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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Penguin Books) [Kindle Edition]

Steve Coll
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $20.00
Kindle Price: $11.02
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize

The explosive first-hand account of America's secret history in Afghanistan

With the publication of Ghost Wars, Steve Coll became not only a Pulitzer Prize winner, but also the expert on the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of Bin Laden, and the secret efforts by CIA officers and their agents to capture or kill Bin Laden in Afghanistan after 1998.

Editorial Reviews Review

Steve Coll's Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 offers revealing details of the CIA's involvement in the evolution of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the years before the September 11 attacks. From the beginning, Coll shows how the CIA's on-again, off-again engagement with Afghanistan after the end of the Soviet war left officials at Langley with inadequate resources and intelligence to appreciate the emerging power of the Taliban. He also demonstrates how Afghanistan became a deadly playing field for international politics where Soviet, Pakistani, and U.S. agents armed and trained a succession of warring factions. At the same time, the book, though opinionated, is not solely a critique of the agency. Coll balances accounts of CIA failures with the success stories, like the capture of Mir Amal Kasi. Coll, managing editor for the Washington Post, covered Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992. He demonstrates unprecedented access to records of White House meetings and to formerly classified material, and his command of Saudi, Pakistani, and Afghani politics is impressive. He also provides a seeming insider's perspective on personalities like George Tenet, William Casey, and anti-terrorism czar, Richard Clarke ("who seemed to wield enormous power precisely because hardly anyone knew who he was or what exactly he did for a living"). Coll manages to weave his research into a narrative that sometimes has the feel of a Tom Clancy novel yet never crosses into excess. While comprehensive, Coll's book may be hard going for those looking for a direct account of the events leading to the 9-11 attacks. The CIA's 1998 engagement with bin Laden as a target for capture begins a full two-thirds of the way into Ghost Wars, only after a lengthy march through developments during the Carter, Reagan, and early Clinton Presidencies. But this is not a critique of Coll's efforts; just a warning that some stamina is required to keep up. Ghost Wars is a complex study of intelligence operations and an invaluable resource for those seeking a nuanced understanding of how a small band of extremists rose to inflict incalculable damage on American soil. --Patrick O'Kelley


"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

Product Details

  • File Size: 2352 KB
  • Print Length: 738 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000P2A43Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,629 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
226 of 257 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links including books since published.

On balance this is a well researched book (albeit with a Langley-Saudi partiality that must be noted), and I give it high marks for substance, story, and notes. It should be read in tandem with several other books, including George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times and the Milt Bearden/James Risen tome on The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB.

The most important point in the book is not one the author intended to make. He inadvertently but most helpfully points to the fact that at no time did the U.S. government, in lacking a policy on Afghanistan across several Administrations, think about the strategic implications of "big money movements." I refer to Saudi Oil, Afghan Drugs, and CIA Cash.

Early on the book shows that Afghanistan was not important to the incumbent Administration, and that the Directorate of Operations, which treats third-world countries as hunting grounds for Soviets rather than targets in their own right, had eliminated Afghanistan as a "collection objective" in the late 1980's through the early 1990's. It should be no surprise that the CIA consequently failed to predict the fall of Kabul (or in later years, the rise of the Taliban).

Iran plays heavily in the book, and that is one of the book's strong points. From the 1979 riots against the U.S. Embassies in Iran and in Pakistan, to the end of the book, the hand of Iran is clearly perceived.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive and Comprehensive May 4, 2006
This is one of those books that you'll read, and take away a lot from afterwards. Steve Coll writes with authority and confidence about a number of aspects of the United States' involvement in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion til 9/11. He covers many aspects of the war, from the war in Afghanistan, the subsequent civil war, and negotiations with and between such actors as the CIA, US Defense and State Department, various Afghan groups, and the Pakistani army and government. From spies with suitcases of cash meeting their contacts in the Pakistani countryside to cruise missiles hitting Osama's compound, the book covers every aspect of the conflict itself. From the CIA and the Air Force arguing over who should control and pay for the Predator drones that were used to look for Osama, to Pakistan's various coups and the Taliban's indifference to outside opinion, Coll also pays considerable attention to the political events behind the actual conflicts.

This is a long, involved book that has a huge amount of information in it. It's detailed, carefully written, and very comprehensive. The tone of the book, while somewhat serious and scholarly, isn't really biased in any particular direction. The author, for instance, pays a great deal of attention to Ahmed Shah Massoud, but he doesn't sugarcoat his portrait of Massoud, making clear that he was partially responsible for the Mujaheddin Government's fall in the mid-90s, and also noting that he financed his movement with heroin sales to Russia and Europe. He examines each of these issues dispassionately and carefully, looking at every angle he can think of.

If I have a criticism of the book it's the lack of conclusion. The author appears to want to let history speak for itself, and avoids judgments.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly objective April 27, 2005
Steve Coll's Ghost Wars is an invaluable history of the U.S. Government's relationship with Afghanistan and other geopolitical players involved in its fate from December 1979 - September 2001. While this narrative about the USG's "war on terrorism" focuses on the intelligence component rather than the law enforcement, the reader learns the political, legal and diplomatic obstacles CIA faced (and still does) in the effort to protect this nation of 275,000,000 from suicide bomber attacks anytime and anywhere, including within the United States. Mr. Coll's book is a welcome addition to the literature of terrorism which should be read in conjunction with the 9/11 Commission Report; and Best Laid Plans by David Martin and John Walcott.

Mr. Coll chronicles Afghanistan's tragic history from the Soviet invasion through the Soviets' expulsion and the fall of the Soviet Union; through the civil strife that followed until the Taliban's rise to power and Al Qaeda's parasitic attachment to the regime. He identified opportunities lost (as well as attempted) that might have changed the course of events leading to the September 11 attacks. From the time of the Soviets' expulsion, many partisan readers will be tempted to hang the bulk of responsibility on any of 3 Republican administrations or a 2-term Democratic administration. Other readers might fully blame the CIA, the NSC, State or Defense Departments. But these would be more examples of blaming the victim, a tiresome political argument Americans have had to endure for two election cycles. I for one, am delighted that Mr. Coll refrained from such an indulgence.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opener - beasts with bigger brains
One of the faves. Covers CIA engagement in the region explicitly and details U.S. policy initiative ("roiling sea of ambiguity that was ISI and Pak army") ignoring fears of... Read more
Published 5 days ago by noorilhuda
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding!
Great book and an easy read throughout. Highly recommended for the student of AF/PAK history and 9/11. Clearly illustrates why the two nations have so many issues even today.
Published 6 days ago by David Ortiz
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
If only all those American History classes I took could be as interesting.
Published 10 days ago by Joe Travis
2.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Was Looking For
Extremely well researched, but not the kind of book I was looking for. Having lived in Pakistan and being familiar with much of the subject matter and even having met some of the... Read more
Published 19 days ago by John Doe
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
More like an encyclopedia. Tons of detail.
Published 19 days ago by John oakes
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
good purchase and good seller
Published 22 days ago by martin ainbinder
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very well written
Published 23 days ago by Kiki
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A very interesting book that covers the gamut of the terrorism problem from its early days.
Published 27 days ago by James E. Cain
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read.
Have not finished it yet, but Steve Coll provides a wealth of information (with sourcing that is useful) on a topic we are still dealing with today. Read more
Published 1 month ago by James A. Williamson
5.0 out of 5 stars Still the best documented account of the intelligence and military...
Still the best documented account of the intelligence and military background for the Afghanistan wars and the origins of Al Queda. Totally relevant still. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ken McA
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