Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Afghanistan—A Nightmare of Failure


The war and occupation of Afghanistan by US-led forces has gone on for almost thirteen years. The current war was preceded by another twenty-three or so years of conflict; first between the Soviets and US-funded mujahedin and then between the various mujahedin factions, with the final result of that episode of war being the triumph of the Taliban. In October 2001 US forces attacked Afghanistan for harboring Osama bin Laden. The Taliban were vanquished, with many being killed, many captured and most of the rest going back to their previous lives while Washington put its chosen people in power in Kabul and made deals with those warlords and Afghan factions it had hired to defeat the Taliban.


It is this point in time where journalist Anand Gopal begins his book No Good Men Among the Living. Gopal, who has reported on Afghanistan for a few different news outlets since 2001, spent three years in Afghanistan writing this book. Essentially the stories of three Afghans lives since 2001, the tales create a vivid history of the nature of the occupation and, in doing so, expose the lies and misunderstandings it is based on. Gopal introduces his text by telling the reader that the accepted rationale for Washington’s failure to reach its goals in Afghanistan is a lie. This rationale (and it is one I hear from military members and civilian analysts) blames the failure of the US mission on the transfer of US resources to Iraq and the debacle there. After all, by March 2003, when Iraq was invaded, the Taliban was destroyed and Afghanistan was rebuilding. Then, Iraq turned out differently than anticipated, taking away the resources needed to continue the work in Afghanistan. Gopal tells a different story.

Instead, the Afghanistan Gopal describes is one where it doesn’t matter what one’s true allegiances are; if the US military or its Afghan henchmen have decided you are an enemy, you instantly become Taliban. Not only does this justify whatever fate befalls you, it also justifies Washington’s continued interference in the Afghan people’s lives and livelihood and it ensures the continued profits for the war profiteers big and small. There was no Taliban worth mentioning by 2002, a year after the invasion, but the machinery of war was on a roll and it needed justification to continue. So, the US employed tribes and leaders to fight its war, allowing those elements’ enemies to become Washington’s enemies, too. This scenario was made worse by the fact that the war against the Soviets and the ascension of the Taliban ruined many of the traditional tribal and village mechanisms of authority, leaving warlords and religious zealots to take their places. As even the US media will admit, this process was often quite bloody and often created a regimen of blood feuds.

Part of Gopal’s premise is that Karzai and his sponsors did actually represent some hope to some Afghanis, especially those in Kabul and in what remained of Afghanistan’s middle class. What occurred during the period after those initial hopes is what comprises the bulk of this text’s subject matter. Patronage gone bad, greed replacing justice with bloodshed and imprisonment the result, women and girls being relegated back to their medieval status that existed for them under the Taliban, and the drug traffic expanding and being controlled primarily by Washington’s allies. It is a story where the meanest, stealthiest and most powerful benefit the most from a war that never needed to be. Of course, given that the greediest and most powerful were not Karzai or his people but the corporate war profiteers living safely in the US and Europe.

Gopal tells the stories of three individuals in this book: a woman, a Taliban fighter and a warlord backed by Washington. In doing so, he tells the story of the US war in Afghanistan and the modern history of a nation rent asunder by forces only nominally under its control. The stories here are stories of intrigue and deceit, heroism and villainy, and the modern and the medieval. The war fought in these individuals’ homeland is one described by Gopal as both majestic and cowardly where neutrality has been made impossible. Like other books about Afghanistan the reader is left wondering how different would the people’s lives had been if Washington had just left them alone? The world was told back in 2001 that the reason Washington was invading Afghanistan was to fight terrorism, free the women, bring democracy, and destroy the Taliban; Gopal demolishes each of these lies the west tells itself to justify its soldiers occupying Afghanistan. No Good Men Among the Living is a litany of ignorance feigned and ignorance real; malicious intent and petty rivalries. All of it backed by US money and power. The reader discovers how Washington, not finding an enemy once the Taliban collapsed, stirred up a hornets nest to create one.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”