus style COIN, believing instead in an antiquated, fringe philosophy of counter guerrilla operations We were dubbed, by him, a counter guerrilla brigade, and given counter guerilla streamers for our guidons However, most of the soldiers in the brigade saw this as a farce The officers would smile and nod their heads when he lectured on his doctrine, and then would proceed to conduct actual COIN once he returned to KAF From a company point of view which is where the rubber meets the road operationally there was little or no difference between 5 2 SBCT and any other unit in Afghanistan Additionally, the idea that we lost a year is hyperbolic and irrational Admittedly, taking the vulnerable Stryker vehicles into the Arghandab River Valley was not a great idea, and the unit suffered great losses because of it, but that was only one battalion in a brigade which was responsible for most of southern Afghanistan In Zabul, Spin Boldak, and eventually Helmand, we rarely had violent incidents during our deployment, and saw great gains in terms of local populace development, rooting out corruption, and building humanitarian projects What s , once 5 2 pulled out of the ARV, their replacement unit 4 82 ABN suffered similarly high casualties, indicating that it was not the unit, but rather the area that was responsible for the SIGACTS.Finally, while Colonel Tunnell may receive a great deal of the blame post hoc, the individual most despised at the time 2009 2010 was General McChrystal McChrystal s extremely tight Rules of Engagement no tolerance for civilian casualties handcuffed US forces, who were afraid of being hung out to dry for firing artillery or attack aircraft in support of troops in contact Subsequently, morale dropped, as soldiers developed the feeling that the commanding general would gladly sacrifice their lives in order to avoid accidentally killing Afghan civilians The day General McChrystal was relieved was a great morale boost to troops in country Nevertheless, this book offered great insight into the inner working of the administration, and the roles of aid workers and the military in trying to find a winnable solution to the longest war in American history.

  2. says:

    Rajiv Chandrasekara reported on the war in Afghanistan for the Washington Post from 2009 to 2011 Most of his time was spent embedded with the marines in the embattled southern region of Helmand Province At one point he recalls As I waded through waist high water in Marja, I cursed the engineers of Little America The north south canals that Morrison Knudsen had constructed, traversing the desert polder as straight arrow as the avenues of Manhattan, were than irrigation marvels They were perfect defensive moats, wide and deep enough to keep out MRAPS the hulking, mine resistant, ambush protected trucks, equipped with machine guns and grenade launchers, that had replaced Humvees as Marine combat vehicles Small concrete bridges spanned the canals, but they had been rigged with homemade bombs Chapter 7 Bleeding Ulcer, Location 1999 The use of the pronoun I in this book is rare His reporting is that of a self disciplined observer At the same time, he conveys both the overwhelming obstacles to the military effort in Afghanistan and the prevalence of a troubled history of missteps that continue to this day What is the relevance of a book written in 2012 about events that unfolded between 2009 and 2011 The effect of history is cumulative Chandrasekara performs the difficult chore of reminding us of that truth.Invasion and colonialism is part of that history In part it explains Afghan sensitivity to foreign armies and foreign contractors under the direction of foreign powers Great Britain s 19th century incursions are still remembered To this day, son of a Brit is among the worst insults that can be slung in Helmand On a trip to Musa Qala in 2010, I witnessed an Afghan army brigadier general, furious that a gate between abutting Afghan and NATO bases had been locked, upbraid two British government officials This is my country, not yours, the general fumed When your grandfathers were here, my grandfathers killed five thousand of them U.S And NATO officials had failed to grasp that enmity when they had urged the British to take over there Chapter 2 Stop the Slide, Location 743 Poppy cultivation is also part of that history In 1951 the U.S funded an ambitious irrigation project despite initial warnings about the topography and without further soil and drainage studies of the entire Helmand River Valley that would be affected by the project Lots of money cheap, rushed planning It would be a formula repeated decade after decade Irrigation would soon leave behind a salt saturated soil One crop would be uniquely suited to grown there Poppies Decades passed Tribal rivalries and the Soviet invasion became the catalysts In 1981 a local tribal leader, Mullah Nasim Akhundzada, legalized and then demanded poppy cultivation to finance his anti Soviet Mujahideen A flourishing industry grew The opium paste could be stored by farmers until transport was safe Mullah Nasim could promise a fixed price and sell the opium at a profit thanks to investments in a network of processing labs Take a look at a map of Afghanistan Kabul, the capital is in the north, over 350 miles from Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province In 2009 the entire province contained less than 4% of Afghanistan s population Helmand Province was both remote from the authority of any central government and historically fundamental to America s efforts to modernize a country based on an agricultural economy USAID had poured millions of dollars and populated Lashkar Gah with so many of its employees and contractors that the area had gained the epithet of Little America in the fifties andsixties.Forgotten history was an impediment to USAID s efforts It was the civilian agency charged with creating a sustainable infrastructure under the umbrella of military security In 2001 Dick Scott was hired by USAID for his agricultural expertise He proposed cotton as a viable substitute for poppies in the Helmand Valley USAID proceeded to sabotage the efforts of its own agent They vetoed the idea because it would require price stabilizing subsidies to insulate farmers from the volatile world market Subsidies were politically unpalatable Ironically, low prices on the world market were in part due to the U.S Government s subsidies to American cotton growers Almost a decade passed with a succession of expensive failures as other crop candidates were tried In 2010 USDA expert Wes Harris conducted an extensive analysis His conclusion Cotton was a viable crop for replacing poppies No one remembered Dick Scott s exploration of the subject USAID still said no, this time citing ludicrously erroneous calculations and arguing the crop would be unprofitable The period from June 2009 to July 2011 was eventful A troop surge was authorized Battles were fought in Lashkar Gah, Gereshk, Sangin, Musa Qala, Kajaki, Garmsir and Marjan, each with its own distinctive problems Construction of schools, clinics and police stations commenced in haste without consideration for adequate staffing Money was poured into short term unsustainable efforts.General Stanley McCrystal assumed command of the NATO coalition forces, but inherited a scattered configuration of forces in southern Afghanistan 9000 British and over 10,000 Americans in Helmand Province 2800 Canadians and 4000 Americans in Kandahar He inherited a war with forward momentum occurring in Helmand Province and conflicting strategies adopted by the British and Canadians allies under his command but not his control He inherited a strategy favored by Washington policy makers COIN, which required disciplined coordination between the military and civilian agencies and that was poorly understood by many of the commanders in the field That coordination was non existent USAID lacked the expertise The State Department was torn between a commitment to involve the Afghan Government, ongoing corruption within that government and internal turf wars Readers searching for a single cause for U.S failures in Afghanistan, or a single source of blame will be disappointed There are no clear sign posts for proceeding into the future However, Chandrasekaran does provide a costly lesson in public skepticism Public relations is simply that It is designed to spin public opinion in a positive direction, whether it comes from the mouth of a politician, a general, or a civil service bureaucrat When money is allocated, how will it be spent Who makes that determination What qualifications inform their decisions What metrics for accountability are in place Are there explicit goals and are they realistic If you believe answers to these questions are elusive, you will be concurring with Chadrasekaran The American bureaucracy had become America s worst enemy Chapter 18 What We Have is Folly, Location 5068 Chandrasekaran argues that internal bureaucratic conflict defeated our goals in Afghanistan I read this book a couple of years ago Chandrasekaran assumes the reader already has a firm grasp of chronology I didn t He structures his chapters into topical segments, including activities in Helmand Province vs those occuring in Kandahar I re read his book, this time with a copy of some Afghanistan maps in front of me and notes indicating the dates of occurrence I recommend other readers do the same Now that we are committed to military involvement in Afghanistan, I feel a responsibility to understand the news I am reading This is not the kind of news that necessarily ends up in headlines or on the front pages This book has provided me with a much needed context NOTES This map is an excellent guide to the locations mentioned in the book with the author minute interview with the author

  3. says:

    An excellent look at the involvement of the U.S in Afghanistan in the last few years particularly since the Obama administration took over in 2009.Mr Chandrasekaran outlines the disconnects that exist at all levels between the U.S government and the military, between the U.S civilians in Afghanistan and the U.S military, and even between the U.S army and U.S marines who have a go it alone approach For example some civilian groups wanted to supply and aid Afghan farmers to cultivate cotton which was feasible in many areas but groups affiliated with the U.S government objected because cotton is a protected crop grown by the U.S and this would cause, they say, unnecessary or illegal competition.We are also told of the disdain that most levels of the Obama administration have for Hamid Karzai and with reason the corruption, the drug smuggling, and the nepotism, are all notorious.Both the army and the marines pushed the meaning of the counter insurgency strategy to the outer limits expanding military outposts to remote regions instead of consolidating urban areas We are provided a description of a sequestered U.S embassy where they cannot even cross the street without protocol and passwords to speak with the adjacent military people.We are given descriptions of various personalities from Afghan warlords who rule absolutely their territory, the flamboyant Richard Holbrook, American military personnel stationed in the nether regions of Afghanistan who valiantly try to establish some civil law within their zone of occupation, and U.S citizens who also push for development and reform.One comes to realize that in a country as destitute as Afghanistan these disconnects of various groups are fatal for any long term achievements They are leaving a bad taste all around Some in the military foresee at least 10 to 20 years of some form of occupation to attain any feasible development for Afghanistan and to rid the country of the medieval Taliban It is very doubtful that the American people would support this in the long term, and importantly the people of Afghanistan do not want a continued military presence in their country In fact the U.S military occupation is now a powerful recruiting tool for the Taliban Mixed into and complicating things even , is Pakistan s ISI which provides sanctuary and support for the Taliban.There seems little hope for this forlorn country which is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world and may be artificially pumped up due to all the aid it receives This is a well written book giving us evocative views of Afghanistan.Page 249 my book In Afghanistan, Ospreys a combination plane and helicopter seemed to travel in both space and time When Nicholson s aircraft alighted upon a dirt patch next to the bazaar, it was as if he had journeyed back centuries from the modern world Taghaz had no electricity or running water Residents lived in adobe buildings that lacked windows and furniture They cooked over open flames and relieved themselves in fields Save for the odd motorcycle, the people of Taghaz lived as they had five hundred or even a thousand years before.

  4. says:

    I didn t want to read this book I ve read enough books about the topic But my cousin sent me her copy and I devoured it in a day or two It didn t leave me depressed but very angry at the incompetence of our goverment, particulary USAID and the State Department Marines and soldiers are dying and energy is being spent fighting each other than the enemy whoever that might be military vs civilian, NSC vs Holbrooke, and on and on Some real heroes in this book fighting the bureacracy but they are too few We could have easily replaced opium with cotton but USAID wouldn t allow it This will be the THE book on Afghanistan during Obama s watch It doesn t cover the whole country but it gives you a micro picture in one province and a good seat at the big picture table as well I learned much about how the Marines got involved in Helmand Province and the fragile nature of our relationship with the Brits and their lack of aggressiveness was surprising The monumental incompetence of USAID is inexcusable not doing what needs to be done and then just throwing away money I was hooked on this book as soon as I read the opening quote from Michener s Caravans We couldn t tame the land back in the 1950 s so why did we even think we could tame the inhabitants So many lost opportunities It s like Iraq and the CPA all over again It s Vietnam with sanctuaries and a government without the support of the people.

  5. says:

    4 28 17 kindle, a library loan, and at 58% complete.i chose this title, one, because the author s name suggests a prism that perhaps is without the taint so common in the u.s.a today chandrasekaran is american, i assume, judging from the little i read about his author s biography but i read another to do with afghanistan, No Good Men Among the Living America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, an though i can t say for certain gopal s residency, the name alone suggested to me he does not have a dog in that fight all in all it was a good read, informative and i ve been reading other titles, Dirty Wars The World is a Battlefield, Left of Boom How a Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and Al Qaeda looking for explain our protracted presence in afghanistan and so this one.each one i ve read has complimented the previous, has raised questions that didn t occur until i read another, has supplied information that explains much my everlasting question what are we doing mistakes successes we ve been there for years 9 11 was a decade and a half ago gargantuan amounts of money have been previous reads, i ve come away with the suspicion that u.s forces made egregious mistakes in the war on terror understandable, to a degree, but when those mistakes should have been realized for the mistakes they were, little was learned, as the mistakes were made again this oneexplains some one story herein informative is a marinegenerali think, someone at the topsome sort of stryker brigade, newly formed, rushing in where angels fear to tread, committing many of the same mistakes from a decade earlier this is america this is our military this is the leader of the free world how can we be so incredibly focking stupid and then there is the information of newly supplied troops and the bureaucracy military and academic state in nature, some action that succeeded, other that did notand one area left untended because of the bureaucracy academia after close to a decade of being there this is america this is the leader of the free world how can weand at the 58% mark complete, againa man who signed up to make a difference, a georgia farmer, dirt under his fingernails he goes he sees he suggests cotton but no usaid, the main culprit, bureaucracy, intent at the same time on spending wasting massive amounts of money, workers cycling in and out of the country, few of them making a difference it s a paycheck , the money changing the cultureand this cotton farmer from georgia suggests cotton againas had been done seven or years earlier the same damn result the price tag he calculated a million usaid wasted over 300 million at the same time the georgia farmer s million in the plus minus column but not even there as the same bullheaded arrogance and belief wouldn t allow it this is america this is the leader of the free world so, yes, this title has information about the other side of the coin previous reads have certainly laid bare mistakes and successes from the pentagon side of things there are a pile of folk not in the pentagon, too , this one informs about the waste and mistakes from the bureaucratic side of the coin.andin this one, like the left of boom linked above, includes one story about a man who learned the languageand was hugely successful so there are success stories but the end remainswe ve been there for yearsand all information has shown, that i ve read to date, that by story end, we re likely to walk out of the theatre, discouraged, another tragedy.finished, 4 28 17 earlier today later now a distinction between two kinds of offensive warfare are made is made about coin counter insurgency and there s some variation on that and ct counter terrorism and very little is made about that in one of the other reads above, there is quite a bit to do with c t although i don t think the author s of the piece used the expression much, if at all later afterearly the next morningokay, so having read the above, meaning titles, those that might be linked, toowanted to make the point that chandrasekaran says nothing, or little, about the kind of force that is involved was it dirty wars that highlighted, among other things, that it was.whatspecial forces that also did c t counter terrorism chandrasekaran makes much about the improper deployment of marines in certain areas and there s likely some truth to thatthat perhaps they would have been better deployed elsewhere the grass is always greener, as they say.there s this i highlighted, the counterterrorism policy of raids nigh raids and air strikes that petraeus and other commanders had derided in the 2009 white house strategy review had become the military s principal tool to weaken the insurgency chandrasekaran, like i said, does not make much, at all, about the kind of force the reader is left to assume that is regular army, regular marines and too, makes me wonder, what else was involvedas the fabled night raids, imagine it in your neighborhood.guns noises, banging, yellingyour reaction bad guys recipe for problems say, if someone else, not directly involved with the impact of the noise and gun sounds, decides their neighbor is in danger which leads to this other highlight he maintained doesn t matter who that successful ct what the acronym loving military called counterterrorism required coin, counter insurgency as i understand it , because good relations with the locals required good intelligence but the vast majority of nights raids conducted in afghanistan during the second half of 2010 were based on signals intelligence and not based on the afghan civil war, long running disputes, recent insults, or simply human nature and that lead to the bad guys swapping out their sim cards with their neighborssowrong houseso of the default position of america is bad and so it goes.all in all, good read, much information, and i wouldn t say it is presented in too much of a flawed prism sort of way but then, human nature so say we all.

  6. says:

    This book could have been sub titled How to Lose a War or perhaps Why has Everybody Screwed Up This War So Badly This is the sinking thought a reader gets as Washington Post Journalist Rajiv Chandrasakaran argues in his book, Little America, that America s recent surge in troops, foreign service and foreign aid workers, and huge investments of money have failed to turn the war in Afghanistan around He begins his narrative with the interesting history of America s previous attempts to make changes in Afghanistan, going back as far as 1951 when they tried to transform the arid lands of the Helmand River valley into a model farming community Despite the infusion of tens of millions of dollars over a twenty year period, numerous attempts failed to make any significant change And, when the author returns in 2009, he finds that the same ineptitude lack of vision and bureaucratic attitude is leading to failure again What makes it worse now is that the lives of thousands of troops and hundreds of millions of dollars are at risk.The United States and other western powers have taken on the task of trying to create a new government in a land they do not understand Afghanistan remains one of the most complex societies in the world where any political initiative crashes against long standing tribal conflicts, where the rule of formal law has never been known in most of its corners, and the cooperation of corrupt strongmen seems necessary to gain any headway The author traces the debate at the highest levels of the US government over strategy Richard Holbrooke believes negotiation with the Taliban is necessary but his egotistic manner clashes with others General Petraeus, newly appointed commander of US and NATO forces, wins out to direct a surge of US troops to follow his COIN Counter insurgency warfare doctrine over the objections of Vice President Biden and others who argue for a strategy of counter terrorism.Chandrasakaran arrives in Afghanistan to find the first wave of the surge going to what he believes is the wrong place Helmand province He laments the fact that, although the powerful US Marine force sent there will make good progress in wresting control back from the insurgents who have successfully opposed the British forces, they should have been deployed to Kandahar province which is the key strategic centre of southern Afghanistan Even when US army troops finally arrive in Kandahar, they are should have been in greater strength and are led by a rogue commanding officer whose aggressive attitude violates all the principles of COIN doctrine.Chandrasakaran spent time in Afghanistan talking to military and US government on the front line and in Kabul, and to senior officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department back in Washington He writes of some officials and military officers who are dedicated to getting it right, but he observes too many others who are simply incompetent or concerned only with their own internal rivalries Yes, this book is one sided there are undoubtedly many who did a great job and not enough of the successful stories are told But this is not a history of the war from 2009 to 2011 it is critique of how the United States is managing the Afghan war, of how it is failing to deal effectively with a task which was very difficult from the start It is in fact a record, as Chandrasakaran writes, of how the good war had turned bad This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about how we are going to proceed into a 21st century that is full of great political and military risks the cost of making these mistakes again is too great.

  7. says:

    Another great job of interpretive, analytical reporting bu Chandrasekaran I wish my years in the U.S Foreign Service did not reinforce the failures of accountability, cooperation, and strategic thought and action that he documents Unfortunately, everything he writes rings true More people outside the Beltway should read this book and then demand change based on its lessons.

  8. says:

    There s an argument to be made that Little America serves as a solid third act in the sequence on U.S involvement in Afghanistan that starts with Ghost Wars and continues through The Looming Tower While the first of these two Pulitzer winning accounts focuses on America s role in the Soviet invasion and the second details events surrounding the September 11th attacks, Rajiv Chandrasekaran s attention is drawn to the decade following the fall of the twin towers The product is well reported and thorough It serves as a testament to America s often clumsy attempts at nation building in Helmand and Kandahar It is also a case study of Murphy s Law Mr Chandrasekaran s primary preoccupation is with the people behind the policies and actions that soured America s good war By his telling, there is plenty of blame to be shared His is a story of ruthless Helmand politicians like Sher Mohammad Akhundzada SMA of the Alizai tribe who pushed farmers back to the poppy operations of his warlord uncle Mohammad Nasim Akhundzada and Abdel Rahman Jan ARJ of the Nurzai who led his police force to widespread acts of bacha bazi pederasty on prepubescent boys all with the tacit backing of newly installed president Hamid Karzai It s a story of officials in Kandahar like the president s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai AWK whose corruption turns locals back towards the Taliban and of foreign leaders including President George Bush who become too chummy with the Afghan government to see past its obfuscations Members of the Afghan National Army ANA are depicted as undisciplined, lazy, and doped up on hashish, sleeping through work assignments and relying on spray and pray tactics in the field Even potential allies on the ground come with flaws Technocratic Helmand governor Gulab Mangal lacks the support of President Karzai and finds his authority repeatedly undercut in favor of SMA General Abdul Raziq, the competent Achakzai commander of the Afghan Border Police in Spin Boldak, is compromised by shady dealings across the frontier All the while, groups like the Haqqani network work with the ISI to support the Taliban in destabilizing Afghanistan with spy rings, assassinations, and bombings in the capital so the moderate government, which Pakistan fears might side with India, doesn t establish a toehold And that s to say nothing of the United States own blunders Mr Chandrasekaran writes of government officials delegitimizing Karzai by refusing to help with green on green actions like removing Tajik warlord Ismail Khan from his stronghold in Herat and by distributing aid through NGOs and the UN instead of the local government, essentially starving it of resources He writes of USAID workers with limited background in agriculture stifling efforts to have heroin poppy replaced by cotton the most economically viable alternative given the soil and margins because of regulations regarding crops that receive government subsidies and compete with the US on international markets although the US has similarly protectionist policies in place , using faulty math to justify their position He writes of a failed hydropower project at Kajaki Dam that costs hundreds of millions of dollars for limited energy gains and tone deaf programs like AVIPA that funneled money irresponsibly into Helmand s Nawa district 300mil spent in one year mostly on day labor creating massive distortions in the local economy as teachers quit their jobs and schools closed so that residents could have the time to receive the generous handouts that came with days spent building unneeded roads Richard Holbrooke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, often finds himself at the center of the tragicomedy He alienates Karzai leading up to the 2009 elections by vocally supporting challenger and, incidentally, current president Ashraf Ghani, and then later backing Abdullah Abdullah when it was clear Ghani had no shot Holbrooke s tactless behavior gets him in trouble on the home front as well His aspirations to jumpstart a reconciliation process similar to the one he brokered in the Balkans that ultimately led to the signing of the Dayton Accords were hampered by the antipathy of ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, war czar Douglas Lute, and much of President Barack Obama s national security team They blocked his access, discarded his memos, and repeatedly tried to get him fired Mr Chandrasekaran writes that, although many of these policy leaders held similar views, rivalry got in the way of coordination and planning Those in the field are damned as well We are treated to stories of aggressive commanders like Harry Tunnell, who ignores counter insurgency COIN directives and neglects working with local leaders to distribute aid in favor of rack em and stack em counter guerilla operations These careless tactics lead his Stryker Brigade to lose men to roadside bombs than any other unit and create an atmosphere that some find responsible for the Maywand District Killings We are treated to stories of allied units mostly British cowering in their bases and behaving aggressively towards the local populations Of civilian surge personnel holed up in Kabul, binge drinking and partying, rarely leaving the comforts of walled compounds equipped with fast food joints and shopping centers, while the war is waged outside Numbers balloon, but turnover is high As one cynical staffer comments, it s like hitting the reset button every year Stanley McChrystal is sacked following the publication of Michael Hastings infamous Rolling Stone article and replaced by David Patraeus The rift between civil and military luminaries grows Chaos reigns Two high ranking Taliban operatives Abdul Qayyem Zakir and Abdul Rauf manage to conceal their identities for long enough to be transferred from Guantanamo Bay back to Afghanistan where they are mistakenly released, returning to the fight and planning a raid of Kandahar Prison, tunneling under its wall and helping to free than 500 seasoned fighters in 2011.Mr Chandrasekaran is critical of President Obama as well He credits the president s lack of experience and desire to please the troop hungry generals for the 30k troop surge, which he argues, combined with its 2012 deadline, had disastrous results It signaled neither delicacy nor lasting commitment And, as the CIA report card came to show, was not the success touted by the media Territorial gains in the South were offset by losses to the Taliban in the North and East of the country Titled after a failed 1950s project taken on Morrison Knudsen to transform Helmand s capital Lashkar Gah into a modern city, Little America is an indictment of modest progress achieved through astounding expenditures of blood and treasure The book is occasionally unfocused skipping back and forth in time and without any serious thesis to complement its venom, but its educational and well written More like 3.5 stars, but, as Xerxes I totally said in real life, I m a generous god Four stars We make them good wars go bad.

  9. says:

    This book seeks to analyze the Obama administration s approach and conduct of the war in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012 At the outset, I must confess that I am perhaps not the right person to review a book such as this The reason is that I hate wars I don t believe they solve any of mankind s major problems Nothing seems worth the price paid in terms of young, promising lives on the battlefield and hospitals Nor is the resultant trauma brought on their parents and other family members for the remainder of their lives, not to speak of the destabilization of peoples lives, wastage of resources and destruction in life, limb and property I am drawn to seeking solutions where nations would swallow their pride and ego and seek a less violent solution to problems than resort to war The great Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu says in his Art of War that The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting and The greatest victory is that which requires no battle Surely, these cannot be empty, impractical words In spite of such an unsympathetic outlook towards war, I still felt that it is worth to review this book from an anti war perspective even though the book is all about where did we go wrong in Afghanistan.The Obama administration s approach was to bring stability to Afghanistan and drive out Al Qaeda and the Taliban for good Beginning in early 2009, as many as 30000 troops were dispatched along with experts, administrators and other specialists to do warfare and enough nation building so that the people of Afghanistan will start to side with the Hamid Karzai government and oppose the Taliban A major part of the strategy was to do COIN It meant counter insurgency whereby you do nation building activities like discouraging corruption, building roads and dams, training the Afghan National Army, making governance responsive to the peoples needs etc alongside the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda But COIN also meant that strongmen and warlords were to be roped in as part of the solution Obviously, this ran counter to the principles of nation building So, to resolve this contradiction, the military sought to reform the warlords using incentives and threats Broadly, we know now that this approach has failed by 2013 As of Oct 2016, we know that the Taliban has gained territory than at any other point in the last 15 years This is despite the high level of foreign support to the Afghan government The Afghan National Security Forces have been beaten back by the Taliban in no less than three major provincial capitals Lashkar Gah in Helmand, Tarin Kot in Uruzgan, and Kunduz in the north Two other capitals, Baghlan and Farah, are also under serious pressure So, what went wrong Chandrasekharan cites a number of reasons for the failure of the Obama administration to accomplish its goals Some of them are Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Af Pak, was of the view that a negotiated settlement with Taliban is what we should strive for but received no support from either the military or the White House President Obama was in favor of only a limited objective to roll back Al Qaeda through the use of substantial force through the surge There was constant fighting between all the major representatives from the State Department, the US embassy in Kabul and the military, not to speak of the tense relationship between the Americans and the Karzai govt President Obama did little to stop the infighting as he became increasingly skeptical of the US involvement Significant instances of insubordination in the US military at many levels as well as substantial discord between the Marines and NATO troops COIN s implementation was overseen by incompetent and inflexible bureaucrats from USAID and the State Department USAID overruled the potential of cotton as a substitute for poppy in the lives of Afghan farmers, in spite of strong arguments in favor of cotton Money was squandered in useless projects like the Kajaki dam in Helmand Corrupt governance of the Karzai govt Incompetence of the Afghan National ArmyThe author has done extensive field work in Afghanistan to enable him to say the above He had access to all the high level staff in the US embassy in Kabul, the military in Afghanistan, USAID as well as the State dept officials The book reflects the professionalism of his reporting However, I thought it curious to leave out the role of the drone campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan in creating civilian resentment against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan Investigations within the CIA and Pentagon have shown that the US does not know who it is killing in 9 out of 10 cases, as these are what is called signature strikes Signature strikes are those where you strike one who fits the computer profile of a possible terrorist , without having any actual data on the person s terrorist activities Journalists like Mark Mazetti have also reported that in many cases, the targets are low level operatives and not terrorist leaders Even Gen Stanley McChrystal has admitted The resentment caused by American use of unmanned strikes is much greater than what the average American appreciates They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who ve never seen one or seen the effects of one History tells us that Afghanistan has been the graveyard of invaders for centuries Alexander the Great failed to tame them in 326 BC The British East India company was decimated there some 175 years ago Recently, we have had the Soviet Union learn the same lesson in the 1980s Pakistan has been trying to control Afghanistan s destiny unsuccessfully for the past three decades without actually occupying it It seems it is the turn of the US and its NATO allies now Scholars like William Dalrymple have said that the British were forced to leave Afghanistan in 1842 because the country was too poor for the occupiers to tax it and make them pay for its subjugation The situation is pretty much the same today In the context of such history, I would think that it is only of dubious value to seek the tactical and strategic causes of the failure of the US invasion.It seems to me that our long standing foreign policy approach where we believe that we can impose order, stability, institutional governance, rule of law etc in a short span of time like 10 15 years in diverse far off lands like Iraq and Afghanistan is at the center of our failure in Afghanistan Every culture resists external attempts to change the way it lives and conducts its affairs The Afghans even so As the cliche goes, the elephant in the room seems to be the fundamental problem of our security being predicated upon changing what other people think and changing the way they live, even if they are living tens of thousands of miles away Given this, it is doubtful that Afghanistan will be the last overseas military adventure the US will embark upon.

  10. says:

    Little America is journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran s account of American management of the war in Afghanistan, based on his coverage of that war for the Washington Post It is in many ways a follow up to his previous book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, which is about the gross mismanagement of the early stages of the Iraq War under the leadership of American Proconsul L Paul Bremer For those who have read both books, the differences between them are illustrative, and reflect important differences between the two conflicts Imperial Life in the Emerald City illustrated a Coalition Provisional Authority CPA in Iraq that suffered from a near total lack of planning, strategy and basic situational awareness coupled with a level of corruption and nepotism that rivaled that of the Iraqis themselves Hindsight tells us that following the demise of the CPA, the professionals in the U.S military and State Department were able, with a good deal of luck and support from the Iraqis, to salvage a Pyrrhic victory from a situation that was well on the road to catastrophe Little America, in contrast, describes a situation where those same organizations, given a relatively free hand and operating as designed, were nevertheless unable to achieve the United States strategic goals in Afghanistan The overall image of the war effort in Afghanistan, as portrayed by Mr Chandrasekaran, is one of military and civilian agencies operating under a severe handicap imposed by their own structures and cultures These are depicted as sclerotic and unable or unwilling to adapt to the needs of the mission, with organizational incentives driven by internal politics unrelated to the war and an alarming absence of unity of command both within the U.S government and ISAF USAID comes in for particular criticism for having allowed its core competencies to atrophy following decades of contracting out nearly all international development assistance and analysis, while the State and Defense Departments appear to exist in a continuous muddle of vague and conflicting priorities and seem unable to effectively bring their own organic resources to bear on even the most clearly identified problems The take away seems to be that, 80 years after the New Deal and 60 after the Marshall Plan, the U.S government has lost the ability for nation building in even relatively permissive conditions, much less in the face of active and violent opposition.Although he has done good work in highlighting these institutional failures, Mr Chandrasekaran s book suffers from many of the same shortcomings that have made American war reporting over the past decade so inadequate In a country where all politics is local and first reports are always wrong, Little America focuses heavily on the schemes and dealings of a relative handful of Mandarins in Washington and Kabul This entirely overlooks the most important part of the war the part that is actually being waged in Afghan cities and villages, between a bewildering array of hostile tribes and groups who will collectively determine the future of the country The author periodically makes a flying visit to U.S Soldiers in the field and was apparently quite comfortable in doing so, but in the structure of the book these visits serve as a narrative backdrop than an occasion for detailed analysis, and his interaction with individual Afghans is even limited This is no small omission, and while a reader who is interested in U.S domestic politics will undoubtedly come away with his preconceived notions confirmed, Little America cannot provide an accurate picture of the situation in Afghanistan Most inexcusable of all is the author s failure to include the poem Stellenbosch, by Rudyard Kipling, in its entirety at any point in his book No stranger to mismanaged colonial wars himself, Kipling nailed the point that Mr Chandrasekaran is trying to make with great precision With luck, being in the public domain, it will be in the preface to the second edition.

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