From the award-winning and bestselling author of Directorate S, the explosive first-hand account of America's secret history in Afghanistan
To what extent did America’s best intelligence analysts grasp the rising thread of Islamist radicalism? Who tried to stop bin Laden and why did they fail? Comprehensively and for the first time, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll recounts the history of the covert wars in Afghanistan that fueled Islamic militancy and sowed the seeds of the September 11 attacks. Based on scrupulous research and firsthand accounts by key government, intelligence, and military personnel both foreign and American, Ghost Wars details the secret history of the CIA’s role in Afghanistan (including its covert operations against Soviet troops from 1979 to 1989), the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of bin Laden, and the failed efforts by U.S. forces to find and assassinate bin Laden in Afghanistan.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||3 MB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Ghost WarsThe Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
By Steve Coll
The Penguin PressISBN: 1-59420-007-6
Chapter OneIn the tattered, cargo-strewn cabin of an Ariana Afghan Airlines passenger jet streaking above Punjab toward Kabul sat a stocky, broad-faced American with short graying hair. He was a friendly man in his early fifties who spoke in a flat midwestern accent. He looked as if he might be a dentist, an acquaintance once remarked. Gary Schroen had served for twenty-six years as an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine services. He was now, in September 1996, chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan. He spoke Persian and its cousin, Dari, one of Afghanistan's two main languages. In spy terminology, Schroen was an operator. He recruited and managed paid intelligence agents, conducted espionage operations, and supervised covert actions against foreign governments and terrorist groups. A few weeks before, with approval from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, he had made contact through intermediaries with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the celebrated anti-Soviet guerrilla commander, now defense minister in a war-battered Afghan government crumbling from within. Schroen had requested a meeting, and Massoud had accepted.
They had not spoken in five years. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, as allies battling Soviet occupation forces and their Afghan communist proxies, the CIA had pumped cash stipends as high as $200,000 a month to Massoud and his Islamic guerrilla organization, along with weapons and other supplies. Between 1989 and 1991, Schroen had personally delivered some of the cash. But the aid stopped in December 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved. The United States government decided it had no further interests in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the country had collapsed. Kabul, once an elegant city of broad streets and walled gardens tucked spectacularly amid barren crags, had been pummelled by its warlords into a state of physical ruin and human misery that compared unfavorably to the very worst places on Earth. Armed factions within armed factions erupted seasonally in vicious urban battles, blasting down mud-brick block after mud-brick block in search of tactical advantages usually apparent only to them. Militias led by Islamic scholars who disagreed profoundly over religious minutia baked prisoners of war to death by the hundreds in discarded metal shipping containers. The city had been without electricity since 1993. Hundreds of thousands of Kabulis relied for daily bread and tea on the courageous but limited efforts of international charities. In some sections of the countryside thousands of displaced refugees died of malnutrition and preventable disease because they could not reach clinics and feeding stations. And all the while neighboring countries-Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia-delivered pallets of guns and money to their preferred Afghan proxies. The governments of these countries sought territorial advantage over their neighbors. Money and weapons also arrived from individuals or Islamic charities seeking to extend their spiritual and political influence by proselytizing to the destitute.
Ahmed Shah Massoud remained Afghanistan's most formidable military leader. A sinewy man with a wispy beard and penetrating dark eyes, he had be come a charismatic popular leader, especially in northeastern Afghanistan. There he had fought and negotiated with equal imagination during the 1980s, punishing and frustrating Soviet generals. Massoud saw politics and war as intertwined. He was an attentive student of Mao and other successful guerrilla leaders. Some wondered as time passed if he could imagine a life without guerrilla conflict. Yet through various councils and coalitions, he had also proven able to acquire power by sharing it. During the long horror of the Soviet occupation, Massoud had symbolized for many Afghans-especially his own Tajik people-the spirit and potential of their brave resistance. He was above all an independent man. He surrounded himself with books. He prayed piously, read Persian poetry, studied Islamic theology, and immersed himself in the history of guerrilla warfare. He was drawn to the doctrines of revolutionary and political Islam, but he had also established himself as a broad-minded, tolerant Afghan nationalist.
That September 1996, Massoud's reputation had fallen to a low ebb, however. His passage from rebellion during the 1980s to governance in the 1990s had evolved disastrously. After the collapse of Afghan communism he had joined Kabul's newly triumphant but unsettled Islamic coalition as its defense minister. Attacked by rivals armed in Pakistan, Massoud counterattacked, and as he did, he became the bloodstained power behind a failed, self-immolating government. His allies to the north smuggled heroin. He was unable to unify or pacify the country. His troops showed poor discipline. Some of them mercilessly massacred rivals while battling for control of Kabul neighborhoods.
Promising to cleanse the nation of its warlords, including Massoud, a new militia movement swept from Afghanistan's south beginning in 1994. Its turbaned, eye-shadowed leaders declared that the Koran would slay the Lion of Panjshir, as Massoud was known, where other means had failed.
They traveled behind white banners raised in the name of an unusually severe school of Islam that promoted lengthy and bizarre rules of personal conduct. These Taliban, or students, as they called themselves, now controlled vast areas of southern and western Afghanistan. Their rising strength shook Massoud. The Taliban traveled in shiny new Toyota double-cab pickup trucks. They carried fresh weapons and ample ammunition. Mysteriously, they repaired and flew former Soviet fighter aircraft, despite only rudimentary military experience among their leaders.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul had been shut for security reasons since late 1988, so there was no CIA station in Afghanistan from which to collect intelligence about the Taliban or the sources of their newfound strength. The nearest station, in Pakistan, no longer had Afghanistan on its Operating Directive, the official list of intelligence-gathering priorities transmitted from Washington each year to CIA stations worldwide. Without the formal blessing of the O.D., as it was called, a station chief like Gary Schroen lacked the budgetary resources needed to recruit agents, supply them with communications gear, manage them in the field, and process their intelligence reports.
The CIA maintained a handful of paid agents in Afghanistan, but these were dedicated to tracking down Mir Amal Kasi, a young and angry Pakistani who on January 25, 1993, had opened fire on CIA employees arriving at the agency's Langley headquarters. Kasi had killed two and wounded three, and then fled to Pakistan. By 1996 he was believed to be moving back and forth to Afghanistan, taking refuge in tribal areas where American police and spies could not operate easily.
The CIA's Kasi-hunting agents did not report on the Taliban's developing war against Ahmed Shah Massoud except in passing. The job of collecting intelligence about political and military developments in Afghanistan had been assigned to CIA headquarters in faraway Virginia, lumped in with the general responsibilities of the Near East Division of the Directorate of Operations.
This was hardly an unusual development among U.S. government agencies. The U.S. Agency for International Development had shut down its Afghan humanitarian assistance program in 1994. The Pentagon had no relationships there. The National Security Council at the White House had no Afghan policy beyond a vague wish for peace and prosperity. The State Department was more involved in Afghan affairs, but only at the middle levels of its bureaucracy. Secretary of State Warren Christopher had barely commented about Afghanistan during his four years in office.
Massoud sent a close adviser named Massoud Khalili to escort Gary Schroen into Kabul. To make room for cargo desperately needed in the land locked capital, Ariana Afghan had ripped most of the passenger seats out of their airplanes to stack the aisles with loose boxes and crates, none of them strapped down or secured. "It's never crashed before," Khalili assured Schroen.
Their jet swept above barren russet ridges folded one upon the other as it crossed into Afghanistan. The treeless land below lay mottled in palettes of sand brown and clay red. To the north, ink black rivers cut plunging gorges through the Hindu Kush Mountains. To the south, eleven-thousand-foot peaks rose in a ring above the Kabul valley, itself more than a mile high. The plane banked toward Bagram, a military air base north of Kabul. Along the surrounding roads lay rusting carcasses of tanks and armored personnel carriers, burned and abandoned. Fractured shells of fighter aircraft and transport planes lined the runway.
Officers in Massoud's intelligence service met the plane with four-wheel-drive vehicles, packed their American visitor inside, and began the bone-jarring drive across the Shomali Plain to Kabul. It amazed some of them that Schroen had turned up with just a small bag tossed over his shoulder-no communications gear, no personal security His relaxed demeanor, ability to speak Dari, and detailed knowledge of Afghanistan impressed them.
Then, too, Schroen had been known to turn up in the past with bags full of American dollars. In that respect he and his CIA colleagues could be easy men for Afghan fighters to like. For sixteen years now the CIA had routinely pursued its objectives in Afghanistan with large boxes of cash. It frustrated some of Massoud's intelligence officers that the CIA always seemed to think Massoud and his men were motivated by money.
Their civil war might be complex and vicious, but they saw themselves as fighters for a national cause, bleeding and dying by the day, risking what little they had. Enough untraceable bills had flowed to Massoud's organization over the years to assure their comfortable retirements if they wished. Yet many of them were still here in Kabul still at Massoud's side, despite the severe risks and deprivations. Some of them wondered resentfully why the CIA often seemed to treat them as if money mattered more than kin and country. Of course, they had not been known to refuse the cash, either.
They delivered Gary Schroen to one of the half-dozen unmarked safehouses Massoud maintained in Kabul. They waited for the commander's summons, which came about an hour before midnight. They met in a house that had once been the residence of Austria's ambassador, before rocketing and gun battles had driven most of Europe's diplomats away.
Massoud wore a white Afghan robe and a round, soft, wool Panjshiri cap. He was a tall man, but not physically imposing. He was quiet and formal, yet he radiated intensity. His attendant poured tea. They sat in dim light around a makeshift conference table. Massoud chatted in Dari with Khalili about their visitor, his back ground, what Khalili knew of him.
Massoud sounded skeptical about the CIA's request for this meeting. The agency had ignored what Massoud and his men saw as the rising threat posed by the radical Taliban. There were some in Massoud's circle who suspected that the CIA had secretly passed money and guns to the Taliban. America had been a friend to Massoud over the years, but a fickle friend. What did the agency want now?
"You and I have a history, although we never met face to face," Schroen began. He was not going to make accusations, but in truth, it was not an altogether happy history.
In the winter of 1990, Schroen reminded Massoud, the CIA had been working closely with the commander. Massoud operated then in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. Kabul was controlled by President Najibullah, a beefy, mustached former secret police chief and communist who clung to power despite the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. Moscow backed Najibullah; U.S. policy sought his defeat by military force. The Soviets supplied vast amounts of military and economic aid to their client by road and air. Working with Pakistan's military intelligence service, the CIA had come up with a plan that winter to launch simultaneous attacks on key supply lines around Afghanistan. CIA officers had mapped a crucial role for Massoud because his forces were positioned near the Salang Highway, the main north-south road leading from the Soviet Union to Kabul.
In January of 1990, Gary Schroen had traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan. One of Massoud's brothers, Ahmed Zia, maintained a compound there with a radio connection to Massoud's northeastern headquarters. Schroen spoke on the radio with Massoud about the CIA'S attack plan. The agency wanted Massoud to drive west and shut down the Salang Highway for the winter.
Massoud agreed but said he needed financial help. He would have to purchase fresh ammunition and winter clothing for his troops. He needed to move villagers away from the area of the attacks so they would not be vulnerable to retaliation from government forces. To pay for all this, Massoud wanted a large payment over and above his monthly CIA stipend. Schroen and the commander agreed on a one-time lump sum of $500,000 in cash. Schroen soon delivered the money by hand to Massoud's brother in Peshawar.
Weeks passed. There were a few minor skirmishes, and the Salang Highway closed for a few days, but it promptly reopened. As far as the CIA could determine, Massoud had not put any of his main forces into action as they had agreed he would. CIA officers involved suspected they had been ripped off for half a million dollars. The Salang was a vital source of commerce and revenue for civilians in northern Afghanistan, and Massoud in the past had been reluctant to close the road down, fearing he would alienate his local followers. Massoud's forces also earned taxes along the road.
In later exchanges with CIA officers, Massoud defended himself, saying his subcommanders had initiated the planned attacks as agreed that winter, but they had been stalled by weather and other problems. The CIA could find no evidence to support Massoud's account. As far as they could tell, Massoud's commanders had simply not participated in the battles along the Salang.
Schroen now reminded Massoud about their agreement six years earlier, and he mentioned that he had personally handed over $500,000 to Massoud's brother.
"How much?" Massoud asked.
"Five hundred thousand," Schroen replied.
Massoud and his aides began to talk among themselves. One of them quietly said in Dari, "We didn't get $500,000."
Massoud repeated his earlier defense to Schroen. The weather in that winter of 1990 had been awful. He couldn't move his troops as successfully as he had hoped. He lacked adequate ammunition, despite the big payment.
"That's all history," Schroen finally said.
Massoud voiced his own complaints. He was a deliberate, cogent speaker, clear and forceful, never loud or demonstrative. The CIA and the United States had walked away from Afghanistan, leaving its people bereft, he said.
Excerpted from Ghost Wars by Steve Coll Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsList of Maps
Prologue: Accounts Receivable - September 1996
Part One: Blood Brothers - November 1979 to February 1989
1. “We’re Going to Die Here
2. “Lenin Taught Us”
3. “Go Raise Hell”
4. “I Loved Osama”
5. “Don’t Make It Our War”
6. “Who Is This Massoud?”
7. “The Terrorists Will Own the World”
8. “Inshallah, You Will Know My Plans”
9. “We Won”
Part Two: The One-Eyed Man Was King - March 1989 to December 1997
10. “Serious Risks”
11. “A Rogue Elephant”
12. “We Are in Danger”
13. “A Friend of Your Enemy”
14. “Maintain a Prudent Distance”
15. “A New Generation”
16. “Slowly, Slowly Sucked into It”
17. “Dangling the Carrot”
18. “We Couldn’t Indict Him”
19. “We’re Keeping These Stingers”
20. “Does America Need the CIA?”
Part Three: The Distant Enemy - January 1998 to September 10, 2001
21. “You Are to Capture Him Alive”
22. “The Kingdom’s Interests”
23. “We Are at War”
24. “Let’s Just Blow the Thing Up”
25. “The Manson Family”
26. “That Unit Disappeared”
27. “You Crazy White Guys”
28. “Is There Any Policy?”
29. “Daring Me to Kill Them”
30. “What Face Will Omar Show to God?”
31. “Many Americans Are Going to Die”
32. “What an Unlucky Country”
What People are Saying About This
"Certainly the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of al Qaeda in the post-Soviet rubble of Afghanistan . . . Ghost Wars provides fresh details and helps explain the motivations behind many crucial decisions."
-The New York Times Book Review
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's an unbelievably in-depth book... if you're interested in foreign affairs and our countries past decision making, you'll love it.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Very good book and very well written.
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)
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...
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.
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.
This book is well-researched and thorough. The writing style is journalistic.
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.
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.
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.
my son is in Afghanistan so this history helped me understand his job
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.
This is a good book that you will enjoy
I liked it allot. It's a good story and has allot of interesting info