The Holy Warrior: Osama Bin Laden and his Jihadi Journey in the Soviet-Afghan War
by Reagan Fancher (University of North Texas)
Too often, humans tend to describe acts of horrific violence as being perpetrated by insane individuals. This label does not help us understand bin Laden. Fortunately, Reagan Fancher’s “Holy Warrior” takes a different approach. One of the chief benefits of his work is to emphasize that bin Laden was not a lunatic but a calculating man with strongly held religious and philosophical convictions. The refutation of the myths surrounding his career is further addressed by Fancher’s debunking of the belief that the U.S. created him. In addition to these broad interpretive benefits, “Holy Warrior” is well researched and possesses a useful glossary. Last but not least, it is an interesting book that is readily accessible to scholars and popular readers alike.
Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Anderson
Associate Director, School of Humanities; History Program Coordinator
University of Louisiana Monroe
Fought between 1979 and 1989, the Soviet-Afghan War provided vital combat experience for Osama bin Laden and his senior lieutenants in al-Qaeda, allowing them to hone their newly acquired skills in guerrilla warfare to later support Islamist insurgencies worldwide. Yet the ruthless al-Qaeda chief’s success depended on the Soviet leadership’s reluctant prolonging of its military occupation out of fear of leaving Afghanistan in hostile hands. As relative latecomers to the ferocious Afghan frontlines, the inexperienced Arab fighters benefitted militarily from the combat training unwittingly provided by their Soviet foes. After skillfully obtaining this command and battle experience by working within the wartime atmosphere, bin Laden channeled al-Qaeda’s efforts in a global jihadi campaign targeting a second superpower and its allies.
While allegations of U.S. support for the Arab jihadis have contributed to a popular image of bin Laden and al-Qaeda as C.I.A. creations, the historical facts appear to demonstrate that the combat opportunities provided by the Soviet occupation forces played a far larger role in transforming them into seasoned guerrilla fighters. In contrast to the dozens of previous works on bin Laden and al-Qaeda, this book is the first to focus primarily on the Soviet-Afghan War’s impact on training the Arab fighters from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, in battle, and preparing them to export their guerrilla war to assist their comrades in their native countries. As a teaching tool that re-examines and clarifies the impact of bin Laden’s wartime actions, this book will be particularly useful to scholars of history and international relations seeking to acquire and spread new knowledge in the classroom and to better understand the origins of al-Qaeda’s deadly skills and martial resilience. It offers an opportunity for today’s decision-makers to learn from history and avoid creating new generations of bin Ladens.
PREFACE: Osama bin Laden in the Soviet-Afghan War – an introduction
PROLOGUE: The war that made the modern world
CHAPTER 1 The historical origins of Salafi jihadism, 1744-1979
CHAPTER 2 Brezhnev’s boast, Osama’s early actions, and U.S.-U.K. perceptions of the Islamic guerrillas, 1979-1985
CHAPTER 3 Gorbachev’s gamble, Reagan’s response, and increased Arab involvement, 1985-1987
CHAPTER 4 Osama in the spring and the birth of a vanguard, 1987-1989
CHAPTER 5 South Arabia’s model insurgency and its global ramifications, 1989-1994
EPILOGUE: The inspirer
Since his late teenage years, Reagan Fancher has studied and been fascinated by Osama bin Laden’s historical impact and earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees in History at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Fancher is currently working toward his PhD at the University of North Texas, and his previous publications include several book reviews of scholarly works on Afghanistan and other international topics of historical interest for ‘Army History’ magazine and ‘H-Net’. Over the course of his studies, Fancher continued exploring bin Laden’s impact on history while accessing numerous biographies, memoirs, and archival documents providing valuable insights into the al-Qaeda leader’s wartime exploits fighting the Soviets. Fancher’s previous awards include the Outstanding Graduate Student Award presented to him by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America for outstanding research in spring 2017 and the Nation’s Heritage Scholarship for 2020-2021. His passion is teaching the World History survey course from the sixteenth century to the present. Focused on Fancher’s primary area of research and interest in history, ‘The Holy Warrior: Osama Bin Laden and his Jihadi Journey in the Soviet-Afghan War’ is his first book.
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