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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 Paperback – December 28, 2004
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“The CIA itself would be hard put to beat his grasp of global events . . . Deeply satisfying.” —The New York Review of Books
“A well written, authoritative, high-altitude drama with few heroes, many villains, bags of cash, and a tragic ending—one that may not have been inevitable.” —The Washington Post
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (December 28, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 736 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143034669
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143034667
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Grade level : 12 and up
- Item Weight : 1.43 pounds
- Dimensions : 8.12 x 5.46 x 1.53 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #39,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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The author does have the courage to call out Skull & Bones, but he leaps almost straight from "Clinton tried and failed" to "...and then al-Qaida somehow evaded the entire security apparatus of the US, including the Skull & Bones son of a Skull & Bones former director of CIA and his brother, whose company Stratesec/Securicom had the security contracts on the WTCs...and the Skull & Bones-owned WTCs fell down...oops!...and the Skull & Bones director of the SEC didn't notice the short-trades on American Airlines and United Airlines...oops again!"
One almost has to read "Jawbreaker' to get better insight into what was going on in Afghanistan, "Legacy of Ashes" to gain historical context for CIA operations and mentality, Richard Clark's "Against All Enemies" to get a real perspective, and many of Dr. David Ray Griffin's books about September the 11th to get to anything close to the truth.
It encompassed many Presidential administrations: Carter, Bush Sr, Clinton and Bush Jr and illustrated the web of intelligence that flowed from various agencies in each area leading up to 9-11 and the rise of Al-Qaeda. It should be remembered that Al Qaeda is an ideology, an extremist one, but an ideology nonetheless, and is not found just in Afghanistan, Sudan or Somali, but in over SIXTY countries around the world. The way to curb Al Qaeda is through education, peace and allowing people to believe that the West is not out to kill all Muslims or Arabs, but instead believing that we can all live together as one ~ regardless of our faith, our skin colour or what we wear. We should be able to live together through education, through peaceful ways and by being able to talk with one another. War, on the other hand, doesn't help bring people together. War and military intervention divides people because if the West (the USA, CIA or JSOC, British forces and their kill squads) can kill my mother, my sister, my brother or my friend, why would I want to be friends with the West? Why, indeed?
Some other references about conflicts in the Middle East & Central Asia (including Iraq & Afghan.) include:
1. Chapter 5,'Liberating Afghanistan'. From, “Freedom Next Time”, John Pilger. 2007. (Afghanistan).
2.’ The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq’, Emma Sky, 2016. (Iraq).
3. “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War through Afghan Eyes”, Anand Gopal. 2015. (Afghanistan).
4. “Tell Me No Lies”, John Pilger. 677 pages. Particularly, ‘Complicity in a Million Deaths', Mark Curtis. 'Reporting the Truth about Iraq': Articles by Felicity Arbuthnot, Joy Gordon, Richard Norton-Taylor, Jo Wilding, Edward W. Said and Robert Fisk. 2011. (Iraq).
5. “The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East”, Fisk. 2005. (The Middle East).
6. “Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington sold our Soul for Saudi Crude”, Robert Baer. (Saudi Arabia).
7’. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10’, Steve Coll. 2001. (Pakistan).
8.’ The Hooligans of Kandahar: Not All War Stories are Heroic’, Joseph Kassabian. 2017. p. 258. (Afghan).
9. “Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army”, Jeremy Scahill. 2007. (Afghan.).
10. “The Looming Tower”, Lawerence Wright. (The USA & The Middle East). 2007.
Top reviews from other countries
It is difficult to discuss “Ghost Wars” and avoid hyperbole.
What we have here is not just a level-headed, comprehensive and exhaustive account of Afghan history from 1980 to 2011. This masterpiece of a book is nothing less than the full and definitive account of the manner in which overt and covert American foreign policy mixed with Pakistani and Saudi domestic politics (and their projection on foreign policy goals) to directly foster the gestation and development of Islamic terrorism as we know it today.
You find out about the events in Afghanistan leading up to the Soviet invasion, the rise of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s struggles between Islam and secularism, the Soviet invasion, the puppet government the Soviets installed, the Afghan resistance and its protagonists, the pact with the devil between the CIA and the ISI to support the religiously most radicalized factions of the resistance, the donations to the cause that the US actively solicited and obtained in the Gulf on behalf of the ISI, the routing of the Soviets chiefly by Tajiks warriors under Ahmed Shah Massoud, Uzbeks under warlords like Dostum and the Pakistan-assisted Islamists of Haqqani and Hekmattyar and their American-supplied Stinger missiles. Next you move to the almost equally bloody struggles between them all, the subsequent total abandonment of Afghanistan by the West to the interests of Pakistan, all the way through to the disgraceful period when US policy to the region was dictated by inconsequential interests of second-rate players in the oil industry and the misrule the west tolerated in Kabul after the departure of the Soviets.
From there you move almost naturally to the rise of the morally virtuous, home-grown, ethnically Pashtun, Wahhabi-educated, Pakistan-armed and Pakistan-supported Taliban, their intolerance of diversity and the hijacking of their cause by Osama Bin Laden, who not only bought their way into Kabul but very carefully cultivated and won the support of their leader, the one-eyed mullah Mohammed Omar.
After that, the author gives a full account of the terrorist activities of Osama Bin Laden up to September 11 and takes care to set them within the context of other Middle Eastern terrorism, secular and religious, while in parallel documenting in full the CIA-led efforts to fight it. George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton, especially, do not come out if this account smelling of roses. Clinton, in particular is accused of first mistrusting the CIA and then of being incapacitated by his need to manage public opinion in view of his personal scandals, but also of his famous tendency to “triangulate” between getting results and keeping a distance from any collateral damage.
It really is all there!
All of the above, while true, is still not the best thing about this book.
What makes this an unbelievable read is that it really gets hold of you. Steve Coll has managed to convert this very convoluted history into a gripping narrative with character development and a clear storyline. By the end of the book, you feel you really know the Uzbeki Massoud, Americans Casey, Shroen and Berger, the Saudi Prince Turki, Pakistanis such as Zia-Ul-Haq, Musharraf and all the heads of the ISI; you get to see a darker side of Benazir Bhutto, too. Special care is given to understanding the motivations of all the players, the multiple levels on which they were acting, the multiple goals they were pursing at the same time and the physical terrain in which they operated.
It is fair to say that there isn’t a single character in this play who’s not having to make a number of compromises. The author tells you enough about everybody so you can judge where he’s coming from. Pakistan’s ISI needed to fight the Soviets, for example, but only if it could be beaten by its own proxies. And it also needed to secure secret bases from which to train guerrillas for its secret war in Kashmir. And all this it needed to do while still receiving financial assistance from the US and while pretending the country was on a path to democracy. The Saudi princes’ motivations are explained in similar detail, as are the sundry resistance fighters’. And you are left with zero doubt that western interests at some point simply went absent without leave.
You ride with all these guys. You climb on their helicopters with them, you dodge bullets with them, you watch them hang their enemies from the high mast, you feel the shrapnel tear through you when they fall.
If this was a novel, basically, you’d find yourself unable to put it down. Except, of course, it’s all documented fact. From the first skirmish at the US Embassy in Pakistan all the way through the development of our now favorite means of delivering “justice,” the dreaded Predator, and to the last chapter of the book (not unlike the last scene in the Godfather, except it’s Osama Bin Laden sitting in the –figurative- opera house while his opponents are eliminated) what you have here is a truly educational thriller.
I have no idea how anybody can put together such a tremendous book within three years of the event that gave rise to what could easily have been a lifelong project for a lesser author. But Steve Coll, managing editor of the Washington Post when he wrote this book some thirteen years ago, pulled it off.
And now I’ve read “Ghost Wars,” it’s clear to me that the US Congress has only really covered half the bases here. An equitable decision would also have cleared the way for US citizens to sue the Pakistani state, perhaps over and above Saudi Arabia.
Then again, the American way is to sue for money. When will we all learn?