Book Review: Ghost Wars

Posted: June 14, 2011 in america, books, current events, history, islam, politics, review

Steve Coll’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, tells the riveting story of the United States’ covert operations in Afghanistan over the past four decades.  With incredible clarity and great attention to detail, Cole leads readers through the twists and turns of the CIA, America’s most secret organization, and it’s convoluted liaisons throughout the Middle East since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.   At 738 pages, the book is truly a masterpiece of research and exposition.  Originally published in 2004, the book was updated and expanded upon the release of the 9/11 Commission Report in 2005.

Since reading the book, I’d have to say that my understanding of current events related to the Middle East is now greatly expanded (although, still limited).  It was truly fascinating to read about all the secret missions, dangerous meetings, shaky alliances, and violent battles that have had far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world.  I was particularly interested in learning more about Osama Bin Laden, the infamous leader of al-Qaeda and planner of the 9/11 attacks.

However, besides all of that (and perhaps more importantly), it’s just plain exciting stuff!  It reads like a spy novel, complete with double-crosses, assassinations, ruthless killers, and unsung heros.  If you have any interest in current events related to global terrorism, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat.

Read an excerpt from the book and listen to an interview with the author here.

From the publisher:

For nearly the past quarter century, while most Americans were unaware, Afghanistan has been the playing field for intense covert operations by U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies-invisible wars which sowed the seeds of the September 11 attacks and which provide its context. From the Soviet invasion in 1979 through the summer of 2001, the CIA, KGB, Pakistan’s ISI, and Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Department all operated directly and secretly in Afghanistan. They primed Afghan factions with cash and weapons, secretly trained guerrilla forces, funded propaganda, and manipulated politics. In the midst of these struggles bin Laden conceived and then built his global organization.

Comprehensively and for the first time, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll tells the secret history of the CIA’s role in Afghanistan, from its covert program against Soviet troops from 1979 to 1989, to the rise of the Taliban and the emergence of bin Laden, to the secret efforts by CIA officers and their agents to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan after 1998. Based on extensive firsthand accounts, Ghost Wars is the inside story that goes well beyond anything previously published on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It chronicles the roles of midlevel CIA officers, their Afghan allies, and top spy masters such as Bill Casey, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al Faisal, and George Tenet. And it describes heated debates within the American government and the often poisonous, mistrustful relations between the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies.

Ghost Wars answers the questions so many have asked since the horrors of September 11: To what extent did America’s best intelligence analysts grasp the rising threat of Islamist radicalism? Who tried to stop bin Laden and why did they fail?


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