The Holy Warrior: Osama Bin Laden and His Jihadi Journey in the Soviet-Afghan War

2nd Edition

by Reagan Fancher (Texas Woman’s University)

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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

[…] In his first work, author Reagan Fancher shows readers he has a bright future as a professional historian. […] does a great job of adding more layers to one of the twenty-first century’s most controversial figures. […]

[Extract from book review appearing on the ‘Journal of Military History’, Vol. 87, No. 1. January 2023. (pp. 268-269) Reviewer: Dr. Jon Mikolashek (National Defense University, Joint Forces Staff College, Joint Advanced Warfighting School, Norfolk, Virginia)

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 this second edition, Reagan Fancher updates and expands his monograph in an Afterword elaborating on the contemporary U.S.-U.K. perceptions of bin Laden's wartime actions and their results as he applied his battle-honed guerrilla tactics, judo skills, and recruitment capabilities in tactically helping Yemen's anti-communist Salafi guerrillas to emerge victoriously in their country's 1994 Civil War before concluding with an assessment of the founding al-Qaeda leader's impact on history. It offers an opportunity for today's decision-makers to learn from history and avoid creating new generations of Osama 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
AUTHOR’S AFTERWORD TO THE SECOND EDITION: U.S.-U.K. Perceptions of Osama’s 1994 South Arabian guerrilla war – a conclusion

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 and his Ph.D. at the University of North Texas. Fancher's 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, 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, the Nation's Heritage Scholarship for 2020-2021, and the History Faculty Endowment Scholarship for 2022-2023. His passion is teaching the World History survey course that covers 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, which he successfully completed while simultaneously researching a separate and unrelated topic for his doctoral dissertation.

practical combat training, Soviet military presence, Soviet occupation forces, Salafi jihadi movement, Bin Laden’s jihadi journey, jihadi journey, Bin Laden’s successful campaign, guerrilla veteran, guerrilla ranks, insurgent ranks, mujahid ranks, practical battle experience, Afghan insurgents, Arab guerrilla unit, Arab guerrilla band, global Cold War, civil war within Afghanistan, Jaji’s towering mountaintops, Post-Soviet Afghan Civil War, Washington’s Afghan policy, U.S. Department of State proposal, Afghan Islamists, Afghan fighting experience, Afghan battle experience, rural mountains, rural villages, guerrilla war tactics, arms pipeline in Pakistan, Afghan mujahedin, Afghan guerrillas, Islamist mujahedin, Afghan mujahedin, Afghan factional infighting, Yemeni mujahedin, Saudi guerrilla contingent, defensive jihad, North Yemen Civil War, Yemen’s 1994 civil war, Yemeni mujahid compatriots, Yemeni Salafists, Yemeni Islamists, Yemeni mujahedin, birth of Saudi Arabia, Sunni Islamist resistance, Sunni Islamist resistance movement in Yemen, Yemen’s devout and defiant tribes, Ibn Khaldun, Karl Marx, John Lewis Gaddis, interdependent variables, window of opportunity, role of individuals in history.

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

The Holy Warrior: Osama Bin Laden and His Jihadi Journey in the Soviet-Afghan War

Book Subtitle

2nd Edition





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm

Publication date

October 2023