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Little America In Afghanistan

From long before 9-11, when American first tried to remake Afghanistan, to Obama’s surge.

US soldiers have lunch at the shopping area of the Kandahar military base, south Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006. (AP)

US soldiers have lunch at the shopping area of the Kandahar military base, south Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006. (AP)

America’s hand in Afghanistan arrived long before you might think.  On the trail of New York fur traders and Cold War competition, we were there in the 1950s.  Building a Little America in the desert.  Trying and failing to make the desert bloom.  Great story.  Not a great success.

And we’ve done it again in the years of Afghan war and surge, says the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran.  He’s bringing the inside story of the “war within the war.”  The battle behind the surge.

This hour, On Point:  Rajiv Chandrasekaran and the long and winding story of America in Afghnistan.

-Tom Ashbrook


Rajiv Chandrasekaran, senior correspondent and associate editor of The Washington Post. He’s the author of Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. You can read an excerpt here.

From Tom’s Reading List

Newsday “Like many of the troops and some of the civilians whose experiences in Afghanistan he chronicles, Washington Post journalist Chandrasekaran spent time in Iraq. His 2006 book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” showed in devastating detail how coalition forces’ isolation inside the bubble of Baghdad’s Green Zone hampered postwar reconstruction efforts.”

The Daily Beast “When Washington Post senior correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran went to Afghanistan to report on the troop surge ordered by President Obama in 2009, he found vicious bickering in the leadership that sabotaged a peace deal, generals who dispatched troops to the wrong places, and rogue commanders who killed civilians and cost soldiers their lives. ”

Foreign Policy “Photos from a time when tiki bars and afternoons at the pool dominated the lives of Americans in Afghanistan.”

Excerpt: Little America

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.

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  • Roy Mac

    When history starts to make payments against the costs of this war, it gets to make judgments.  In the meantime, history can just STFU.

  • ElfmanNW

    The birth of the Taliban, something Republicans don’t want to recall about Saint Reagan.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran was on The NewsHour the other night and he was brilliant.

    This should be an excellent show.
    This reminded me of an article I read a while back in The New Yorker:

    The Invisible Army:


    About how the US military has outsourced concessions and the labor needed to run them to layers of contractors who lure poor foreigners to work in forward base concessions (in this case in Iraq). It’s akin to outsourcing torture to Egypt. It’s an amazing read, well worth the time for people in this “community” of commenters.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    And older name that the Afghans gave themselves:  The Unruly.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Is Afghanistan landlocked?  Yes, do they use the port of Guadar on the west coast of Pakistan?  Is that the one we use?  If Afghanistan were to be economically viable, wouldn’t it be useful to have that port as an international port, less political and more about profit?  What cards is China playing in these matters?
        I have heard Chandrasekaran talk about how the USA stepped on its own feet in the last several years, agencies not managing well, which I’d like to read about.  
        But if he knows about potentials in that part of the world, I’d like to hear it.  I know it’s not the subject of the book.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m familiar with an Afghan whose family has been here a couple of generations, from Kandahar, and I’m thinking probably a lot of Afghans who can grab ahold of American goals leave Afghanistan.  And this is a loss to that country, I suppose, but eventually, their continued connection to that country may create a kind of blow-back, and the “prefeudal society,” that the current caller refers to, may start to take on a more Western coloring due to these expatriates, their persistent caring.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I hear Chandrasakaran talking about the warp that Afghan elites give to Americans, and how this doesn’t bridge the self-imposed isolation of American efforts.  But the Afghan woman I know is not what Americans think of as elite.  I think she is successful compared to most Afghans, wildly successful, but not in any way connected to the decision-makers here or there.  
        Perhaps we need to make America more accessible to non-elite Afghans.  Let them have educations here and go back home with that.

  • Dan

    The novelist, James Michener, wrote a novel about Afghanistan in the 1950s titled “Caravans”. It deals, in fictitious form, with several of the issues discussed in your program – development of dams and irrigation projects, the competition between the US and the USSR in gaining influence in the country, and the cultural conflicts resulting from attempts to “modernize” a traditional and nomadic society.

    The novel provides an entertaining way of understanding the issues discussed by Mr.Chandrasekaran.   

  • http://www.maryloubigelow.com/tv Mary Lou Bigelow

    Thank you for the fascinating talk
    with Rajiv Chandrasekaran.  

     I lived in Kabul from June 1968 to October
    1972. My former husband, Captain John Bigelow,  was the chief pilot of Ariana Afghan Airlines,
    on a technical assistance program of Pan American World Airways.   When I
    first arrived, I attended the 50th anniversary of independence – Jeshyn and
    attended a parade with Mohammad  Zahier
    Shah and  his famous uncle Sardar Shah
    Wali Khan (brother of the Zahir Shah’s father Nadir Shah), who were both in the
    Third Anglo-Afghan War that ended in an armistice August 8, 1919.  You can see some old film footage from my days
    there in 1968 through 1972 in my video interviews with Tim Shah and Russell
    Mason and Daniel Parsignault at  www.maryloubigelow.com/tv  in my “Afghanistan Series”.

    .As a woman, I was treated with
    respect by the Afghan population and truly felt welcome in the country. There
    was a large contingent of  Americans
    (about 800 in Kabul and 1200 in the country),  Russians (living in their own fenced-in compound),
    Germans and British as well as other nationalities working on aid projects at
    that time.

     I was free to travel around the country and
    did. I  visited  Kunduz for a special Buzkashi (polo with a
    headless goat) game,  Mazar-i-Sharif,  Herat, Kandahar, Lashkagar and the Great Buddhas
    of Bamiyan in the middle of the country (destroyed in March 2001).  We saw the end of the good times in Kabul.
    After we left, Daud (cousin of the King) took over the country while the King
    was reposing at his villa in Italy. We attended the 50th anniversary of
    independence in 1968  - Jeshyn and
    attended a parade with Mohammad  Zahir
    Shah and  his famous uncle Sardar Shah
    Wali Khan (brother of the Zahir Shah’s father Nadir Shah, who were both in the
    Third Anglo-Afghan War that ended in an armistice August 8, 1919.

    In 2002, I returned to Kabul to
    film an International Reconstruction Conference. The conference was sponsored by the Afghan
    Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and the American Society of Afghan
    Engineers together with the UN Habitat for Humanity program. The conference
    leaders wanted to learn from the experiences of Germany, Japan, Lebanon and
    India in postwar rebuilding. You can see these talks in a 12-part series
    in the  Afghanistan Series.  (In 2004, I returned  once more for  more filming.)  

    The Afghan peoples and culture is
    not really understood around the world.  Perhaps
    it is because there are so few Afghan spokesman.  You can see my  “The Soul of Afghanistan” in  three-part series where 21 Afghans presented
    their stories to an audience of 400 in my series, an event held on March 5,
    2002.  My purpose in organizing and filming
    this event was to give the Afghans a platform to tell their own stories.   

    It is worth our effort to continue helping
    the Afghans get them back on their feet. They are a fiercely independent  people as proved so long ago in the
    Anglo-Afghan Wars, but they will remain our friend, if we do not abandon them
    again as we did after the Russian-Afghan war.   My
    heart remains with the Afghans and their resolve to stay independent.

    Mary Lou Bigelow
    Mary Lou Bigelow Show – Afghanistan Series & The Global Connection

  • Pingback: Book review: ‘Little America : The War Within the War for Afghanistan’ by … – Washington Post | We Who Served

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