An Enemy We Created

The Myth of the Taliban / Al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970 - 2010

January 2012 9781849041546 320pp
April 2014 9781849043755 320pp
Temporarily out of stock


To this day the belief is widespread that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are in many respects synonymous, that their ideology and objectives are closely intertwined and that they have made common cause against the West for decades. Such opinions have been stridently supported by politicians, media pundits and senior military figures, yet they have hardly ever been scrutinised or tested empirically. This is all the more surprising given that the West’s entanglement in Afghanistan is predicated on the necessity of defeating the Taliban, thereby forestalling further terrorist attacks worldwide by their Al Qaeda ‘allies’.

This book responds to an urgent need to reexamine the facts of the Taliban/Al Qaeda relationship and to tell the story of the Taliban’s encounter with internationalist militant Islamism. The authors challenge the overheated rhetoric that sustains a one-sided interpretation of the alleged merger between the two groups, and the policy implications for Afghanistan that flowed from its acceptance by Western governments and their militaries. An Enemy We Created forensically examines the evolution of the two groups against the background and historical context that informed their respective ideologies.

Table of contents


1. Introducing TalQaeda

2. Forebears (1970–1979)

3. Jihad (1979–1990)

4. Rethink (1990–1994)

5. Closer and Farther (1994–1998)

6. A Bone in the Throat (1998–2001)

7. September 11, 2001

8. Collapse (2001–2003)

9. Redux (2003–2009)

10. The Forge (2010)

11. Conclusion







‘This book is one of the best informed, most sophisticated, and most insightful works yet to appear on the Afghan Taliban and their relationship to Al Qaeda. It makes a brilliant contribution to Afghan historiography, and should be compulsory reading for Western policymakers working on Afghanistan today.’ — Anatol Lieven, Professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

‘Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the war in Afghanistan. A work of real intellectual rigour, and much learning. In offering a forensic dissection of the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, over many years, it offers bad news, and good news: that, in taking on the Taliban, we may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country; but that the Taliban may be open to a negotiated settlement — provided America gets on with it.’ — Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, British Ambassador to Kabul 2007-2009, British Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 2009-2010

‘Ignore anybody claiming to be an expert on the Taliban or Al Qaeda if they have not read An Enemy We Created by Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn. Most books on the subject are written without fieldwork, by people lacking the language skills, the courage, the integrity or the dedication of these two authors. Thanks to their Arabic, Dari and Pashtu skills as well as their groundbreaking and unprecedented fieldwork, Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn have written the essential book on the subject. Say nothing about the region until you have read it!’ — Nir Rosen, author of Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World and Fellow at New York University’s Center on Law and Security

‘A fascinating look deep into the shifting interactions of the Taliban and Al Qaeda by authors who have lived close to the persons they study.  Their conclusions about the radicalisation of the younger generation of the Afghan Taliban and the unintended consequences of NATO military actions are directly relevant to policy considerations of today’s war in Afghanistan.’ — Ronald Neumann, Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan 2005-2007

‘One of the key justifications of the escalation of the war in Afghanistan is the (supposedly) unshakable link between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. So far, studies addressing this question have generally been written with a limited understanding of the Taliban movement.  Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, who recently edited the memoirs of Mullah Zaeef, My Life With the Taliban, here offer a major contribution to the understanding of the complex and changing relationship between the two movements. Specialists in the field will find an erudite and balanced work based on multiple interviews with key players and a deep knowledge of local politics. But, beyond academia, their conclusions should be part of the discussion about the current strategy. If the Taliban are not controlled or even under the influence of Al Qaeda, a negotiated settlement becomes a reasonable goal. One can only hope that Washington will listen to these knowledgeable voices and start understanding the real nature of the Taliban movement.’ — Gilles Dorronsoro, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Professor at the Sorbonne University (Paris)

‘Finally, someone has taken on the often-repeated but not-much-sourced assumption that every group hiding in the Afpak mountains is more or less the same thing, that Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as Al Qaeda and Pakistani sectarians and jihadists are all part of a big ‘terrorism syndicate’. This is not only wrong but also dangerous since policies are conceived on this basis. Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn provide plenty of material, amongst it a lot that has never been scrutinised before, and they do it from knowing what they are talking about from inside the country, not from behind Hesco walls. It is a gold mine for people who really want to know. Can the Obama administration spend some atoms of its Afpak budget to buy a couple of hundred copies and distribute it amongst those involved in the upcoming policy review?’ — Thomas Ruttig, Co-director and Senior Analyst of Afghanistan Analysts Network

‘Anybody who wants to stop the bloodshed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, anybody who wants the conflict to finally break from its feverish climb to new heights of violence, must study the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need to understand the difference between people who want to kill infidels all over the world, and those who merely want to be left alone. Making peace with the latter will help us survive the former. This excellent work represents the first serious examination of this crucial and mysterious relationship, at least in the unclassified realm, and deserves a close reading by students of the war.’ — Graeme Smith, Emmy-award winning journalist for The Globe and Mail

‘The authors’ research and scholarship make a powerful case and their book is likely to become the definitive text on the matter.’ – Jonathan Steele in International Affairs

‘[Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn] bring the empathy and experience of old chroniclers such as Caroe but none of the romantic condescension towards the “wily Pathan”. … Their central thesis in An Enemy We Created is that “the issue of international terrorism from within Afghanistan’s borders may not necessarily be as big a potential problem as is currently believed”. That is because, like Tenet, we have persistently overestimated the degree of intellectual and operational agreement between two strains of jihad – one local and contingent, the other global and unyielding. These were forged in parallel during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But, as Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn demonstrate, they had radically different influences.’ — Financial Times

‘A significant contribution to the history and understanding of the problems in Afghanistan.’ — Asian Affairs

‘[T]his book offers a rich, evidence-based contribution to the field, significant for its level of detail and the uncovering of new and valuable sources. The authors convey a welcome clarity of insight so often missing from press coverage, and which those who direct policy would do well to listen to.’ — South Asia Research


Alex Strick van Linschoten is a researcher and writer based in Amman, Jordan. His previous books include, with Felix Kuehn, Poetry of the Taliban, An Enemy We Created and My Life with the Taliban. He holds a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London.

Felix Kuehn is a researcher and writer based in Berlin. He has worked in Afghanistan since 2006, focusing on the Taliban insurgency and the history of southern Afghanistan over the past four decades. He is a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department of King's College London.

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