Better Know a Conflict
April 2, 2009 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Wanted: Your favorite books and articles on the Soviet army's time in Afghanistan.

Hi, AskMe.

I would like to better understand the conflict between the Soviet Army and the Muhjahideen that played out in the 70's and 80's. I'm most interested in the asymmetric elements of the conflict; in how a much smaller, much less well-equipped force was able to give the Soviets such trouble.

Any and all sources are welcome. I feel severely under-educated on this subject, and would really like to develop a thorough understanding of the conflict. So, if you've anything I could read to that end, I'd sure like to hear about it.

Thank you very much.
posted by EatTheWeek to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I think the current authoratative book on this is
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll

for a more personal perspective, try An Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World, by the insanely talented William T. Vollmann
posted by arcanecrowbar at 2:32 PM on April 2, 2009

I linked this in one of the recent threads on the subject (c&p follows):
Afghanistan and the Soviet Withdrawal 1989 20 Years Later -- "As a tribute and memorial to the late Russian historian, General Alexander Antonovich Lyakhovsky, the National Security Archive today* posted on the Web a series of previously secret Soviet documents including Politburo and diary notes published here in English for the first time. The documents suggest that the Soviet decision to withdraw occurred as early as 1985, but the process of implementing that decision was excruciatingly slow, in part because the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was never able to achieve the necessary domestic support and legitimacy – a key problem even today for the current U.S. and NATO-supported government in Kabul."
*February 15
posted by Abiezer at 2:49 PM on April 2, 2009

Doris Lessing's partisan account, The Wind Blows Away Our Words, is quite personal and written with a clear, serious voice. She visited Afghani refugee camps in Pakistan in September 1986, and the book was published in 1987, so revisions aren't possible; it's a contemporary account. I wouldn't say I understand the conflict, but I do feel I understand the situation better than I would without her story.
posted by cgc373 at 3:06 PM on April 2, 2009

Robert Kaplan's Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
World affairs expert and intrepid travel journalist Robert D. Kaplan braved the dangers of war-ravaged Afghanistan in the 1980s, living among the mujahidin—the “soldiers of god”—whose unwavering devotion to Islam fueled their mission to oust the formidable Soviet invaders. In Soldiers of God we follow Kaplan’s extraordinary journey and learn how the thwarted Soviet invasion gave rise to the ruthless Taliban and the defining international conflagration of the twenty-first century....Kaplan returns a decade later and brings to life a lawless frontier.

posted by K.P. at 4:23 PM on April 2, 2009

Response by poster: These are all fantastic answers. Thank you very much, everyone.
posted by EatTheWeek at 5:30 PM on April 2, 2009

The Bear Trap: The Defeat of a Superpower is good.
posted by funkbrain at 6:13 PM on April 2, 2009

also check out the movie The Beast with Jason Patrick
posted by Redhush at 6:54 PM on April 2, 2009

The unfortunately translated Zinky Boys, aka Boys in Zinc.
posted by scribbler at 10:04 PM on April 2, 2009

The Great Gamble is a great recent book on the conflict which features a bunch of solid interviews with people from both sides of the conflict.

Remember going in that the Soviets killed over one Million Afghans during the course of the war so the concept that the Taliban were unstoppable warriors is less true then that they refused to give in.
posted by monkeywithhat at 5:02 PM on April 3, 2009

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