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  • Writer's pictureRed Line Producer

Episode 01. Afghanistan (18 Years of War)

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18 years ago, NATO declared war on the Taliban's regime in Afghanistan. What has been achieved in the region, and where is the conflict at today? We tackle these questions, and discuss what the future prospects are for security, stability, and progress in Afghanistan.



  • Professor of Anthropology at Boston University

  • Author of multiple books focusing on Afghanistan, including Afghanistan, a Cultural and Political History, and the Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan

  • Advisor to the State Department in Afghanistan

Brian Glyn Williams

  • CIA and NSA Expert on Afghanistan

  • Professor of Islamic History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth


Part 1: Graveyard of Empires (01:29)

  • Thomas Barfield guides us through Afghanistan's history as a nation, and why it is known as "The Graveyard of Empires", tracing the British 19th century invasions, the Soviet 20th century invasion and the 21st century U.S invasion, and how these have affected the nature of the country.

  • Afghanistan is a nation of geographic, religious, and social value divides, and we tackle these in relation to the prospects for further Taliban resurgence and general civil conflict following a theoretical withdrawal from Afghanistan.

  • We also look at what happened in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 with US foreign policy and the nature of international involvement in the invasion


Part 2: Balancing Act (17:31)

  • Suma Sayeed helps us understand the cultural complexities and ethnic divides in Afghanistan, and traces the changes Afghanistan has gone through over the past few decades of invasions and subsequent civil strife.

  • We discuss how unity can be rebuilt in Afghanistan, and compare the tactics of the Taliban to the US-allied coalition.

  • What are the prospects for a negotiated solution in Afghanistan? Sayeed helps us understand the key factors and players in such a negotiation; rural Taliban popular support, the nature of a potential Northern Alliance, and the strength of regional warlords, difficulties with social values and ethnic divides, and the ability of the recognised and internationally supported Afghanistani government to wield sovereignty.


Part 3: You Have the Watches, But We Have the Time (24:18)

  • Brian Glyn Williams takes us through the details of the War in Afghanistan, including the initial justifications and organisation, and the foreign policy mistakes that allowed not only for the Taliban to survive, but to bounce back and return in strength to power and influence.

  • We compare the war in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War, and trace the impact that the various US administrations have had on the war.

  • How do you win a war against an enemy that is in no rush? The Taliban view the invasion as a forever war and have no particular interest in trying to win it quickly. Williams discusses the consequences of withdrawal and whether there is an effective way to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.

  • We break down the ethnic, religious, and financial support that the Taliban has, and contextualise its geopolitical neighbourhood.


The Red Line's Afghanistan Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Afghanistan.




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This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Peter Harrigan.


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