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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 Hardcover – February 23, 2004
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No longer. Very few countries worldwide have been more important to the U.S. over the past quarter century than this remote, primitive, landlocked and little-understood area tucked in between Iran, Pakistan and the former U.S.S.R. In this weighty and immensely detailed book, Steve Coll, who reported from Afghanistan for the Washington Post (where he is now managing editor) between 1989 and 1992, sorts out for the patient reader one of the most complex diplomatic and military involvements the U.S. has experienced in this century.
The cast of characters is immense, rivaling for sheer size (and personal quirkiness) any novel by Dickens or Dostoyevsky. It ranges from four U.S. Presidents through a platoon of bemedaled generals from five or six countries and a regiment of scheming diplomats down to hard-pressed pilots, miserably ill-equipped guerilla fighters, steely-eyed assassins and suicide bombers. There are more political factions here than most readers will be able to keep track of --- not to mention the factions that spring up within factions. It is all quite dizzying, but also fascinating and important.
Coll is a conscientious reporter. He does his best to keep the reader informed and to make his more important players come alive as human beings. His book is not easy reading, but it rewards well anyone who buckles down and stays with it to the end.Read more ›
Frankly, after reading this account, I became empathetic toward the CIA, Clinton and those in his administration, and the Pakistani and Saudi governments. Clearly their positions and actions lead to the rise of the Taliban. While lots of mistakes and maybe some shortsightedness existed among these players, they were all dealing with intricate and sensitive internal political issues that drove their decisions, or in the case of the United States, lack of action, in post-Soviet Afghanistan.
While Bin Laden would likely have existed without the safe haven he found in Afghanistan, his ability to train and draw followers so freely and with impunity is partially "blowback" from actions taken by the CIA, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia during the Soviet-Afghan war as money and weapons poured into the country.
There is also quite a bit of information about Ahmed Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance. It's interesting to speculate how more assistance to Massoud might have thwarted or overthrown the Taliban and as a result push Bin Laden into less favorable circumstances. But given Massoud's failure as a political leader in his first opportunity, the brutality of his troops, and being an ethnic minority in his country, again one can empathize with why the United States was reluctant to pin their hopes on him.
If you are trying to decide which of the very large number of books about Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Bin Laden are worth reading, this is one of them.
I picked up Ghost Wars for insight on the history that led up to September 11, 2001. I learned much more than I was expecting to, and Coll does a good job of sprinkling historical back-stories when necessary. The founding of Saudi Arabi and the brief biography of CIA's William Casey are two good examples. Bin Laden also becomes more than a terrorist mastermind here, and at times I felt I almost gained a little insight to who this guy is and his life. Some would say that knowing these circumstances partially excuse him, but make no mistake: this book's purpose is not to excuse, but to inform. Amazingly, bin Laden faced an assasination attempt by fellow Muslims because he wasn't 'devout enough'. Incredible.
Ghost Wars is a great pre-9/11 history of a complicated, murky and convoluted topic. One who reads this book will be not be surprised any longer by any stories the media releases as new on this topic. Also valuable are the questions this book puts to rest, or at least tries to put to rest. Did we arm bin Laden? How much did we really help to the formation of al-Quada? The answers will surprise most, and will probably end up disappointing those who believe America can do no wrong and those who believe America can do no right.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It's a very detailed book on history of CIA in the afghanisthan/pakistan region. I'm sure it took a lot of research to put it together. Read morePublished 19 days ago by Saurabh
Good book. Very detailed, tough reading. There are a lot of characters in it, so have your phone close by to look up who everybody is. Or, take notes as you read. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Beth B.
Amazing book that is carefully documented, cited, and certainly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. This cements Coll's legacy as one of the greatest investigative journalists in... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Dawn K.
Best non-fiction book I've ever read. Coll does an outstanding job of telling this story while remaining fairly objective and not veering into political opinion or bias. Read morePublished 20 months ago by N.S.D
I have yet to see the book. I will see it only by end Nov as I am traveling.Published 23 months ago by KB Kale