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Killing the Cranes

A Reporter's Journey through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan

Few reporters have covered Afghanistan as intrepidly and humanely as Edward Girardet. Now, in a gripping, personal account, Girardet delivers a story of that nation's resistance fighters, foreign invaders, mercenaries, spies, aid workers, Islamic extremists, and others who have defined Afghanistan's last thirty years of war, chaos, and strife.

As a young foreign correspondent, Girardet arrived in Afghanistan just three months prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979. Over the next decades, he trekked hundreds of miles across rugged mountains and deserts on clandestine journeys following Afghan guerrillas in battle as they smuggled French doctors into the country, and as they combated each other as well as invaders. He witnessed the world's greatest refugee exodus, the bitter Battle for Kabul in the early 1990s, the rise of the Taliban, and, finally, the US-led Western military and recovery effort that began in 2001.

Girardet's encounters with key figures-including Ahmed Shah Massoud, the famed "Lion of Panjshir" assassinated by al Qaeda two days before 9/11, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Islamic extremist massively supported by the Americans during the 1980s only to become one of today's most ruthless anti-Western insurgents, and Osama bin Laden-shed extraordinary light on the personalities who have shaped the nation, and its current challenges, from corruption and narcotics trafficking to selfish regional interests.

Killing the Cranes provides crucial insights into why the West's current involvement has turned into such a disaster, not only rekindling a new insurgency, but squandering billions of dollars on a recovery process that has shown scant success.


"Drawing on more than three decades of personal travels to Afghanistan, Edward Girardet offers a ruminating set of reflections on the history of the region and its diverse groups. He captures the dynamism, the pride, and the potential of the people living in Afghanistan. He also examines the limitations of military interventions and the possibilities for policies more deeply connected to rural communities. Girardet's book is a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of contemporary Afghanistan."--Jeremi Suri, author of Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from Washington to Obama

"Edward Girardet has a unique story to tell... He has been a consistent and keen observer of political events. He has come to know all the major characters... His is a very personal tale as well as being one of great historical importance."--Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban, Jihad, and Descent into Chaos

"Edward Girardet puts all of his thirty years' experience to use in this vivid, enlightening, humane, yet alarming book. Few other observers have had the determination to cover Afghan events from before the Soviet invasion to the preparations for American withdrawal. Girardet describes that whole saga, points out why and whether things could have gone differently, and explains the realistic prospects ahead. This is a life's-work testimony in the best sense."--James Fallows, author of Blind into Baghdad and Postcards from Tomorrow Square

"Part travelogue, part memoir, part political analysis, Girardet has produced a fine work of reportage. . . .Killing the Cranes provides unparalleled insights into the immense challenges presented by the war in Afghanistan, and the reasons, he predicts, for a denouement that is likely to resemble those of other failed engagements by foreign powers."--Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed and senior correspondent, Center for Investigative Reporting

"After reading Killing the Cranes, I felt like I had spent three decades in Afghanistan at Girardet's side. This is the most thorough and knowledgeable book on Afghanistan I have come across, and his conclusions about what has gone wrong and what can be done about it are unassailable."--Howard Dean, former Chair of the Democratic National Committee and Vermont governor; author of Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform

"Ed Girardet has accumulated more experience in Afghanistan than almost anyone else in the press corps, and the result is a truly remarkable book about a completely misunderstood country. Killing the Cranes may well be the most gripping and thorough account ever written about our numerous missteps and lost opportunities-it reads like a great novel but informs like the best kind of magazine journalism. Both his writing and reporting are absolutely superb."--Sebastian Junger, author of War

"Edward Girardet's knowledge of Afghanistan, both its many problems and its many attractions, is profound. He writes with great authority and grace, and his love for the country comes through on every page of this fascinating, important, and thoughtful book."--Peter Bergen, author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda

Library Journal-
Girardet (Afghanistan: The Soviet War) has spent more than three decades as a war correspondent covering conflicts around the world, frequently in Afghanistan, starting with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Having lived on the ground reporting alongside the mujahideen, he offers a sobering perspective. These guerrilla fighters, with U.S. financial aid, ousted the Soviet-backed regime in 1992. They in turn were ousted by the Taliban. During his frequent trips inside Afghanistan, in many cases entering illegally at great personal risk, Girardet was nearly killed (when mistaken for Salman Rushdie) and had a number of personal encounters with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden pre-9/11, unaware of the identity of the "tall Arab man" who was developing a hatred of the United States. VERDICT: With his vast experience inside Afghanistan during different conflicts, Girardet presents strong evidence that foreign powers from the British to the Soviets to the Americans have all made the same mistakes by attempting to impose their own political models and values on a nation that does not fit into any Western mold. While this conclusion is hardly new, Girardet's excellent work should be of particular interest to historians, foreign policy buffs, political scientists, and military personnel.

ForeWord Reviews-
Few people are likely as well qualified as Girardet to tell the tragic story of Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion. The American author has been a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News and World Report, and the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and is the author of Afghanistan: The Soviet War. Girardet began covering Afghanistan just before the Soviet attack, and the American’s compassion for Afghanis, who, in his experience, would share their meager food and few possessions with strangers, resonates throughout. Girardet skillfully blends tales of bravery and tragedy with authoritative investigations of the history and culture of Afghanistan. This book is an excellent personal account of a nation in turmoil that offers insight into its history, its people, and its future. Serious readers of current politics will find this important work instructive and rewarding. Despite the great challenges Girardet identifies, he remains cautiously optimistic that Afghanistan could yet become stable—if foreign nations would stop encroaching and if Afghanis were truly free to decide their own fate—a land that would again be home to ‘migrating cranes.’

Midwest Book Review-
Killing the Cranes represents some thirty years of the author's reporting from war-torn Afghanistan, and provides a powerful assessment of not only events but what went wrong and what can be done about them today. He experienced the heart of the country's most dangerous conflicts and terrain, witnessing its major battles and meeting those who helped shape its future. Killing the Cranes is a vivid history and a powerful recommendation for military and general history holdings alike.

Kirkus Reviews-
From longtime journalist and producer Girardet (Afghanistan: The Soviet War, 1986, etc.), an insightful personal account of Afghanistan and its people from 1979 to the present.

 The author's career began with the Christian Science Monitor before the days when correspondents were embedded with the troops. Girardet chronicles the countless crimes that still demand redress, many of which predate those of the Soviet invasion, the Saudi- and Pakistani-funded religious war of the 1990s and bin Laden's al-Qaeda. The author is concerned that corruption, criminality and religious fundamentalism have undermined the country's potential, especially since the 1990s. With a long-view perspective, Girardet puts forward a view of a culture based on generosity and openness, a culture which he thinks has been wronged by misguided association with the fighting qualities of guerrillas and terrorists. Afghans have resisted every foreign invasion they have faced, and the author thinks this one will be no different.

 Girardet's unique perspective will be both helpful and thought-provoking for readers seeking to understand what might be involved in an eventual peace settlement and independence.

Publishers Weekly-
European-based journalist Girardet (Afghanistan: The Soviet War) shares his personal story of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and offers disturbing parallels to America's involvement. His first trip as a journalist was just months before the Soviet invasion, and he was smitten with the beauty of the countryside with its ‘sprawling sea of twenty-thousand-foot-high snowcapped peaks.’ He returned often over the following decade, accompanying the mujahideen on missions and documenting the plight of the people. His exploits included a tense confrontation with Osama bin Laden, and he eventually landed on a ‘hit list... vilified as ‘the enemy of Islam.'’ He returned when America invaded, and concludes that ‘all I see is a replay of history.’ His comparisons of the invasions expose a superpower hubris where ‘first the Soviets, and now the West attempted to impose a political and cultural future... that was not consistent with traditional Afghan culture and beliefs.’ Girardet admits to having ‘romanticized Afghanistan because of its harsh beauty and poetic embrace,’ but still offers a sobering assessment.


  • Short-listed - Foreword Book of the Year Award - 2011
  • Runner-up - Excellence in Journalism


Edward Girardet

Edward Girardet

Edward Girardet is a journalist, writer, and producer who has reported widely from humanitarian and conflict zones in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere since the late 1970s. As a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, and The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour based in Paris, he first began covering Afghanistan several months prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979. He has worked on numerous television current affairs and documentary segments on subjects ranging from the war in Angola to lost tribes in Western New Guinea and environmental issues in Africa for major European and North American broadcasters. Girardet is a founding director of the Institute for Media and Global Governance in Geneva, Switzerland. He is also editor of Crosslines Essential Media Ltd (UK).

Girardet has written widely for major publications such as National Geographic Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, and other media on humanitarian, media, and conflict issues. In addition to Killing the Cranes, he has also written and edited several books, notably Afghanistan-The Soviet War (1985); Somalia, Rwanda and Beyond (1996); Populations in Danger (1996); and The Crosslines Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan(1998, 2004 and 2006). Girardet lives with his family in Cessy, France, near the Swiss border with Geneva.


Girardet Speaking at McNally Jackson Bookstore

Killing the Cranes: An excerpt from the book

The Essential Field Guide

Osama said to him, "This is not your Jihad"

Osama said to him, "This is not your Jihad"

Journalist Reflects on Covering 3 Decades of War in Afghanistan

Journalist Reflects on Covering 3 Decades of War in Afghanistan

Killing the Cranes

Pages:432 pages
Book Art:8 pages of color photos
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781603583183
Pub. Date August 08, 2012

Available In/Retail Price

Paperback, 432 pages, $19.95