Directorate S

Directorate S

The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Book - 2018
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Winner of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for 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.
Publisher: New York, NY : Penguin Press, 2018.
ISBN: 9781594204586
Branch Call Number: 958.1047 Col
Characteristics: xxiii, 757 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Jun 01, 2018

This is a long, detailed follow-on on Coll's wonderful book Ghost Wars. It is very thorough but could have been edited down a bit. Nevertheless it is a must-read for anyone who has followed the events in Afghanistan, and read some of the books about it, e.g. Graeme Smith's book about Canada's role there.
Coll lays out clearly the problems the US had with Pakistan especially the I.S.I. who were supposedly on the US side but were helping the Taliban, and had little control of the border areas. Not that the US had clear ideas of what they really wanted to do and frequently changed plans and goals which were not stuck to by different US agencies in the country. The US players, military and other, changed frequently which hardly helped. The failed secret attempts to negotiate an end to the war was a surprise to me.
Coll does not opine on most of this until near the end of the book by which time you have reached most of the conclusions he lays out. Karzai, US's man is a paranoid, corrupt leader of a family clearly on the take. The US poured vast amounts of money into the country with little oversight and spawned vast amounts of corruption ( see the website SIGAR and read some of the reports).
Even now the US is spending tens of billions a year and there is little hope the disaster will end soon. (To get an idea of where some of the money has and is going do a search for the satellite view of the huge Bagram base, near Kabul.)
Read this book but be prepared for a long trip.

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