It's important to be honest about what we do not know. As many of you are aware, I have an academic background in the language, cultures, politics and history of the Arabic-speaking world as well as professional and academic training in military affairs and strategic studies. (Although I am hardly Ignaz Goldziher with respect to the former or Bernard Brodie with respect to the latter.) I am not an expert on the languages, cultures, politics and history of Central Asia. I have not received any formal language training suitable for the region, nor have I spent any time living in the region in a research capacity. So when I work on Afghanistan, I do so with a certain degree of fear and trepidation. You are more likely to see me writing something on our culture -- that is, U.S. or NATO operational culture -- than Afghan culture.
But there are a lot of good Central Asia experts out there, and two of my favorites -- Christian Bleuer and Joshua Foust -- have helped me to read up on the relevant academic literature since John and Nate asked me to head up our Afghanistan research here at CNAS. (Josh, in particular, passed along two .zip files in March crammed with relevant and excellent scholarly papers and reports.)
Yesterday, a company-grade military intelligence officer en route to Afghanistan stopped by my office wanting to talk about the operational environment and asked if I had any books to recommend. I recommended three that I thought she should read prior to shipping out in a month's time. The first two, by Williams scholar David B. Edwards, are two excellent and highly readable works of social anthropology that I found via Christian's blog. You can download them for free via the University of California Press. The third book, by Seth Jones, is in my opinion the best single-volume history of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. So for what it's worth and given the fact that I have admitted to not being an academically-trained expert on Central Asia, the three books -- aside from Flashman, of course -- I would recommend for anyone deploying to Afghanistan as a soldier or civilian are below. In the comments section, meanwhile, sound off with which titles you would add to the list.
Heroes of the Age (David B. Edwards)
Before Taliban (David B. Edwards)
In the Graveyard of Empires (Seth Jones)