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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 Paperback – December 28, 2004
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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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I feel the most insightful part of the book is the way it showcases the decision making processes and factors in the US government and, to a more limited degree, in its allies and... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Karsten Aichholz
Very thorough and open with little regard to political leanings as far as I can tell. I'm floored so much detail can be grasped and put together in such a story.Published 15 days ago by Brian Clark
Lot's of details about how we got sucked into Afghanistan by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, out so-called "friends".Published 1 month ago by J.Ingle
Excellent to understand about Afghanistan, al Qaeda, and the arab world.Published 1 month ago by Vicente Alamos
Great insight.......very very educational for me...., hard to put down. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about the role of the CIA in the Afghanistan/Russian... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Joseph Davis
Steven Coll does an exellent job of getting to the meat and patatoes of what actually took place when the USA was fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan. Read morePublished 2 months ago by John Cote