Small Wars Journal

Book Announcement: An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010

Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010

by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

‘Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the war in Afghanistan. A work of real intellectual rigour, and much learning. In offering a forensic dissection of the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, over many years, it offers bad news, and good news: that, in taking on the Taliban, we may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country; but that the Taliban may be open to a negotiated settlement – provided America gets on with it.’ - Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, British Ambassador to Kabul 2007-2009, British Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 2009-2010

‘This book is one of the best informed, most sophisticated, and most insightful works yet to appear on the Afghan Taliban and their relationship to Al Qaeda. It makes a brilliant contribution to Afghan historiography, and should be compulsory reading for Western policymakers working on Afghanistan today.’ - Professor Anatol Lieven, King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country
‘Ignore anybody claiming to be an expert on the Taliban or Al Qaeda if they have not read An Enemy We Created by Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn. Most books on the subject are written without fieldwork, by people lacking the language skills, the courage, the integrity or the dedication of these two authors. Thanks to their Arabic, Dari and Pashtu skills as well as their groundbreaking and unprecedented fieldwork, Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn have written the essential book on the subject. Say nothing about the region until you have read it!’ - Nir Rosen, author of Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World and Fellow at New York University’s Center on Law and Security


Bill M.

Sun, 01/15/2012 - 1:47pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones…

This link provides supporting fire to the arguments the book apparently makes.

Many of us in the SWJ community made arguments years ago that the Taliban and AQ were not the same, and we artificially conflated the two and now confuse the war against the Taliban with the war against Al Qaeda. I agree with Bob, if we had a little more patience and greater understanding of the regional dynamics we could have found a way to work with the Taliban to target AQ, but that is an assumption that can never be proven or disproven now.

The reality now is what is important, and I think the truth will not be welcome at this point, and largely ignored due to political hubris. George Bush created the argument that to back off in Iraq or Afghanistan was a weakness that only supported AQ, but in the opposite in my view was the actual case. None the less, this is the accepted political myth in our society. We'll simply relabel the reasons we're fighting in Afghanistan from defeating AQ, to spreading democracy, protecting women's rights, etc., and of course the tired argument of denying safehaven will continue to leveraged to gain support.

We live in the information age, but we have less understanding of the world (at least in the government) and its people than our predecessors did a 100 years ago. I have some ideas on why that is the case (PowerPoint studies, google based research, rushed planning based on assumptions that are not challenged). It seems we simply base our understanding on the assumption that everyone wants to be like us, and then cherry pick examples to make our case and pursue a policy based on that understanding.

I don't see an honorable way out of this now. We have made our objectives public and to achieve anything less will be perceived as a loss, regardless of the fact they were based on false assumptions.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 01/14/2012 - 11:33am

The Taliban and the populace they emerge from (that half of Afghan society and the aspect of the same that extend into Pakistan not represented by the Northern Alliance Friends and Family plan we call "GIRoA") have always been both the source and key to AQ sanctuary in the AFPAK region. A fact the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan appreciate very well, but one we cannot seem to grasp in our Western-centric "our rules are more important than your reality" view of the world.

If we had possessed more patience and been armed with a better understanding of Pashtunwali we almost certainly would have been able to come to a mutually agreeable solution with Mullah Omar back in 2001 which would have provided us the access to AQ we needed to exact our revenge, while at the same time allowing Omar to live up to his duties as a host to his AQ guests under Pashtunwali. This is a code and duty with many convenient loopholes, and I am sure Omar would have found one, as Pashtuns have no special love for their Arab guests any more than they do for our extended "visit" in their homeland.

We have been trying to do this our way, work through governments which, while arguably possessed of a duty and authority to deny AQ sanctuary, are neither one possessed of any ability to deny something that comes from the populace and not from them. One can ban it, but that is not the same as deny it. Prince John can send the sheriff out to comb Sherwood Forest with great diligence, or even burn the forest to blackened stumps, but "sanctuary" does not come from either the forest or government; it comes from the people, and from one's legal status. Being outside the law can be quite liberating when one is acting to take down the very source of those laws.

So yes, the Taliban is not now, nor ever, our enemy. They are in fact the key to our primary objective in regards to AQ in the AFPAK region. AQ will remain just as problematic and can operate from virtually any place else in the world, but that is another matter altogether. If the goal is simply to deny them sanctuary in the AFPAK region, then the Taliban are the key. For a 30-40% share in the governance and opportunity of their own homeland I suspect they would turn that key. Do they want the entire enchilada? Of course, but they will gladly take a legal portion now to be rid of the undue interference of ISAF and how is so disrupts the natural balance of power in the region.

We will still have small interests in the region, and plenty of influence to address those small interests if we quit working to simply make one team win and shift to facilitating a more balanced compromise that sends AQ packing.

gian gentile

Sat, 01/14/2012 - 8:52am

I am ordering this book asap.

After reading the brief reviews on this post the book appears to reinforce the idea that we have been fighting the wrong enemy in Afghanistan--the Taliban--because in my view we have adopted an operatioal framework that has constructed them as our primary enemy when in fact it has been AQ all along.

Also, if writer Nir Rosen endorses this book I figure it has to be a good one.