Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

By Latif, Amer | Naval War College Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001


Latif, Amer, Naval War College Review


Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The secret History of the CM, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September W, 2001. New York: Penguin, 2004. 695pp. $29.95

The events of 9/11 led many in the United States to wonder what had actually led up to that fateful day. Who was to blame? How could the United States, with its multibillion-dollar intelligence and defense budgets, have allowed such a thing to happen? In Ghost Wars, Steve Coll provides a useful, if overly long, chronology and analysis of pivotal events, missteps, indecision, apathy, and ultimately tragedy up to the day before the attacks.

Coll, who served as the managing editor for the Washington Post until 2004, was the paper's South Asia bureau chief from 1989 to 1992. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his reporting on South Asia, and he has been a keen observer of events in the region. He begins his story with the burning of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, in November 1979 and traces the long road of events to 11 September. It was shortly after the riots in Islamabad that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, in December 1979.

As he weaves his narrative, Coll meticulously documents every player and agenda in this drama. Coll divides the book into three parts. In the first he discusses the Soviet occupation from December 1979 to February 1989. It is here that we are introduced to mujahedeen leaders Ahmed Shah Massoud, Hamid Karzai, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Osama Bin Laden. One also becomes acquainted with key players in the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D) and in the Saudi monarchy who played key roles in bankrolling the resistance. The author also provides valuable insights into the U.S. policy-making process. During this period, the United States was consumed with battling the Soviet occupation, and most policy makers did not give serious thought to the repercussions of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate's growing control over aid distribution or the increasing anti-American attitudes of such rebel commanders as Hekmatyar.

Coll continues to trace events in Afghanistan after the Soviet pullout in 1989. Once the Soviets were gone, interest in a stable Afghanistan rapidly waned as other crises in the immediate post-Cold War era monopolized U. …

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