Afghanistan Reading Assignment

I’ve resolved to try to start following the Afghanistan debate more closely now and asked Spencer Ackerman for some reading recommendations. He gave me:

— Rory Stewart, “The Irresistible Illusion” The London Review of Books.

— Gilles Dorronsoro, “The Taliban’s Winning Strategy in Afghanistan” for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

— Andrew Exum and Nathaniel Fick, “Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

— David Kilcullen’s February congressional testimony.

I’ve read the Stewart and am now working on Dorronsoro.

One question I’m looking at somewhat hazily is this. If you read accounts of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, people generally always seem to think that American and Saudi and Pakistani support for the Mujahedeen was an important factor. I don’t see anyone saying “it was all a big waste of time and the same stuff would have happened anyway.” The Taliban has, as best as anyone knows, nothing remotely resembling that level of external support. So why isn’t that making more of a difference? Is our side actually much less effective than the Soviets were when you control for the change in external support?