Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

by Steve Coll

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Ghost Wars 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 138 reviews.
judeOK More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book IF you're interested in why the Sept. 11 attacks took place and who executed the plans. I haven't found a more comprehensive account anywhere else and Coll's access to key players is astonishing. The book has all the intensity of a spy novel with the exception that it is no fiction. It also isn't a particularly easy read, primarily because of it's scope and the large cast of characters (Coll conveniently includes a list of the key players and their roles in the book). But the reador gains so much understanding of the complex culture and political strife that is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sadly, the book makes you realize the missed golden opportunities the U.S. had after Sept. 11 when they initially routed the Taliban from an exhausted and terrorized Afghanistan only to abandon the effort to focus on Iraq. I highly, highly recommend this book for thoughtful readers who truly want to understand: the consequences of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the CIA's role in fighting a proxy war against them; the struggles, invasions, and suffering of the Afghan people; the origins of Al Queda and the Taliban and their justifications for terrorism and institution of a stict interpretation of Sharia Law; and Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan's critical role in the entire tragedy we see today. Ghost Wars is one of the most important books you'll read.
OldRedFox More than 1 year ago
Coll gives us the definiative history of US involvement in Afghanistan from 1979 to September 10, 2001. Don't worry which side of the political fence you live on - there's more than enough blame to go around for everyone from Reagan, to borh Bushes and Clinton. This is essential reading to understand why we are mired in Afghanistan, and why there is no clear way to solve that issue.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book goes very in depth regarding the history of the CIA and its affairs with the Soviet Union and Middle East. It explores the various activities of top spies and covert affairs since as far back as the 1950's, and walks the reader through the events leading up to September 11. I am a 17 year old prospective International Relations major and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the CIA or foreign policy. Great read.
silencedogoodreturns More than 1 year ago
Mr. Coll has written an oustanding book that exhaustively details the history of the evolution of extremist Islam and the rise of Al Qaida, and how successive U.S. administrations did little to contain it. Whether not wishing to upset the Pakistanis or Saudis, unrealistically thinking they could reform the Taliban, or just engaging in self-defeating hand-wringing, U.S. leaders allowed events to move toward their inevitable 9-11 conclusion. Mr. Coll's particular triumph was to lay out all this information in a non-partisan way, BEFORE the establishment of the 911 Commission. Would that both the Commission and the U.S. Administration had read his book beforehand, much of the hyperbole and finger-pointing that arose from the Commission could have been avoided.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story of Al Queda and what went wrong with America's most hyped intelligence service; including the worst of the United States' foreign relation's officers and representatives. This might explain why US could not just leave Afghanistan and Iraq.
brane23 More than 1 year ago
It's an unbelievably in-depth book... if you're interested in foreign affairs and our countries past decision making, you'll love it.
billings More than 1 year ago
Steve Coll exhibits his extensive knowledge of war in Afghanistan and the role of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and America. His narrative is detailed but not so in depth as to lose the casual reader.
chuckdpm More than 1 year ago
This is a somewhat difficult book to read with it's detailed analysis of how "we" got to 9-11. The many mistakes that were made by every administration beginning with Reagan and ending with George W. Bush are mind boggling and makes one want to scream at the so-called leaders of our country. While understanding the geopolitical complexities at work, one is left with the notion that stepping on the toes of our oil producing "friends" might have been more important than our national security. I will say however that our leaders were also influenced by concern for the innocent lives that might be lost in attempting to capture or kill bin Laden and his cohorts and that of course is admirable. Whether they were concerned by the loss of innocent lives or the political consequences is up to the reader to decide. This work also makes one realize how difficult it is to deal with religious fanatics who do not hesitate to kill themselves in the pursuit of killing all the infidels who do not subscribe to their "religious" beliefs. I found myself wanting to sing to them John Lennon's song Imagine. I don't think they would get it. Not a book for everyone but certainly one that I would recommend for people interested in finding out how we got to where we are in this rather convoluted world of terrorism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Coll has written an oustanding book that exhaustively details the history of the evolution of extremist Islam and the rise of Al Qaida, and how successive U.S. administrations did little to contain it. Whether not wishing to upset the Pakistanis or Saudis, unrealistically thinking they could reform the Taliban, or just engaging in self-defeating hand-wringing, U.S. leaders allowed events to move toward their inevitable 9-11 conclusion. Mr. Coll's particular triumph was to lay out all this information in a non-partisan way, BEFORE the establishment of the 911 Commission. Would that both the Commission and the U.S. Administration had read his book beforehand, much of the hyperbole and finger-pointing could have been avoided.
MJT 3 months ago
I just finished the book, “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001”, by Steve Coll, and I would recommend it to all those seeking to understand the activities and decisions within the government leading up to one of the most heinous days in our nation’s history! There are areas of insight provided by different individuals mentioned in the book which seem as relevant today as it were prior to 9/11. For instance, Paul Pillar, a CIA Counter-terrorism Security Group member saw terrorism fundamentally as “a challenge to be managed, not solved.” In the book it is further noted that Pillar explained, “Terrorist attacks seemed likely to become a permanent feature of American experience.” Pillar also disliked the metaphor of waging ‘war’ against terrorism because, “it is a war that cannot be won” and further, “unlike most wars, it has neither a fixed set of enemies nor the prospect of coming to closure.” He thought it would be better to manage terrorism similar to, “the effort by public health authorities to control communicable diseases.” Pillar basically viewed terrorism as “an inevitable feature of global change.” As a student of Homeland Security, I found this book to be very insightful and would recommend it to other homeland security enthusiasts!
dinu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good book and very well written.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This excellent chronicling of the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion through September 10, 2001 is a valuable contribution to understanding the history of our interactions with Islamic Fundamentalists and perhaps more importantly, how and why they came to direct their jihad against the U.S.The 2005 Pulitzer Prize was given to the author for his careful research which included over two hundred interviews, as well as information from the 9/11 Report. Mostly it is a book about missed opportunities, owing, as Coll suggests, to "indifference, lassitude, blindness, paralysis, and commercial greed" that shaped America's foreign policy in Afghanistan and South Asia. In spite of acute awareness of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, both Bush administrations and in between them, Clinton's, continued to dither: intrabureaucratic disagreements over turfs and strategies, legal concerns, fear of another Desert One disaster, and deference to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia kept their hands tied. Washington was unwilling to threaten its supply of Saudi oil, nor did it want to jeopardize its influence on nuclear stability by angering Pakistan over terrorism. (Pakistan felt it needed jihadist fighters - trained obligingly by bin Laden - to tie down India's army in Kashmir.)Tragically, Washington also declined to give more than token support to Ahmed Shah Massoud - known as "Lion of the Panjshir" - the Tajik guerilla leader in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda who was assassinated by emissaries of bin Laden on September 9, 2001.As the CIA's threat reporting about bin Laden surged during the spring of 2001, the Bush administration continued to defer action. On September 4, the Bush Cabinet approved a draft of a plan to step up aid to Massoud and to continue to monitor bin Laden with the "stated goal" of eliminating bin Laden and al Qaeda. Funding, however, was not discussed. On September 10, another meeting was called to finalize the "new" policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, policies that did not depart in any marked way from those of the Clinton years. The group decided to start with the diplomatic route, urging Mullah Omar to "expel" bin Laden - a strategy that had been tried repeatedly in the past to no avail.Coll's story ends on this day, not in the U.S. but in Pakistan, where Hamid Karzai was preparing to flee for his life. His brother reached him with the news that Ahmed Shah Massoud was dead. "Hamid Karzai reacted in a single, brief sentence, as his brother recalled it: 'What an unlucky country.'" Unlucky indeed.(JAF)To my wife's excellent review, I would add that the book is not just about the CIA's activities before 9-11 [(or that, see "Legacy of Ashes"), but rather about the policies of the entire U.S. government toward Afghanistan, beginning with the Soviet invasion. Importantly, it shows how difficult it is to deal with Islamic regimes - particularly Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - when it comes to our efforts to capture or in some way disable an Islamic enemy of the U.S. No matter how dangerous and downright evil Osama bin Ladin appears to Americans, he just doesn't look that bad to Muslims like the Saudi royal family or Pakistan's ISI. Thus, we get at most begrudging cooperation from each Islamic "ally," if not actual sabotaging of our efforts. (JAB)
ex_ottoyuhr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The title leaves little to the imagination, I suppose. This is a very interesting book, obviously nonfiction but not only reading like a novel, but begging to be fictionalized -- and not as a novel, but as a computer game of an unusual sort.Hopefully it's not too callous of me to say that...
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this because it won the Pulitzer Nonfiction prize in 2005. It is an excellently researched book and clearly written, detailing carefully the events from Dec 1979 in Afghanistan till Sep 10, 2001. But it is painful reading, since one knows that all the work put into seeking to have things go right in Afghanistan and stopping bin Laden's devil-inspired plans will not be successful.. I could not find much to blame as to the efforts made, at least during the Clinton administration. The Bush people really never got to the problem till it was too late. Important but not fun reading.
Tanasi1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing look at the Afghanistan conflict beginning at the withdrawal of Soviet forces to the bombing of the world Trade Center. It examines the role of the CIA and Pakistan¿s ISI in Afghanistan.
olfmanl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is well-researched and thorough. The writing style is journalistic.
cblaker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the War on Terror or Afghanistan. The list of important people in the beginning of the book is helpful when trying to keep track of all the characters with exotic names. Thoroughly researched, easy to follow, and readable. I highly recommend this book.
Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An incredibly detailed history of American involvement with Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden prior to 09-11. If you are really a student of world affairs and not just interested in the hyperbole and headlines, this weighty (588 pages not including extensive notes) is worth the read.
iftyzaidi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding account of American policy towards Afghanistan from about 1977 till September 2001 and more specifically about CIA operations within that country and aimed at dealing with the international Jihadists it spawned. Probably the best book of its kind that I have read as the policy debates and decision-making process in the States is well-covered. One wishes that similiarly exhaustive accounts could be formulated of the decision-making processes in Islamabad and Riyadh (and possibly even Kandahar). If bureaucratic inertia played a large part in stimmying a re-evaluation of policy in Washington, did something similar happen elsewhere?There are hints of this and other policy debates and arguements in Steve Coll's account, but are not well-fleshed out. (Also it must be remebered that sometimes these accounts come from self-serving sources - for example, it escapes me why western reporters base so much of their accounts of politics in Pakistan on the accounts of Mushahid Hussain - an oppurtunistic politician par excellence. Steve Coll quotes him here variously as an aide of Benazir Bhutto, a minister in Nawaz Sharif's government and as a journalist. I recall Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark had done something similar in excellent book on the Paksitani nuclear programme, 'Deception'.) To what extent were the tensions between army chief Gen Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif the result of differing views on Taliban/UBL policy? Owen-Benett Jones in her book on Pakistan seems to have thought it was a significant factor in the tensions that led to the coup. Steve Coll is dismissive of Nawaz Sharif's offer to create a Pakistan commando team to snatch Bin Laden, buying into the Musharraf govt's line that it was an eyewash and simply meant to create a bodyguard for Sharif independent of the army chain of command. One wonders then why when Sharif decided to take the risky step of dismissing Musharaf as the head of the army, his body guard contingent was deployed at a forward base on the border with Afghanistan instead of stationed in Islamabad to protect the PM? Certainly by all accounts the ISI's use of UBL's jihadist training camps to shelter Pakistani militants responsible for sectarian assasinations in Pakistan was a concern for Sharif (see Hassan Abbas' Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism' for more details of the Sharif govts dispute with the ISI over the activties of Jihadists in Pakistan).Anyway, this isn't a criticism of Coll's work as such, which is fairly exhaustive as it is. Its simply pointing out an area of our understanding which still remains nebulous and worthy of study.
Black821Library on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
my son is in Afghanistan so this history helped me understand his job
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely eye opening. Ghost Wars comes as close as possible to an unbiased, factual description of American foreign policy in the period leading up to 09/11/01. No one, from any party, or any government entity, is left unscathed. Two prescient themes emerged from this book. The trials and tribulations witnessed in the suburban office day to day, where decisions are made based on who toes don't get stepped on and who presents the squeaky wheel to the right person - to a distubing extent extend into the theatre of crucial government decisions. The people who understood the threat of Bin Laden, were not the right people. In fact the Taliban might have been recognized if it weren't for Jay Leno's wife ...(???!!!) ahhhhh celebrities. The other theme that grew throughout the book was the extent to which the American government was operating with a level of ignorance - due to a lack of effort - when it came to all matters on Afghanistan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book that you will enjoy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked it allot. It's a good story and has allot of interesting info
Anonymous More than 1 year ago