Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban

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9780306811647: Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban

For over 2,500 years, the forbidding territory of Afghanistan has served as a vital crossroads--not only for armies but also for clashes between civilizations. As the United States engages in armed conflict with the current Afghan regime, an understanding of the military history of that blood-soaked land has become essential to every American.Afghanistan's military history provides lessons for us today. The earliest written records inform us of fierce mountain tribes on the "eastern" edge of the cradle of civilization. Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan on his way from Persia to India. Later, because of its strategic location--the Silk Road passed through its mountainous northern region--Afghanistan was invaded in succession by Arabs, Mongols, and Tartars. In the nineteenth century, Great Britain tried--and failed--to add Afghanistan to its Indian empire, while Russia tried to expand into the same embattled land. Afghanistan once again fought--and defeated --Russia in the 1980's when it tried to prop up a secular government in the face of rising Islamic resistance.Now America must face a new enemy on this land--a land that for centuries has become a graveyard of empires past.

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Review:

Stephen Tanner's Afghanistan: A Military History recounts with brisk authority and many illuminating analogies the 2,500-year story of a country--for much of that time it was more properly a region--of "incredible beauty" (soldiers liken it to western Colorado) that has been both the "coveted prize of empires" and, more recently, a hideout for international terrorists. What Afghanistan has known for virtually all of its history is war. Tanner tells, with a good narrative eye, of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan by Cyrus, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the British (disastrously), and the Soviet Union (only slightly less so), as well as the rise, and fall, of the Taliban, ending the book with a brief, speculative chapter on the country's present and future. Tucked in Tanner's overview are fascinating historical footnotes, including the Afghans' reliance over the centuries on its now-infamous caves, and its brief role in World War II--the Nazis felt a kinship with the blonde, blue-eyed segments of the population. This is a noteworthy and valuable book: accessible, objective, informative, and informed. --H. O'Billovich

About the Author:

Stephen Tanner is a New York-based military historian and the author of Epic Retreats: From 1776 to the Evacuation of Saigon, and Refuge from the Reich.

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