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

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Length: 736 pages Word Wise: Enabled
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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: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Publication Date: December 28, 2004
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000P2A43Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,389 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

233 of 266 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 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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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Yogesh Upadhyaya on August 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
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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11 of 11 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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