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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) Paperback – December 28, 2004


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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) + The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Books
  • Paperback: 738 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143034669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143034667
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

About the Author

Steve Coll is most recently the author of the New York Times bestseller The Bin Ladens. He is the president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute headquartered in Washington, D.C., and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Previously heworked for twenty years at The Washington Post, where he received a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 1990. He is the author of six other books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Ghost Wars.

Customer Reviews

Coll's book is so well researched.
Rex Dillon
Except for the most ardent partisans on either side, readers will come out with a better understanding of how politicians on all sides can really screw things up.
bmulz
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.
-_Tim_-

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

226 of 257 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 19, 2005
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.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on May 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
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 By John Allnutt on April 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
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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