The tenth anniversary of 9/11 has brought a slew of books that either chronicle the genesis of that atrocity or, as in this case, recount its protracted aftermath. Jason Burke is well placed to undertake such a task, having previously written a book on al-Qaeda and reported from many of the places he discusses. In essence, his new book is an attempt to name and periodise the post-9/11 wars, though they are far from over. Seventeen people are currently killed as a result of terrorism each day in Iraq, where the US is no longer engaged in combat operations and the British have fled the scene. There are still huge Western forces in Afghanistan, with a further covert presence in Pakistan. New theatres for CIA drone strikes have opened in Somalia and Yemen. And NATO is trying to lever democratic rebels (and apparently jihadis) into power in Libya. Burke estimates that the 9/11 wars have, so far, been responsible for a quarter of a million violent deaths and a further 750,000 injured.
In essence Burke’s book is about the ultimate failure of al-Qaeda’s attempts to aggregate a bewildering array of local conflicts, some involving nothing more than a tribe or valley, into one big, apocalyptic conflict with the West – and how the West temporarily fell into that cosmic way