Analysis & Opinions - The New York Times

How America Lost Its Way in Afghanistan

| Aug. 16, 2021

Fredrik Logevall reviews THE AMERICAN WAR IN AFGHANISTAN: A History by Carter Malkasian and The AFGHANISTAN PAPERS; A Secret History of the War by Craig Whitlock

In the predawn hours of July 1 they departed, the few remaining U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the center of operations for America's longest war. At its peak the sprawling compound — there were two runways, a 50-bed hospital, shops and restaurants, and a notorious "black jail" prison — housed tens of thousands of U.S. service members; now the last of them flew off, without fanfare and after shutting off the electricity. It marked the symbolic end of America's 20-year military intervention in a war-ravaged land.

Left behind at the base were some 3.5 million items, carefully cataloged, including furniture and electronics, small arms and ammunition, as well as thousands of civilian vehicles and hundreds of armored trucks. The plan was for the material to be inherited by the Afghan military; most of it was, but not before looters made off with a substantial haul.

It will be up to historians of the future, writing with broad access to official documents and with the kind of detachment that only time brings, to fully explain the remarkable early-morning scene at Bagram and all that led up to it. But there’s much we can already learn — abundant material is available. When the historians get down to work, chances are they will make ample use of two penetrating new works: Carter Malkasian's "The American War in Afghanistan" and Craig Whitlock's "The Afghanistan Papers."

The two volumes constitute a powerful one-two punch, covering as they do the key developments in the war and reaching broadly similar conclusions, but with differing emphases. Malkasian provides greater detail and context, while Whitlock's United States-centric account is fast-paced and vivid, and chock-full of telling quotes....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Logevall, Fredrik.“How America Lost Its Way in Afghanistan.” The New York Times, August 16, 2021.

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