Where To Start If You Want To Learn More About What’s Going On In Afghanistan

Where To Start If You Want To Learn More About What’s Going On In Afghanistan
(Photo by Paul Zinken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

If you’ve taken even a short look at the news this week, you’ll be acutely aware that horrific events are currently unfolding in Afghanistan.

The departure of U.S. troops from the nation and the Taliban’s swift takeover has left citizens in Afghanistan fearing for their safety, and the rights of women and girls, in particular, on unsteady ground.

There is a lot of history behind the complex and devastating situation that is currently playing out, so if you’d like to learn a little more about Afghanistan and the 20-year war there, here are some resources you may find useful.

Articles on the events in Afghanistan

There has been no shortage of journalistic exploration into Afghanistan in recent years. Here are a handful of pieces, however, that are broadly recommended as worthwhile reading.

The Taliban’s Return Is Catastrophic For Women By Lynsey Addario, The Atlantic

“As a photojournalist covering Afghanistan for two decades, I’ve seen how hard the country’s women have fought for their freedom, and how much they have gained. Now they stand to lose everything.”

The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History Of The War by Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post

“U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it, an exclusive Post investigation found.”

The “Good War” in Afghanistan Was Never Good by Gunar Olsen, Jacobin Mag

“As the war in Afghanistan slowly grinds to an end, many in the foreign policy establishment want to tell you it was a ‘good war gone bad’. That’s false. The war in Afghanistan never should have been waged in the first place.”

What America Didn’t Understand About Its Longest War by Carter Malkasian, Politico

“That the war went on so long may be tragic, but it is hardly surprising.”

Books on Afghanistan you can check out

Dive into one of these books for a detailed exploration of the history behind this situation.

Synopses are via book distributors.

Ghost Wars by Steve Coll – Pulitzer winner

From the managing editor of the Washington Post, a news-breaking account of the CIA’s involvement in the covert wars in Afghanistan that fueled Islamic militancy and gave rise to bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, the epic and enthralling story of America’s intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11.

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright – Pulitzer winner

A gripping narrative that spans five decades, The Looming Tower explains in unprecedented detail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Lawrence Wright re-creates firsthand the transformation of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of the most successful terrorist group in history. He follows FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill as he uncovers the emerging danger from al-Qaeda in the 1990s and struggles to track this new threat. Packed with detailed information and a deep historical perspective, The Looming Tower is the definitive history of the long road to September 11.

The American War in Afghanistan: A History by Carter Malkasian

In The American War in Afghanistan, Carter Malkasian provides the first comprehensive history of the entire conflict. Malkasian is both a leading academic authority on the subject and an experienced practitioner, having spent nearly two years working in the Afghan countryside and going on to serve as the senior advisor to General Joseph Dunford, the US military commander in Afghanistan and later the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan by Aaron Glantz

In spring 2008, inspired by the Vietnam-era Winter Soldier hearings, Iraq Veterans Against the War gathered veterans to expose war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are the powerful words, images, and documents of this historic gathering, which show the reality of life in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Documentaries to watch

There are countless films that touch on the war in Afghanistan and the events leading up to and following that. However, here are a handful of documentaries that have been applauded for their detailing of the situation throughout different points in history.

Synopses are all via documentary distributors. 

Fahrenheit 9/11 

Michael Moore’s political documentary uses humour and connect-the-dots investigative journalism to question the Bush administration’s motives for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The film argues that President George W. Bush and his inner circle used the media to further an agenda that exploited the 9/11 attacks. The close ties of the Saudis to the Bush family, the cynical profiteering of corporations and a political elite beholden to special interests are all cited as elements of a corrupt system.

Rent it on services like Apple TV or Amazon.

Restrepo

A year with one platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan.

Rent it on services like Apple TV or Amazon.

Only the Dead

In 2003, war correspondent Michael Ware travels to Baghdad during the invasion. As he tries to find out about a brutal Al Qaeda leader, he receives a tape from Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

Rent it on services like Apple TV or Amazon.

Taxi to the Dark Side 

Alex Gibney exposes the haunting details of the U.S.A.’s torture and interrogation practices during the War in Afghanistan.

Rent it on services like Apple TV or Amazon.

Armadillo 

From a farewell party with strippers to the front lines of the war in Afghanistan, this documentary follows a group of Danish soldiers who face the extremes of boredom and firefights in a puzzling war. The cameras roll as troubling incidents force the soldiers to question the goals of the military campaign and the nature of their own humanity. The troops also discuss the differences between their own upbringing and the lives of the Afghan peasants who bear the brunt of the violence.

Rent it on services like Apple TV or Amazon.

Motley’s Law 

The challenging journey of a former beauty queen who left her family in the USA to become the only licensed foreign lawyer working in Kabul, Afghanistan. Kimberley Motley explores her work and the dangers of her fight for human rights.

Rent it on services like Apple TV or Amazon.

Podcasts to listen to about Afghanistan

Finally, if you’re keen to get a quick but informative run down on what is happening now, there are loads of podcasts you can turn to.

NPR has a series of podcasts that have covered the unfolding events in Afghanistan right now, as a start.

The NPR Politics Podcast:

Up First:

Consider This from NPR:

The Guardian has also looked at the situation with Today in Focus:

The New York Times’ The Daily has released a couple of podcast episodes on the topic, as well:


If after all of that, you’re still looking for more there are loads of informative Instagram accounts (Zee Feed has a breakdown here and So Informed here) and refugee-focused organisations (like UNHCR and ASRC) and that can offer more.

Log in to comment on this story!