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The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  185 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
As Ambassador and Special Envoy on Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, Peter Tomsen has had close relationships with Afghan leaders and has dealt with senior Taliban, warlords, and religious leaders involved in the region's conflicts over the last two decades. Now Tomsen draws on a rich trove of never-before-published material to shed new light on the American involvement in th ...more
ebook, 912 pages
Published July 1st 2011 by PublicAffairs
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Mikey B.
This book gives us a geo-political perspective and history of this troubled country. The author is from the U.S., but has spent considerable time in the region over the last thirty years. Mr. Tomsen has met many of the key players, for example Ahmed Shah Masood.

We come to view Pakistan as the major culprit of Afghanistan becoming a failed state. After the Soviet Union pulled out, Pakistan turned from the defensive to the offensive. Through the Taliban, whose main support base was in the FATA ar
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We never know the full truth behind current events. Most people don't want to be bothered to discover it; there are simply too many things going on in our lives to investigate each issue that passes before us in the news.

Nevertheless, for every issue there are people intimately involved, people who do know the truth and are perfectly placed to disclose to us what should determine our attitudes and actions. They may not be able to speak the truth because of their position. Speaking out can destro
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A superb, well-written and dense book on the complex history of Afghanistan, history that has been ignored to the detriment of numerous foreign armies. Afghanistan, as Tomsen shows, is pretty much a line on map with fictitious boundaries and a history of weak, ineffective and even irrelevant government and localized centers of power that naturally produce conflict.

The book is strong on Afghan culture and history, especially the tribal structures that make it so complex to outsiders. At one point
Nick Lloyd
Peter Tomsen’s "The Wars of Afghanistan" is an incredibly thorough and insightful work, written by someone with a special expertise on the subject. From 1989 to 1992, Tomsen served as George H.W. Bush’s special envoy to the Afghan resistance, holding the rank of ambassador. Working from Pakistan and Washington, he witnessed a shift in the political landscape following the Soviet withdrawal, culminating in the rise of the Taliban in September 1994, and their eventual ascension to power in 1996. I ...more
Bob Dukelow
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read many books on Afghanistan, probably more than 50. Many of them are good, this is among the best. The excruciating details of three years of diplomacy as the Russians pull out and the author, Peter Tomsen, tries to get the Americans, Pakistanis, and Afghans to work together will discourage any but the most devoted student. I am teaching a class about Afghanistan at the local college so I plugged on until I finished this book.

The greatest shortcoming of this book other than the dens
Bradley Farless
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a MUST read book by a former US government official that had dealings with and in Afghanistan from the time of the Soviet occupation. It is very well documented and presents a view of why Afghanistan has failed to coalesce as a modern nation state and why America is failing at nation-building. After reading this, I can't imagine how our government policy can possibly be so flawed. I would say policy makers in Washington need to read this book, but Tomsen sent memos to the concerned parti ...more
Jun 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is not a general history of Afghanistan. Although it does briefly get into Afghanistan's ancient history in the early chapters, the book's real interest is in the events of the 20th and 21st centuries leading up to the present. It's a little on the dry side and the flood of names, organizations, and ethnic groups can leave you a little confused. That said, the book is still extremely informative and may very well transform your views on the subject.
Oct 08, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A thorough accounting of the history of Afghanistan. Although impressive in its breadth and depth, the storytelling drags in the middle. I could not finish the book as it became terminally boring and a simple flood of names, dates and coups. A clearly impressive scholarly work, but lacks the verve of other histories I have read.
Rikka Yooru
What America did after the departure of Soviet Union from Afghanistan is nothing different from terrorism as well. By using the excuse of war on terror, the underlying focus of the American state was also to avail the opportunity while it can to have a strong grip of the state that was already demolished and unstable. Pakistan was nothing better too. All the nations that contributed in the elimination of so called terrorism in Afghanistan just added fuel to fire while only keeping in mind what s ...more
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An all encompassing book that covers nearly all of Afghanistan's modern history up to the later part of President Obama's first term in office. At times a daunting read given the size of the book and the subject material contained within Peter Tomsen provides the reader with an in depth look at Afghanistan. Those looking for a broader understanding of a country that has been at war in one stage or another for almost 40 years need look no further. Tomsen charts the history of Afghanistan (Post Wo ...more
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It takes time for headlines to settle into history. Peter Tomsen is not interested in waiting that long.

Tomsen once served as US ambassador to Afghan resistance groups from 1989 to 1992. The job required him to dive into the tangled thicket of Afghan tribal politics, little understood by the casual observer but crucial in crafting any political deal that could stick in Afghanistan. Tomsen coupled his practical experience with a good read of Afghan history to place today's conflict within the co
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly detailed, thorough history and analysis of Afghan politics. The author was a career diplomat who was liason to the Afghan Mujahideen during the war with the USSR so he's definitely coming to this from a certain perspective, but the breadth and depth of knowledge get had of the players was impressive. He had his favorite rebels and so on but the book has a wealth of factual info that makes it a great read even if you don't care about how nice his dinner with george hw bush was.
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A sweeping history starting with Alexander the Great, up to the present. Recounts 1989-92 period when he was US special ambassador working with rival Afghan factions. Argues that Us State Dept was working to bring factions together in coalition government, along with Pakistan's Foreign Ministry. Pakistans Interservices Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was working to attain military victory of a radical Islamic faction over all the others, as part of a strategy to gain strategic depth in Afghanista ...more
Dec 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an incredibly in-depth look at the nation of Afghanistan and how badly they have been screwed over by outside powers for thew last 100+ years. Most notably the United States, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union/Russia in the past 20-30 of those years.

This book is a must read for anyone and everyone.

Peter Tomsen is absolutely brilliant with his analysis of the events that led to Sept. 11 and the never-ending war in Afghanistan. All taken from firsthand experience of talking face-to-face with t
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting history of Afghanistan, covering the period from earliest times to the present, with an emphasis on the mujahidin wars against the Soviets and the aftermath. The book is well-written, and covers a great deal of territory. It does a good job in filling in the gaps in the reader's knowledge of Afghanistan and its history, particularly highlighting the periods when US interest waned. The author also provides a lot of information about the various mujahidin commanders. The book was a lit ...more
T Dodson
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an 800+ page book that focuses mostly on the years Peter Tomsen was special envoy to Afghanistan from 1989-92. However, this time period was very pivotal, as the Soviets withdrew and there were important geopolitical upturns between India and Pakistan (the most important motivator of Pakistan's stance/influence on Afghanistan). Describes the evolution of the Afghan political/military (almost always implemented by a foreign power) environment leading up to and after this period in great d ...more
Oct 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first 250 pages, or so, were fairly interesting, but not enough about the British fiasco. After that this book gets a bit bogged down in more detail than I need for my purposes and far too much about the goings on in Washington and the author than a book about WARS of Afghanistan. I think the title is wrong for this book. It should have been titled AMERICAS WARS OF AFGHANISTAN I will probably speed read most of the rest of this tome unless I find parts of more interest.
Too much to read and
Eugene Novikov
Half-history, half political memoir; the former is concise and engaging and extremely useful, while the latter is about as overdetailed and turgid as you'd expect from this sort of thing, and also slanted toward a specific and sometimes dubious point of view. (He sure does love Masood.) On the other hand, the memoirish parts contain a fair amount of interesting nitty-gritty about how U.S. foreign policy sausage gets made, so it's good if you're interested in that sort of thing. Very long, and yo ...more
Andrew Scibetta
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is seriously a weapon. However, I have no read another book that does what this one does. No other text covers so much of Afghan history in a single text. Tomsen is an expert on the subject and delivers a thorough history of the many illusive and xenophobic tribes of the Afghan region, as well as an in depth analysis of the countless conflicts that have engulfed the region. I also recommend reading Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, fro ...more
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A thorough and detailed examination of Afghanistan throughout its history and why foreign powers have always continually failed there. Despite the passage of time since Tomsen's book was released, there's still a great deal of information in here that's taking the time to read for new and experienced readers on the subject.

Some readers (including this one) finds a few areas where the book slightly drags, but it overall doesn't detract from the book as much as some others here have felt. Definite
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting history and for the most part a good read. The first part of the book moves fast but when the authors personal experience started the book began to drag. Its a great single source to begin with for an informed discussion on US-Afghan policy but be prepared to devote quite a bit of time to reading it.

Carol and Gary Curtis
Finally decided to pass on the rest of this book. Not that there's anything really wrong with it as a history of the never-ending conflict there but I did grow tired of the continuous betrayal that was noted. I know this is not a work of fiction but how many times does the same story need to be told?
This was just too damn dense and too damn long. I couldn't commit any more time to this book. I think Tomsen should've broken this book up into chunks (thematic, chronological, tribal) and published in multiple volumes.
Hunter Marston
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and detailed overview of the various conflicts that have plagued Afghanistan over the centuries, with primary focus on the years 1973-2001. Kudos to Tomsen for devoting so much time and careful analysis to the telling of this most complicated history!
Manish Katyal
Dec 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read about the effects of placating a terrorist state - Pakistan. We provided billions in aide to a country that actively sponsors terrorism against us. From Clinton, Bush to Obama, we've made serious mistakes.
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Would have been better as 2 separate books: memoir and history. The history of Afghanistan's wars is fascinating as is Mr. Tomsen's experience in the region. However, his combination of the 2 objectives creates a disjointed narrative.
Oct 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Impressive unwieldy book providing insight into Afghanistan as a country and as part of an empire. I'm still new to much of Afghan history but the closer the book got to incidents I remember, the book became more relevant. Important book.
Polly Callahan
Jul 31, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: government
highly recommended on Outlook section of Washington Post 7/31/11 "Where enemies pass as allies"
by Stephen Tanner
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommended for those interested in Afghanistan and the region.
Nussrat Said
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book.
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Peter Tomsen is a retired diplomat and educator. A graduate of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, he earned a master's degree in public and international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Starting his career as a foreign service officer in 1967, he rose to become United States Special Envoy to Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, and United States Ambassador to Armenia from 1995 until 19 ...more
More about Peter Tomsen...
“During our meetings in Peshawar, Abdul Haq...asked me why the United States does not pay attention to terrorism. He compared America to a huge elephant: "One hundred people push on it and it doesn't blink, but when it decides to move, it lumbers forward and crushes everything.” 0 likes
“After 9/11 Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf formally joined President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism. But on the ground, Pakistan clandestinely continued to provide sanctuary, training, and weapons to the Afghan Taliban and other Islamic militants to stage a counterattack into Afghanistan. The United States, after routing the Taliban, once again downplayed Afghanistan. Washington provided minimal assistance to war-devastated Kabul and redirected attention and resources to Iraq. The result was a Taliban resurgence.” 0 likes
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