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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden,… (2004)

by Steve Coll

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,007286,030 (4.14)45
"Comprehensively and for the first time, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll tells the secret history of the CIA's role in Afghanistan, including its covert program against Soviet troops from 1979 to 1989, and examines the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of bin Laden, and the secret efforts by CIA officers and their agents to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan after 1998. Based on extensive firsthand accounts, Ghost Wars is the inside story that goes well beyond anything previously published on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It chronicles the roles of midlevel CIA officers, their Afghan allies, and top spy masters such as Bill Casey, Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal, and George Tenet. And it describes heated debates within the American government and the often poisonous, mistrustful relations between the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
This was somewhat tedious to finish, but a really terrific account of the bumbling that led up to 9/11. Definitely worth reading. ( )
  loretteirene | Dec 17, 2020 |
Essential, bloody, real and tragic.

One important underlying issue is what this means for the future, because there are similarities between the inflation of the Afghan government with western cash and the situation in South Vietnam during the 1960s and early 1970s. Does an Afghan security force left to fend for itself go the way of the South Vietnamese military after "Vietnamisation"? Before you say you don't care, ask the family of every casualty in Afghanistan what their sacrifice was for.

The CIA has been doing this stuff for a long time. In fact, when Afghans were fist trying to rid themselves of the Taliban, (even today roughly 7% want them), the US had helped them with money, and paid Massoud to do it. Finally, AQ helped the Taliban assassinate Massoud, on 2001. Even now, I suppose, Karzai needs a bit of money to do things. The Trumptards shell out a lot more to Palestinians.

The West had a strange fascination for 20th century Afghanistan. This small, poor but unbelievably robust country became a symbol for foreign misadventure, mistakes, misguided policy and misplaced ambition. The sun never began to set on the Portuguese Empire here, like it did in Macau, Mozambique, Angola, Brasil, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, etc.; in Afghanistan the mighty Red Soviet Bear got trapped in the mountains, and the American eagle got its wings clipped. This astonishing account of these invasions, resistances, shadowy leaders and chess moves fully deserves its Pulitzer Prize. As well as a thorough, analytical military and political history, it's also something of a page turning thriller. There are CIA agents handing over briefcases of dollars in desert tents, disappearing American missiles, secret exchanges and coded messages. This is an essential read for anyone with an interest in foreign policy, the misery of modern realpolitik and the tragedies of war itself. There's the blood of many nations in these pages.

More than one article I've read online has observed that the West's obsession with it, dates back to Britain's pre-eminent geostrategist of the late 19th century Halford Mckinder who called Afghanistan 'the hinge of the earth' and that whoever controlled the hinge, controlled the world. He also called that area the Heartland, or the pivot, and is considered the father of geostrategy and geopolitics.

As this books amply shows, early conquerors, monarchs, republics couldn't govern without the "world's second oldest profession". ( )
  antao | Oct 20, 2020 |
This book chronicles the rise of the jihadist movement, starting with mujahedin fighters in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. It continues with the rise of the Taliban and the influence and collaboration with bin Laden. The book ends on September 10, 2001. When reading this book you’ll find yourself continually asking why THEY didn’t listen to THOSE who were shouting warnings. ( )
  LamSon | Apr 27, 2018 |
Interesting and important reading even in 2017 with the basic facts leading up to 9/11 pretty well known by anyone who has devoted even modest attention to the subject. Where the book excels in my opinion is in describing just how U.S. policy is crafted at the highest levels. And it does not make for reassuring reading. Competing agencies, agendas, philosophies and personalities at the highest levels of the U.S. Government make policy really, really difficult to get right or to change. That is just the nature of our system. The big takeaway from this book is how little has changed since those years. We remain tethered to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in a way that almost defies belief. They were both shown in this book to have had huge roles in the rise and success of Islamic extremism whether through support of the Taliban or the funding of ideological madhouse madrassas that generated countless volunteers for the worldwide Jihad. Neither of those salient facts have changed in 16 years. The Saudis (and others) continue to fund Wahabist thought worldwide, the Paks (ISI) still support the Taliban and the U.S. continues to pretend both are our 'allies'. They say that generals like to fight the 'last war', especially if they won. The U.S. seems to still want to fight the last war (Cold War) as a national strategy, i.e. vs. the Russians. The only war that matters in the world today is the one against the ideology of Islam, which clearly seeks to dominate the world. It's kind of like reading Mein Kampf, the Koran spells out with great clarity the plans and goals of Islam but the West prefers to bury it's collective head in the dirt and scream about 'the Russians are coming'! ( )
1 vote PCorrigan | Oct 8, 2017 |
Fascinating and depressing read--This is a good one for anyone who thinks that foreign relations aren't that complicated or who misses out on the necessity of knowing a region's history before entangling his or her country in a conflict. ( )
  ProfH | Jan 15, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Coll has given us what is certainly the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of Al Qaeda in the post-Soviet rubble of Afghanistan. He has followed up that feat by threading together the complex roles played by diplomats and spies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States into a coherent story explaining how Afghanistan became such a welcoming haven for Al Qaeda.
 
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Prologue:In the tattered, cargo-strewn cabin of an Ariana Afghan Airlines passenger jet streaking above Punjab toward Kabul sat a stocky, broad-faced American with short graying hair.
It was a small riot in a year of upheavals, a passing thunderclap disgorged by racing skies.
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"Comprehensively and for the first time, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll tells the secret history of the CIA's role in Afghanistan, including its covert program against Soviet troops from 1979 to 1989, and examines the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of bin Laden, and the secret efforts by CIA officers and their agents to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan after 1998. Based on extensive firsthand accounts, Ghost Wars is the inside story that goes well beyond anything previously published on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It chronicles the roles of midlevel CIA officers, their Afghan allies, and top spy masters such as Bill Casey, Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal, and George Tenet. And it describes heated debates within the American government and the often poisonous, mistrustful relations between the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies."--BOOK JACKET.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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