Book Review: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 By Steve Coll

        The cost of war with Afghanistan has come at a high price for the United States of America. The question many wonder is: what led to the catalyst, the September 11th 2001 Attacks, for the war? In “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001,” Steve Coll points out the numerous failures of U.S. foreign policy that led to 9/11.

        To begin, shortly after the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Communist Afghan President Najibullah was left with a very small military force to protect him. His downfall was inevitable, however, two Mujahedin leaders, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who wanted Afghanistan to be ruled under modern Islamic law, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who wanted Afghanistan to be ruled under strict Islamic law, wanted to lead Afghanistan after the Soviet departure. Subsequently, the two began a competition as to who would take Kabul first.

        Coll explains that not only was their division in Afghanistan about which of the two should lead the country, but also among U.S. government agencies. The State Department supported Massoud and the Central Intelligence Agency supported Hekmatyar. Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s and Pakistan’s intelligence also supported Hekmatyar. Despite all of the support Hekmatyar received, Massoud’s forces reached Kabul first and set up a rebel government. By this time, the Soviet Union had dissolved and Afghanistan was no longer on the radar for the U.S.

        Despite Massoud setting up a government, Hekmatyar and his forces continued fighting and led a relentless bombardment of Kabul that led to the death of thousands of civilians. Despite the desperate need for humanitarian aid for innocent civilians, Afghanistan was still ignored by the U.S.

        Coll continues by arguing that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) slowly began withdrawing support for Hekmatyar after the continued stalmate with Massoud and began supporting the more powerful Taliban. Osama Bin Laden joined in supporting the Taliban financially because of his endearment of their ideology. Soon after this support, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and Massoud was forced to retreat. The Taliban then immediately began enforcing strict Islamic law. While some U.S. officials wanted to engage with the Taliban at this point, others refused.

        US-based oil corporation, Unocal, also lobbied the U.S. government to reach out to the Taliban to reap economic rewards. Coll argues that the Taliban provided the stability needed to set up an oil pipeline in Afghanistan.

        After threats made to the U.S., the CIA began actively looking for Osama Bin Laden, who was living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan.

        Coll goes on to explain that the CIA then came into contact once again with Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was trying to take the country back from the Taliban, and gave payments to him in return for routine intelligence reports. However, on September 10th, 2001, he was killed by suicide bombers. A day later, the U.S. was under attack.

        Coll does an excellent job explaining the failures in U.S. foreign policy which subsequently led to 9/11. The book discusses events in chronological order for the most part, but it is still very clear and concise on the rare occasions it deviates from the format.

        Coll also does a great job in discussing very intricate details and making information that would otherwise seem extraneous, relevant.


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