/ Published March 05, 2014
Fighting for Afghanistan: A Rogue Historian at War by Sean M. Maloney. Naval Institute Press, 2011, 325 pp.
If you like to start at the bottom with tactics and work upward through campaigns and strategies to policy, then Fighting for Afghanistan by Dr. Sean Maloney may be the book for you—especially if you can cope with a sea of acronyms. Maloney teaches at the Royal Military College of Canada, and this book is one in a series he has produced based on his experiences in multiple visits to the combat zone. The current volume is based on a visit to the Canadian forces in Kandahar Province in the spring and summer of 2006.
Maloney expresses the story largely in the vocabulary of serving soldiers, and that does lend it an aura of authenticity—but for those of us who do not have that experience, it adds to the fog of war. In the beginning, Maloney alludes to Napoleon’s famous claim that the Emperor’s great advantage had been that he always fought against a coalition (without allusion to the fact that it was a coalition that finally brought him down.) In any event, the book provides plenty of data on the difficulties of coalition warfare, but in the end, it concludes that some halting progress was being made toward unity of command in 2006.
Clearly, our author has a firm grasp of the theory and doctrine of counterinsurgency and thinks that generally the coalition is implementing it. Still he recognizes that personal ambition, national rivalries, and just plain accidents limit what can be done to focus on winning the hearts and minds of the population. As in the case of the civilians in the American Revolution, some were loyalists, some were patriots, but many were waiting to see how it was coming out. Similarly, no matter the personal preferences, many Afghans are concerned first with physical security. Only after that is achieved can a society focus on economic and cultural improvement. Maloney believes that the Canadian forces (and the rest of the coalition) did make some progress in 2006 toward sustaining security in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces. Yet, that consumed so much energy that, notwithstanding the best intentions, not much was left over for rebuilding the economy and for social and cultural improvement.
Maloney recognizes the growing power of the media. He also recognizes some of its limitations as to discernment of reality. But he further sees it as an inevitability with which soldiers of democracies must cope. The book also provides insight to the miseries of combat and war—not that it is not already understood. It is a microview of the current conflict. Doubtless, combined with the others that Dr. Maloney has produced, it will help serve as a foundation for a more general and comprehensive history of the Afghan War once that is over. The current work will be most attractive to soldiers with experience in the theater. Dr. Maloney does seem to value airpower, but he deals with it only as a direct support of ground combat.
David R. Mets, PhD
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."