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Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground

a book by Jonathan Steele

(our site's book review)

Jonathan Steele Reported from the Epicenter of the Taliban Resurgence in Afghanistan

The Amazon blurb says that A masterful blend of graphic reporting, illuminating interviews, and insightful analysis. Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground is the first account of Afghanistan's turbulent recent history by an independent eyewitness.

Jonathan Steele, an award-winning journalist and commentator, has covered the country since his first visit there as a reporter in 1981. He tracked the Soviet occupation and the communist regime of Najibullah, which held the Western-backed resistance at bay for three years after the Soviets left. He covered the arrival of the Taliban to power in Kabul in 1996, and their retreat from Kandahar under the weight of U.S. bombing in 2001. Most recently Steele has reported from the epicenter of the Taliban resurgence in Helmand.

ghosts of Afghanistan inhabit the haunted battleground
ghosts of Afghanistan inhabit the haunted battleground

Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground turns a spotlight on the numerous myths about Afghanistan that have bedeviled foreign policy-makers and driven them to repeat earlier mistakes. Steele has conducted numerous interviews with ordinary Afghans, two of the country's Communist presidents, senior Soviet occupation officials, as well as Taliban leaders, Western diplomats, NATO advisers, and United Nations negotiators.

Steele Cautions That Military Victory Will Elude the West Just As It Eluded the Kremlin

Comparing the challenges facing the Obama Administration as it sought to find an exit strategy with those the Kremlin faced in the 1980s, Steele cautions that military victory will elude the West just as it eluded the Kremlin. Showing how and why Soviet efforts to negotiate an end to the war came to nothing, he explains how negotiations today could put a stop to the tragedies of civil war and foreign intervention that have afflicted Afghanistan for three decades. See also Jonathan Steele's Defeat: Losing Iraq and the Future of the Middle East and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan, .

"Jonathan Steele provides an astute and powerful analysis of Afghanistan's recent history. As a correspondent who witnessed many of the key events at first-hand, his account is enriched by insights from Afghans from across the political arena, which both contribute to an understanding of the country's turbulent history and help to demolish some of the prevailing myths. This work raises important questions about the purpose and effectiveness of ten costly years of international engagement in Afghanistan, and should be required reading for those planning the imminent transition to full Afghan control."—Jolyon Leslie, author of Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace

Russians and Americans saw terrorists everywhere, and these foreigners' actions ended up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy
Russians and Americans saw terrorists everywhere, and these foreigners' actions ended up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy

"Jonathan Steele is a thirty-year veteran of the twists and turns of foreign involvement in Afghanistan. His simple and compelling central premise is a frustratingly circular story of how the foreigners, Russians or Americans and their British and other allies, never seem to learn that Afghans are their own people. The author is word-weary and war-weary in his account of outsiders’ Afghan myths but he does not allow this to get him, or the reader, down. He offers a sparely written, fast paced indictment of the follies of Afghan’s foreign occupiers."—Mark Malloch Brown, former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General

"This book is a gripping history of the wars in Afghanistan explaining why successive outsiders have consistently got things so wrong. It is, at the same time, an intensely moving account of how that history was experienced by individual Afghans whom Jonathan Steele encountered in more than thirty years of reporting those wars."—Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance, London School of Economics

In January 2009, Brave New Foundation launched Rethink Afghanistan, a national campaign for non-violent solutions in Afghanistan built around a documentary film by director and political activist Robert Greenwald.


Mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar Province, 87
Mujahideen in Kunar, Afghanistan

Jonathan Steele Exposes Thirteen Myths about Afghanistan

  1. The Taliban have little popular support.
  2. The Soviet invasion was an unprovoked attack designed to capture new territory.
  3. The Soviet invasion led to a civil war and Western aid for the Afghan resistance.
  4. The USSR suffered a massive military defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of the mujahedin.
  5. Afghans have always beaten foreign armies, from Alexander the Great to modern times.
  6. The CIA's supply of Stinger missiles to the mujahedin forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
  7. After the Soviets withdrew, the West walked away.
  8. In 1992 the mujahedin overthrew Kabul's regime and won a major victory over Moscow.
  9. Soviet shelling destroyed Kabul.
  10. The Taliban were by far the harshest government Afghanistan has ever had.
  11. The Taliban invited Osama bin Laden to use Afghanistan as a safe haven.
  12. The Taliban are uniquely harsh oppressors of Afghan women.
  13. Banning girls from school is a Taliban trademark.
(Source: The Real Insight into Afghanistan, JYK, Amazon)


The War in Afghanistan: a Comedy of Errors

The U.S. War in Afghanistan, code named Operation Enduring Freedom, lasted from 2001 to 2014 and Operation Freedom's Sentinel is ongoing and spans from 2015 to present. The War in Afghanistan is the longest war in United States history. It was also a comedy of errors in judgment, corruption, bribes, extortion, theft, disloyalty, cowardice, lying, and double dealing. The errors in judgment were mostly U.S. Presidents' doing, while the rest was mostly from Afghan soldiers and Afghan National Police. One could say their heads were not in the game. They saw U.S. occupation not as a way to fight Taliban enemies but as an opportunity to exploit the situation for personal gain, so when asked to train or fight they go AWOL or end up cowering in ditches rather than fighting. They'd refuse to shoot their weapons. They wanted their soldier pay without having to earn it. They may have had honor in their lives but it was not about soldiering, but just about family. If they were American soldiers they'd have been sent to Leavenworth and/or dishonorably discharged.

Afghans were honorable fathers, but lazy, fearful, malingering, good-for-nothing cowards in the roles of Afghan soldiers and Afghan National Police, but they suddenly were good soldiers if they joined the Taliban
Afghans were honorable fathers, but lazy, fearful, malingering, good-for-nothing cowards in the roles of Afghan soldiers and Afghan National Police, but they suddenly were good soldiers if they joined the Taliban

Steele is " . . . clear that negotiations to end Afghanistan’s long-running civil war, coupled with local ceasefires on the ground and the adoption of a regional agreement on non-interference in Afghan affairs, remain a realistic prospect — provided that the US is prepared to jettison its plans for a long-term military presence and withdraw." (Source: Jonathan Steele, Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground, Gabriel Carlyle, Peace News)

No amount of U.S. bombing in Vietnam was ever going to win anything, except wealth for the weapons and bombs and planes manufacturers
No amount of U.S. bombing in Vietnam was ever going to win anything, except wealth for the weapons and bombs and planes manufacturers


If they spent enough money and had enough soldiers and weapons in Vietnam they could 'win,' was a foolish concept from lazy military commanders who never took the time to understand the war and how the enemy was fighting it
If they spent enough money and had enough soldiers and weapons in Vietnam they could 'win,' was a foolish concept from lazy military commanders who never took the time to understand the war and how the enemy was fighting it

With the situation being such a basket case, it is mindblowing to realiize that Obama took Dubya's mess and decided that the best way to fix it is throw good money after bad, which also happened in Vietnam and Iraq. Too many senior military officials were still smarting from the defeat in Vietnam and they remembered that the belief of the military was that if they spent enough money and had enough soldiers and weapons they could have "won." Anyone who understood the war knew that North Vietnam had many countries supporting them and they were NEVER going to stop, and it would have been utterly impossible to "win" anything, much less a "surrender," (an obsolete idea from WWII that no longer had meaning like it had then). So senior military officials who failed to understand the Vietnam humiliation obviously advised senior military officials in the War in Afghanistan that "if they spent enough money and had enough soldiers and weapons they could 'win.'" Sigh . . .

Too lazy to study up on the matter, our Presidents pulled the move America has become infamous for: the bull in the china shop maneuver, making fools of themselves
Too lazy to study up on the matter, our Presidents pulled the move America has become infamous for: the bull in the china shop maneuver, making fools of themselves

The Breathtaking Ignorance That Guided the Vietnam War also Guided the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

This kind of breathtaking ignorance should have been trained out of officers at officer training academies so they could be empowered to make informed, wise decisions in war. And yet, this is not what happened in either the Iraq War or the Afghanistan War. The egos of leaders—both political and military—in charge of these disasters trumped good sense, the facts, intelligence briefings, history, and reality, because no one wanted to dive into another Vietnem quagmire. And yet, that is precisely what they did. What kind of minds did our presidents have to blindly rush into these unwinable situations, shooting weapons like John Wayne and yet understand nothing about the countries or the people they were invading? Too lazy to study up on the matter, they pulled the move America has become infamous for: the bull in the china shop maneuver. All brawn and no brains. Using the unadmitted but everpresent value of Might Makes Right, they invariably began demonstrating that Might Makes Stupid!

All brawn and no brains, and using the unadmitted but everpresent value of Might Makes Right, U.S. military invariably began demonstrating that Might Makes Stupid!
All brawn and no brains, and using the unadmitted but everpresent value of Might Makes Right, U.S. military invariably began demonstrating that Might Makes Stupid!

It's bad enough that Dubya went off half-cocked and invaded Iraq unprovoked in 2003, and kept making the identical mistakes made in the Vietnam War as if he had never read a history book. But when OBomb'em got involved in 2009 and ramped up the troop strength out of ego, not wanting to be perceived as a quitter, and because he'd been told that "if they spent enough money and had enough soldiers and weapons they could 'win,'" it showed why they may as well shut down all the military academies where officers are trained, because decisions where the rubber met the road were at the 2-year-old toddler level of "well, Johnny told be to, Mommy." So much for valuing American taxpayers' money and soldiers' lives. The fearless leaders making the decisions were foolish ne'er-do-wells like Dubya or inexperienced opportunists like OBomb'em, and their military advisers still had absolute, blind faith in the ignorance that guided the Vietnam War into killing 58,000 innocent Americans—FOR NOTHING. And that ignorance is—say it with us—"if they spent enough money and had enough soldiers and weapons they could 'win.'"

Dubya went off half-cocked and invaded Iraq unprovoked in 2003, and kept making the identical mistakes made in the Vietnam War as if he had never read a history book—or as if he couldn't read at all
Dubya went off half-cocked and invaded Iraq unprovoked in 2003, and kept making the identical mistakes made in the Vietnam War as if he had never read a history book—or as if he couldn't read at all

The ignorance and arrogance is so breathtaking we could SCREAM! They say those who are unwilling to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them, which brings up the question: If these so-called leaders never learned this in either military or political training, what DID they learn? THE most critical lesson in any military academy is obviously those who are unwilling to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. And yet they graduated the academy with no such knowledge. This reflects horribly on our leaders, the academies, the colleges, and our schools in general.

The ignorance and arrogance is so breathtaking we could SCREAM! They say those who are unwilling to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them
The ignorance and arrogance is so breathtaking we could SCREAM! They say those who are unwilling to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them

Says Steele, "As of July 2011, ten years of war in Afghanistan have taken the lives of 1,556 U.S. troops. The war costs he U.S. taxpayer more than $100 billion a year—$1 million per soldier per year, and yet the Taliban have a presence in more provinces than they did in 2009." He points out that half the people working with the Afghan government have their hearts with the Taliban, which explains much of the corruption, bribes, extortion, theft, disloyalty, cowardice, lying, and double dealing. And 74% think it is wrong to cooperate with foreign forces. The U.S., like the Russians, haven't got a chance! And yet the lessons from history which should be informing all who are involved are having no impact whatsoever. Said lessons should have been their first stop as they gathered intelligence in preparation for battle. And yet they were utterly ignored. Sigh . . .

Steele goes on: "The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress for 2010, 'Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,' conceded that the Taliban had 'a ready supply of recruits, drawn from the frustrated population where insurgents exploit poverty, tribal friction, and lack of governance to grow their ranks.' Their numbers were estimated to have grown to 35,000 fighters. It also noted that the Taliban’s 'operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding.' Their tactics and procedures for conducting attacks were increasing in sophistication. 0n the political front, the shadow governments that the Taliban had appointed in several provinces were having an increasing effect in undermining the authority of President Hamid Karzai’s government.

Taliban beating woman in public RAWA
Taliban beating woman in public

"The Pentagon report frequently dropped into bureaucratese, saying that 'insurgents continue to leverage their religious, ethnic, and tribal affinities with local Afghans for recruitment, resources, and freedom of movement.' In plain English this means that 'the Taliban are Afghans and Muslims and get support for that reason.' Although joblessness and poverty may be motives for people to join the Taliban, the hard truth is that most are also, or even primarily, motivated by patriotism. They resent being occupied by foreign troops. A poll conducted in July 2010 in Helmand and Kandahar found that 68 percent rejected the claim that ISAF was protecting local people. As many as 74 percent thought it was wrong to collaborate with foreign forces.

" . . . the ISAF propaganda machine’s constant stream of optimistic statements is effective in hiding the true state of the war, in particular the limits on U.S. and British movement in southern Afghanistan." They kept trying to NOT learn anything from Iraq and Vietnam, and they kept trying to please the neocon warmongers out to build American Empire at any and all costs (paid for by us taxpayers, not by them), but, obsolete and disproven as it is, the CW that rules the day is still "if they spent enough money and had enough soldiers and weapons they could 'win.'"

Our military kept trying to please the neocon warmongers out to build American Empire at any and all costs, forgetting what happened when the Roman Empire got too greedy and corrupt
Our military kept trying to please the neocon warmongers out to build American Empire at any and all costs, forgetting what happened when the Roman Empire got too greedy and corrupt

The Press Releases to American Media During the Afghanistan War Are the Same Kind of Fake News That Were Fed to the Press in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War

And the press releases to American media are the same kind of fake news that were fed to the press in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Our newspapers didn't say that the Taliban assassinate anyone who works with the Americans or cooperates in any way. So since government jobs and jobs on our bases carry a Taliban-enforced death sentence, most job positions go unfilled in spite of high salaries, and the filled ones are empty again in a few days when the new hire gets dead. You won't find these truths in our newspapers, but they are in Steele's book Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground. His book is truth; the papers and web papers are simply propaganda directed by the CIA's censors. See Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.

In truth, fake news is over a century old and may even date back to pre-Christian times
In truth, fake news is over a century old and may even date back to pre-Christian times


No wonder the public seems so confused and nothing ever changes. They're choking on misinformation that comes their way via political manipulation of citizens via propaganda in the mainstream media that originates in CIA memos and shadow government misinformation
No wonder the public seems so confused and nothing ever changes. They're choking on misinformation that comes their way via political manipulation of citizens via propaganda in the mainstream media that originates in CIA memos and shadow government misinformation

One especially vivid bit of misinformation came from Dubya in 2003 as he tried and failed not to look ludicrous as he spouted "I'm declarin' victory!" from an aircraft carrier. Don't know what the victory is he refers to but it sure wasn't the wars we kept losing. He must have been talking about being able to make such an outrageous statement with a straight face. Perhaps this was the start of fake new? But no—in truth, fake news is over 3 millenia old and was begun in the 13th century BC by the great Egyptian pharaoh. Rameses the Great. See Media Control, Second Edition: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda and Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.

George W Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln
George W. Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln: 'I'm declarin' victory!'

The aircraft carrier speech and the banner Mission Accomplished became a symbol of the unpopular war, which would last another eight brutal years. The image came to encapsulate not just the war, but the mistakes of the Bush administration as a whole, as even Bush himself admitted at his final press conference as president. "Clearly, putting a 'mission accomplished' on an aircraft carrier was a mistake," Dubya said, when asked about his errors while in the White House. "It sent the wrong message," he said. The war was a failure, as was/is the Afghanistan War and the ongoing cleanup—they are still at it in 2018. Trump had promised our troops would exit, but the generals convinced him otherwise, as they did with Obama 8 years before. These military commanders may be lousy at winning wars, but they seem to be devilishly effective at saying dumb things to dumb people and getting dumb results!

If Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground says anything, it is a blaring siren warning outsiders of the folly of foreigners intervening in Afghanistan. It's a crystal clear object lesson about why the U.S. needs to halt its murderous empire building failure that just kills and enrages millions of people to enrich a few greedy neocon oligarchs in our country.

The following two sections are not in Steele's insightful book, but they are what many authors would call THE REST OF THE STORY.

Flight from Accountability: the Shadow Government's Way of Saying They Intend to Do Whatever They Please

Dubya and Obama—the men who would be gods—swatting critics at will with Hellfire missiles on drones
Dubya and Obama—the men who would be gods—swatting critics at will with Hellfire missiles on drones

Since the 1940s, the CIA was partially bureaucratized and subjected to a measure of bureaucratic oversight by Congress. This was followed by the creation of new institutions designed specifically to escape accountability to Congress. The most concrete example is the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) created under the Pentagon in 1980, which appears to play a similar role as the CIA. This arrangement where U.S. death squads roam the earth under the sole control of the executive—is one definition of dictatorship. It now has the potential to threaten critics of the US anywhere in the world. Obviously, this flight from accountability is simply the shadow government's way of indicating they intend to do whatever they please in their pursuit of illicit empire building and oligarch enriching. Do we really want the likes of Dubya and Obama to have right wing death squads to smack down critics of the USA on a whim? (Our Founders wouldn't.) Do YOU honestly trust either of these two bozos that much? WE do not! See JSoc: Obama's secret assassins.

Wars are for the purpose of U.S. global domination at the expense of citizens—our soldiers are considered cannon fodder
Wars are for the purpose of U.S. global domination at the expense of citizens—our soldiers are considered cannon fodder

The Truth about U.S. History and Current Events

Various authors see the shadow government from various perspectives—like the blind men and the elephant, but the overall gist is creepily similar
Various authors see the shadow government from various perspectives—like the blind men and the elephant, but the overall gist is creepily similar