While Iraq is still fresh shit on America's shoe, Afghanistan is not so present in the news, other than occasional updates of the continuing return of the Taliban. Perfect timing for the paperback release of Jon Lee Anderson's book, The Lion's Grave: Dispatches From Afghanistan. The essays in the book are from Anderson's reporting for the New Yorker immediately following September 11th. Within hours of the attack, Anderson was making arrangements to head to Afghanistan, where he covered the Mujahideen's fight against the Soviets in the late eighties.
Anderson focuses on the Northern Alliance, and their military commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated just two days prior to September 11. It was well known by both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance that without Massoud, a legendary Mujahideen leader, the NA forces would fall apart. Framing his essays around the assassination of Massoud--the lion of the book's title--Anderson does amazing reporting on the tangled web of warlords who make up the forces of the Northern Alliance.
While there's little question of the Taliban's involvement in Massoud's death, it's less clear how much help they received. Several members of Massoud's own faction are indicated to have played some part in the assassination, which gets at the nature of modern Afghan society, where alliances are at times simply a means of survival, and can change quickly. This is an important point that Anderson illustrates, since these are the same men with whom the U.S. has joined forces with in order to get rid of the Taliban.
In terms of journalistic writing and investigating, Anderson's essays are unparalleled, and it's helpful to revisit them in order to understand why the democratizing of Afghanistan is not such an easy job. Even if you read the pieces when they ran in the New Yorker, it's worth picking up the book just for the e-mail exchanges between Anderson and his editor printed between each story. While the narrator of the articles is typically cool and articulate, the writer of the e-mails is noticeably more natural. It's incredibly refreshing to read a New Yorker reporter referring to the mainstream news as the "goatfuck media." And, like everything else Anderson reports, his major news coverage is spot-on. M. WILLIAM HELFRICH