Ghosts of Afghanistan

The Haunted Battleground

Jonathan Steele

Published: 5 July 2012
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 448 pages
ISBN: 9781846274312


Yes, there are dozens of books on the Afghan wars. Most of them are all about firefights and heroics. But this is the first to take the events of the war Bush and Blair started and put them in the context of the Soviet war and even the British imperial wars that preceded them, and draw the lessons out, and make a sharp summary of what should happen next.

Ghosts of Afghanistan stands out for the combination of its calm clarity and comprehensibility, the firmness of its arguments, Steele's stature as an analyst of the region of 30 years standing, his position as the one UK journalist who had first access to the WikiLeaks cache on Afghanistan, and his interpretation of what he found there.

About the author

Image of Jonathan Steele

Jonathan Steele was educated at Cambridge and Yale. He was Washington Bureau Chief, Moscow Bureau Chief, and Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Guardian. He is currently a columnist on international affairs. His previous book Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq was published in 2008. He has also written books on Russia, Germany and South Africa. His coverage of the Soviet Union's Afghan war led to his International Reporter of the Year title in the British Press Awards for 1981, and his reporting on the US and British occupation of Helmand to the One World Media Press Award in 2011. More about the author


‘[An] impressive history of 30 years of civil war and foreign intervention in Afghanistan’ Ian Pindar



Ghosts of Afghanistan charts a sinuous and sobering history of the country over the past thirty-five years ... the book benefits from Steele's thirty years of experience of reporting on both the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The prose is clear and lively.’ Harry Johnstone

Ghosts of Afghanistan is a good title for this fine modern history. This is not just because of the many people who have died in its wars, but because "the spectres of past mistakes" still complicate decision-making by the NATO-led, American-dominated ISAForce ... Mr Steele has visited Afghanistan in every phase of the civil war and is well placed to compare the end of the Soviet era and the present "transition", the favoured common euphemism for foreign withdrawal.’

‘A book unlike any other on the Afghan wars, this compelling and insightful study takes the events of the war started by Blair and Bush and puts them in the context of the Soviet War and the British Imperial wars that preceded it, and from this draws powerful and sobering lessons about the unnecessary waste of life and resources ... An essential read for any military history fan.’

‘A fine book... Steele's analytical account ends with a powerful and eloquent argument for peace with the Taliban.’ Anatol Lieven

‘A highly readable account... Steele exposes how so much of the struggle has been based on false assumptions.’ Stephen Gray

‘Drawing on more than three decades of reporting from and on Afghanistan, Jonathan Steele offers the best account yet of why, in ignoring the lessons of the Soviet intervention, the Americans are condemned to make many of the same mistakes. A brilliant and disturbing book by one of the most acute and best informed contemporary observers of Afghanistan.’ Sherard Cowper-Coles, UK Ambassador to Kabul 2007-9

‘Highly readable and always challenging’ Stephen Grey

‘If you want to get your mind round Afghanistan the best place to start is this book.’ Jonathan Mirsky

‘Jonathan Steele has covered the sweep of 30 years of history in Afghanistan and chronicled the lessons of first the Russian, and then the American-led occupations. They are lessons President Obama and his allies have still not fully grasped. This excellent book is a painfully honest account of successive unwinnable wars. It is the book Mr Obama and others will need if Afghanistan is ever to be left to find its own peace and prosperity.’ Jon Snow

‘Steele has covered events in Afghanistan for many years, and he skewers with palpable glee the myths and half-truths that are peddled by politicians, generals, official spokesmen, and too many commentators.’ Rodric Braithwaite

‘Steele has covered events in Afghanistan for many years, and he skewers with palpable glee the myths and half-truths that are peddled by politicians, generals, official spokesmen, and too many commentators.’ Rodric Braithwaite

‘With a 30-year experience of reporting in Afghanistan, no-one has studied this extraordinary country more closely than Jonathan Steele, nor charted so meticulously how outside intervention has worsened internal discord. His is a sobering essay on the empire of folly.’ Simon Jenkins

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