When friends ask me about this book, saying they haven’t read it, I normally reply that they shouldn’t bother. The book mentions several hundred people, and someone who is interested in but new to the subject might end up learning as much about politics in Egypt in the 1970s as about post-2001 Afghanistan.
An Enemy We Created started as a commissioned report. I think we said we would write 50,000 words or so; we ended up writing 120,000. It is a long book.
While I was working on it, my brother asked me what it was about, what its central thesis was. I replied that very simply put, it explains based on research that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are two different groups or movements that never merged. My brother, who is an engineer and has little to do with Afghanistan said: “Of course they are; everyone knows that, don’t they?” Turns out not everyone does.
When we had finally finished the manuscript, I remember talking with Alex, saying that in an ideal world we would now throw it all away and start over from the beginning. It’s an experience I often have. An Enemy We Created is as broad a book as it gets, and for those who have little background in its subject matter, it is a difficult one. While mistakes have come to the surface since its publication, the underlying thesis and themes have stood the test of time remarkably. Since it came out, we have continued to work on sections of the long history it explores, digging deeper into the 1990s, the foreign fighters, and the Afghan Taliban, and while the story becomes ever more complicated, it supports the central finding of the nonexistence of “Talqaeda.”