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229 of 260 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Copy Easier to Read, but Substance is Same: Superb
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...
Published on April 19, 2005 by Robert David STEELE Vivas

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well edited reality show
It was a pleasure reading this very well written and researched book. As an Indian, I grew up reading about the defeat of Russians in newspapers. The subsequent battle for Afghanistan between the communist government and the mujahedin entered my consciousness through snatches of news on the radio. So, it was great to get the stories and personalities around people like...
Published on August 5, 2008 by Yogesh Upadhyaya


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229 of 260 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Copy Easier to Read, but Substance is Same: Superb, April 19, 2005
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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. As we reflect on Iran's enormous success in 2002-2004 in using Chalabi to deceive the Bush Administration into wiping out Saddam Hussein and opening Iraq for Iranian capture, at a cost to the US taxpayer of over $400 billion dollars, we can only compare Iran to the leadership of North Viet-Nam. Iran has a strategic culture, the US does not. The North Vietnamese beat the US for that reason. Absent the development of a strategic culture within the US, one that is not corrupted by ideological fantasy, Iran will ultimately beat the US and Israel in the Middle East.

The greatest failure of the CIA comes across throughout early in the book: the CIA missed the radicalization of Islam and its implications for global destabilization. It did so for three reasons: 1) CIA obsession with hard targets to the detriment of global coverage; 2) CIA obsession with technical secrets rather than human overt and covert information; and 3) CIA laziness and political naiveté in relying on foreign liaison, and especially on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Both Admiral Stansfield Turner and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski come in for criticism here. Turner for gutting the CIA, Brzezinski for telling Pakistan it could go nuclear (page 51) in return for help against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Although the book does not focus on Bin Laden until he becomes a player in Afghanistan, it does provide much better discussion of Bin Laden's very close relations with Saudi intelligence, including the Chief of Staff of Saudi intelligence at the time, Bin Laden's former teacher and mentor. There appears to be no question, from this and other sources, including Yossef Bodansky's book Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America and David Kaplan's US News & World Report on Saudi sponsorship of global terrorism, that Bin Laden has been the primary Saudi intelligence agent of influence for exporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism to South Asia, the Pacific Rim, Africa, Europe, Russia, and the US. CIA and the FBI failed to detect this global threat, and the USG failed to understand that World War III started in 1989. As with other evils, the US obsession about communism led it to sponsor new emerging threats that might not otherwise have become real. However, the book also provides the first documentation I have seen that Bin Laden was "noticed" by the CIA in 1985 (page 146), and that Bin Laden opened his US office in 1986. It was also about this time that the Russian "got it" on the radical Islamic threat, told the US, and got blown off. Bob Gates and George Shultz were wrong to doubt the Soviets when they laid out Soviet plans to leave Afghanistan and Soviet concern about both the future of Afghanistan and the emerging threat from Islamic terrorism.

The middle of the book can be considered a case study in how Pakistani deception combined with American ignorance led us to make many errors of judgment. Some US experts did see the situation clearly--Ed McWilliams from State ("Evil Little Person" per Milt Bearden) comes out of this book looking very very smart.

The final portions of the book are detailed and balanced. What comes across is both a failure of the US to think strategically, and the incredibly intelligent manner in which Bin Laden does think globally, strategically, and unconventionally. Bin Laden understands the new equation: low-cost terrorism equals very high cost economic dislocation.

Side note: CIA provided the Islamic warriors in Afghanistan with enough explosives to blow up half of New York (page 135), and with over 2000 Stinger missiles, 600 of which appear to remain in the hands of anti-US forces today, possibly including a number shipped to Iran for re-purposing (ie London, Dallas, Houston)

One final note: morality matters. I am greatly impressed with the author's judgment in focusing on the importance that Bin Laden places on the corruption of US and Saudi Arabian governments and corporations as the justification for his jihad. Will and Ariel Durant, in "The Lessons of History," make a special point of discussing the long-term strategic value of morality as a "force" that impacts on the destiny of nations and peoples. The US has lost that part of the battle, for now, and before we can beat Bin Laden, we must first clean our own house and demand that the Saudi's clean theirs or be abandoned as a US ally. Morality matters. Strategic culture matters. On these two counts, Bin Laden is winning for now.

Other books that augment this one:
The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage)
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander
First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil
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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.

While there is plenty of "blame" to go around as to why our government, in hindsight, did not act on this or that, the activities of the Saudi and Pakistani governments also share in the stock of shortsightedness. Mr. Coll identifies the ways that Saudi and Pakistani officials duped the USG about their relationship with the Taliban but were, in turn, also duped by the Taliban regarding Al Qaeda's activities.

So why should we Americans torture ourselves with how these many components might have played out differently? Would it have saved all lives on September 11? Some? Or might seemingly favorable circumstances between so many conflicting views from different governments have actually cost more lives when aligned with other events? Mr. Coll writes about what happened without speculation as to what should have happened. The reader is more likely to fully appreciate the complexities of terrorism prevention.

Americans have to discuss how powerful and pro-active they want their CIA and FBI regardless of which party controls the White House. It isn't just a matter of "personality clashes" or "turf wars." USG agencies have conflicting missions. There was and will continue to be fleeting foreign government support that varies year to year and ally to ally. The discussion about how these components work together is important enough that the less political posturing, the more successful a discussion about terrorism is likely to be. Mr. Coll's book illustrates that there are no easy answers. May Ghost Wars be part of the historic literature regarding September 11 for decades to come.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well edited reality show, August 5, 2008
It was a pleasure reading this very well written and researched book. As an Indian, I grew up reading about the defeat of Russians in newspapers. The subsequent battle for Afghanistan between the communist government and the mujahedin entered my consciousness through snatches of news on the radio. So, it was great to get the stories and personalities around people like Masooud.

However, as I reached to the end of the book, I realized that clearly the author was not telling the whole story. Some gaping holes in the book are

1. CIA and the US government remained unaware of Pakistan support to Taliban for a long period. Did they not have sources in the ISI and Pakistan government?
2. Ditto for Saudi support to Taliban.
3. The Israeli agency Mossad is mentioned once in passing in the book. It is difficult to believe that they did not have any intelligence presence in a region which was developing as big threat to their existence. it is difficult to believe that they were a player of no significance in the whole story.

Now, there may be very good reasons for such omissions. However, they left me feeling that the book finally depends on revelations that were very tightly controlled. Obviously there would be control to protect the integrity of sources. But only slightly less obviously, the control can be used to "paint a picture." If you reveal only selected facts, most intelligent readers would draw the conclusions you want them to. I don't know what all has been left out. All I know is that the omissions pointed out above are too significant for me. They make me feel that I am watching a well edited reality show.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shared values vs Shared interests. US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the rise of Radical Islamic Terrorism, October 14, 2006
By 
One of the best books written about the emergence of religion based terrorism directed against several causes and several societies.

Steve Coll provides a balanced dispassionate analysis and profound insight into the new menace that is powerful enough to challenge peace everywhere.

United States has two kinds of friendships in world politics:

(a) Friendships founded on shared values

(b) Friendships founded on shared interests

Friendships founded on shared values (such as those with UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan) last forever. The friendship does not leave a trail of destruction behind.

Friendships founded on shared interests (such as those with Iran under the Shah, Philippines under Marcos, Pakistan under Zia, Saudi Arabia above oil) last short periods of time but leave a trail of destruction somewhere.

US friendship with two such shared interests has created a monster that is likely to be a greater challenge to peace and security everywhere than anything humanity has seen so far.

Saudi Arabia has been funding radical Islamic groups around the world to appease its domestic constituency of religious right. Saudi donations helped create radical Islamic groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan to attract, train and equip youth who are willing to kill and willing to die.

Pakistan provided an intelligence service that could orchestrate insurgency against a conventional army; provided a limitless supply of youth willing to die for holy causes; and an efficient supply chain of high tech arms.

The Reagan Administration joined hands with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to contain Soviet expansionism. The mission was successful.

But there were unfortunate side effects. US lost interest in the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union. CIA station heads in Islamabad began to dictate US policy in the region instead of the Administration.

The Jihadists, assembled against Soviet Union, did not go home to become investment bankers and stock brokers. They stayed and sought new causes. Fight for Palestine. Fight against America. Fight against the House of Saud. Fight for Islamic rule in Afghanistan. Fight for liberation of Kashmir.

Pakistan had a field day. The ISI could use the jihadists for its favourite causes: Hekmatyar, Taliban, Kashmir. State sponsored terrorism was born. Funding was available from Saudi Arabia and from narcotics trade. State sponsored terrorism gave way to a multinational radical Islamic terrorism when Pakistan tainted every political objective with a religious colour (a lesson learnt from the jihad against Soviets).

It is now possible for a Mullah in a village in Pakistan to issue a fatwah by fax that could motivate a young British Muslim to enroll in an ISI sponsored terrorism training center in Pakistan and undertake a mission to destroy social fabric in a nation that is probably busy with a super bowl.

A foreign policy shaped by shared interests is probably not that good an idea.

This book provides a well researched insight into the rise of radical Islamic terrorism. The best on the subject. Easy to read. Disturbing to think about.

Shall look forward to the next book from Steve Coll.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, eye-opening and disturbing, July 9, 2006
By 
Steven Coll has produced an authoritative masterpiece. Though I found the number of densely worded pages a little intimidating (588 pages of text, in addition to nearly a hundred pages of notes/bibliography along with a copious and useful index, several maps and more), it was well worth the effort. I agreed with the numerous laudatory quotes from newspapers around the US that the book was "Objective and terrific... finest historical narrative so far on the origins of al Qaeda" (New York Times), "of the more than one hundred published books dealing with the September 11th attacks... none approach Mr Coll's work for clarity and insight into the [CIA] itself" (Seattle Times), and that "Coll's... access to senior officials of all the principal countries involved in Afghanistan is nothing short of astounding" (Toronto Globe and Mail).

Coll's narrative went from interesting to fascinating for me when he started writing about the involvement of Texas Congressional Representative Charlie Wilson in procuring money for and drawing attention to CIA aid to Afghan mujahedin. Wilson abused his position to impress a series of beauty queens (with exciting names like Miss Sea and Ski and Miss Humble Oil) during tours the Afghan frontier. He also became an advocate for the mujahedin in Washington and channeled cash, mostly earmarked for fancy weapons systems, to the CIA's Afghan budget. Coll had other interesting comments about the CIA's relationship with Congressmen visiting Afghanistan including the rule passed on from the CIA to Mohammed Yousef - Pakastani Intelligence's Afghan point man from 1983 to 1987 - "Never use the terms sabotage or assassination when speaking with visiting congressman". In other words, with fighting for freedom, like making laws or sausages - it's best not to show outsiders the specifics on how things are done.

I was particularly outraged to read that the CIA had been dealing with aerial plots since at least as early as 1995. Early that year Filipino police uncovered a plot (reported to American investigators) to suicidally crash a plane into CIA headquarters. Later that year a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on terrorism was circulated to Clinton's cabinet. It speculated on future attacks and assessed that "civil aviation will figure prominently among possible terrorist targets in the United States". The Estimate also drew attention to the " domestic aviation security system [whose weaknesses have] been the focus of media attention". This is especially maddening in light of Condoleeza Rice's comment on 17 May 2002, when she said that, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile - a hijacked airplane as a missile." Rice's words are absurd not just when viewed alongside the 1995 NIE but also in light of Tom Clancy's two bestselling books featuring the use of an airplane as a missile.

"The CIA's annual budget was a Pentagon rounding error", mentioned while explaining the need for the CIA to balance its relationship with and placate the Pentagon, "The CIA did not typically work inside the American legal system... CIA espionage and paramilitary operations overseas were conducted in secret and not subject to review by American courts... The CIA was created to prevent another Pearl Harbor." Well, maybe they succeeded on other occasions we never heard about.

This story does not put the FBI, the CIA, the Clinton administration or the Bush administration in a positive light. It shows lots of good intentions and many smart folks who saw at least part of what was coming but were marginalized or ignored. It doesn't seem as though enough has been done to keep something like this from hapenning again.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive and Comprehensive, May 4, 2006
By 
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. This is in some ways good: we're probably not going to be able to make this sort of judgment about the Clinton or Bush administration for years, not objectively anyway. But the book starts in the Carter administration, and even there he presents a narrative of what happened without comment. He also often tells you both sides of the story, recounting first the State department's view of the CIA's reluctance to do something, then giving you the CIA's version of events, so that you're unsure which side he's on, let alone which side the facts are. It's a bit unsettling, though perhaps that's because the events themselves are unsettled, too.

I enjoyed this book, learned a great deal from it, and apart from its length would recommend it. It's relatively well-written and very informative.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ghost Wars, July 14, 2007
By 
-_Tim_- (The Western Hemisphere) - See all my reviews
Ghost Wars is an account of U.S. assistance to the mujahedin during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and U.S. attempts to curtail Osama bin Laden's influence. Ghost Wars focuses on the CIA but author Steve Coll, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered Afghanistan for the Washington Post between 1989 and 1992, also covers the interagency policy making process in Washington.

The U.S. policy of helping the mujahedin in Afghanistan harass and ultimately defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan was, of course, a success. U.S. officials realized that the contending forces in Afghanistan were unlikely to form a unified national government after the Soviet's departure, but the United States was in Afghanistan to hurt the Soviet Union, not to build a new nation in Afghanistan. U.S. assistance efforts in Afghanistan were advanced by two allies, in particular, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Coll argues that, while the allies' interests coincided in containing Soviet expansion, U.S. interests were hurt by the efforts of Pakistan's intelligence service (the ISI) to strengthen radical Islamists after the Soviet collapse in Afghanistan and by Saudi Arabia's unwillingness to confront radical Islamists at home and in Afghanistan.

Coll criticizes U.S. policy in Afghanistan on several grounds. First, the United States relied heavily on the ISI to deliver assistance to the mujahedin, despite the ISI's preference for radical jihadists. Second, the United States' reliance on Saudi oil made it too hard for the United States to confront its ally over terrorism policies. Third, the United States missed opportunities to engage India as a democratic ally in South Asia. Fourth, the United States failed to develop "a strategy for engagement, democratization, secular education, and economic development among the peaceful but demoralized populations of the Islamic world."

U.S. policy toward bin Laden, in particular, could also be criticized for a lack of coherence. Coll's narrative describes a reluctance to give unambiguous instructions to kill bin Laden, even though capturing him alive would have been nearly impossible. Numerous opportunities arose to attack bin Laden but policymakers always demurred because they were reluctant to offend other governments or risk civilian deaths. At one point, referring to bin Laden, CIA director George Tenet announces that "We are at war," but the resources and single-minded determination that this announcement implies never materialized.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Realpolitik and our struggle in Afghanistan -- from the Cold War to the war on terror, September 15, 2005
By 
A. Courie "Treb" (Freedom's Fortress) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001" recounts the US's waxing and waning interest and action in Afghanistan. Mr. Coll, is the managing editor of the Washington Post, and this book is based primarily on interviews with the different actors involved. It is a readable, interesting, well-researched, boots-on-the-ground look at American foreign policy and how it is implemented.

"Ghost Wars" tells in a nonpartisan way a story that often sneaks into our newspaper headlines as both political parties try to blame each other for the rise of al-Qaeda and the subsequent 9-11 attacks. But this book is immeasurably better than simplistic newspaper reports or magazine articles that try to affix blame on one party or President. This book gives so much depth to our history in Afghanistan and shows the intricate play between the lead agencies involved in Afghanistan (CIA and State Department). Most Americans have no idea how engaged our government is at middle levels with other countries, and how often different agencies in our own government do not support each other or even work at cross purposes. Nor do we realize how actively our government had been tracking and chasing Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s.

Coll does an excellent job explaining the rise of radical Islam in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia's schizophrenic policies both as a supporter of and ally against terrorism. And just as importantly, but not as widely known, Coll book documents well the lead role that Pakistan played fomenting radical Islam and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Coll tells these stories evenhandedly, with little analysis or finger-pointing. However, the discerning reader can easily spot a myriad of mistakes, missteps, and missed opportunities that we made - not through any malice or incompetence, but due to legitimate debates among our government leaders.

This is an excellent book that weaves together many stories well. It is also a very illuminating book and gives the reader an appreciation for the complexity of the "real stories" behind newspaper headlines. This book really should deserve 5-stars, but I reserve those for the best of the best, and one of this book's strengths also prevents me from giving it 5 stars - it is just a tad too long and involved for the reader to really love it. And because this book ends just before the 9-11 attacks, I would love a sequel telling the "rest of the story..."
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Deep in Research, Shallow in Thinking, April 21, 2010
By 
Jiang Xueqin (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001" uses exhaustive research to analyze how Afghanistan could have been saved, bin Laden killed, and 9/11 prevented. This is a narrative threaded together loosely mainly from hearsay and speculation, so many "what ifs". In the end, I learned very little from this book, and I recommend Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower" instead.

This ponderous 588-page book (which because there's so much information and research packed into each page feels more like a 1,000 page book) begins with CIA director William Casey's crusade to destroy the Soviet empire in Afghanistan by first romanticizing and then arming some very nasty Afghan warlords. Reading the CIA's campaign to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, I couldn't help but think that America was by the time of Reagan much more ideological than the Soviet Union. Americans permitted their ideological obsessions to cloud their realpolitik thinking, arming an enemy of the enemy only to create a spectacularly unstable threat.

Did America really have to arm Afghan fanatics like the mentally unstable and psychotic Gulbuddin Hekmatyar? Why would it be in America's best interest to push the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan? And even if it were did it really justify working with a sinister and ruthless organization like the Pakistani intelligence service, and propelling a tinpot third world dictatorship like Pakistan into a global player?

Steve Coll does not ask these questions, and for the last third of this book he painstakingly focuses on a pointless question: Why did America not seize the countless opportunities to kill bin Laden? Coll blames the Clinton administration's lack of will and resolve (they were a bunch of cowardly politicians), the infighting inside the CIA, and the tunnel vision that discounted the importance of Afghanistan after the Soviets left. He talks so much about missed opportunities, and is clearly frustrated by the bureaucratic incompetence (the CIA was ordered to capture bin Laden but to avoid trying to assassinate him and creating collateral damage) of it all that he misses the larger point: killing bin Laden may not have prevented 9/11, and would most probably not have prevented America's war on terror and military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden may be the public face of Islamic terrorism, but he is not the mastermind and the financier of international terrorism that Coll makes him out to be, and indeed Lawrence Wright points out that bin Laden is more of a marketing genius than he is an operations genius in "The Looming Tower."

Moreover, Coll refuses to contemplate the counterfactual. What if bin Laden had been killed? Because bin Laden lives there is a growing ignominy towards Islamic terrorism in the Muslim world, but if he had died then any and all attacks on American soil would have been justified.

Another reason to question Coll's analysis and presentation of the facts is that he's biased towards Prince Turki, the Saudi intelligence chief, and Ahmed Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who was assassinated by Al-Qaeda operatives right before 9/11. Turki comes across as a cosmopolitan and sophisticated intelligence chief, and his role in helping the Pakistani intelligence service and the Taliban is marginalized (Turki must have been eternally grateful for this sympathetic treatment, and must have gone of his way to help Coll to write "The Bin Ladens"). In Coll's narrative, Massoud is simply a saint forced to be a cunning and savvy politician by his circumstances. Coll had great hope for Massoud's role in Afghanistan, but if Massoud could not even defeat the Taliban (who, if the journalist Ahmed Rashid is to believed, would have issues tying shoelaces) then how could he possibly govern Afghanistan? It's expedient to turn a marytr into a saint, but if Massoud had lived then chances are the world would have been very disappointed in him.

Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars" is a disappointing and misleading read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable primer on the topic., January 28, 2005
By 
JTM (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
Informative and engaging look at the people and politics involved in the afghan war, and wahabbist islamic extremism. This book provides some interesting details about the Mujhadeen in Afghanistan, and the many sources of funding and direct assistance they received.

All in all, a more serious and academic study of both the conflict and the politics than 'Charlie Wilson's War' - which is an entertaining but narrower view of similar material.

If you are interested in more information on this topic, check out the copious source notes!
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