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A finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, the epic and enthralling story of America's intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11 Prior to 9/11, the Unit A finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, the epic and enthralling story of America's intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11 Prior to 9/11, the United States had been carrying out small-scale covert operations in Afghanistan, ostensibly in cooperation, although often in direct opposition, with I.S.I., the Pakistani intelligence agency. While the US was trying to quell extremists, a highly secretive and compartmentalized wing of I.S.I., known as "Directorate S," was covertly training, arming, and seeking to legitimize the Taliban, in order to enlarge Pakistan's sphere of influence. After 9/11, when fifty-nine countries, led by the U. S., deployed troops or provided aid to Afghanistan in an effort to flush out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the U.S. was set on an invisible slow-motion collision course with Pakistan. Today we know that the war in Afghanistan would falter badly because of military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the drain on resources and provocation in the Muslim world caused by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and corruption. But more than anything, as Coll makes painfully clear, the war in Afghanistan was doomed because of the failure of the United States to apprehend the motivations and intentions of I.S.I.'s "Directorate S". This was a swirling and shadowy struggle of historic proportions, which endured over a decade and across both the Bush and Obama administrations, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of players, including some of the most prominent military and political figures. A sprawling American tragedy, the war was an open clash of arms but also a covert melee of ideas, secrets, and subterranean violence. Coll excavates this grand battle, which took place away from the gaze of the American public. With unsurpassed expertise, original research, and attention to detail, he brings to life a narrative at once vast and intricate, local and global, propulsive and painstaking. This is the definitive explanation of how America came to be so badly ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia. Nothing less than a forensic examination of the personal and political forces that shape world history, Directorate S is a complete masterpiece of both investigative and narrative journalism.


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A finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, the epic and enthralling story of America's intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11 Prior to 9/11, the Unit A finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, the epic and enthralling story of America's intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11 Prior to 9/11, the United States had been carrying out small-scale covert operations in Afghanistan, ostensibly in cooperation, although often in direct opposition, with I.S.I., the Pakistani intelligence agency. While the US was trying to quell extremists, a highly secretive and compartmentalized wing of I.S.I., known as "Directorate S," was covertly training, arming, and seeking to legitimize the Taliban, in order to enlarge Pakistan's sphere of influence. After 9/11, when fifty-nine countries, led by the U. S., deployed troops or provided aid to Afghanistan in an effort to flush out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the U.S. was set on an invisible slow-motion collision course with Pakistan. Today we know that the war in Afghanistan would falter badly because of military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the drain on resources and provocation in the Muslim world caused by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and corruption. But more than anything, as Coll makes painfully clear, the war in Afghanistan was doomed because of the failure of the United States to apprehend the motivations and intentions of I.S.I.'s "Directorate S". This was a swirling and shadowy struggle of historic proportions, which endured over a decade and across both the Bush and Obama administrations, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of players, including some of the most prominent military and political figures. A sprawling American tragedy, the war was an open clash of arms but also a covert melee of ideas, secrets, and subterranean violence. Coll excavates this grand battle, which took place away from the gaze of the American public. With unsurpassed expertise, original research, and attention to detail, he brings to life a narrative at once vast and intricate, local and global, propulsive and painstaking. This is the definitive explanation of how America came to be so badly ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia. Nothing less than a forensic examination of the personal and political forces that shape world history, Directorate S is a complete masterpiece of both investigative and narrative journalism.

30 review for Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”America failed to achieve its aims in Afghanistan for many reasons: underinvestment in development and security immediately after the Taliban’s fall; the drains on resources and the provocations caused by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq; corruption fed by N.A.T.O. contracting and C.I.A. deal making with strongmen; and military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon. Yet the failure to solve the riddle of I.S.I. and to stop its covert interference in Afghanistan became, ultimately, the great ”America failed to achieve its aims in Afghanistan for many reasons: underinvestment in development and security immediately after the Taliban’s fall; the drains on resources and the provocations caused by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq; corruption fed by N.A.T.O. contracting and C.I.A. deal making with strongmen; and military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon. Yet the failure to solve the riddle of I.S.I. and to stop its covert interference in Afghanistan became, ultimately, the greatest strategic failure of the American war.” Logo of the I.S.I. I had read some about our struggles with the Inter-Service Intelligence, the Pakistani version of the C.I.A., during the Afghanistan War. I had no idea the extent of that struggle. They were considered our staunches allies in the region, bought and paid for many times over, but as history confirms, allies who do not benefit from a common cause rarely stay allies. In this book, Steve Coll broke down all the aspects of this war from the good, to the bad, and finally the downright ugly. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, tens of thousand of Pakistanis flooded across the border to fight the American coalition. Someone must have forgotten to tell these Pakistani volunteers that America was not the enemy. We were in Afghanistan to bring down an organization called Al-Qaeda and their allies, the Taliban. The difference between the two was hard to distinguish. The priority was Al-Qaeda, which was an organization formed by the planner of the 9/11 attack Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban, who were responsible for most of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan from 1996-2012, were a hardline, militant, religious organization, who believed in a harsh adherence to Islamic Sharia law. They committed brutal, violent outrages against the Afghan population, with women bearing the preponderance of their religious imposed restrictions. President Hamid Karzai Early on in the war, during the George W. Bush administration, we relied heavily on the I.S.I. for intel, guidance, and help, but as the war dragged on with Bin Laden still at large and few definable goals achieved, skepticism with Pakistan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were beginning to erode trust. By the time Barack Obama inherited not only the war in Afghanistan but an ill-conceived, and in my opinion, illegal war with Iraq, he was disillusioned with both Pakistan’s loyalty and with Karzai’s ability to make decisions and implement them. ”Most Afghans may not want the Taliban to return, but there is an old adage: if the guerillas do not lose, they ultimately win….” The one hard and fast truth was eventually the Americans would go home. Political pressure would become so heavy that some president would find a way to declare mission accomplished and bring the troops home, probably before a midterm election. How would you win a war against an insurgency that simply melted back into the civilian population or into the hills, or crossed over into Pakistan and thumbed their noses at the stupid Americans? What Karzai knew and what the I.S.I were equal aware of was that, once the Americans left, they were going to be left dealing with the Taliban. Taliban militants It was logical that progress was not moving at the rate it should because the I.S.I. had an eye to the future. They had several goals that did not necessarily contradict themselves when seen through a lens focused on a rapidly approaching change of objects: make the Americans as happy as you can; take as much money from them as you can possibly extort; tip off the Taliban to key intel that will hopeful insure survival for Pakistan when the next regime change occurs. ”The potency of Al Qaeda’s ideas and tactics further challenged a Pakistani state that was weak, divided, complacent, and complicit about Islamist ideology and violence.” A weak government, and yet they possess nuclear weapons. I’m not even going to get into the animosity between Pakistan and India, which fueled the allure in possessing or at least controlling Afghanistan. What was very scary for me to learn was that, if the attempted Nissan Pathfinder bombing in New York City in 2010 had been successful, there was a very good chance that the US would have declared war on Pakistan. The perpetrator, or should I say the near perpetrator, was Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani born US citizen with ties linking him to I.S.I. Thank goodness the bomber proved to be inept. The Bomb that didn’t go off. Was Pakistan our allies or future enemies? Were we nearly at war with I.S.I. or with all of Pakistan? On May 2nd, 2011, Team Seal 6 conducted a raid in Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden. He had been living under the noses of the I.S.I. for years. Was this incompetence? Complicity? Trust had completely evaporated between the I.S.I. and the C.I.A./American military at this point in time, and Pakistan was not informed of the raid. They first learned of it when the Seals had to blow up a grounded disabled helicopter. Needless to say, the embarrassment that such a large military operation was allowed to invade Pakistan without resistance was felt with deep humiliation. Scars like this ran deep and wide. If the US had informed Pakistan of the raid, would Bin Laden have still been there? All the kudos in the world to Obama for making the call to conduct the raid, even though positive identification of Bin Laden’s presence had not been confirmed. He did what Bush failed to do. He found the mastermind of 9/11 and had him terminated. Coll did go into detail on the secret prisons, in my opinion illegal prisons, to get around US law (shaky legalities here) which would allow them to torture suspects. Unfortunately, we are split in this country regarding the benefits and morality of torture. I still have discussions with people who are convinced that torture is not only viable, but should be used indiscriminately if there is even the possibility of garnering useful intel. There is a cost, too high, not only to those we torture, but also to those we ask to do the torturing. The other day I was watching a film, Rupture starring one of my favorite actresses Noomi Rapace, and when she was strapped down to a table, made helpless, I had to turn the TV off. I couldn’t abide it. Legions of mistakes were made in Afghanistan by all parties involved. By the end of this book, I finally felt like I was closer to unraveling the enigma of Afghanistan. The Afghanistanization, which couldn’t be called that because of the connotations with the failed Vietnamization, was hard to get off the ground as Afghan soldiers, trained to replace Americans, started turning their weapons on their “allies” and escaping to join the Taliban. I know this is a tough subject for many of you. It is a tough subject for me, as well, but I felt like I needed to know more so that I would have additional facts at my fingertips whenever I find myself in a heated discussion about the misguided wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Coll’s first book, in what will be a trilogy, called Ghost Wars, was also excellent and a great precursor to this book. ”The last month has been a blur of shittiness.” From the Afghanistan journal of Lieutenant Tim Hopper. That about summed up the whole war. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Directorate S is the gripping sequel to Steve Coll's Pulitzer winning Ghost Wars about the longest war in American history - the war in Afghanistan. The first book stopped on 10 September 2001 whereas this book picks up right as the World Trade Center towers are struck and chaos erupts. As in Ghost Wars, the research is astounding and the narrative both interesting and captivating. The author seeks to explain why America got into this quagmire and why it has lasted from the aftermath of the Al Q Directorate S is the gripping sequel to Steve Coll's Pulitzer winning Ghost Wars about the longest war in American history - the war in Afghanistan. The first book stopped on 10 September 2001 whereas this book picks up right as the World Trade Center towers are struck and chaos erupts. As in Ghost Wars, the research is astounding and the narrative both interesting and captivating. The author seeks to explain why America got into this quagmire and why it has lasted from the aftermath of the Al Qaeda attack on 9/11 to the present. It is the story of lethal drones, contract killers/mercenaries, Pakistani duplicity, Afghani chaos, and overall confusion as to goals and means to achieve them. Particularly moving and powerful were the depictions of an innocent Afghan victim of the random arrests and interrogations by the CIA early n the war, and the story of several American veterans (a survivor and a victim) in the later phases of the war. I came away feeling slightly dirty but far more well-informed on the origins of 9-11, the differences between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the origins of ISIS/ISIL, as well as a feeling of utter sadness for the suffering of the Afghani people who just can't seem to get a break and yet have beaten the 3 last global empires (British, Russian and US) in less than 100 years. A must read for those who wish to have a better understanding of this complex and bloody conflict which continues as I write this.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Reading Ghost Wars many years ago provided a great background education on the history of the U.S. War on Terror. This book is billed as a continuation of that history, focused primarily on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan that began in 2001. Directorate S aims to be a definitive narrative of that period and as such covers a lot of ground, running to over 700 pages that cover everything from top-level political negotiations to accounts of ground-level combat in specific theaters of the Reading Ghost Wars many years ago provided a great background education on the history of the U.S. War on Terror. This book is billed as a continuation of that history, focused primarily on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan that began in 2001. Directorate S aims to be a definitive narrative of that period and as such covers a lot of ground, running to over 700 pages that cover everything from top-level political negotiations to accounts of ground-level combat in specific theaters of the Afghan war. For those who have been following the wars in the region a lot of what is documented in the book will be familiar. But what Coll manages to do is flesh out background about key episodes of political intrigue during the war, through interviews with the high-ranking officials whom he has access to. Among the best parts of the book were the behind-the-scenes insights into negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, as well as the Pakistani and Afghan governments. There are not really solid characters through whom the narrative is told, though there are several people whose experiences Coll draws on considerably to try and give the history of this period. As much as possible he tries to give a balance of telling the story from the side of ordinary Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans, as well as elite figures whom we're all familiar with The narrative runs from 2001 to 2016, telling the whole story of the U.S. war in Afghanistan as well as America's fraught relationship with the Pakistani ISI. The title of the book refers to the ISI's notorious S-Wing, the directorate of the agency responsible for managing Pakistan's relationship with militant Islamist proxies. I was hoping that, as the title suggested, the book would be something like an expose of this shadowy and powerful organization. Instead it functioned more as a general history of the war, drawing on public sources as well as interviews that Coll conducted. There was surprisingly little shocking or revelatory information here, although he provides a good summation of events to date and manages to provide some more color to the history. He also does a good job of portraying the perspective of every side on the conflict, describing comprehensively how and why irreconcilably conflicting interests continue to torment the U.S, Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as the Taliban. Regarding the story that the book tells, the strong message that comes across is how disjointed and confused American policy in Afghanistan is. The Pentagon, White House, State Department and CIA all seem to be operating at cross-purposes with one another, pursuing different policies that don't really connect with each other. The White House and State publicly state that the war against the Taliban is unwinnable on military terms and that a political solution is necessary. As such, they have tried to pursue talks with the Taliban on those grounds. But at the same time the military and CIA have been conducting a kill-every-Taliban policy that seems to be completely at odds with what U.S. leadership and the civilian leadership is saying. Even the Taliban have noticed that the Department of Defense are the main hardliners on the U.S. side, while the civilians generally are amenable to cutting a deal. Even the Trump administration has conceded publicly that they can not win the war outright, but they are still unable to engage in the political work necessary to end the conflict. Why the U.S. would have assassinated Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in 2016 (under Obama) when he would have had to be their interlocutor in any negotiated settlement is baffling. It seems very clear that there is no unified or coherent vision for what U.S. strategy should be. This perverse situation has helped create the grounds for an endless war (which CIA officials at one point in the book openly describe the conflict as), the true costs of which are manifesting over time in the loss of U.S. prestige, global Muslim radicalization and regional destabilization in South Asia. There is no victory on the horizon in Afghanistan and the trends depicted in this book are gloomy one for the future of that country. Coll is a gifted writer, not in the sense that his writing is aesthetically wonderful, but that its so clear and accessible that the narrative is a breeze to get through. I was really impressed by this accomplishment, which I think is an important one given how much information he had to convey. People should not be daunted by the scope and size of this book, as it can be read and absorbed in relatively short order. Unfortunately the advance copy that I got was missing footnotes for some of the chapters so I was unable to see what his research was based on at some points. Although the narrative could have tied up better at times and there were not many huge scoops in the book (although there were a couple eyebrow raising passages), I would classify this as a must-read of War on Terror reportage. It really puts current events into perspective, particularly as the U.S.-Pakistan relationship continues to deteriorate over the Afghan war.

  4. 4 out of 5

    W

    "The Afghan war is a humbling case study regarding the limits of American power." The above is one of Steve Coll's conclusions,which I agree with.But a great deal of the book is heavy criticism of Pakistan and its military,and that was very off-putting and offensive for me. The US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 had a great deal to do with massively destabilising Pakistan.US military action took Al Qaeda terrorists out of their hiding places in Afghanistan and made them seek shelter in Pakistan "The Afghan war is a humbling case study regarding the limits of American power." The above is one of Steve Coll's conclusions,which I agree with.But a great deal of the book is heavy criticism of Pakistan and its military,and that was very off-putting and offensive for me. The US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 had a great deal to do with massively destabilising Pakistan.US military action took Al Qaeda terrorists out of their hiding places in Afghanistan and made them seek shelter in Pakistan after crossing the porous border. In subsequent years,terrorism rocked Pakistan as thousands upon thousands of Pakistani civilians and security personnel lost their lives. (The exact toll of the dead and wounded would be hard to determine,though the author gives a figure of 21,000 civilian deaths till 2014). US drone strikes in the tribal areas intensified during the Obama years.There was lots of collateral damage and retaliatory terrorist strikes as a result in Pakistan's cities. Although the author does mention some of those attacks and the loss of Pakistani lives,it would be hard for any outsider to comprehend the scale and destruction of those attacks which Pakistanis had to endure for several years.(These attacks continue even today,though on a reduced scale). In this backdrop,hostility in Pakistan mounted against the US war in Afghanistan.Meanwhile,US demands and arm twisting of Pakistan to "do more" increased with each passing day. Much was made by US governments of US aid to Pakistan during this period and that it was not doing enough to justify that aid.The fact was that the costs for Pakistan's already fragile economy were far greater than what that aid could compensate for. The military was in a constant state of combat and the number of casualties it took was staggering.Pakistan's "alliance" with the US thus came under considerable strain. That said,other parts of the book were fairly interesting.It is a follow up to Steve Coll's earlier book,Ghost Wars.Directorate S is the story of America's wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan,from 2001-2016 and several cataclysmic events that took place during this period. The book does acknowledge the flaws and failures in the US planning and execution of the Afghan war.It gives a close look at how the Bush and Obama administrations went about conducting the war and the role played by the CIA. The author also takes a good,long look at the Hamid Karzai era and his relations with the US and Pakistan.His assessment of Karzai is not that favourable,but he seems to have a soft spot for Ahmed Shah Massoud,even though he too was a warlord and a drug dealer. This book was a mixed bag.Parts of it were interesting and parts of it,very controversial.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zainab

    I wanted to like this book. I heard great things about Steve Coll and his last book, "Ghost Wars" that won him Pulitzer award. I grew up with War on Terror raging first in Afghanistan and then in my own country, Pakistan so it was natural for me to be curious about it What happened and what I should assume about the future? I wanted to seek some answers. Did it provide the answers? Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. Overall, it was underwhelming. George Orwell's collection of essays title is called " I wanted to like this book. I heard great things about Steve Coll and his last book, "Ghost Wars" that won him Pulitzer award. I grew up with War on Terror raging first in Afghanistan and then in my own country, Pakistan so it was natural for me to be curious about it What happened and what I should assume about the future? I wanted to seek some answers. Did it provide the answers? Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. Overall, it was underwhelming. George Orwell's collection of essays title is called "All art is propaganda." It is quite apt. With fiction, it is easy to tell what the story is trying to sell; with nonfiction, however, it is complicated especially when Steve Coll writes it. He, I noticed, is a great writer. But he is not unbiased, he does not write to present all sides as he claims in his ending notes. With this book, he tried to cover a war in Afghanistan that has been going on for more than 17 years. Of course, with a war that long, certain details had to be omitted. But the omissions are the most interesting part w.r.t this book than what he actually wrote. What he actually wrote, he presented it in a way that clearly was intended to make you feel a certain way. It is very clever, I am impressed. To explain what I mean here, imagine that you and I have produced a drug. Both of us try to sell it. A doctor sells your product as the one with a success rate of 60% and mine as a product with a failure rate of 40%. Whose product do you think would sell more? Yours or mine? If we talk to the doctor, he would say that he told the truth in both cases, and he is right but the phrasing evoked certain sense in the customer and this is exactly what Steve Coll does here. He spends pages on the "good intent" of the Americans and the mission that they came to fulfill in Afghanistan. It is heartening and I am nobody to question the good intention of the soldiers here. It is all good, but then when he is ending the debate on the topic, he mentions, oh and there were some troops there that were playing games with the locals where they were killing them and keeping their fingers as prizes. What? They did that?! Why am I being told that in ending paragraphs when it should be featured right next to the "good intentions" part. Shouldn't it be given equal attention or at least 50% of that? It is a gross violations of the human rights, no? Similarly, he spends pages on the political tussle between Ghani and Abdullah, but while he discusses that, he does not discuss how warlords who were killing innocent people left and right were being made ministers in the government. When the focus is so much on democracy, how could you not mention the warlords here? In one or two lines, he says oh there were some ministerial issues. Once you notice this pattern, all chapters seem like they are written specifically to make you feel something about one aspect at the cost of another. It's hard to stop this voice at the back of your head. Human rights violations are mentioned w.r.t CIA. Coll spends quite a time there. Good, but does not mention mass graves that American allies kept making in the country and the USA's disregard to that. The warlords that the USA allied herself with, committed atrocities in the country. Steve again spends time with "good intentions" and does not mention that. In fact, reading the book, you would get an impression that perhaps the locals were just mad to support back Taliban or it was because of mere corruption in the government. No it was the result of that AND the violence, lots and lots of violence that was done by the troops, the Taliban, AND the warlords who were sanctioned by the Afghan government that was being supported by the USA. Heck they even made Dostum Vice President. Unbelievable! This Vice President then got his men to rape one of his adversaries with a gun. Quite a big thing! Dostum does not get a paragraph here though. However, Coll did not even mention that whole scenario with the warlords despite spending a chapter over that election. The Directorate S that provides title to the Coll's book does not get a lot of attention in the book which was quite surprising to me. You can name it on any other actor and it probably would make more sense. Maybe call it a shadow war, following Ghost wars? Anyways, besides stating name of the heads that kept changing after few years, we never met anyone in Afghanistan who would say that he was there to do harm and was a direct directorate S hire. Always, an indirect hire through Taliban (?). Taliban did it, as we are told. They were trained by the ISI, that too we are told. I expected them to capture an ISI spy in Afghanistan but nothing like that happened. I'd expect they should have had one there at least, if Coll was hell bent on making it the sole party responsible for the failure of WOT. Then we learnt that Taliban actually hate Pakistan. They dislike ISI and think that Pakistan is blackmailing them. So, that is an interesting development. To be honest, ISI was involved there. I am not denying that, but to name a book after that and not actually go into exact details seemed odd to me. I thought it was going to be a lot about it but no, it wasn't. Maybe he alluded to it in Ghost Wars so he skipped here. I don't know. Things are complicated in Afghanistan. So many actors, so many issues, so many problems; it seems unfair to dump it all on one agency, that too from a country that came to suffer, after Afghanistan, the most because of the WOT. If the Pakistani agency was so good, so amazing then it should have been able to stop the APS attack within its own borders. It couldn't! So many of our kids died there. So for me, ISI became an easy target to blame. Whenever something goes wrong, you blame it. Sure, it is not blame-free, but is it responsible for everything that goes wrong in the country? No. If it was responsible, then it should get a special medal or something for beating the USA in its WOT there. Coll also spends a lot of time telling you how American soldiers are being attacked, makes sense. I do not like bloodshed. But then when it is time to discuss the death of Pakistani soldiers at the hand of American "friendly fire," few lines are put in and then he moves onto another issue. Same with Afghans that got killed. Anyways... his country so he has to be sentimental there. I was expecting to read more about the internal formation of the dissident elements within Afghanistan. I also wanted to know about Daesh phenomenon that started there after 2013 or 2014. Northern Alliance was another side that I wanted to learn more about. These were not mentioned or were mentioned just briefly. I was disappointed. The problem I had with this book is that it is not a book that presents a whole picture of the War on Terror. It is also badly paced. I just don't have the energy to address the pacing issue now. All I have to say is that the book is published in 2018. It spends a lot of time in in 2006-2009 but then it does not really go into detail post 2012. A lot of things are just ignored or mentioned briefly. Even the ISI head, Zaheer got a one line mention which was, " he had a remarkable black bushy mustache." hahaha and that was it. 2013-2016, ISI and Pakistan are just not there. Again, why name it after Directorate S? Another issue is that it is not an unbiased account. Read it, but read other books on the Afghan war too. Ronan Farrow's "War on Peace" is the one that comes into mind, for starters. There must be more. If you know one, post it in the comments. I'll read that. I cannot say that Coll lied about facts, no he did not. He wrote with good intentions and tried to provide some empathy toward those people that were involved in it, may it be soldiers or civilians. The chapter titled, "Limbs and Lives" is especially harrowing. Too much pain! But a little balance would be nice here. Some interesting things that amused me: -Qataris fail in negotiations, almost always. (LOL) -Kayani's 1.0, 2.0 and then 3.0 along with the Disney trip that generals and their families took in the USA was really interesting to read about. I was amused. -Taliban doing exactly what they were told not to and therefore, within hours, their office in Qatar was shut down. (LOL) -Every Army loves PowerPoint. So many PowerPoint presentations were mentioned in the book that I made it a water drinking game. Every time, an army presented a PowerPoint presentation, I got up and drank a glass of water and then kept doubling that. LOL -Karzai was a genius politician. Really, you have to admire the way he played with everyone. -John Kerry has a temper problem. That's all.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    In 2004 Steve Coll earned his second Pulitzer Prize for GHOST WARS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, AFGHANISTAN AND BIN LADEN, FROM THE SOVIET INVASION TO SEPTEMBER 10, 2001. The book provided a reliable analytical approach as it explained what led to al-Qaeda’s rise amidst Afghanistan’s civil war which culminated with the attack on September 11th. Coll’s new book DIRECTORATE S: THE CIA AND AMERICA’S SECRET WARS IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN, 2001-2016 picks up where GHOST WARS leaves off and attem In 2004 Steve Coll earned his second Pulitzer Prize for GHOST WARS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, AFGHANISTAN AND BIN LADEN, FROM THE SOVIET INVASION TO SEPTEMBER 10, 2001. The book provided a reliable analytical approach as it explained what led to al-Qaeda’s rise amidst Afghanistan’s civil war which culminated with the attack on September 11th. Coll’s new book DIRECTORATE S: THE CIA AND AMERICA’S SECRET WARS IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN, 2001-2016 picks up where GHOST WARS leaves off and attempts to deal with a number of important questions pertaining to a war that caused the death of over 2400 soldiers and contractors with more than 20,000 wounded, many of which suffered life altering injuries. In his latest volume Coll effectively explains how the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 fostered a revival of al-Qaeda and the eventually the Taliban, allied terrorist networks, and branches of ISIS. Further, he examines the connection between American, Afghan, and Pakistani policies, and the failure to eliminate jihadi terrorism. Coll concentrates on the CIA, ISI, and Afghan intelligence services in developing his analysis and narrative. Coll interviewed over 500 people for the book, made numerous trips to the region, and has excellent command of the research provided by scores of journalists and scholars who have also written on aspects of the Afghan War, the roles of Pakistan, and the United States government. Coll’s harshest criticism rests with the Pakistani government and its duplicitous intelligence service that was obsessed with India. The ISI (Inter Service Intelligence) was responsible for the creation of the Taliban going back to the 1990s. Coll explains the relationship between the Taliban and ISI, the different agendas of each, and the most important personalities involved, from Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, to Ashfaq Kayani, the head of the ISI, to Amrullah Saleh, the head of the Afghani N.D.S. The ISI is broken down into different directorates and Coll concentrates on Directorate S which was the locus of Pakistan’s covert operation to aid the Taliban in Afghanistan, aid Kashmiri guerillas against India, and other violent Islamist radicals. For Pakistan, the Taliban was their ace in the whole because from President Parvez Musharraf on down they believed that the US did not have the staying power to remain in Afghanistan. They needed to have a major player in the Afghanistan game, particularly after 2006 when the Taliban’s resurgence began and affect daily life in Kabul and other major Afghani cities. Coll is also very critical of the United States. These observations rest in a number of areas. First, the refusal to commit the necessary ground forces to capture Osama Bin-Laden in December, 2001 when he was trapped in Tora Bora. The CIA pleaded for 2-3,000 troops to help close off escape routes to Pakistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not be moved and with President George W. Bush’s backing refused to “put boots on the ground.” Second, it seemed almost immediately the US turned its attention to Iraq and its commitment and aid to the Kabul government receded, and reaffirmed that it did not want to get involved in nation-building in Afghanistan. With no concrete plan for Afghanistan once the Taliban was removed, only a weak, corrupt government under Hamid Karzai would evolve. Third, American intelligence failed in its lack of comprehension of Pakistani fears and motivations. The US used economic and military aid to Pakistan as a means of gaining cooperation, but never really held the Islamabad government with their feet to the fire. There was always a rationalization to back off; fear of the Islamist generals in the ISI, and reasoning that if the Pakistani army went after Taliban and other Islamists in North Waziristan full force, it would backfire on the regime. Fourth, the US was caught off guard with the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan. Fifth, the strategy pursued and willingness to accept collateral damage could only alienate Afghani citizens, and the treatment of jihadi prisoners just exacerbated existing tensions. Many authors have pointed out these mistakes, but Coll offers a strong synthesis and explanation of these and other policy decisions made by Washington that others do not. Coll’s approach is comprehensive and he integrates all the major characters into his narrative. He provides background for each individual and their historical context. The major players include CIA operatives, Station Chiefs, and agents present throughout the book. Further, we are introduced to the various Taliban leaders and tacticians, those of al-Qaeda, and ISIS. The American military’s planning, or lack of it, from General Tommy Franks to Donald Rumsfeld is presented. The Pakistani leadership under Musharraf and a number of ISI generals are explored in detail and the reader is given an accurate picture of Pakistani goals, particularly those that did not line up with the United States. Perhaps one of the most interesting characters introduced is Zalmay Khalilzad, who grew up in Afghanistan and knew Karzai from his early career. He was multi-lingual and was able to work with the Afghani president. He opposed American occupation plans for Iraq and his role was to “mentor” Karzai after he was elected in 2004. Since the United States did not have an Afghan policy, Khalilzad had to make one up as he went along. Bush would appoint Khalilzad as ambassador to Iraq in May, 2005, a time when the Taliban was reconstituting, a major error. One of the major themes of the narrative was the lack of trust between Washington and Kabul. The longer we remained the harder it became to bend the Afghans to our will. As the United States went behind his back to cut deals to get things done, the more the somewhat paranoid Karzai would turn against us. Karzai’s regime was corrupt and elections were questionable, but he was the only game in town for a long period of time. Another major theme was the relationship between Washington and the Pakistani Army, which dominated all policy decisions. As Andrew Bacevitch has pointed out; “pacifying Afghanistan was always going to pose a challenge. Absent full-throated Pakistani collaboration, it would become next to impossible.”* The Pakistani military believed that Afghanistan was vital to its national security and would not do things that they felt would compromise that position, i.e.; close off its borders and not allow sanctuary to jihadists (when those jihadists could be used against India in Kashmir). The US would provide aid and knew it was being had, but there was little they could do about it. Coll makes a very important observations in dealing with Pakistan throughout the period. It was very difficult to interpret their policy goals because they seemed to shift often as Directorate S engaged a number of militant groups “for different purposes at different times.” Decisions made to affect the tribal areas with radicals were made for defensive and tactical reasons to stop attacks on themselves or resupply areas. Other times, the I.S.I. made deals for strategic reasons to influence Afghanistan or attack Indian targets. This inability to understand what motivated Pakistan reflects Coll’s attempt to explain and present an objective view in dealing with their actions that seemed to be opposed to American interests. America’s relationship with Pakistan went through a number of phases during this period. Coll is correct as he describes each phase. A case in point is 2008 as the Bush administration grew tired of what it perceived as ISI and Pakistani military duplicity. As more attacks emanated from the Frontier regions, i.e.; truck bomb at the Danish Embassy in Kabul, the US decided to step up targeted assassinations, drone surveillance, and troops in North Waziristan. The Pakistani’s were not happy, but they remained quiet; however, no reform of the ISI would be forthcoming. The Pakistani government explained there were “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” but could not differentiate between the two. Pakistan as always had its own agenda, and if they did cooperate with the US, jihadists would attack, i.e., the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. For the ISI, Taliban radicals were still useful in destabilizing Afghanistan and providing recruits for Kashmir so there was no clear motivation to change. The next major phase that Coll discusses is how the new Obama administration grappled with Afghanistan and Pakistan. From the outset a three pronged strategy was employed. One, counterinsurgency based on the principle of clear-hold-transfer performed by ground troops. Two, CIA run independent drone war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban hold up in Waziristan. Three, a diplomatic strategy designed to talk with Mullah Omar’s lieutenants about peace. The problem was very little of this was synchronized. Coll is correct in that the dominant problem faced by the Obama administration in trying to achieve any progress with the war is best described as “triangular distrust.” Karzai was afraid the US would make a deal with Pakistan behind his back – the Pakistanis, obsessed with India believed that Karzai was to close with New Dehli – Washington had little faith in Karzai’s corrupt regime, the ISI, and the Taliban. Secretary of State Clinton was frustrated with Obama because the US did not have an “end of state vision” or a real Pakistan strategy or reconciliation strategy, just words and process, particularly after the failed bombing by a Pakistani trained terrorist in Times Square. After Obama agreed to a surge of 30,000 troops, he also announced they would be withdrawn within 18 months which caused confusion as to US policy. Coll describes it as “going in – while going out,” a policy designed for domestic consumption, but did not sit well with the Pentagon and US allies. According to Coll Obama’s policy was “a system of parallel policies and priorities running on diverse premises.” (433) Perhaps the most disturbing chapters dealt with the ”insider killing spree” by Afghan soldiers against Americans, be they soldiers, contractors, or civilians. US authorities seemed at a loss to explain its constant increase because there was no precedent for this type of behavior in the history of modern counterinsurgency. The Pentagon and State Department conducted a number of studies and investigations, but it became obvious that the US had overstayed its welcome as we were not only fighting the Taliban, seeking out al-Qaeda, but also fighting Karzai’s soldiers. Studies finally concluded it was not cultural incompatibility that caused the killings, but defections to the Taliban who instructed defectors to kill NATO soldiers as proof of their sincerity as they switched sides. Overall “America failed to achieve its aims in Afghanistan for many reasons: underinvestment in development and security immediately after the Taliban’s fall; the drains on resources and the provocations caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq; corruption fed by NATO contracting and CIA deal making with strongmen; and military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon.”(667) The end result there are about 9,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan with the increasing possibility that more will join them. In 2001 President Bush announced Operation Enduring Freedom and vowed the United States would remain in Afghanistan until it finished the job, but 17 years later Vice-President Pence stated, “We’re here to stay….until freedom wins.”* If we examine the result of our blood, sweat, and tears, what we see is opium production on the rise in Taliban held areas, increasing corruption, a lack of effectiveness on the part of the government, and instability in Kabul. Coll has written an excellent analysis of what went wrong with US policy, by mostly concentrating on the role of intelligence agencies operating in the region, many times at cross purposes. Will this book impact American strategy, it seems not, based on President Trump’s commitment to send more troops. If you would like a greater understanding of what went wrong consult Coll, but do so knowing what he states should make you angry. *Andrew Bacevitch, “The Never-Ending War,” New York Times, February 18, 2018

  7. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    When Afghanistan was in the news after the twin towers destruction reporters mentioned the "Northern Alliance". At the time I knew nothing about them. This book gave me the full details of the part they played in yet another Afgan war. Scary debates among the CIA on bombing a school in order to kill an enemy agent or not... While watching the video feed from a drone following a targeted truck they could see a dog in the back. They mentioned that the dog might also die. Then the dog jumped off the When Afghanistan was in the news after the twin towers destruction reporters mentioned the "Northern Alliance". At the time I knew nothing about them. This book gave me the full details of the part they played in yet another Afgan war. Scary debates among the CIA on bombing a school in order to kill an enemy agent or not... While watching the video feed from a drone following a targeted truck they could see a dog in the back. They mentioned that the dog might also die. Then the dog jumped off the truck and was nic-named "Lucky". So many military groups with loyalties that moved from Russia, America, Pakistan, India and more it was hard to keep up. I know now a lot more than I did before reading this book and have decided to remove Afghanistan from my list of holiday vacations. Enjoy!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

    A vivid, well-researched and painful history of US involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001 to 2016, picking up where Coll left off in Ghost Wars. Much of the story is built around CIA’s relationship with ISI, but Coll clearly describes the policy decisions made and implemented by the US government, the military, and the intelligence community; how these decisions affected US relations with Pakistan and the course of America's longest war; how views on Pakistan’s reliability and duplicit A vivid, well-researched and painful history of US involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001 to 2016, picking up where Coll left off in Ghost Wars. Much of the story is built around CIA’s relationship with ISI, but Coll clearly describes the policy decisions made and implemented by the US government, the military, and the intelligence community; how these decisions affected US relations with Pakistan and the course of America's longest war; how views on Pakistan’s reliability and duplicity evolved; how the Pakistanis backed the Taliban in Afghanistan; how the Pakistani Taliban emerged despite ISI’s illusions of being able to control them; the ups and downs of American engagement with the government in Kabul; how the Iraq War led to less American attention and resources being spent in Central Asia; the ever-shifting attitude of American policymakers to negotiations with the Taliban; and why it has become so difficult for the US to grab the initiative somehow, let alone find and make a clean exit. Year after year, policymakers made, and continue to make, statements of apparently misplaced hope and optimism, while ISAF commanders continue a tradition of typically commanding for a year before being replaced, with no negative impact on their careers, and no apparent scrutiny of their public statements, no matter how optimistic or pessimistic they get. And the American public for the most part is not for or against the war; it’s just an annual occurrence to maybe complain about briefly, and then forget about again. It makes you wonder how this war would have played out back home if we still had a draft. The narrative is nuanced and gripping, and Coll does a great job bringing to life the story and the human dimension of the consequences. Finishing the book gives you the sense that the region really is hopeless after all. Some readers might get lost in the various threads of the story, while others may find the cast of people hard to keep track of. Coll does a great job balancing the broader history of the era with the personal stories of soldiers, intelligence officers, and civilians caught up in it. However, many of these stories never seem to tie back into the overall narrative (like the section on Afghan insider attacks) For some reason, there is little on the 2009 attack on the CIA base in Khost. Also, at one point Eric Olsen is called the JSOC commander. An insightful, in-depth work. Coll doesn’t offer a clear exit out of the mess, but an exit (from Afghanistan, at least) seems beyond the imagination of anybody responsible for these decisions anyway, now or in the near future.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Yoder

    Wow. The scope of this book is simply impressive. It covers 15 years, several nations, a wide scope of characters, many government agencies, leaders that come & go, and so many covert actions from all sides. I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I don't anticipate ever visiting Afghanistan or Pakistan so this is the closest I'll get to learning about the endless intrigue inside & between these two nations. Coll calls out all of follies surrounding the American involvement. It would take me too long to Wow. The scope of this book is simply impressive. It covers 15 years, several nations, a wide scope of characters, many government agencies, leaders that come & go, and so many covert actions from all sides. I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I don't anticipate ever visiting Afghanistan or Pakistan so this is the closest I'll get to learning about the endless intrigue inside & between these two nations. Coll calls out all of follies surrounding the American involvement. It would take me too long to list them all, sadly. I knew that Pakistan was in a heap of trouble internally but now I know more about their self-inflicted insurgencies. Support the Taliban long enough, outside & inside your borders, and eventually they will come for you. Reading about all of the intelligence intercepts & covert actions, plus the various events that haven't (as far as I know) ever hit the headlines was truly eye-opening. A terrorist attack by Pakistanis upon a nuclear-armed Pakistani naval ship? I had no idea this happened, and Coll warns attacks like this will more than likely occur again. Coll colors his cast of characters quite well. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Afghanistan and its interrelationships with Pakistan, as well as our own nation's woeful attempts at subduing the insurgencies in both areas. I received an ARC for this book and for that I'm grateful. PS--Read the part about dogs and drones. PPS--I hope the US & Indian intelligence officers who are in charge of keeping track of Pakistan's nuclear weapons are good at what they do.

  10. 5 out of 5

    HubbaBubba

    Ugh, I'm finally finished with this book. 2 stars feels too harsh for such an epic effort but I also don't think it really deserves 3 full stars. At nearly 700 pages spanning 15 years, I feel the book lost the forest for the trees to some degree. Jam-packed with names & personages, add in the alphabet soup of government offices (NSF, NSC, ISI, ISAF...) & military terms (APOBS & MICLICs, etc.), journalistically sound I found it a little lacking in analytic depth. And more than a few grammatically Ugh, I'm finally finished with this book. 2 stars feels too harsh for such an epic effort but I also don't think it really deserves 3 full stars. At nearly 700 pages spanning 15 years, I feel the book lost the forest for the trees to some degree. Jam-packed with names & personages, add in the alphabet soup of government offices (NSF, NSC, ISI, ISAF...) & military terms (APOBS & MICLICs, etc.), journalistically sound I found it a little lacking in analytic depth. And more than a few grammatically problematic passages that detracted from whatever point that was trying to be made. Page 665, for example, "Yet America did not fight alone or for cynical again." Huh???

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bob Mayer

    A must read if one wishes to begin to understand our entanglement in the longest "war" in our history. The author has done meticulous research and had access to the real players, both Americans and overseas. The title refers to the Pakistani Intelligence Agency and that is a big part of the story-- how the loyalties of many involved are divided or even the opposite of what they proclaim. If anyone has a desire to go beyond jingoism and sound bites, this is a great book to dive into, but it is a t A must read if one wishes to begin to understand our entanglement in the longest "war" in our history. The author has done meticulous research and had access to the real players, both Americans and overseas. The title refers to the Pakistani Intelligence Agency and that is a big part of the story-- how the loyalties of many involved are divided or even the opposite of what they proclaim. If anyone has a desire to go beyond jingoism and sound bites, this is a great book to dive into, but it is a tough read and requires concentration to keep track of who is who and doing what to whom. Highly recommended!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    The haunting and epic story of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, told from the viewpoint of the people serving on the front lines. I must include a disclaimer in this review- I had previously read Ghost Wars by the same author and felt it fully deserved the Pulitzer prize it eventually won. That being said, this effort rises to the same high bar of investigative journalism. An excellent starting point for anyone looking to learn more about America's longest war effort. The haunting and epic story of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, told from the viewpoint of the people serving on the front lines. I must include a disclaimer in this review- I had previously read Ghost Wars by the same author and felt it fully deserved the Pulitzer prize it eventually won. That being said, this effort rises to the same high bar of investigative journalism. An excellent starting point for anyone looking to learn more about America's longest war effort.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    If You’re Not Winning, You’re Losing. And yet you don’t know how to quit Directorate S derives its name from a branch of Pakistani intelligence. Although the role of Pakistan is prominent in author Steve Coll’s examination of America’s struggle in Afghanistan, this is a larger and more complex analysis of what has become a war without end. If you’re not winning, you’re losing. One could be reading about the failed strategy in Vietnam as we learn about General Petraeus’ military solution to defeati If You’re Not Winning, You’re Losing. And yet you don’t know how to quit Directorate S derives its name from a branch of Pakistani intelligence. Although the role of Pakistan is prominent in author Steve Coll’s examination of America’s struggle in Afghanistan, this is a larger and more complex analysis of what has become a war without end. If you’re not winning, you’re losing. One could be reading about the failed strategy in Vietnam as we learn about General Petraeus’ military solution to defeating Al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors in Afghanistan. The strategy was “Clear, Hold, Build, and Transfer.” As with Vietnam, in most of the countryside the US has never gotten beyond a temporary “Clear”, followed by US withdrawal from territory gained after suffering casualties, followed by reoccupation by our adversaries. Afghanistan has a long history of defeating foreign occupiers, ranging from the British in the 19th Century, to the Russian incursion, to the US effort in a violent region suspicious of foreign intervention. Coll recounts how Americans had no local knowledge and used drones and incursions to take out Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, resulting in civilian casualties and alienating the populace. In Vietnam, “victory” was measured by body count. Here the military defined progress by dividing the country into 400 sectors and then color-coding each in green, yellow or red. After several years, there has been little change in the colors and policy makers have realized that, at best, the US has achieved stalemate. Today’s Wall Street Journal (July 30, 2018) reports that government-controlled sectors are only about 120 out of 400. After 17 years of US involvement including more than $1 trillion in treasure and some 2,400 American lives, the Taliban and other warlords control most of the countryside, territory into which American troops dare not venture without taking unacceptable casualties. American involvement in Afghanistan differs from that of Vietnam in two key respects. First, the burden of combat falls upon our professional soldiers, the 1% of our population who now serve. Many of these young men and women have served two, three, even six or more combat tours. Is it likely that we would still be militarily involved after 17 years if young draftees were still being fed into an endless war, with a high percentage of families seeing their sons, daughters, siblings killed or wounded? Secondly, the complexity of this conflict makes Vietnam seem simple and straightforward. Afghanistan shares a mountainous, ungoverned border which the Pakistani government doesn’t fully control and which is impossible to seal. The Afghan government under Hamid Karzai and his successors has been corrupt, weak, and lacking legitimacy (in this respect much as the regimes in South Vietnam). If that weren’t challenging enough, Pakistan has many reasons to support the Taliban, including internal pressures from its own Islamic militants, a Pashtun minority that occupies both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border, paranoia about India’s influence in the country, and a deep distrust of the US. Coll’s book chronicles US unwillingness to abandon the war and our reluctance to challenge Pakistan even as it supports Taliban militants who harbor terrorists and kill our troops. The US is dependent upon bringing military supplies through Pakistan, and recognizes, as Vice President Joe Biden observes about a nation with nuclear weapons, “Pakistan is 50 times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.” Coll’s knowledge of Afghanistan is impressive and he provides clarity to a complex story. Sadly, the reader comes away deeply depressed as the US doesn’t know how to win and doesn’t know how to quit.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zubair Ashraf

    An apologetic account of the USA beginning and nearly losing a war they are still embroiled in. The book is well researched but it’s biased towards the Pakistan Army and it’s agencies as was the case in Ghost wars. Apparently Pakistani agencies are the reason for a lot of chaos yet American policies just didn’t work out or failed which is Ironic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    It took me nearly four months to get through Coll's 700-page opus on the enormously disorganized Afghan War, the main reason being that every single paragraph is packed with nerve-wrecking and somehow always relevant detail. Each character, agent, officer, soldier, politician, farmer, or suicide bomber is portrayed as closely as possible in order for the reader to get a sense of the individual background that daily papers or journals often lack. It took Coll ten years and over 500 interviews to It took me nearly four months to get through Coll's 700-page opus on the enormously disorganized Afghan War, the main reason being that every single paragraph is packed with nerve-wrecking and somehow always relevant detail. Each character, agent, officer, soldier, politician, farmer, or suicide bomber is portrayed as closely as possible in order for the reader to get a sense of the individual background that daily papers or journals often lack. It took Coll ten years and over 500 interviews to finish off one of the absolute best non-fiction books I've ever read. I can recommend it to anyone interested in the politics and history of Central and Southern Asia, be it Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, or Iraq, or in the dynamics of analyst / intervention cells such as the CIA or the general ISAF operations, plus in a better understanding for the motivations of complex jihadi or islamic activist factions, like the Taliban or Al Qaeda. 5/5! The purpose of the war in Afghanistan was to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates. But what did this stated resolve about "affiliates" imply, exactly, about the war against the Taliban? (p. 401) [...] It is hardly surprising that policies riddled with such internal contradictions and unresolved analytical questions failed to achieve the extraordinarily ambitious aim of stabilizing war-shattered Afghanistan. The war instead became a humbling case study in the limits of American power. (p. 666)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Thanks to Steve Coll's exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) work I am now an armchair expert on the War in Afghanistan! Well, not really, but certainly a lot better informed than I had been before. The main title, Directorate S is a bit of a misnomer. Although the Pakistani intelligence agency's shadow looms over most of the book, Directorate S is really about the United States' foreign policy and military operations - both overt and covert - in Afghanistan after 9/11. And where we get dozens of Thanks to Steve Coll's exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) work I am now an armchair expert on the War in Afghanistan! Well, not really, but certainly a lot better informed than I had been before. The main title, Directorate S is a bit of a misnomer. Although the Pakistani intelligence agency's shadow looms over most of the book, Directorate S is really about the United States' foreign policy and military operations - both overt and covert - in Afghanistan after 9/11. And where we get dozens of portraits of US military intelligence and CIA operators, we only really get to know two of the Directorate S personnel. The rest are as shadowy as the organisation they work for. Directorate S is meticulously researched (there are over 30 pages of footnotes). Sometimes the author can go off on a tangent which made the book longer than it could have been, but at least they are interesting tangents. Although the book is very US-centric Coll still does an excellent job presenting all sides of this complicated, messy situation. Just a real pity there is no happy ending (so far).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    Steve Coll's previous work, "Ghost Wars," has been considered the finest work of investigative journalism in recent memory, garnering great critical acclaim in addition to the Pulitzer Prize. With this hugely ambitious follow-up to that work, Coll has done it again in an absorbing work of almost 800 pages. Set in the the years following 9/11, Coll focuses on the stupendously inept trifecta of our foreign intelligence and military misadventures, the ever-shifting loyalty and skepticism of Afghanis Steve Coll's previous work, "Ghost Wars," has been considered the finest work of investigative journalism in recent memory, garnering great critical acclaim in addition to the Pulitzer Prize. With this hugely ambitious follow-up to that work, Coll has done it again in an absorbing work of almost 800 pages. Set in the the years following 9/11, Coll focuses on the stupendously inept trifecta of our foreign intelligence and military misadventures, the ever-shifting loyalty and skepticism of Afghanistan's President Karzai, and the workings of Pakistan through their foreign intelligence service - Inter-Services Intelligence - or ISI for short. The latter's propping-up and support of the Taliban in Afghanistan made for a very fraught relationship with the new Afghani leadership and for some epically oblivious intelligence work on the part of the US. The main issue throughout is our ignorance of just how far ISI was going to maintain the Taliban presence in Afghanistan, making for several awkward showdowns both with the Pakistani and Afghani governments especially when the possibility of peace talks would arise. Had the mission of Directorate S from ISI been more obvious and investigated, there could have been much quicker and more thorough work done to stabilize Afghanistan in the post-9/11 years with countless lives spared, alas, the inevitable showdown with ISI's supporters and government culminated in the diplomatic nightmare of finding your no. 1 public enemy hiding in a compound in a West Point-style military city of a country with whom you are supposed to be jointly combatting terrorism. The depth of Coll's investigative work, drawing on thousands of interviews and intelligence reports, and the clarity of his prose make for engaging reading and appropriately dispassionate analysis.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    Why is US still in Afghanistan, Pakistan Why is US still in Afghanistan, Pakistan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sotiris Makrygiannis

    A very detailed description of events in the war against terrorism. Covered both sides rather well on the political struggles between the players.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Wilson

    Outstanding historical rollup since September 11th, 2001. A great follow up to “Ghost Wars”. It’s terribly sobering to know you were part of the story when it comes to Afghanistan, with your gut telling you there’s no solution. Then comes this outstanding author and historian, who confirms your suspicions on the ground with the behind-the-scenes politics across the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and even China and Russia. This serves as a strong reminder of how compartmented our foreign policy a Outstanding historical rollup since September 11th, 2001. A great follow up to “Ghost Wars”. It’s terribly sobering to know you were part of the story when it comes to Afghanistan, with your gut telling you there’s no solution. Then comes this outstanding author and historian, who confirms your suspicions on the ground with the behind-the-scenes politics across the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and even China and Russia. This serves as a strong reminder of how compartmented our foreign policy apparatus is, as well as disconnected our civilian leadership is with the military, and vice versa.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    Journalist Steve Coll's Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 was sublime journalism, the winner of a 2005 Pulitzer Prize. It documented the rise of Islamist radicalism and U.S. intelligence agencies' involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 1979 -- the momentous year of the Soviet invasion and Iranian revolution -- to Sept. 10, 2001. It is among a handful of books that one must read, along with Lawrence Wright's Journalist Steve Coll's Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 was sublime journalism, the winner of a 2005 Pulitzer Prize. It documented the rise of Islamist radicalism and U.S. intelligence agencies' involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 1979 -- the momentous year of the Soviet invasion and Iranian revolution -- to Sept. 10, 2001. It is among a handful of books that one must read, along with Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and Ahmed Rashid's Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, to begin to understand recent events, the reasons for radical Islam's rise, namely bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and the folly of American foreign policy. So as soon as I saw that Coll had written a sequel I immediately ordered it. Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan is written in the same style as 'Ghost Wars'; it is narrative journalism based on hundreds of interviews with named and unnamed sources. It tells an exasperating story of the failed U.S. project in Afghanistan. Coll uncovers fascinating details of the CIA's lead role in counter attacking al-Qaeda in those surreal days after the 9/11 terrorist strikes. But the early "success" in toppling the Taliban and scattering al-Qaeda's leadership led to predictable quagmire -- and disaster for Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan. Before picking up this book I did not realize (or maybe I just forgot) how the Bush administration handed Pervez Musharraf a fait accompli: cooperate with the U.S. or else. But cooperating with the United States created a host in intractable problems for Musharraf's government, and the consequences continue to ripple across the region to this day. In my view, that is the story of 'Directorate S.' The United States' poorly thought-out invasion of Afghanistan proved a disaster for Pakistan, whose leaders' hubristic support of radical Islamists came home to roost. When Coll wants to go deep on a subject, i.e. the spike in murders of American soldiers by their Afghan counterparts, he is excellent. I wish he had given this same deep treatment to the CIA's torture program in Afghanistan. Although, he does return to the issue when compiling a list of reasons for the unbridgeable mistrust between the U.S. and the people supposedly being liberated. And Coll fails to go far enough in another area: whether the U.S. had to invade Afghanistan at all. I am not quite sure where he falls on this question. The book has no thesis, unlike Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall, who convincingly argues the Johnson administration had the opportunity to withdraw from Vietnam. Alas, 'Directorate S' is not such historical scholarship. Coll lays out all the evidence that the U.S. project in Afghanistan has failed, but he falls short of questioning the fundamentals of our foreign policy. In other words, the mission in Afghanistan might have succeeded if only a different path(s) were followed. Coll is speaking about his book in D.C. today and I hope to get a chance to ask him about this, because in my view the U.S. invasion could only have ended in failure -- if it ever ends there. The first half of 'Directorate S' is a thrilling ride as the CIA regained its swashbuckling moxy. The second half of the book is less compelling. Hundreds of pages are dedicated to documenting the Obama administration's halfhearted policy toward Afghanistan, but it often reads as a chronicle of high-level meetings, diplomatic shuttling, and classified reports. Officials with impressive titles sitting around conference tables, arguing with their counterparts over secure video channels. And around and around they went, as it proved impossible to balance Hamid Karzai's demands against Pakistan's need for 'strategic depth' against India. Promising efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement directly with the Taliban were submarined by Karzai himself, who began to embrace half-baked theories that the United States secretly wanted to keep Afghanistan an unstable proxy of Pakistan's I.S.I. Coll's work here is important, but the CIA largely disappears from the narrative. All criticisms aside, 'Directorate S' is must-reading for anyone interested in a comprehensive overview of the past 17 years. It is a reminder that in some ways the day of Sept 11, 2001 still has not ended.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    I lost interest in the audio and read. It's my fault. I lost interest in the audio and read. It's my fault.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Long and detailed, but a fascinating read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Athan Tolis

    Eight days it took me to read through this monster of a sequel to Ghost Wars. It helps, of course, that the author is discussing history here. Ghost Wars was all about the tragic mistakes that led up to Al Qaeda’s “finest hour,” the simultaneous assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan and the felling of the twin towers in September of 2001. Directorate S is about Afghani history since September 2001, told from the angle of the invading Americans. It’s 700 pages short. That the book is n Eight days it took me to read through this monster of a sequel to Ghost Wars. It helps, of course, that the author is discussing history here. Ghost Wars was all about the tragic mistakes that led up to Al Qaeda’s “finest hour,” the simultaneous assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan and the felling of the twin towers in September of 2001. Directorate S is about Afghani history since September 2001, told from the angle of the invading Americans. It’s 700 pages short. That the book is named after Directorate S, the section within Pakistan’s secret services (the I.S.I.) that has secretly supported the Taliban since September 11, strongly hints toward the fact that Steve Coll ultimately has enormous sympathy for Hamid Karzai’s chief argument: America and its allies may well have felt they had no alternative to invading Afghanistan after nine-eleven, but they never stood a chance of defeating the Taliban, due to the Taliban’s ability to always withdraw and regroup in the Waziristan province of Pakistan. He never says so outright, however. He tells the story as best he can. And it’s a thriller. Steve Coll mixes history, biography, politics and individual memoirs to deliver a step-by-step account of the “with us or against us” dilemma that Musharraf had to answer pretty much same-day (his Secret Services’ inability and unwillingness to deliver it and the political impossibility for Pakistan to do so notwithstanding), the immediate success of the invading NATO forces in ousting the Taliban, the establishment of the Karzai government, its failure to govern, the Obama / McChrystal / Petraeus surge, whose fate may have been sealed by its built-in sell-by date, the fiasco that were the 2009 elections for everybody involved, the WWI-style horror of the warfare to regain Helmand for no particular end-goal, the surge of green-on-blue attacks, the failure of Holbrooke’s and Hillary’s effort to bring the Taliban to the table and the eventual breakdown of the relationship between the US and its primary interlocutor in the area, the I.S.I.’s Ashfaq Kayani, who emerges as the main character of this saga. Coll never loses you. He has a five-page reference section at the front, listing the names of all the protagonists in the book. He builds them well enough for you to always know who he’s talking about. I only maybe looked at it five times as he took me through the three-dimensional chess involving the US, the Karzai government in Kabul, the Taliban leadership, the Pakistani military leadership and the Pakistani secret services, with walk-in roles for the Saudis, the Qataris, the Afghan secret service, the Pakistani political leadership, and never forgetting the soldiers, analysts and spies who fought the war in the trenches. Part of the reason you stay with him is you get the full briefing regarding where everybody’s coming from and how everybody feels about it: crazy Karzai thinks both Pakistan and the US want to replace him, his buddy (and US envoy/ambassador) Khalilzad simply cannot convince him otherwise; Pakistan sees Indian influence everywhere and can only see the Afghan struggle in the context of the threat that India will engulf it from both sides; the US is split four ways between the bullish Pentagon, the disbelieving C.I.A., the can-do / must-do White house and the hyperactive State Department. The Taliban are always there and, in stark contrast with their double-dealing Pakistani supporters, totally unwilling to show two faces, or even one, for that matter. Finally, the voice of the low-ranking participant is heard loud and clear, be it the US soldier writing back to his family, the misrepresented Panshjiri who is forced to bet on Kabul, or the Pashto-speaking peasant who must pick sides (let alone crops), all while observing the bumbling western invaders prioritizing their own safety over showing a morsel of respect for a country they purport to have saved, driving away from the scene of many an accident and occasionally using indiscriminate violence. Lest I have not made it clear, however, and much as the book is told from the American angle, the main protagonists here are the Pakistani army and the Pakistani secret services. It is in their back yard that the fight is taking place. Their support for the Taliban comes from the fact that they will need them there in Afghanistan after the Americans leave. This support is very costly, because it acts as an incubator for terrorism and violence that is primarily directed toward Pakistan itself, if perhaps more successfully toward secular Pakistan than toward people in uniform. Ultimately, however, they run a corrupt and leaky enough set of institutions that their request to be in the middle of every negotiation cannot be taken seriously, the proof being that the Americans go ahead and kill Osama bin Laden in total secrecy. If that was the straw that broke the camel’s back or merely a symptom of a broken relationship is not really a topic that makes the final cut for these 700 very dense pages. The summary of those fifteen years is given on page 664 and I don’t think one can give it any better than the author himself: “…even without Iraq or Guantanamo the United States would have struggled to achieve many of its goals in Afghanistan. Primarily this was because two administrations led by presidents of different political parties could not resolve essential questions about the conflict. Did they truly believe that Afghanistan’s independence and stability was more important than Pakistan’s stability? Why did they accept I.S.I.’s support for the Taliban even when it directly undermined American interests and American lives? If they were to try to stop I.S.I.’s cover action, what risks were they prepared to take? Inside Afghanistan, which was more important: to work with unsavory but sometimes effective warlords and militias against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, or to promote decent government, even if the attempt to do so created instability? How important was drug enforcement, if the anti-drug campaign risked alienating farmers and laborers in Taliban country? The Taliban might be abhorrent, but did the movement pose a direct threat to the United States? If the Afghan war could be settled only by peace talks that included as much of the Taliban as possible, as many at the highest levels of the Obama administration came to believe after 2010, why was this daunting project left to a secret cell of negotiators and not made a higher, more explicit priority of the United States, as were the comparably risky negotiations with Iran and Cuba undertaken during Obama’s second term? And that’s Steve Coll’s long epitaph for a struggle America was forced into without having even worked out its own motivations, let alone the potential consequences. It’s dynamite.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Abdul

    I was massively disappointed by the book, owing to the fact that it doesn't provide any new information about the agency it is named after. It does a good job of summarizing the second Afghan war(2001-till date) and what the Afghan and American sides were thinking. There are far better books on ISI available in the market (the one by Owen L Sirrs is superior to the one by Hein G Kessling). As far as the hunt for Bin Laden is concerned, the book 'The Exile' by Adrian Levy is much more detailed. P I was massively disappointed by the book, owing to the fact that it doesn't provide any new information about the agency it is named after. It does a good job of summarizing the second Afghan war(2001-till date) and what the Afghan and American sides were thinking. There are far better books on ISI available in the market (the one by Owen L Sirrs is superior to the one by Hein G Kessling). As far as the hunt for Bin Laden is concerned, the book 'The Exile' by Adrian Levy is much more detailed. Perhaps the book should've been called a story of CIA during the second Afghan War.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ocl

    Phew, that was one difficult book to read! Though it was redeemed by including so many tragic anecdotes of American losses, disappointing agreement attempt results, and huge follies, it was difficult to stay focused. The author bombards the reader with middle eastern names, acronyms, and jumps from Afghani gov't leaders, organizations, resistors, to the Pakistani equals and their interrelationships, including our American participants spanning three administrations, on all 650 pages! This book i Phew, that was one difficult book to read! Though it was redeemed by including so many tragic anecdotes of American losses, disappointing agreement attempt results, and huge follies, it was difficult to stay focused. The author bombards the reader with middle eastern names, acronyms, and jumps from Afghani gov't leaders, organizations, resistors, to the Pakistani equals and their interrelationships, including our American participants spanning three administrations, on all 650 pages! This book is for serious students of the American engagement in the Afghanistan terrorism war

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hrishikesh

    The Afghan war is a still-unfolding, incredibly complex chapter in contemporary world history. Steve Coll's highly detailed & exhaustive study provides a nuanced insight into the period from 2001 to 2016, and discuss the issue from the perspective of multiple stake holders. This 700-page-tome is very well researched and uncovers new, fascinating facets in virtually each chapter. This absolute page-turner is truly an impressive work. I now look forward to reading his earlier work, "Ghost Wars". The Afghan war is a still-unfolding, incredibly complex chapter in contemporary world history. Steve Coll's highly detailed & exhaustive study provides a nuanced insight into the period from 2001 to 2016, and discuss the issue from the perspective of multiple stake holders. This 700-page-tome is very well researched and uncovers new, fascinating facets in virtually each chapter. This absolute page-turner is truly an impressive work. I now look forward to reading his earlier work, "Ghost Wars".

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andrewh

    This is the follow up to Coll’s book 'Ghost Wars', which told the story of covert US support for the Afghan Mujaheddin in their long war against the Soviet occupiers, 1979-90. This book details the US’s own war against the same fighters [Taliban and other groups, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan] following their toppling of the Taliban regime after 9/11 as they sought to destroy Al Qaida. The main title of the book refers to the secretive department in the Pakistan ISI secret service, which indi This is the follow up to Coll’s book 'Ghost Wars', which told the story of covert US support for the Afghan Mujaheddin in their long war against the Soviet occupiers, 1979-90. This book details the US’s own war against the same fighters [Taliban and other groups, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan] following their toppling of the Taliban regime after 9/11 as they sought to destroy Al Qaida. The main title of the book refers to the secretive department in the Pakistan ISI secret service, which indicates the author's view about where the centre of this conflict lay. The book starts with the initial short war in which a relatively small US force, abetted by massive air superiority, knocked the Taliban out in short order, with the help of ‘warlords’ from the Northern Alliance, and replaced them with Hamid Karzai, a Western-friendly leader (or so they initially thought). The sole aim of this war was to destroy Al Qaida and capture/kill OBL, and there was no concept of statebuilding, at least initially, as George W, Bush repeatedly stated. This plan was flawed as Bin Laden escaped the US bombardment at Tora Bora and fled into Pakistan (allegedly with the aid of the ISI), and the Taliban simply withdrew to regroup and, once again, as with the Soviets, start another insurgency against foreign occupation. The Bush administration had little interest in Afghanistan and was by early 2003 fully occupied with the occupation of Iraq, so troop numbers were low and the involvement of the CIA and special forces was high – the Taliban were able to fight an effective campaign against a weak and corrupt government and were able to find refuge in Pakistan (where the ISI had supported the Afghan fighters against the Soviets and saw them as a vital bulwark against Indian influence in the region). By the time Obama succeeded Bush in 2008, the Iraq war was consuming the US military, and the administration was looking for an exit strategy from the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, which had worsened over time. Unlike Bush, Obama was interested in political negotiation with the Taliban forces, even if Karzai was not (he saw this as US perfidy, in alliance with Pakistan), while at the same time maintaining a strong counterinsurgency campaign going, with a particularly strong use of drone attacks. The latter was deeply unpopular with the local populace, as they often caused collateral damage (i.e. dead civilians), as was the war on the opium poppy, which was the only source of real income for many. Eventually, Obama decided that the only option was to set a deadline to leave, in order to move things forward but this was resisted by Karzai, who saw his authority as being undermined by the administration’s attempt to negotiate directly with the Taliban, via envoys of Mullah Omar. The difficult strategic relationship with Pakistan was also worsened by the US killing of OBL in his hideout inside Pakistan in 2011, a house not a mile from the Pakistani military college. Much of the book is given over to detailed accounts of the machinations of US political power and the military/intelligence/diplomatic communities, which can get a little ‘inside baseball’ if you are not au fait with all the institutions and names. It also does the feature-journalistic thing of introducing every protagonist as if they were a new character in a novel – personally, I don’t need to know whether a CIA officer was 46, heavy-set, married with two kids, from Flatsville, OH, and had a penchant for whiskey and sky diving, etc. This is a minor quibble but it does seem irrelevant to add this kind of 'colour' in a book like this. However, this is definitely written as a ‘first draft of history’ and it would be difficult to imagine that anyone could have had more access to the key actors than Coll – some of his mini portraits are particularly strong, such as of the blustering super-envoy Richard Holbrooke (who died in the middle of his negotiating), the CIA directors, and the high-ranking generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, who both failed to quell the Taliban or deal with the problem of ‘winning hearts and minds’ that COIN doctrine mandated. The main character is probably Karzai, however, who is by turns wheedling and threatening, and hard to ignore for the US as they had appointed him in the first place. I was also interested to spot many of the well-known academics in the field turning up, such as Doug Porch, Peter Lavoy, Eliot Cohen, David Kilcullen and, above all, Barnett Rubin, who worked at the State Department. They were, as one might expect, often ignored if their suggestions went against the policy line. The US and NATO-ISAF withdrew most of their forces in 2014, and that resulted in a resurgence of Taliban and later ISIS attacks in the country. Karzai was replaced by Ghani, another weak ruler with little backing and the country once again spiralled into conflict, with the US returning some basic forces to prevent an imminent return to Taliban misrule. After a decade of occupation, the US intervention had resulted in little political change, with a corrupt regime and a fierce insurgency, but the life chances of the people had marginally improved, Coll notes at the end, with better education. Meanwhile, in grand strategy terms, the US occupation failed to defeat the Taliban, strengthened the position of Pakistan (and of their new ally China in Central Asia), and cost 1,000 US lives (and 120,000 Afghanis), as well as billions of dollars. Given current events, this seems like an even more absurd policy now than it did even then (note: the BBC news just today reported that the Taliban are still fighting the government).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    Afghan poetry says that: “Whenever there is trouble in Afghanistan, there is trouble in all of Asia.” PURPOSE OF BOOK - Directorate S seeks to provide a thorough, reliable history of how the C.I.A., I.S.I., and Afghan intelligence agencies influenced the rise of a new war in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, and how that war fostered a revival of Al Qaeda, allied terrorist networks, and, eventually, branches of the Islamic State. The book also seeks to connect American, Afghan, Pakistani, Afghan poetry says that: “Whenever there is trouble in Afghanistan, there is trouble in all of Asia.” PURPOSE OF BOOK - Directorate S seeks to provide a thorough, reliable history of how the C.I.A., I.S.I., and Afghan intelligence agencies influenced the rise of a new war in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, and how that war fostered a revival of Al Qaeda, allied terrorist networks, and, eventually, branches of the Islamic State. The book also seeks to connect American, Afghan, Pakistani, and international policy failures to the worldwide persistence of jihadi terrorism. WHAT IS DIRECTORATE S? - Buried in this bureaucracy lay the units devoted to secret operations in support of the Taliban, Kashmiri guerrillas, and other violent Islamic radicals—Directorate S, as it was referred to by American intelligence officers and diplomats. - After Mumbai, Eliot Cohen concluded, “I think in some ways we were actually fighting the I.S.I.” WHY WOULD PAKISTAN SUPPORT THE TALIBAN? (HINT: INDIA) - Saleh regarded Pakistan as an “India-centric country,” one that had never been “Afghanistan-centric.” He concluded, based on the limited circumstantial and hard evidence available, that I.S.I. had made a decision in 2005 to support the Taliban more actively, with cash and other aid, backed by covert subsidies from Saudi Arabia. It was the 1980s and 1990s all over again. The consolidation of Karzai’s government between 2003 and 2005 explained the timing of this Pakistani turn, Saleh judged. “What made them switch?” he asked. “Parliamentary elections, presidential elections, Afghan consensus [that] we will make the new order work, and the growing, positive relationship of Afghanistan with India.” In essence, Pakistan’s generals feared that Karzai’s legitimacy would steer Afghanistan toward a durable role as an Indian ally, with international backing, Saleh concluded. - The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan. - “It was all India all the time,” Holbrooke recounted. “The Pakistanis see everything through the prism of India.” - Everyone in the region, not just I.S.I., wanted the United States to fail militarily in Afghanistan, out of fear that if N.A.T.O. succeeded, America would be able to position forces in the region for decades, on air bases from Bagram to Shindand, near Iran’s border. PAKISTAN AND AFGHAN BRANCHES OF TALIBAN - the Taliban that bothered Kayani was the Pakistani branch, not the Afghan one. TALIBAN IS A PART OF THE PASHTUN FABRIC - He found it difficult to grasp that the Taliban were rooted in rural Pashtun society. In Bush’s mind, the Taliban were merely the promoters of “a fanatical, barbaric brand of Islam” characterized by the oppression of women and the denial of “the simplest pleasures—singing, clapping, and flying kites.” - The Haqqanis were part of the Taliban—both they and the Taliban leadership said so— - The Taliban were embedded. They were certainly not defeated. PAKISTANI SANCTUARY ACROSS THE BORDER - the army’s willingness to accept sanctuaries there and in Quetta was undeniable. Yet when Kilcullen first voiced concerns similar to Saleh’s inside the administration, “People laughed at me.” They thought he had gone native during his visits to Afghanistan - Biden instinctively resisted the counterinsurgency doctrine General David Petraeus promoted around Washington that winter. He wondered if using the American military to stabilize Afghanistan made sense when the real problems lay in Pakistan. - “We either address the sanctuary and we win the war, or we don’t and we lose the war,” Wood told visitors repeatedly during his 2011 tour in Kabul. “It’s that simple.” WHO CARES ABOUT AFGHANISTAN? - Al Qaeda had established itself in Pakistan and had no need of Afghanistan. - “Mr. President, Pakistan is fifty times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.” Karzai received this analysis in stunned silence. BESIDES, THE WESTERN COUNTRIES WILL LEAVE ANYWAY... - they had to maneuver now to construct alliances for a post–American scenario, recognizing that the region would almost certainly remain riven by the bitter conflict between India and Pakistan. - Therefore, the thinking of Pakistani officers went, as Lynch summarized it, “We need our proxies,” meaning the Taliban, “in as best condition we can [manage] without being fingered as state sponsors of terrorism.” The blindness to Pakistan’s intentions in Washington, London, Ottawa, and The Hague would have devastating consequences. MISSED OPPORTUNITIES TO WORK A DEAL WITH TALIBAN - Karzai was inclined to accept Omar’s terms of surrender. The next day, at a Pentagon press conference, however, Donald Rumsfeld announced that any negotiated end to the war against the Taliban was “unacceptable to the United States.” - Some of the senior Taliban who offered to back Karzai’s new regime were arrested and later sent to Guantánamo. - “Taliban for Karzai” was the general idea the C.I.A. explored—it offered a propaganda line, if nothing else. - One American official involved in the discussions put it: “It’s the same crap we saw in Iraq: ‘All Baathists are bad. All Taliban are bad.’ What American naïveté.” - In May 2005, however, Zalmay Khalilzad left to become ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad was uniquely suited to defection talks with fellow Afghans. The momentum halted. Barno departed, too, a month later. He felt “there was a lost opportunity” after the election “to bring in larger numbers of the Taliban.” Yet it did not seem a decisive failure at the time. When they left, he and Khalilzad both thought, “The Taliban are on the ropes, they were politically crushed by the election, this whole effort is on a success glide slope.” They both “felt really, really good.” GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION MAKES TALIBAN LOOKS APPEALING - “There was lots of extortion and stealing and people were killed.” Gradually, “people got fed up with the Afghan government and welcomed the Taliban back into their districts.” - Holbrooke argued that the C.I.A.’ s web of strongmen in Afghanistan, including Ahmed Wali Karzai in Kandahar, was part of the problem in the war. They provided a mirage of security but governed as predators, exacerbating popular grievances. - They all agreed that something had to be done about corruption in the Karzai government. Yet the cabinet did not examine in any depth how billions of dollars in international aid or C.I.A. covert counterterrorism armies or the massive numbers of security and Western transport contractors flying back and forth each day between Kabul and Dubai might be incentivizing and creating corruption. “So much nonsense,” Holbrooke fumed. - The civilians Williams interviewed were not really looking for good government—that seemed beyond imagining. They were fashioning least-bad choices within families, villages, and subtribes, to protect themselves from both the Karzai regime and Taliban-aligned predators. POWER OF PERCEPTION - Kayani told McChrystal privately in the midst of the autumn review that the most important issue in the Afghan war was whether there was a “perception that the U.S. was winning.” Without that perception the Taliban would never give up violence or consider a political compromise. - The fear that Washington was prepared to sell out to I.S.I. or was too naïve to see that it was being had “is a major factor driving the Afghan government’s precipitous efforts” to find a line to talk with the Taliban or a separate deal with Pasha and Kayani. - Karzai, however, interpreted the continuing American intervention in his country as evidence of the latest imperial landgrab in Central Asia. - The measure of success, Kayani reiterated, could not be how many guerrilla commanders were captured or killed or how much territory the Karzai government or the Taliban controlled at any one time. The measure of success was “Are we gaining or losing public support?” - They felt that most of their American visitors understood Pakistan and Afghanistan poorly. Yet the Americans’ cloak of global power made them hubristic, rarely inclined to listen sincerely to local knowledge. - in an era of global media and asymmetric terrorism and insurgency, wars turned as much on what people thought as on the territory they controlled. - Karzai seemed shocked and disoriented. He had never accepted that the Taliban constituted an internal insurgency against his government. In his analysis, they were I.S.I.’ s proxy force, mysteriously tolerated by Washington. The Obama administration and Karzai were bound by enormous sacrifices in expenditure and blood, and yet they saw the war in fundamentally different terms. - Because Karzai believed that the United States could make Pakistan do whatever it wanted, and that the I.S.I. could turn off the Taliban’s insurgency effortlessly, their failure to act still seemed to him evidence of malign American intent. He seemed to countenance a theory that the United States was deliberately promoting violent instability in the region in order to control Afghanistan or to make things difficult for Iran and China. A LIGHT FOOTPRINT - According to Major General Warren Edwards, who was involved in the operation, “The message was strong from the national level down: ‘We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the Soviets. We are not going to go in with large conventional forces.’” This precept was “embedded in our decision-making process, in our psyche.” - The N.D.S. example illustrated American investment in post-Taliban Afghanistan: deliberate minimalism, followed by tentative engagement, followed by massive investments only when it was very late to make a difference. - [Regarding failed talks with the Taliban late in the war] How could it be that a scholar on contract with the State Department, an aide to a State Department envoy, and a D.I.A. analyst constituted the entire on-the-ground effort to make sure a complicated, vitally important agreement hit the mark at the moment of its announcement? Where was the U.S. embassy? Where was the C.I.A.? “ WHO REALLY CONTROLS WHOM? - General Barno, who had access to all of the intelligence reporting, took a judicious position about Pakistani complicity. He never saw evidence “in any domain” indicating that the Pakistanis were “actively supporting” the Taliban’s comeback. He could see that they “basically tolerated the Taliban in the tribal areas” but it was also obvious that the Pakistanis’ “ability to control these areas was negligible.” - It did not compute for them that Musharraf might be simultaneously at war with Al Qaeda and promoting the Taliban. - American passivity toward Pakistan was interpreted as “proof of a plot to prolong instability in Afghanistan, or in the most extreme version, proof of a secret alliance between the West and the Taliban.” WHY DO THEY HATE US? - It also became apparent that the very presence of forward-deployed Americans in the border bases provoked local attacks, almost reflexively. - In Afghanistan, however, suicide bombers most often struck military targets, such as heavily armed American or N.A.T.O. convoys moving on roadways. Remarkably often, only the bomber died. - [Blue-on-green attacks] The killers’ motivation was group identification, as Muslims or Afghans, where the terms of membership required violent action against the enemy...The broad, fertile belief that American soldiers were occupiers could be addressed only by their departure. - If the United States escalates a conflict violently and visibly, that action would as a side effect contribute to more terrorism. CREATING MORE ENEMIES THAN ELIMINATING? - “The U.S. military campaign is not working. You’re creating more enemies than you’re killing. You don’t need a large military force to go after Al Qaeda. And what is Al Qaeda these days, anyway? It’s more of an idea than a force in being.” - many of the agency’s operators on the front lines in South Asia, was something like the opposite: The United States had not yet applied enough military force to quell Al Qaeda and the Taliban. - [Regarding drones] The agency could lob missiles at Haqqani formations in Waziristan a couple of times a week, but those attacks couldn’t possibly be decisive in the Afghan war. What they were guaranteed to do was to mobilize yet more Pakistani volunteers to the fight and undermine the Pakistan Army in the eyes of the public. DIFFERENT IDEAS ON HOW TO WIN - Yet as McChrystal sent his analysis to Washington, he discovered that Hamid Karzai’s vision of the Afghan war was fundamentally at odds with the precepts of his campaign plan. WITHOUT A PLAN - In his fifteen years of senior command, Barno had never seen a poorer transition from one general to the next. He found it “completely ad hoc” and discovered “there was not a campaign plan,” indeed, “not a plan, period.” - The Bush administration perceived a fresh opportunity to collaborate with Pakistan. Rather than following Zalmay Khalilzad’s advice to pressure Musharraf over I.S.I.’ s relationship with the Taliban, the administration adopted something like the opposite policy: It offered more financial aid to Pakistan’s military regime. - Instead of properly resourcing the strategy the administration already possessed, it authorized a search “for a new idea. Certainly ideas are more easily come by than money and soldiers.” - only the call for more American troops failed to materialize quickly. Early in 2007, Bush’s decision to authorize a “surge” of troops into Baghdad under the command of General David Petraeus effectively used up all of the Pentagon’s available personnel and then some. - The purpose of the American intervention in Afghanistan was to defeat Al Qaeda, which remained dangerous, everyone at the table agreed. However, Al Qaeda was primarily in Pakistan. So why carry out counterinsurgency against the Taliban in Afghanistan? - Gates and Mullen decided they needed to replace General Dave McKiernan, the American commander in Afghanistan. Obama had now endorsed a counterinsurgency strategy, however undefined. LACK OF UNITY IN EFFORTS - He created a PowerPoint deck with a slide titled “Ten Wars,” referring to what his final count had determined were ten distinctly commanded military forces in Afghanistan. - A theme of the review, at least for some of the analysts involved, was the “need to re-Americanize the effort,” as Eliot Cohen put it. It had become a N.A.T.O. war, but it was not going to succeed that way. - Both administrations that fought the Afghan war between 2001 and 2014 tolerated and even promoted stovepiped, semi-independent campaigns waged simultaneously by different agencies of American government...The agencies often interpreted White House policy memos liberally; the agencies proved to be more inclined to apologize in the event of a perceived transgression than to implement policy they did not like. It is hardly surprising that policies riddled with such internal contradictions and unresolved analytical questions failed to achieve the extraordinarily ambitious aim of stabilizing war-shattered Afghanistan. TRYING IRAQ SOLUTIONS ON AN AFGHAN PROBLEM - The apparent success of the Baghdad surge, skillfully promoted in the media by Petraeus, had created a kind of intellectual bubble in Washington around his ideas. CAN'T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES - The problem was not a paucity of information; it was Washington’s ability to recognize the pattern. - The intelligence remained poor; Cohen concluded that American analysts were much better at counting things than extracting strategic insights. - the I.S.A.F. intelligence collection and analysis system remained overwhelmingly focused on tactical events...the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. - Like Flynn, Holbrooke could see that battlefield intelligence produced reams of information about Taliban commanders and tactics but hardly any insight about the movement’s Pakistan-based leaders or their political and military strategy. A LONG FIGHT - One of their most striking findings was that civil wars were getting longer. In the late 1940s, many internal conflicts lasted only two years, whereas by 1999, they lasted sixteen years on average. Fearon’s analysis also showed that self-funding guerrilla groups with direct access to drug profits fight for unusually long periods, up to thirty or forty years. CIVILIANS AND INSURGENTS ADAPTING - Here the Taliban were also adapting to the loss of official subsidies. During the 1990s, the Taliban had received open support from Pakistan and Gulf States. Now the pressure on Pakistan not to get caught providing aid to the Taliban had forced the movement into greater financial self-reliance. - Perhaps it was not that opium caused war. Perhaps it was war that caused opium...The state collapsed in many rural areas. In these dire conditions Afghan farmers turned to opium production to survive. BAD OPTICS - Karzai’s instinctive sense was that if farmers and itinerant poppy pickers in Helmand and Kandahar looked up and saw American helicopters thundering over the horizon as dusters poured chemicals onto their fields, they would recall the atrocities of Soviet aerial warfare and blame Hamid Karzai. RESULTS - The fallout from the Afghan war also persuaded Pakistan’s leaders, after 2011, to give up on any strategic partnership with Washington and to deepen ties to Beijing. HA HA - The president had already given him a nickname, “Heffer,” because apparently Bush couldn’t remember “Cofer” and “I am sort of a hefty guy.” - At the ceremonial opening of a road project, a DynCorp guard punched out Karzai’s minister of transport because he did not recognize him and feared he might be rushing Karzai. - Williams and his researcher marveled morbidly about how incompetent some of these suicide bombers seemed to be. One had strapped on his vest, traveled to say goodbye to his parents, and accidentally detonated his device during the visit, taking his own life and theirs. - Canada puzzled them, however. Some did not even understand that it was a country: “It might be an old and destroyed city,” one respondent said. - (Kidnapped again?): One group briefed him on the status of David Rohde, a New York Times reporter who had been kidnapped by the Taliban. During the Balkans war, Bosnian Serbs had kidnapped Rohde while the reporter was investigating war crimes, and Holbrooke had negotiated for his freedom. He wanted to do it again. - Once, Flynn’s team was visiting Kandahar when an intelligence unit reeled down a blimp for maintenance and found an arrow stuck in its skin.) - in Bin Laden’s section of the compound, and he sometimes wore a cowboy hat when he walked in short loops outside. FACTOIDS - That was weird. The C.I.A. officers named the dog “Lucky.” It turned out to be not an unusual nickname for other Afghan and Pakistani dogs at the sites of drone-launched Hellfire strikes. The animals’ hearing was so acute that they sometimes seemed to detect Predators overhead or picked up the whine of missile launches when humans could not, and then got out of the way. - French officers were the first to identify counterinsurgency as a separate category of warfare...Phrases like “hearts and minds” first arose in public discourse in the 1890s. The French called the strategy “peaceful penetration.” - The District Assessments had an antecedent in the Vietnam War, a project known as the Hamlet Evaluation System, undertaken by the Pentagon, starting in 1967. - [In the 1990s] the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. (Those governments, with Pakistan’s, were the only ones in the world to recognize the Islamic Emirate as Afghanistan’s legitimate regime.)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bilal Shakir

    *Directorate S* is a scintillating book that is painstakingly written by analyzing heaps of governmental white papers, formal and informal interviews, and leaked cables that are a reflection of the author's analytical prowess. In this sense, Directorate S is a fitting sequel to Ghost Wars that was similarly well-researched and packaged. It also helps that Steve Coll is one of the saner voices in DC when it comes to journalism on security issues in South Asia. However, despite the overwhelmingly i *Directorate S* is a scintillating book that is painstakingly written by analyzing heaps of governmental white papers, formal and informal interviews, and leaked cables that are a reflection of the author's analytical prowess. In this sense, Directorate S is a fitting sequel to Ghost Wars that was similarly well-researched and packaged. It also helps that Steve Coll is one of the saner voices in DC when it comes to journalism on security issues in South Asia. However, despite the overwhelmingly impressive contents of *Directorate S*, Coll's bias in favor of the US leaves an unmistakable imprint on the entire book. One example, for instance, can be the rather conspicuous absence of a systematic treatment of the December 16, 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar -- which by any measure, did lead to at least some version of internal reform within the Pakistan Army and ISI. It is hard to believe that such omissions were not deliberate. Ultimately, while Coll is mostly a sensitive storyteller who avoids the kind of histrionics one has often come to expect from top Washington journalists writing on Pakistan, I wonder to what extent he merely cherry-picks evidence to push a rather familiar thesis: one of painting the ISI as a systematically duplicitous, unmistakably untrustworthy, and historically treacherous organization that has undermined the security objectives of all key stakeholders involved in the pursuit of its own self-serving goals. Whatever one's views on the ISI, and mine are certainly not those of veneration, greater engagement with evidence contrary to Coll's thesis or perhaps a fresher analytical framework could have yielded high dividends for an already excellent volume.

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