The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan’s Pech Valley

Wesley Morgan. Random House, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9506-0
Journalist Morgan debuts with an exhaustive and deeply reported history of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan’s Pech river valley and its tributary valleys, Korengal and Waygal. Since the start of the war against the Taliban in 2001, Morgan writes, resistance in this northeastern corner of the country has been relentless. American troops built bridges, roads, and networks of translators and informants, and navigated local rivalries over control of the logging and gemstone trades, but persistent “friendly fire” incidents and the mistreatment and even murder of detainees poisoned local relations. Morgan details the counterinsurgency theories driving U.S. strategy under top commanders such as Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, and reveals how frequent rotations and redeployments undermined the institutional knowledge of frontline troops. He chronicles firefights and drone strikes against Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda operatives, tracks troop surges and withdrawals, profiles U.S. special forces soldiers who have deployed to the region multiple times, documents the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and describes the mixed reactions of Pech valley veterans who are now seeing American forces coordinate with the Taliban in their fight against ISIS. Morgan enriches his impressive research and insightful analysis with vivid writing and deft character sketches. The result is a definitive portrait of the epicenter of America’s longest war. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/22/2020
Release date: 10/06/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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