Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Chronicle of Toppling the Taliban

The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior Who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime – Brian Glyn Williams, PhD (Chicago Review Press)

Tales of military victory often center around public displays of heavy machinery and legends surrounding high technology. In reality it is more often than not it is the warrior that gets the short end of the story, while playing the major role.

Such is the case in the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan; where a relatively small number of U.S. Special Forces soldiers, somewhere around three or four hundred, played an instrumental role in toppling the hard line regime. Those highly trained forces were aided, guided and abetted by powerful Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and his band of warriors.

It is the tale of the strongman Dostum (pronounced dohs-tuum) that is detailed in Brian Glyn Williams, PhD, latest book The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior Who Led US Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime. Williams, a professor of Islamic history at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, had an amazing level of access to Dostum, his family and those that work and travel in the same circles with him.

It is from that insider point of view that Williams delivers a chillingly detailed chronicle of the role Dostum played in the 2001 defeat of the Taliban. This story often runs contrary to that espoused by the mainstream media who often portray Dostum as a brutal, murderous thug, they claim is responsible for the senseless slaughter of Taliban prisoners.

Williams portrait is one of a very hard man, who grew into power in a desperate time and location, with Soviet military forces battling for control of Afghanistan.  By the mid-1980s the forces under Dostum’s command had grown to a militia of 20,000 strong. The strongman’s forces would play a critical role in defeating the forces arrayed against them in the north on numerous occasions; not only the Soviets, but also the Mujahadeen and later the Taliban.

Instead of understanding the role Dostum and his men played in defeating the Taliban, the U.S. chose to marginalize him due to the public perception of his brutality. This approach seems to once again underestimate the role that these often brutal warlords play in a land that is the equivalent to the wild west on steroids. As the U.S. forces continue to downsize and withdraw, Williams makes it clear that Dostum and his Northern Alliance allies are gearing up for battle with a resurgent Taliban force.

Williams offers an intimate portrait not only of the warrior, but of the Afghan nation that so many have tried and failed to get their arms around.


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