The Resonance of History: The Influence of Soviet-Era Mujahidin Networks in Eastern Afghanistan

By Dr. Brian R. Price

U.S. personnel discuss the history of the region with shop owners in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, May 2012. (Photo by author)
U.S. personnel discuss the history of the region with shop owners in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, May 2012. (Photo by author)
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During our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, making sense of the dizzying social networks proved a daunting task. Ethnic divisions, tribal networks, family loyalties, business relationships, the influence of poppies, the persistence of long-enduring local conflicts, and blood feuds all confounded quick understanding of the human terrain, the socio-cultural environment. Similar problems underlie efforts to understand potential zones of future conflict throughout the Middle East and in Africa.

The Human Terrain System

In 2006, the Human Terrain System (HTS) was established in an effort to rapidly research and develop local information to improve local commanders’ understanding of their battle spaces.[1] Intended as a kind of “conflict ethnography,” to borrow a phrase from David Kilcullen, this system was a component of the push towards the “population-centric” warfare discussed in Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, and FM 3-07, Stability Operations.[2] The hope was to draw anthropologists and other social scientists and embed them directly at the brigade level (and later division and theater levels). These undepartmentally invested advisors could “represent” the population during the military decision-making process, provide second- and third-order effects analysis, and offer commanders a perspective from outside the tensions of the military-political divide. While the program was unsuccessful at drawing broadly on the intended anthropological talent, it did draw an array of educated advisors with backgrounds that included anthropology, sociology, criminology, law, political science, area studies, international relations, geography, economics, and communications, usually at the doctoral level.

While the program struggled with explosive growth that fueled administrative dislocation and significant recruitment issues, in the end, commanders generally reported positive contributions by the human terrain teams. A number rightfully questioned the financial costs, the poor team dynamics in some teams, or the suitability of candidates for the high operational tempo of the environment.[3] Maj. Ben Connoble argued in Military Review that HTS’s resource-intensive approach weakened traditional Army tools used for the same purpose, such as civil affairs and Special Forces.[4] Others such as John Stanton despised the program as an inefficient, corrupt waste.[5] And, opposition flowed steadily from the American Anthropological Association, some from the press, and even some from within the U.S. House of Representatives. Under this assault, and in the drawdown atmosphere, the program came to an abrupt end, though its knowledge base has continued under the Global Cultural Knowledge Network based out of Fort Leavenworth.[6]

In the aftermath of HTS’s demise, a number of analytical works have emerged proposing new directions for the program or at least for the capability. Chief among these is the collection edited by Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence, Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan; Christopher Sims, The Human Terrain System: Operationally Relevant Social Science Research in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Christopher J. Lamb et al., Human Terrain Teams: An Organizational Innovation for Sociocultural Knowledge in Irregular Warfare.[7] A useful view from outside the Department of Defense perspective is Paul Joseph’s “Soft” Counterinsurgency: Human Terrain Teams and U.S. Military Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.[8] The experience of individual human-terrain-team social scientists have also been captured in a number of works, including Sam Stryker’s The Humanity of Warfare; D. Scott Wilson’s Blood and Raisins; AnnaMaria Cardinalli’s Crossing the Wire and journalist Vanessa Gezari’s The Tender Soldier.[9] Finally, experiences have been captured in three separate studies conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses, the Institute for Defense Analyses, and West Point, as well as in a number of other useful articles.

In each of these studies of HTS, the tools of social science were broadly found to yield battlespace knowledge often valued by commanders surveyed, albeit sometimes at high cost (in the early days of the program especially).[10] Social science tools used by human-terrain team social scientists gathered data most often through “windshield ethnography,” semi-structured interviews, and participation in key-leader engagements, or shura events. Data was most often analyzed using forms of social network or textual analysis, usually structured through discipline-specific models. Confirmatory research, when it could be conducted, often took the form of focus groups or polling, although the reliability of such studies remains very much in question given the almost insurmountable problems of gaining access, achieving random sampling, and acquiring statistically relevant sample sizes. Standards of academic reliability notwithstanding, commanders continued to find value in HTS products, according to the above-cited studies.

However, what was often missing in HTS analyses was the importance and resonating influence of local history. Without this crucial piece of social context, conducting network analysis or assessing positive and negative influencers becomes hopelessly mired in complexity because the strength of social bonds are unclear, resulting in mapping that emphasizes only the number of recent contacts. But, recent activity changes rapidly. In many respects, background currents are more important, especially with respect to feelings of political legitimacy, the all-crucial sentiment in population-centric stability operations. Those background currents are found in the local history.

In Afghanistan

The broad strokes of Afghan history are widely known. With the Soviet invasion of 1979, the mujahidin (jihadi fighters), led by the “group of seven,” directed a successful insurgency that, with U.S. and Saudi aid funneled through Pakistan’s Directorate General for Inter-Services Intelligence, forced the Soviet departure in 1989 and, arguably, ushered in the fall of the Soviet Union.[11] Soviet-sponsored President Mohammad Najibullah shakily held his regime together until the foreign support ended in 1992. With his fall, the forces of the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud fought bitterly for control of Kabul against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Pakistani-sponsored Hezb-i Islami (HIG) forces. The fight ended in an exhausted victory for Massoud and his allies, but it devastated the capitol city. The resulting government was unable to secure control of the country or curtail the banditry that followed, and the fighting between regional warlords continued.

Out of this chaos the Taliban rose, promising security and bringing it, but with considerable fundamentalist baggage. Al-Qaida found a welcome home in the Taliban emirate, but both were forced from the country in the post 9-11 U.S. attacks. Harmid Karzai was sponsored to lead the new Afghanistan, but the corruption that quickly grew as aid money flowed not so much into as through Afghanistan, soured many Afghans on the Karzai regime. At the same time, the rising influence of the “poppy culture” and continued agitation from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas rekindled the insurgency by 2006. With the realignment of U.S. policy, coalition forces flooded into the country, bringing a new emphasis on counterinsurgency, with experience hard-won in Iraq.[12]

During my double-tour as an embedded social scientist in Regional Command East, I too struggled to provide relevant background and context, termed socio-cultural understanding, to commanders and staffs. Trained both in political science and in the historical method, I experimented with different analytical tools in this effort, but, in the end, key insight came from the local histories I gathered from villagers, elders, mullahs, and the officers and men from within the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Throughout this research, it became clear that the sense of identity for many Afghan men was bound in the martial subculture that permeates Afghan society and often transcends ethnic and tribal divisions. The operationally relevant insight was the discovery of another kind of social network that embedded longstanding loyalties transcending the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan-Taliban-HIG competition for legitimacy.

These networks were rooted in the struggle against the Soviet Union, in the mostly spontaneous formation of bands of mujahidin. Mujahidin networks survived as enduring social structures that channeled many business relationships, and they were often cemented into kinship through marriage. The legacy of these networks, at least in Eastern Afghanistan, provided an important layer of understanding as to how movements such as the “Andar Awakening” began.[13]

While not a panacea, such knowledge improved dialogue with local men, because their association with a martial group was a source of considerable pride. While not a replacement for ethnic, tribal, business, and other social relationship analysis, understanding the importance of local history provided unparalleled clarity in terms of understanding social dynamics in two provinces.

Even as American forces wind down their direct involvement in Afghanistan, similarly complex conflicts boil and simmer through Africa, south Asia, and the Middle East. As we strive to build a framework of understanding for shaping operations, developing a mosaic sketch of local history can dramatically speed understanding of current social dynamics.

Two Cases

Working in Kapisa and Ghazni Provinces, we studied variations of effectiveness within the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in Kapisa and looked at popular support for the insurgents in southern Ghazni. It was clear that underlying influencing networks, apart from the usual ethnic or family lines, had their roots in Soviet-era mujahidin networks, and that these networks were more than embedded—they were part of the framework underpinning the social structure.

Afghan Local Police in Kapisa.

Kapisa Province, located just northeast of Bagram Airfield over a jagged minor thrust of the Hindu Kush Mountains, sits astride the strategically crucial highway alongside the Panshir and Gorband River valleys. It forms a thoroughfare for commerce between the Pashtun people southeast and the largely Tajik valley north and east of Bagram. It also served as a smuggling route and staging location for insurgents. Afghanistan’s smallest (but most densely populated) province is a microcosm of Afghanistan; an invisible, irregular, and permeable line cuts the province in two, dividing it between Tajik and Pashtun—between those with old allegiances to Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Jamiat-i Islami in the north and those aligned with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s HIG in the south.[14] The Taliban competed with the HIG for influence.

The ALP program had been hurriedly established, largely built around previously established road maintenance teams (RMTs) organized by special operations personnel. The ALP program, loosely modeled on and inspired by the successful Sons of Iraq initiative, was in theory to be connected to a larger Village Stability Operations program, itself informed by the British experience with “new villages” in Malay.[15]> The idea resonated with Afghan cultural norms, because local security was to be provided not by Kabul (which did not have the reach into all mountain valleys), but under the local control of a carefully vetted and qualified village shura. The elders would approve, sponsor, and monitor the program to ensure quality. In the ideal, such villages would create islands of stability that would then expand their influence, through example and direct contact, using the familiar “oil spot” approach of connecting and gradually forming larger zones of security.

In Kapisa, however, incomplete knowledge about the local power struggles had created a legacy of RMTs that were effective in some places but not in others. Analysts with no direct experience in the province produced studies with negative sweeping judgments about the ALP there. These analyses were in turn woven into larger critiques of the ALP program, which in turn affected support at the division and theater levels, national policy through the Department of State, and international opinion. It became imperative to learn more about why some ALPs were successful—securing the support of the population—and others were not, because these units were bearing the brunt of Taliban (and HIG) incursions into the mostly stable Tajik areas, fighting nightly engagements in defense of their valleys. Without them, the security situation would have rapidly declined.

It became apparent that the textbook application of ALP establishment had not been followed in Kapisa. Some local shuras were comprised of factions that divided villages, most stemming from long-standing blood feuds that sometimes extended back decades. While the teams establishing the ALP no doubt achieved shura approval for the candidates of the local ALP, some villages had been coerced by factional (not necessarily insurgent) power and threats. The ALP empowered a local strongman at the expense of others. This was the great nightmare that kept International Security Assistance Force and Afghan officials up at night—that the local defense units would become warlords, independent powers in their own right, further eroding the goal of a strong government in Kabul and setting the stage for the multi-polar civil war many Afghans feared would follow in the wake of coalition forces drawdown. This had been the case in the wake of the departure of the Soviets in 1989 and the collapse of the Najibullah regime in 1992.

In researching the origins and continued resiliency of allegiances to the ALP commanders in the area, we discovered that underlying the relatively recent blood feuds, divisions, RMTs, and ALPs were social networks that were much older, dating back into the period of Soviet occupation. The largely Tajik commanders of the northern ALPs had all been members of the Jamiat-i Islami mujahidin groups. Some of these had followed Massoud’s lead into the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban, while others simply continued to do business and associate with their older comrades. In many cases, these were the dominant social networks in the region. In the words of one former Jamiat commander, “We trust in the men who we have fought beside since the time of the Russians. We do our business with them, and with their sons. They are brothers to us.”[16] In the south, HIG retained a tight grip and substantial reputation among the population.[17] The two groups fought bitterly during the Northern Alliance years, and Kapisa Province was divided between the two. Interspaced were opportunists and bandits, none of whom enjoyed the broad local support as those with a Soviet-era pedigree, real or imagined.

Throughout Kapisa, qualitative data drawn from interviews suggested that a significant component of the cultural dynamic was rooted in old martial tradition. Men were expected to defend their valleys against all intrusions (which hampers efforts to disarm the population); their very identity was tied to this duty.[18] One earned social prestige by associating with one of the more famous mujahidin groups—and the higher the rank within that group, the greater the prestige. This had little to do with Pashtunwali, as some analysts proposed (the Tajiks would not subscribe to the “way of the Pashtun” in any case), and everything to do with deeply rooted ideas of what men were supposed to do in Afghan society. But even bandits and would-be warlords enjoyed substantial local prestige through the strength of character exhibited in martial displays. Rapacious warlords were often admired for their strength. The manifestations of this power were, amongst other things, the ability to provide security and collect resources from villagers through checkpoints and taxes. This was an old tradition in Afghanistan, but it was something that the regime in Kabul tried to very rapidly change, especially in the wake of the “Afghanization” policy that dramatically increased the role for the ANSF, including the national and local police and the Afghan National Army.

Regarding the effectiveness in Kapisa’s ALP, we reached the conclusion that, in areas where there was broad support for the ALP unsoiled by significant underlying local feuds, and where the units were structured according to long-accepted hierarchies whose status had been built in the Soviet-era experience (and who were not hostile to the regime in Kabul), the program worked well. It worked less evenly in areas with younger commanders who were anxious to earn social prestige. In areas where local shuras were divided into powerfully polarized factions, the ALP always failed, because its time and attention were usually spent on internal power struggles, if they were not outright bandits and smugglers themselves. Forging the program’s desired connections with the regime in Kabul was exceedingly difficult because the primary loyalty remained to the locality, not to Karzai’s regime.

Forming the ALP in the southern portions of the province was exceptionally difficult. While the HIG enjoyed the broad-based social prestige of their Soviet-era reputation and their subsequent blend of social work and martial strength, the leadership was fundamentally hostile to the Kabul regime and to the Jamiat-associated Tajiks.

In southern Kapisa Province, significant portions of the population were supportive of the HIG because of their long-time contributions to the society, both in a martial sense but also through social leadership. The dividing lines went back to the Soviet era, and loosely (but not completely) correlated with the ethnic line dividing the province. In the north, pockets of Pashtun supporters, relocated to the area in the 1920s, variously supported the HIG and the Taliban. The Taliban themselves infiltrated from the east. In the north, the HIG and Taliban could be separated from the population with relative ease, but this fell apart utterly in the south. There the population was the insurgents because the members of the HIG were core social contributors and stakeholders in the region. These old Soviet-era networks had only crystallized and strengthened in the intervening years, with connections of business interests built within the older mujahidin network.

Resistance and support for the insurgency in Ghazni.

Southern Ghazni Province sits astride Highway 1, which links Kandahar and Kabul. It is an arid and dusty collection of plains, loosely ringed by low mountains. Here the road was everything, the key strategic terrain recognized and sought by all; it was a daily transit route for tons of legitimate and illicit trade. Ethnic Pashtuns predominated, their complex tribal and kinship networks ranging from ambivalent to hostile to the Kabul regime and to coalition forces. The Hazara people formed subcommunities around marketplaces, leveraging their family connections to truck in goods from either Kabul or Jalalabad.

Support for Taliban was rampant throughout the province. Historically all but autonomous, most interviewees were ambivalent about the regime in Kabul, but significant pockets either tolerated or actively supported the Taliban, who moved through the area with relative ease despite well-conducted counterguerrilla efforts. Support for many different HIG groups was also strong.

In the summer of 2012, several villages in the district of Andar revolted against the Taliban in response to their closing of the local schools—as well as the murder of a local malik (tribal leader).[19] As the summer progressed, more seemingly extemporaneous uprisings took hold, not only in the surrounding villages, but also in the Wardak, Ghor, and Kamdesh regions. While each had a different spark, it became imperative to understand their local causes. In the words of Gen. John Allen, “Is it tribal? Is it ethnic? What is the particular cause?”[20] We faced similar questions from our own command element.

Throughout southern Ghazni, we had been conducting interviews with villagers, their leaders, and members of the ANSF. Early interviews produced little of substance; there was a pronounced hesitation, an obvious discomfort with the American presence. But during the early summer, roughly coincident with the uprisings in Andar, we struck upon a new line of inquiry, looking to see if the same Soviet-era participation with the mujahidin I had seen in Kapisa was perhaps a component of the complex web of social structures in Ghazni.

The answer was a resounding yes. Most village men, proud Pashtuns steeped in the traditions of Pashtunwali, identified themselves with local mujahidin groups, most dating their family’s involvement back to the Soviet era. Once this conversation began, most responded enthusiastically, regaling the interview team with tales of martial exploits and, crucially, how they shared these experiences with other men of the village. Those same networks often connected business enterprises and still closer kinship ties forged through marriage. The specific mujahidin groups differed from village to village. Very often, the primary divisions within the village ran along Soviet-era mujahidin-network membership fault lines; we developed this crucial element of understanding very late in the counterinsurgency effort.

Mapping these networks provided rapid insight into how movements like the revolt in Andar might expand, running along the networks of trust imprinted during the Soviet conflict but deepened in the intervening years. Some of these networks fought the Taliban, while others resisted, as in Andar. But, even becoming aware of the networks’ existence was a major step forward in understanding the human terrain of Southern Ghazni.

Capturing Local Histories

Ideally, trained interviewers gather the local histories, which are then summarized and prepared for use by command, staff, and diplomatic elements (who can then impress their host-nation counterparts with the knowledge). As a professional scholar, I found that my dual army/university affiliation encouraged open conversation. And, unattached to the staff process, my “outside the box” perspective seemed to be valued by the command elements, an additional input through or alongside the staff process. The use of interviews, oral histories, and group interviews focusing on local history often led to an open exchange of information—a warming of rapport that enabled discussion of more delicate topics relating to the present situation.

The most common tool during the early phases of an operation is the group interview. Small groups of locals are encouraged to speak about the history of the area, using as few prompts as possible, to understand the essence of what they feel is important. Too many questions by the interviewer or too tightly directed questions skew the interview in favor of what the interviewer believes already to be important, distorting the final product. Using broad, open-ended questions, the organic character of the conversation is preserved; threads or themes of interest emerging in the conversation are encouraged with conversational prompts rather than through prepared questions wherever possible.

end of the road” in Khoband Province

From group interviews, important figures and themes will emerge. Individual interviews are then conducted where possible, again focused on local history rather than the current state of affairs. As the conversation proceeds and builds, topics of more currency can quickly emerge, giving the interviews a dual value as a background of history and as a rapport-building bridge into the current state of affairs.

At all levels, it is useful to strike both a general and a personal approach, focusing first on famous events. “What was it like when the Soviets were here?” is a general question I often began with, working through more specifics such as “Did you [or your father or relatives] fight with the mujahidin?” “Really? That’s very interesting and took great courage. Which group did you fight with?” “Can you tell me a story from that time?” And then, importantly, “Are their others whose stories I could hear about this?” This points the interviewer to more sources. In the Afghan case, such questions touched on a sense of martial pride, which then led to much warmer rapport. Ultimately, in a counterinsurgency or phase 0 (shaping) environment, the interviewer would like to establish what constitutes legitimacy from the local perspective—what qualifies a leader or a government. Since these are abstract questions, they must be approached obliquely and through the themes that arise from the interviews.

Once a number of interviews have been conducted, the resulting history can be constructed, ideally around the themes that emerged from those interviews and hopefully from the perspective of the participants. Training in the historical method is helpful in constructing such treatments. The result is a product or products that encapsulate the local history and the themes likely to resonate if hostilities erupt.

Very often, however, field personnel will not have access to an interviewer with the requisite training. Even then, inquiring about the local history during the early moments of engagement can provide a rapport bridge between the usual health and welfare of families and the agenda. A few minutes spent on local history during a key-leader engagement can yield considerable results in a very short time.


The influence of history resonates powerfully through current events. Historical context is crucial in developing the local understanding needed in counterinsurgencies, in stability operations, or in humanitarian relief efforts. The depth of key connections within the current web of social complexity is found in history, in the local understanding of what things mean and how they happened.

Using this approach in eastern Afghanistan, our teams learned of the importance of Soviet-era mujahidin networks. The enduring influence of these networks had previously not been suspected, though they govern many of the business and kinship-by-marriage social networks that remained influential in Kapisa and Ghazni Provinces. The resonance of history, explored through local and personal histories, provides the foundational sense of context needed to understand current social network behavior. Using similar approaches, analysts, soldiers, and diplomats have a useful tool in quickly coming up to speed on identities, beliefs, and aspirations of the local people.


Dr. Brian R. Price served in Afghanistan as a Department of Defense civilian with French forces in Task Force LaFayette, with Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa, and with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division and Task Force Devils in 2011–12. Currently he teaches graduate courses in American military history, strategy, and counterinsurgency in Hawaii Pacific University’s Diplomacy & Military Studies Program.

Army Press Online Journal is published bi-monthly by The Army Press to provide cutting edge content on topics related to the Army and national defense. The views expressed belong to their authors, and do not necessarily represent the official view of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any other government institutions or agencies.


1. Montgomery McFate, “Mind the Gap: Bridging the Military/Academic Divide,” in Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan, eds. Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015), 45–89; Christopher J. Lamb et al., Human Terrain Teams: An Organizational Innovation for Sociocultural Knowledge in Irregular Warfare (Washington, D.C.: The Institute of World Politics Press, 2013); Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro, “Building a Rocket in the Garage: Reflections on the Human Terrain System during the first four years,” PRISM 2, No. 4 (2011): 63–82.

2. David Kilcullen, “Religion and Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal online, 12 May 2007, accessed 17 October 2016, Kilcullen describes conflict ethnography as “a deep, situation-specific understanding of the human, social, and cultural dimensions of a conflict, understood not by analogy with some other conflict, but in its own terms.”; U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], May 2014); FM 3-07, Stability (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, June 2014).

3. Yvette Clinton et al., Congressionally Directed Assessment of the Human Terrain System, CRMD0024031 (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses (CAN) Analysis & Reporting, November 2010); Cindy R. Jebb, Laurel J. Hummel and Tania M. Chacho, “Human Terrain Team Trip Report: A ‘Team of Teams,’” U.S. Military Academy Interdisciplinary Team in Iraq report, 2008, accessed 18 October 2016,

4. Ben Connoble, “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System is Undermining Sustaining Military Cultural Competence,” Military Review (March-April 2009): 57-64.

5. John Stanton, “U.S. Army Promotes Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in TRADOC Human Terrain Program,” Zero Anthropology blog, 11 December 2008, accessed 18 October 2016,

6. Tom Vanden Brook, “Army’s Rebranded Social Science Program Draws Flak,” USA Today website, 9 February 2016, accessed 18 October 2016,

7. McFate and Laurence, Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan; Christopher Sims, The Human Terrain System: Operationally Relevant Social Science Research in Iraq and Afghanistan (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, December 2015); Lamb, et al., Human Terrain Teams: An Organizational Innovation for Sociocultural Knowledge in Irregular Warfare.

8. Paul Joseph, “Soft” Counterinsurgency: Human Terrain Teams and U.S. Military Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

9. Sam Stryker, The Humanity of Warfare: Social Science Capabilities and the Evolution of Armed Conflict (Portland, OR: BookBaby, 2016); D. Scott Wilson, Blood and Raisins: An Intimate Taste of Terror in Afghanistan (New York: Campanile Press, 2014); AnnaMaria Cardinalli, Crossing the Wire: One Woman’s Journey into the Hidden Dangers of the Afghan War (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2013); Vanessa Gezari, The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013).

10. Clifton Green, “Turnaround: The Untold Story of the Human Terrain System,” Joint Force Quarterly 78, No. 3 (July 2015): 61–69.

11. Mujahidin, website, accessed 18 October 2016, The “group of seven” consisted of Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami (Islamic Revolutionary Movement), Hizb-e Islami (Party of Islam; the party split into two entities, but both retained the same name), Itihade Islami (Islamic Union), Jam˓iyat-e Islami (Islamic Society), Jabha-e Nijat-e Milli-ye Afghanistan (National Liberation Front of Afghanistan), and Mahaz-e Milli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan).

12. Peter Tomsen, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failure of Great Powers (New York: Public Affairs, 2011); M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan: the Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985); Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counter-Insurgency (New York: The New Press, 2013).

13. This article discusses events that occurred in Afghanistan, including those in the Andar District of Ghazni. The “Andar Awakening” in this article should not be confused with the more commonly known “Anbar Awakening” that occurred in Iraq.

14. Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985). Roy provides the best open-source overview of the Soviet-era mujahidin groups in Afghanistan.

15. Here the influence of John Nagl’s Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, is clear. Despite the checkered experience that U.S. forces had in Vietnam with the Strategic Hamlet Program (1961–63) and the problems with the relocation programs in the Philippine Insurrection (1899–1902), the British efforts in Malay under Templer were catapulted to the attention of American officers through Nagl’s work and with the widespread acceptance of FM 3-24. For a recent account, see Fred Kaplan, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013).

16. Former Jamiat-i Islami and current ALP commander, interview by author, outside of Nijrab District, Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, 22 August 2011. Work on this topic had begun before I arrived in the province, ably led by the fieldwork of Derek Richardson.

17. HIG leader and two HIG fighters, interview by author, Forward Operating Base Tagab, Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, 6 December 2011.

18. Oral history conducted by author with 3/3 Kandak Commander, 8 October 2011, and again in February of 2012.

19. Ron Moreau, “Tired of the Taliban,” Newsweek, 25 June 2012.

20. Gordon Lubold, “Are We Winning in Afghanistan? An Exclusive Interview with Gen. John Allen, Commander of America’s Forgotten War,” Foreign Policy online, 5 September 2012, accessed 18 October 2016,