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An Unwinnable War charts the motives, ambitions and negotiations that carried Australia into Afghanistan.

A decade on from the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Australians are embroiled in one of the nation's longest military conflict—the war in Afghanistan.

An Unwinnable War charts the motives, ambitions and negotiations that carried Australia into Afghanistan: from the then Prime Minister John Howard's presence in Washington DC on September 11, 2001 to the ‘transition’ plan to hand security to Afghan forces - all played out in the wake of increasing casualties.

Based on interviews with key political and military figures in Australia and abroad, An Unwinnable War lays bare the tensions between political and military decision-making, the nature and potency of the US alliance and the influence of individual personalities in charting Australia's course in what was once dubbed the ‘good war’.


Middleton plays it pretty well down the middle, drawing on a wide range of first-hand sources and doing her best to show the historical context of unfolding events.

Derek Parker, The Spectator Australia

It's an important contribution to the history of our involvement in Afghanistan,

Stephen Smith, Minister for Defence

Middleton has been studiously professional in balancing the views she presents throughout this sad chronicle of a conflict, which, in retrospect, is unlikely to be seen as worth the human cost.

Richard Thwaites, Canberra Times

An Unwinnable War is a first-class account of Australia's role in Afghanistan that deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in Australian foreign policy and/or military history.

David Coombes, Sunday Tasmanian

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    September 1, 2011

    Melbourne University Press

    304 pages

    RRP $39.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    September 1, 2011

    Melbourne University Press Digital

    304 pages

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Awards and Recognition

  • Manning Clark House National Cultural Awards

    Manning Clark House Natio ..
  • Walkley Book Award

    Walkley Book Award

Also by Karen Middleton



Ned Kelly
The Charge
Stealth Raiders
Hero or Deserter?
The Fatal Shore
Australian Desperadoes
Alter Egos
Shanghai Fury
The First World War
Fire Strike 7/9
The Wolf
Behind The Lines
Sleeps Standing
Mullahs Without Mercy
A Very British Killing
A War of Choice: Honour, Hubris and Sacrifice
The War is Dead, Long Live the War
I Refuse To Die
Navy Divers