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Confronting the Chaos: A Rogue Military Historian Returns to Afghanistan

Confronting the Chaos: A Rogue Military Historian Returns to Afghanistan by Sean M. Maloney. Naval Institute Press, 2009, 384 pp.

In Confronting the Chaos, Dr. Sean Maloney presents a detailed account of his travels in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. The author currently serves as historical adviser to the Canadian Army’s chief of the land staff and as an associate professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada. His experiences in academia and as a historian embedded with Canadian military units during the Cold War provide a unique perspective that has surely contributed to the production of this high-quality work. Maloney’s factual accounts of events and his unique sense of humor create an interesting and entertaining book that offers a glimpse into complex aspects of the Afghanistan conflict with which many people are not familiar.

The author argues that “Afghanistan . . . is not and will never be Iraq . . . and it must be understood on its own terms” (p. 144). He defends this position by using his own travels in Afghanistan as a backdrop to introduce the complex works of a few lesser-known but hugely important organizations involved in the conflict there. The book’s six parts help the reader better understand the war in Afghanistan. The first three lay the foundation, with part 1 detailing the organization of the war in 2003 and the unique division of responsibilities between the coalition forces supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Parts 2 and 3 relate Maloney’s experiences in Kabul during 2004, providing an excellent synopsis of the ISAF’s evolution and the early development of the provincial reconstruction team (PRT).

Although the first three parts are very informative, the book really shines in the remaining three. Much like part 1, part 4 gives readers the background they need to comprehend topics introduced in subsequent portions of the book. Here we first witness the evolution of the organizational structure of Enduring Freedom and the growth of the ISAF. Parts 5 and 6 again focus on the author’s travels, this time emphasizing the strategic assessment team in Kabul and the Canadian PRT in Regional Command South. He offers distinctive insight into the development, coordination, and reconstruction essential to success or failure in the Afghanistan campaign. Additionally, this portion of the book delves into the complicated tribal relationships and security challenges that constantly inhibit progress in that country.

One should note that the bulk of the analysis addresses the work of the Canadian PRT in Regional Command South. Although he considers this area one of the most critical in the conflict, Dr. Maloney devotes about half of the book to people and events associated with that command. This emphasis creates an unbalanced feel, leaving the reader with less than a complete understanding of the efforts of PRTs in other areas. However, this imbalance does not detract from the overall quality of the study.

Confronting the Chaos: A Rogue Military Historian Returns to Afghanistan certainly meets its objectives. By recounting his experiences and writing a useful, informative account of the war in Afghanistan, Dr. Maloney has certainly established a high standard for future chroniclers of this conflict. Historians will appreciate his account of the evolution of the discord in this country and his comparisons and contrasts to other conflicts. Individuals interested in foreign affairs, security, or development will enjoy his explanation of the function of the PRTs and the strategic advisory team. This book should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the nature of the struggle in Afghanistan.

Capt William R. Giles, USAF

Southwest Asia

"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."

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