Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invas ion to September 10, 2001

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invas ion to September 10, 2001

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by Steve Coll
     
 

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Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize

The explosive first-hand account of America's secret history in Afghanistan


With the publication of Ghost Wars, Steve Coll became not only a Pulitzer Prize winner, but also the expert on the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of Bin Laden, and the secret efforts by CIA officers and their agents to capture

Overview

Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize

The explosive first-hand account of America's secret history in Afghanistan


With the publication of Ghost Wars, Steve Coll became not only a Pulitzer Prize winner, but also the expert on the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of Bin Laden, and the secret efforts by CIA officers and their agents to capture or kill Bin Laden in Afghanistan after 1998.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Coll, the managing editor of The Washington Post, has given us what is certainly the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of Al Qaeda in the post-Soviet rubble of Afghanistan. He has followed up that feat by threading together the complex roles played by diplomats and spies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States into a coherent story explaining how Afghanistan became such a welcoming haven for Al Qaeda. — James Risen
The Washington Post
In Ghost Wars, The Washington Post's managing editor, Steve Coll, takes a long -- and long overdue -- look at the peaks and valleys of the CIA's presence in Afghanistan throughout the decades leading to Sept. 10, 2001. It is a well-written, authoritative, high-altitude drama with a cast of few heroes, many villains, bags of cash and a tragic ending -- one that may not have been inevitable. — James Bamford
Library Journal
A Pulitzer Prize winner who covered Afghanistan for the Washington Post from 1989 to 1992, Coll explains how long and how deeply we've been entrenched there. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101221433
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/28/2004
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
738
Sales rank:
88,080
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Ghost Wars

The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
By Steve Coll

The Penguin Press

ISBN: 1-59420-007-6


Chapter One

In the tattered, cargo-strewn cabin of an Ariana Afghan Airlines passenger jet streaking above Punjab toward Kabul sat a stocky, broad-faced American with short graying hair. He was a friendly man in his early fifties who spoke in a flat midwestern accent. He looked as if he might be a dentist, an acquaintance once remarked. Gary Schroen had served for twenty-six years as an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine services. He was now, in September 1996, chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan. He spoke Persian and its cousin, Dari, one of Afghanistan's two main languages. In spy terminology, Schroen was an operator. He recruited and managed paid intelligence agents, conducted espionage operations, and supervised covert actions against foreign governments and terrorist groups. A few weeks before, with approval from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, he had made contact through intermediaries with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the celebrated anti-Soviet guerrilla commander, now defense minister in a war-battered Afghan government crumbling from within. Schroen had requested a meeting, and Massoud had accepted.

They had not spoken in five years. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, as allies battling Soviet occupation forces and their Afghan communist proxies, the CIA had pumped cash stipends as high as $200,000 a month to Massoud and his Islamic guerrilla organization, along with weapons and other supplies. Between 1989 and 1991, Schroen had personally delivered some of the cash. But the aid stopped in December 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved. The United States government decided it had no further interests in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the country had collapsed. Kabul, once an elegant city of broad streets and walled gardens tucked spectacularly amid barren crags, had been pummelled by its warlords into a state of physical ruin and human misery that compared unfavorably to the very worst places on Earth. Armed factions within armed factions erupted seasonally in vicious urban battles, blasting down mud-brick block after mud-brick block in search of tactical advantages usually apparent only to them. Militias led by Islamic scholars who disagreed profoundly over religious minutia baked prisoners of war to death by the hundreds in discarded metal shipping containers. The city had been without electricity since 1993. Hundreds of thousands of Kabulis relied for daily bread and tea on the courageous but limited efforts of international charities. In some sections of the countryside thousands of displaced refugees died of malnutrition and preventable disease because they could not reach clinics and feeding stations. And all the while neighboring countries-Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia-delivered pallets of guns and money to their preferred Afghan proxies. The governments of these countries sought territorial advantage over their neighbors. Money and weapons also arrived from individuals or Islamic charities seeking to extend their spiritual and political influence by proselytizing to the destitute.

Ahmed Shah Massoud remained Afghanistan's most formidable military leader. A sinewy man with a wispy beard and penetrating dark eyes, he had be come a charismatic popular leader, especially in northeastern Afghanistan. There he had fought and negotiated with equal imagination during the 1980s, punishing and frustrating Soviet generals. Massoud saw politics and war as intertwined. He was an attentive student of Mao and other successful guerrilla leaders. Some wondered as time passed if he could imagine a life without guerrilla conflict. Yet through various councils and coalitions, he had also proven able to acquire power by sharing it. During the long horror of the Soviet occupation, Massoud had symbolized for many Afghans-especially his own Tajik people-the spirit and potential of their brave resistance. He was above all an independent man. He surrounded himself with books. He prayed piously, read Persian poetry, studied Islamic theology, and immersed himself in the history of guerrilla warfare. He was drawn to the doctrines of revolutionary and political Islam, but he had also established himself as a broad-minded, tolerant Afghan nationalist.

That September 1996, Massoud's reputation had fallen to a low ebb, however. His passage from rebellion during the 1980s to governance in the 1990s had evolved disastrously. After the collapse of Afghan communism he had joined Kabul's newly triumphant but unsettled Islamic coalition as its defense minister. Attacked by rivals armed in Pakistan, Massoud counterattacked, and as he did, he became the bloodstained power behind a failed, self-immolating government. His allies to the north smuggled heroin. He was unable to unify or pacify the country. His troops showed poor discipline. Some of them mercilessly massacred rivals while battling for control of Kabul neighborhoods.

Promising to cleanse the nation of its warlords, including Massoud, a new militia movement swept from Afghanistan's south beginning in 1994. Its turbaned, eye-shadowed leaders declared that the Koran would slay the Lion of Panjshir, as Massoud was known, where other means had failed.

They traveled behind white banners raised in the name of an unusually severe school of Islam that promoted lengthy and bizarre rules of personal conduct. These Taliban, or students, as they called themselves, now controlled vast areas of southern and western Afghanistan. Their rising strength shook Massoud. The Taliban traveled in shiny new Toyota double-cab pickup trucks. They carried fresh weapons and ample ammunition. Mysteriously, they repaired and flew former Soviet fighter aircraft, despite only rudimentary military experience among their leaders.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul had been shut for security reasons since late 1988, so there was no CIA station in Afghanistan from which to collect intelligence about the Taliban or the sources of their newfound strength. The nearest station, in Pakistan, no longer had Afghanistan on its Operating Directive, the official list of intelligence-gathering priorities transmitted from Washington each year to CIA stations worldwide. Without the formal blessing of the O.D., as it was called, a station chief like Gary Schroen lacked the budgetary resources needed to recruit agents, supply them with communications gear, manage them in the field, and process their intelligence reports.

The CIA maintained a handful of paid agents in Afghanistan, but these were dedicated to tracking down Mir Amal Kasi, a young and angry Pakistani who on January 25, 1993, had opened fire on CIA employees arriving at the agency's Langley headquarters. Kasi had killed two and wounded three, and then fled to Pakistan. By 1996 he was believed to be moving back and forth to Afghanistan, taking refuge in tribal areas where American police and spies could not operate easily.

The CIA's Kasi-hunting agents did not report on the Taliban's developing war against Ahmed Shah Massoud except in passing. The job of collecting intelligence about political and military developments in Afghanistan had been assigned to CIA headquarters in faraway Virginia, lumped in with the general responsibilities of the Near East Division of the Directorate of Operations.

This was hardly an unusual development among U.S. government agencies. The U.S. Agency for International Development had shut down its Afghan humanitarian assistance program in 1994. The Pentagon had no relationships there. The National Security Council at the White House had no Afghan policy beyond a vague wish for peace and prosperity. The State Department was more involved in Afghan affairs, but only at the middle levels of its bureaucracy. Secretary of State Warren Christopher had barely commented about Afghanistan during his four years in office.

Massoud sent a close adviser named Massoud Khalili to escort Gary Schroen into Kabul. To make room for cargo desperately needed in the land locked capital, Ariana Afghan had ripped most of the passenger seats out of their airplanes to stack the aisles with loose boxes and crates, none of them strapped down or secured. "It's never crashed before," Khalili assured Schroen.

Their jet swept above barren russet ridges folded one upon the other as it crossed into Afghanistan. The treeless land below lay mottled in palettes of sand brown and clay red. To the north, ink black rivers cut plunging gorges through the Hindu Kush Mountains. To the south, eleven-thousand-foot peaks rose in a ring above the Kabul valley, itself more than a mile high. The plane banked toward Bagram, a military air base north of Kabul. Along the surrounding roads lay rusting carcasses of tanks and armored personnel carriers, burned and abandoned. Fractured shells of fighter aircraft and transport planes lined the runway.

Officers in Massoud's intelligence service met the plane with four-wheel-drive vehicles, packed their American visitor inside, and began the bone-jarring drive across the Shomali Plain to Kabul. It amazed some of them that Schroen had turned up with just a small bag tossed over his shoulder-no communications gear, no personal security His relaxed demeanor, ability to speak Dari, and detailed knowledge of Afghanistan impressed them.

Then, too, Schroen had been known to turn up in the past with bags full of American dollars. In that respect he and his CIA colleagues could be easy men for Afghan fighters to like. For sixteen years now the CIA had routinely pursued its objectives in Afghanistan with large boxes of cash. It frustrated some of Massoud's intelligence officers that the CIA always seemed to think Massoud and his men were motivated by money.

Their civil war might be complex and vicious, but they saw themselves as fighters for a national cause, bleeding and dying by the day, risking what little they had. Enough untraceable bills had flowed to Massoud's organization over the years to assure their comfortable retirements if they wished. Yet many of them were still here in Kabul still at Massoud's side, despite the severe risks and deprivations. Some of them wondered resentfully why the CIA often seemed to treat them as if money mattered more than kin and country. Of course, they had not been known to refuse the cash, either.

They delivered Gary Schroen to one of the half-dozen unmarked safehouses Massoud maintained in Kabul. They waited for the commander's summons, which came about an hour before midnight. They met in a house that had once been the residence of Austria's ambassador, before rocketing and gun battles had driven most of Europe's diplomats away.

Massoud wore a white Afghan robe and a round, soft, wool Panjshiri cap. He was a tall man, but not physically imposing. He was quiet and formal, yet he radiated intensity. His attendant poured tea. They sat in dim light around a makeshift conference table. Massoud chatted in Dari with Khalili about their visitor, his back ground, what Khalili knew of him.

Massoud sounded skeptical about the CIA's request for this meeting. The agency had ignored what Massoud and his men saw as the rising threat posed by the radical Taliban. There were some in Massoud's circle who suspected that the CIA had secretly passed money and guns to the Taliban. America had been a friend to Massoud over the years, but a fickle friend. What did the agency want now?

"You and I have a history, although we never met face to face," Schroen began. He was not going to make accusations, but in truth, it was not an altogether happy history.

In the winter of 1990, Schroen reminded Massoud, the CIA had been working closely with the commander. Massoud operated then in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. Kabul was controlled by President Najibullah, a beefy, mustached former secret police chief and communist who clung to power despite the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. Moscow backed Najibullah; U.S. policy sought his defeat by military force. The Soviets supplied vast amounts of military and economic aid to their client by road and air. Working with Pakistan's military intelligence service, the CIA had come up with a plan that winter to launch simultaneous attacks on key supply lines around Afghanistan. CIA officers had mapped a crucial role for Massoud because his forces were positioned near the Salang Highway, the main north-south road leading from the Soviet Union to Kabul.

In January of 1990, Gary Schroen had traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan. One of Massoud's brothers, Ahmed Zia, maintained a compound there with a radio connection to Massoud's northeastern headquarters. Schroen spoke on the radio with Massoud about the CIA'S attack plan. The agency wanted Massoud to drive west and shut down the Salang Highway for the winter.

Massoud agreed but said he needed financial help. He would have to purchase fresh ammunition and winter clothing for his troops. He needed to move villagers away from the area of the attacks so they would not be vulnerable to retaliation from government forces. To pay for all this, Massoud wanted a large payment over and above his monthly CIA stipend. Schroen and the commander agreed on a one-time lump sum of $500,000 in cash. Schroen soon delivered the money by hand to Massoud's brother in Peshawar.

Weeks passed. There were a few minor skirmishes, and the Salang Highway closed for a few days, but it promptly reopened. As far as the CIA could determine, Massoud had not put any of his main forces into action as they had agreed he would. CIA officers involved suspected they had been ripped off for half a million dollars. The Salang was a vital source of commerce and revenue for civilians in northern Afghanistan, and Massoud in the past had been reluctant to close the road down, fearing he would alienate his local followers. Massoud's forces also earned taxes along the road.

In later exchanges with CIA officers, Massoud defended himself, saying his subcommanders had initiated the planned attacks as agreed that winter, but they had been stalled by weather and other problems. The CIA could find no evidence to support Massoud's account. As far as they could tell, Massoud's commanders had simply not participated in the battles along the Salang.

Schroen now reminded Massoud about their agreement six years earlier, and he mentioned that he had personally handed over $500,000 to Massoud's brother.

"How much?" Massoud asked.

"Five hundred thousand," Schroen replied.

Massoud and his aides began to talk among themselves. One of them quietly said in Dari, "We didn't get $500,000."

Massoud repeated his earlier defense to Schroen. The weather in that winter of 1990 had been awful. He couldn't move his troops as successfully as he had hoped. He lacked adequate ammunition, despite the big payment.

"That's all history," Schroen finally said.

Massoud voiced his own complaints. He was a deliberate, cogent speaker, clear and forceful, never loud or demonstrative. The CIA and the United States had walked away from Afghanistan, leaving its people bereft, he said.

Continues...


Excerpted from Ghost Wars by Steve Coll Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Certainly the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of al Qaeda in the post-Soviet rubble of Afghanistan . . . Ghost Wars provides fresh details and helps explain the motivations behind many crucial decisions."
-The New York Times Book Review

Meet the Author

Steve Coll is most recently the author of the New York Times bestseller The Bin Ladens. He is the president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute headquartered in Washington, D.C., and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Previously heworked for twenty years at The Washington Post, where he received a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 1990. He is the author of six other books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Ghost Wars.

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Ghost Wars 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 126 reviews.
judeOK More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book IF you're interested in why the Sept. 11 attacks took place and who executed the plans. I haven't found a more comprehensive account anywhere else and Coll's access to key players is astonishing. The book has all the intensity of a spy novel with the exception that it is no fiction. It also isn't a particularly easy read, primarily because of it's scope and the large cast of characters (Coll conveniently includes a list of the key players and their roles in the book). But the reador gains so much understanding of the complex culture and political strife that is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sadly, the book makes you realize the missed golden opportunities the U.S. had after Sept. 11 when they initially routed the Taliban from an exhausted and terrorized Afghanistan only to abandon the effort to focus on Iraq. I highly, highly recommend this book for thoughtful readers who truly want to understand: the consequences of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the CIA's role in fighting a proxy war against them; the struggles, invasions, and suffering of the Afghan people; the origins of Al Queda and the Taliban and their justifications for terrorism and institution of a stict interpretation of Sharia Law; and Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan's critical role in the entire tragedy we see today. Ghost Wars is one of the most important books you'll read.
OldRedFox More than 1 year ago
Coll gives us the definiative history of US involvement in Afghanistan from 1979 to September 10, 2001. Don't worry which side of the political fence you live on - there's more than enough blame to go around for everyone from Reagan, to borh Bushes and Clinton. This is essential reading to understand why we are mired in Afghanistan, and why there is no clear way to solve that issue.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book goes very in depth regarding the history of the CIA and its affairs with the Soviet Union and Middle East. It explores the various activities of top spies and covert affairs since as far back as the 1950's, and walks the reader through the events leading up to September 11. I am a 17 year old prospective International Relations major and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the CIA or foreign policy. Great read.
silencedogoodreturns More than 1 year ago
Mr. Coll has written an oustanding book that exhaustively details the history of the evolution of extremist Islam and the rise of Al Qaida, and how successive U.S. administrations did little to contain it. Whether not wishing to upset the Pakistanis or Saudis, unrealistically thinking they could reform the Taliban, or just engaging in self-defeating hand-wringing, U.S. leaders allowed events to move toward their inevitable 9-11 conclusion. Mr. Coll's particular triumph was to lay out all this information in a non-partisan way, BEFORE the establishment of the 911 Commission. Would that both the Commission and the U.S. Administration had read his book beforehand, much of the hyperbole and finger-pointing that arose from the Commission could have been avoided.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story of Al Queda and what went wrong with America's most hyped intelligence service; including the worst of the United States' foreign relation's officers and representatives. This might explain why US could not just leave Afghanistan and Iraq.
brane23 More than 1 year ago
It's an unbelievably in-depth book... if you're interested in foreign affairs and our countries past decision making, you'll love it.
billings More than 1 year ago
Steve Coll exhibits his extensive knowledge of war in Afghanistan and the role of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and America. His narrative is detailed but not so in depth as to lose the casual reader.
chuckdpm More than 1 year ago
This is a somewhat difficult book to read with it's detailed analysis of how "we" got to 9-11. The many mistakes that were made by every administration beginning with Reagan and ending with George W. Bush are mind boggling and makes one want to scream at the so-called leaders of our country. While understanding the geopolitical complexities at work, one is left with the notion that stepping on the toes of our oil producing "friends" might have been more important than our national security. I will say however that our leaders were also influenced by concern for the innocent lives that might be lost in attempting to capture or kill bin Laden and his cohorts and that of course is admirable. Whether they were concerned by the loss of innocent lives or the political consequences is up to the reader to decide. This work also makes one realize how difficult it is to deal with religious fanatics who do not hesitate to kill themselves in the pursuit of killing all the infidels who do not subscribe to their "religious" beliefs. I found myself wanting to sing to them John Lennon's song Imagine. I don't think they would get it. Not a book for everyone but certainly one that I would recommend for people interested in finding out how we got to where we are in this rather convoluted world of terrorism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Coll has written an oustanding book that exhaustively details the history of the evolution of extremist Islam and the rise of Al Qaida, and how successive U.S. administrations did little to contain it. Whether not wishing to upset the Pakistanis or Saudis, unrealistically thinking they could reform the Taliban, or just engaging in self-defeating hand-wringing, U.S. leaders allowed events to move toward their inevitable 9-11 conclusion. Mr. Coll's particular triumph was to lay out all this information in a non-partisan way, BEFORE the establishment of the 911 Commission. Would that both the Commission and the U.S. Administration had read his book beforehand, much of the hyperbole and finger-pointing could have been avoided.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book that you will enjoy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked it allot. It's a good story and has allot of interesting info
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ajocean More than 1 year ago
Simply put, it is a masterpiece!!!
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InfinityBandit More than 1 year ago
Very well written and informative. It's long and thorough but the writing makes it compelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book in depth. Very long and sometimes boring but we'll written.
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L.A.Carlson-writer More than 1 year ago
Journalist/Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Coll begins the story of the CIAs involvement in Afghanistan with images right out of a movie. Bundles of cash, secret and frequent flights by CIA operatives to Kabul; a place most Americans don't know. Some of the player names will sound familiar as Koll explains how the United States, the CIA and two administrations ignored the warning signs of terrorism and especially the rise of Bin Laden. It explains how we opened the door for the attacks before and on 9/11 by focusing on other issues. It's compelling, straight forward and at times, ridiculous. The Unocal oil company based out of Texas comes to mind. It also make you wonder what the CIA is keeping secret about in the present day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago