Midwest Book Reviews: Killing the Cranes represents some thirty years of the author's reporting from war-torn Afghanistan, and provides a powerful assessment of not only events but what went wrong and what can be done about them today. He experienced the heart of the country's most dangerous conflicts and terrain, witnessing its major battles and meeting those who helped shape its future. Killing the Cranes is a vivid history and a powerful recommendation for military and general history holdings alike.
Kirkus Reviews (06/15/2011): From longtime journalist and producer Girardet (Afghanistan: The Soviet War, 1986, etc.), an insightful personal account of Afghanistan and its people from 1979 to the present.
The author's career began with the Christian Science Monitor before the days when correspondents were embedded with the troops. He had to make his own way, and often did so on foot, hiking mountain ridges and valley trails accompanying guerrillas and medical-relief workers. During his long career, Girardet has met, befriended and been threatened by many key figures in Afghanistan's recent history, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud and even the recently assassinated Osama bin Laden. The author knows the country and its people, as well as some of its still-unresolved crimes—e.g., the Kerala massacre of 1979, during which the village's 1,000+ males were killed in cold blood. Girardet chronicles the countless crimes that still demand redress, many of which predate those of the Soviet invasion, the Saudi- and Pakistani-funded religious war of the 1990s and bin Laden's al-Qaeda. The author is concerned that corruption, criminality and religious fundamentalism have undermined the country's potential, especially since the 1990s. With a long-view perspective, Girardet puts forward a view of a culture based on generosity and openness, a culture which he thinks has been wronged by misguided association with the fighting qualities of guerrillas and terrorists. Afghans have resisted every foreign invasion they have faced, and the author thinks this one will be no different.
Girardet's unique perspective will be both helpful and thought-provoking for readers seeking to understand what might be involved in an eventual peace settlement and independence.
Publisher's Weekly: European-based journalist Girardet (Afghanistan: The Soviet War) shares his personal story of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and offers disturbing parallels to America's involvement. His first trip as a journalist was just months before the Soviet invasion, and he was smitten with the beauty of the countryside with its "sprawling sea of twenty-thousand-foot-high snowcapped peaks." He returned often over the following decade, accompanying the mujahideen on missions and documenting the plight of the people. His exploits included a tense confrontation with Osama bin Laden, and he eventually landed on a "hit list... vilified as ‘the enemy of Islam.' " He returned when America invaded, and concludes that "all I see is a replay of history." His comparisons of the invasions expose a superpower hubris where "first the Soviets, and now the West attempted to impose a political and cultural future... that was not consistent with traditional Afghan culture and beliefs." Girardet admits to having "romanticized Afghanistan because of its harsh beauty and poetic embrace," but still offers a sobering assessment. (Sept.)
Library Journal: Girardet (Afghanistan: The Soviet War) has spent more than three decades as a war correspondent covering conflicts around the world, frequently in Afghanistan, starting with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Having lived on the ground reporting alongside the mujahideen, he offers a sobering perspective. These guerrilla fighters, with U.S. financial aid, ousted the Soviet-backed regime in 1992. They in turn were ousted by the Taliban. During his frequent trips inside Afghanistan, in many cases entering illegally at great personal risk, Girardet was nearly killed (when mistaken for Salman Rushdie) and had a number of personal encounters with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden pre-9/11, unaware of the identity of the “tall Arab man” who was developing a hatred of the United States. VERDICT With his vast experience inside Afghanistan during different conflicts, Girardet presents strong evidence that foreign powers from the British to the Soviets to the Americans have all made the same mistakes by attempting to impose their own political models and values on a nation that does not fit into any Western mold. While this conclusion is hardly new, Girardet’s excellent work should be of particular interest to historians, foreign policy buffs, political scientists, and military personnel. —Robert Bruce Slater, Stroudsburg, PA
Foreword Reviews: Afghan poet Massoud Khalili lamented that the wars that plagued Afghanistan for more than thirty years likely drove the cranes away from their annual migration over his country. Edward Girardet, who put his own life at risk several times while covering the wars, offers a compelling portrayal of the people and the land ravished by the Soviet Union, the United States, Pakistan, China, India, and Saudi Arabia: nations that invaded Afghanistan for their own purposes while showing little concern for the indigenous peoples. The cranes were often more fortunate than the Afghanis.
Few people are likely as well qualified as Girardet to tell the tragic story of Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion. The American author has been a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News and World Report, and the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and is the author of Afghanistan: The Soviet War. Girardet began covering Afghanistan just before the Soviet attack, and the American’s compassion for Afghanis, who, in his experience, would share their meager food and few possessions with strangers, resonates throughout.
Girardet skillfully blends tales of bravery and tragedy with authoritative investigations of the history and culture of Afghanistan. The book is in part the story of two resistance fighters: Ahmed Massoud and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, men who symbolize the good and bad of Afghanistan at war. According to the author, Massoud was the most successful resistance leader, loved by Afghanis because he envisioned a united nation in which all groups lived peacefully. “The Lion,” as he was known, waged war against the Soviets and other invaders for twenty-five years until Al Qaeda followers murdered him two days before 9/11. Conversely, Hekmatyar is revealed as an extremist who brutally killed thousands of his opponents and also issued an order to kill the author. However, Hekmatyar was our man in Kabul, a secret CIA asset; and he, not Massoud, received the lion’s share of American aid.
The Soviets invaded Afghanistan for access to Gulf States oil and to prevent another radical Islamic border state, along with Iran, from taking hold. The Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, after ten years of a frustrating war in which they made critical mistakes that would be repeated by the United States. These included a failed attempt to install a national government in a land that mistrusted central authority and the failure to acknowledge that corrupt tribal warlords, more adept at drug running and stealing foreign aid than they were at leading their own people, were the real powers.
In addition to admiring Massoud, his allies, and ordinary Afghanis, the author praises volunteer medical doctors, mostly French women, who put their lives at risk in this male-dominated society to provide much-needed care for wounded refugees. He includes horrific stories of Afghan refugees, three million by 1984, who lost their land, limbs, and lives to Soviet bombs. By 1987, large numbers of Arabs who did not respect Afghan customs entered the country. Girardet describes a shoving match he got into with a “tall Arab” who demanded that journalists leave the county. After the scuffle, his opponent was identified as Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden and the Taliban would return in 1996, brutalizing the population and stirring up anti-Western sentiment that would culminate in the attacks on 9/11.
Although most of the book describes Girardet’s experiences during the years following the Soviet invasion, he offers keen insights into what has become America’s longest war, beginning in 2001. President Bush lacked vision for the future of Afghanistan and he might have avoided a war entirely if he had not supported Pakistan’s self-serving military encroachment, claims Girardet. By 2011, corruption under President Hamid Karzai was a way of life, with the United States propping up his regime with $2.8 billion a week.
This book is an excellent personal account of a nation in turmoil that offers insight into its history, its people, and its future. Serious readers of current politics will find this important work instructive and rewarding. Despite the great challenges Girardet identifies, he remains cautiously optimistic that Afghanistan could yet become stable—if foreign nations would stop encroaching and if Afghanis were truly free to decide their own fate—a land that would again be home to “migrating cranes.”