In Other Words

The Ultimate AfPak Reading List

A guide to the most critical readings on Afghanistan, Pakistan, al-Qaeda, and U.S. counterterrorism.

What follows is the Ultimate AfPak Reading List -- an amalgamation of syllabi from classes I've taught at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. I've included a variety of reading, from books I've found particularly insightful to significant reporting on everything from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to al Qaeda's media strategy.

Links are included whenever possible, but be forewarned that a few of the journal articles are subscription only. In some cases I've included my general comments about the work and specific page numbers. And where relevant, we have included links to the AfPak Channel's reviews of the latest, greatest books on Afghanistan, Pakistan, al-Qaeda, and U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Categories are organized thusly:

If you think there's something that should be on here and isn't, email us at Bergen@newamerica.net. This is very much a work in progress.

Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion, 1979-1989 & the Rise of the Taliban, 1994-2001

Afghanistan: Under the Taliban 1994-2001 & the Rise of the Religious Warriors and Their Al Qaeda Allies

Books

Articles

  • Cullison, Alan and Andrew Higgins. "Inside al Qaeda's Afghan Turmoil." Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2002.
  • Pyes, Craig and William Rempel. "Slowly Stalking an Afghan ‘Lion.'" Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2002. This is the best account of the plan to assassinate Ahmad Shah Massoud, which was a prelude to the 9/11 attacks.
  • Sirrs, Julie. "The Taliban's International Ambitions." Middle East Quarterly 8.3, Summer 2001. Academic Search Premier.
  • George Washington University's National Security Archive has a useful collection of declassified U.S. State Department documents about the Taliban.

Afghanistan: The Resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda from the Battle of Tora Bora in the Winter of 2001 to Today

Four books about the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan detail how that war was initially prosecuted:

Other Key Books

  • Anderson, Ben. No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan (Oxford: OneWorld Publications, 2013).
  • Barker, Kim. The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (New York: Doubleday, 2011) FP review by Joshua Foust -- "Barker, a former Chicago Tribune correspondent now with ProPublica, recounts nearly a decade of soul-wrenching zaniness, perpetrated in equal parts by the Afghans, Pakistanis, and the white people moving amongst them both, with a good sense of humor."
  • Chandrasekaran, Rajiv. Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (New York: Knopf, 2012). AfPak Channel review by Gerard Russell: "Little America is a well-researched, clearly-written exposé of the debates, disputes and political skullduggery between those involved in the Afghanistan "surge" in 2009."
  • Chayes, Sarah. The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban. (New York: Penguin, 2006). A journalist-turned-aid worker based in Kandahar for four years after the fall of the Taliban provides an interesting and important account of mistakes made by all the players in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
  • Cowper-Coles, Sherard. Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign.  (New York: Harper Collins, 2011). AfPak Channel review by Gerard Russell -- "the equivalent of a guided tour around the inner workings of the international community in Afghanistan. It is a warts-and-all tour, with institutional failings laid bare."
  • Dalrymple, William. Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42. (New York: Random House, 2013). AfPak Channel review by Gerard Russell: "It is a history of the first war fought by Westerners in Afghanistan in modern times, and is clearly designed to cast a light on our present conflict there. But it is also a beautiful and moving account of a tragedy complete with imperial hubris, foolishness and great human suffering."
  • Dobbins, James. After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan (Dulles, VA: Potomac Press, 2008).
  • Giustozzi, Antonio. Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan 2002-2007 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007)
  • Green, Daniel R. The Valley's Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban (Dulles: Potomac Books Inc., 2011). AfPak Channel review by Michael Waltz: "The book is a detailed, first-hand account of how a team of U.S. soldiers and civilians, focused on improving governance and development, operated in the midst of a worsening insurgency in one of the most remote provinces in Afghanistan."
  • Johnson, Chris and Leslie, Jolyon. Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace. (London: Zed Books, 2004). Two long time aid workers paint a bleak picture of Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban.
  • Jones, Ann. Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan. (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).  Jones writes evocatively to illuminate a little-known world, that of poor, marginalized women in Kabul and issues a devastating critique of American aid to Afghanistan, which is consumed all too often by foreigners, evident in the fleets of Land Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers that choke Kabul's smog-filled streets.
  • Jones, Seth. In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan. (New York: Norton, 2009).
  • Kilcullen, David. The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  • Maley, William. Rescuing Afghanistan. (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2007). A concise book that examines the problems and possible solutions in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban government.
  • Malkasian, Carter. War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • Rashid, Ahmed. Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. (New York: Penguin, 2008).
  • Rhode, David and Kristen Mulhivill. A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides. (New York: Penguin Group, 2010).
  • Semple, Michael. Reconciliation in Afghanistan. (Washington, DC: USIP Press, 2009).
  • West, Bing. The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan. (New York: Random House, 2011). AfPak Channel review by Gerard Russell -- "It has genuine Afghan voices, which is all too rare in Western books about Afghanistan. Speaking from the perspective of the infantryman, it reminds us of the powerful virtues of the military, and I recommend it without hesitation."
  • Woodward, Bob. Obama's Wars. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010). Peter Bergen's review here.
  • Zakheim, Dov S. 2011. A Vulcan's Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan. Brookings Institution Press.

Articles

Pakistan: General Interest

Books

Articles

Pakistan: The Jihadists Post-9/11

Books

Articles

Films

Al Qaeda: General Interest

Al Qaeda: From Its Formation in 1988 to 9/11

Books

Articles and documents

Al Qaeda: The Organization and the Ideological Movement Since the 9/11 Attacks

Books

  • Atwan, Abdel Bari. After Bin Laden - Al Qaeda the Next Generation (New York: The New Press, 2013). AfPak Channel review by Mitchell D. Silber: "Mr. Atwan makes a compelling case that while the death of Osama bin Laden and the decimation of al Qaeda Core's top leadership has hurt the central organization that was based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the movement and ideology, with its worldwide presence via regional associated movements, is as much of a menace to the West as ever and undiminished in its goal of a global caliphate."
  • Burke, Jason. The 9/11 Wars. (New York: Penguin, 2011). AfPak Channel review by Daniel Byman - Burke brings the reader from villages in Afghanistan and Iraq to slums in London and France, offering individual portraits of combatants and those overrun by war while also weaving in government policies and scholarly research to portray the broader context.
  • Clarke, Richard, ed. Terrorism: what the next president will face, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, July 2008.
  • Farah, Douglas. Blood from Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror. (New York: Broadway, 2004).
  • Greenberg, Karen, ed. Al Qaeda Now: Understanding Today's Terrorists. (New York: Cambridge, 2005). A stimulating collection of essays.
  • Riedel, Bruce. The Search for al-Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future. (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2010).

Articles

Al Qaeda: Media Strategy from 1988 to the Present

Books

  • Miles, Hugh. Al-Jazeera. (London: Abacus, 2005).
  • Weimann, Gabriel. Terror on the Internet. (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2006). The most authoritative account of terrorists' use of the Internet.

Articles

The Underlying Causes of the 9/11 Attacks

Books

Articles

Islamist Terrorism and Its Intellectual Influences

Books

Articles

Counterterrorism:

  • Bamford, James. The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. (New York: Anchor Books, 2008).
  • Bergen, Peter. Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden-from 9/11 to Abottabad. (New York: Crown Publishing, 2012). Read reviews from the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Economist, and the New York Times.
  • Bobbitt, Phillip. Terror and Consent : The Wars for the Twenty-First Century. (New York: Anchor Books, 2009).
  • Carle, Glenn. The Interrogator: An Education. (New York: Nation Books, 2011).
  • Clarke, Richard A. Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. (New York: Free Press, 2004). Vital for understanding how the Bush administration came to conflate the invasion of Iraq with the war on terrorism.
  • Crumpton, Henry A. The Art of Intelligence: Lessons From a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Service (New York: Penguin Books, 2013).
  • Graff, Garrett. The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror. (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011).
  • Jones, Seth G. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida since 9/11 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012). AfPak Channel review by Raffaello Pantucci: "Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom."
  • Kaplan, Fred. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013)
  • Mackey, Chris and Greg Miller. The Interrogators: Inside Task Force 500 and America's Secret War Against Al Qaeda. (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2004).
  • Mayer, Jane. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. (New York: Anchor Books, 2009).
  • Mazzetti, Mark. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, And a War at the Ends of the Earth (New York: Penguin, 2013). AfPak Channel review by Shane Harris: "In Mazzetti's account, the responses of the CIA and the military seem biological, a set of almost organic responses to a changing environment."
  • McDermott, Terry and Josh Meyer, The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012).
  • Mudd, Phil. Takedown - Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). AfPak Channel review by Mitchell D. Silber: "Mr. Mudd provides unique insights as to what it was like on a day-to-day basis working in the CIA Counterterrorism Center and FBI National Security Branch and how those entities functioned, faults and all."
  • Owen, Mark. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden. (New York: Penguin, 2012).
  • Priest, Dana and William Arkin. Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State. (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011).
  • Scahill, Jeremy. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013). AfPak Channel review by Shane Harris: "In Scahill's story, which is generally more concerned with the military's side of the tale, the transformation of special operations into a global "assassination machine" seems largely engineered by the government's most powerful men, particularly Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who used the crisis of terrorism to create private, "unaccountable" armies."
  • Schmitt, Eric and Thom Shanker. Counterstrike: the Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against al-Qaeda. (New York: Times Books, 2011). AfPak Channel review by Michael Waltz - "The authors personalize the often mundane bureaucratic policy initiatives such as Presidential findings, resources, and authorities needed to gradually shift our approach to terrorism through the stories of key individuals working on these issues over the last ten years."
  • Sewell, Sarah, John A. Naql, David H. Petraeus and James F. Amos. The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
  • Silber, Mitchell D. The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). AfPak Channel review by Raffaello Pantucci: "Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as 'al-Qaeda command and control,' 'al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed,' and 'al Qaeda inspired.'"
  • Soufan, Ali (with Daniel Freedman). The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011).
  • Warrick, Joby. The Triple Agent. (New York: DoubleDay, 2011). AfPak Channel review by Art Keller - The Triple Agent provides a riveting look at the disastrous attempt by the CIA and their partners in the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID) to maneuver the Jordanian doctor-cum-cyber-jihadist, Humam al-Balawi, into penetrating the leadership of al-Qaeda.
  • Woodward, Bob. Bush at War. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002). Vital for understanding how the Bush administration came to conflate the invasion of Iraq with the war on terrorism.

New America Papers

Al-Qaeda

Afghanistan/Taliban

Pakistan

Counterterrorism

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

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