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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden [Paperback]

Steve Coll
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Mar 2005

The news-breaking book that has sent schockwaves through the White House, Ghost Wars is the most accurate and revealing account yet of the CIA's secret involvement in al-Qaeada's evolution.

Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll has spent years reporting from the Middle East, accessed previously classified government files and interviewed senior US officials and foreign spymasters. Here he gives the full inside story of the CIA's covert funding of an Islamic jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, explores how this sowed the seeds of bn Laden's rise, traces how he built his global network and brings to life the dramatic battles within the US government over national security. Above all, he lays bare American intelligence's continual failure to grasp the rising threat of terrrorism in the years leading to 9/11 - and its devastating consequences.

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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden + The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda's Road to 9/11 + Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam
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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141020806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141020808
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Steve Coll's Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 offers revealing details of the CIA's involvement in the evolution of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the years before the September 11 attacks. From the beginning, Coll shows how the CIA's on-again, off-again engagement with Afghanistan after the end of the Soviet war left officials at Langley with inadequate resources and intelligence to appreciate the emerging power of the Taliban. He also demonstrates how Afghanistan became a deadly playing field for international politics where Soviet, Pakistani and US agents armed and trained a succession of warring factions. At the same time, the book, though opinionated, balances accounts of CIA failures with the success stories, such as the capture of Mir Amal Kasi.

Coll, managing editor for the Washington Post, covered Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992. He demonstrates unprecedented access to records of White House meetings and to formerly classified material, and his command of Saudi, Pakistani and Afghani politics is impressive. He also provides a seeming insider's perspective on personalities such as George Tenet, William Casey and anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke ("who seemed to wield enormous power precisely because hardly anyone knew who he was or what exactly he did for a living"). Coll manages to weave his research into a narrative that sometimes has the feel of a Tom Clancy novel yet never crosses into excess.

While comprehensive, Coll's book may be hard going for those looking for a direct account of the events leading to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA's 1998 engagement with bin Laden as a target for capture begins a full two-thirds of the way into Ghost Wars, only after a lengthy march through developments during the Carter, Reagan and early Clinton Presidencies. But this is not a criticism of Coll's efforts; just a warning that some stamina is required to keep up. Ghost Wars is a complex study of intelligence operations and an invaluable resource for those seeking a nuanced understanding of how a small band of extremists rose to inflict incalculable damage on American soil. --Patrick O'Kelley, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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"

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First Sentence
IT WAS A SMALL RIOT in a year of upheavals, a passing thunderclap disgorged by racing skies. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ghost Wars 19 May 2004
Steve Coll's study "Ghost Wars" is the most comprehensive study of the CIA and other secret services operating in Afghanistan covering the twenty odd years preceding the September 11th attack that I have read so far. The account is based on an impressive bibliography and large number of interviews. It is factual, but the narrative is quite vivid and colourful. Personal interpretations and theorizing are prudently limited, which makes this book preferable in my opinion to other 'historical' accounts such as "Le Royaume de l'Insolence" (Barry), in which the author's personal theses concerning Islam for example (although interesting in their own right) tend to be presented as fact. Both books make very good reading for anyone with a special interest in the history and politics of Afghanistan.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No doubt about it 8 Feb 2011
`Ghost Wars' is a well researched book with abundant footnotes supporting every detail. With so many Arab figures, the author wisely provides a list to allow the reader to keep track of who is who -- though a complicated read it is easy to follow. He exposes the CIAs failures in the days leading up to 9/11, while on the other hand, he eradicates many misconceptions of the CIA including rumors it often works for the enemy. This is an open and honest book of what is for the most part a closed and clandestine organization. Bravo!

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA is an appropriate partner for this book as it defines the environment it operates in. Another well researched book by a former CIA agent Murder in the Vatican: The CIA and the Bolshevik Pontiff does a riveting job explaining why the anti-American Pope who preceded the Polish Pope survived only 33 days in the Vatican.

Get `Ghost Wars' in hardcover for your permanent collection.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXPLOSIVE READING 30 Sep 2008
This literary masterpiece from Pulitzer prize winning author Steve Coll will blow your mind.The apparent relentless and exhaustive research that made this book shows Colls dedication to bringing the full story to the reader.Beginning with the US support of the Afghan fighters during the Soviet invasion and finishing just days before the attacks on 9/11 Coll will take you on a mind boggling journey encompassing delicate matters such as:the US support of the taliban,the CIA attempts to buy back Stinger missiles it had given to the Mujaheddin for $150,000 apiece!! hare brained and expensive attempts to remove Osama Bin Laden and constant policy changes and in-fighting within the CIA.Throw in the main characters:an impeached president,a president with no clue on foriegn policy,tribal leaders more concerned with personal enrichment than the liberation of their people and radical jihadists like Osama the world hide and seek champion!!Add to this mix the ineptitude of the CIA and you have an extremely interesting plot.Read this book for the story and you will become more informed on the origins of al-Qaeda,the history of Afghanistan and the entanglement of the US government.Study this book and you will see layer upon layer of CIA incompetence,could 9/11 have been prevented?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars to Obama's choice 7 Mar 2009
I like spy non-fiction and selected this book after finding out that Barack Obama read this during his presidential campaign. The book is beyond expectations, with a complete overview and seemingly a true account of what happened in Afghanistan during the 80's and 90's. The book is very well written and the details brought about by Steve Coll are fantastic.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book that reads like a novel 27 Nov 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Most political histories are a little dry and dull but this book is brilliant, so detailed and so well researched it reads like a Tom Clancy novel.

It covers the entire background to CIA involvement in Afghanistan and the rise of Bin Laden there. Its totally gripping and so informative, the only frustration is that it ends on 8 Sept just before 9/11.

If you are interested in the CIA and Afghanistan then read this book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible 5 Nov 2007
This has become my favourite book of all time. Each page is packed with information, the whole book is extensively referenced too. It also puts to bed many misconceptions and myths (a common one is that the CIA funded bin Laden, which is not true).
Coll also describes the feelings of those who worked in the CIA and State Dept. and he shows their many conflicts and competing ideologies. The split feelings and decisions within the U.S. policy makers with respect to Massoud, bin Laden and the Taliban are very well told.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In 1990 Steve Coll was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism, and since 1998 has been Managing Editor of The Washington Post. Prior to this, he covered South Asia and Afghanistan for the WP between 1989 and 1992 and has a personal knowledge of and insight into the region shared by few other western reporters.

`Ghost Wars' is an extremely detailed explanatory thesis of the complex history of the Af-Pak region between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 through the constant insurgent and civil wars of the 1980s and 1990s, narrated chronologically and ending on 9th September 2001 with the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud to `clear the way' for long-planned attacks on the USA by Salafi jihadists using hijacked commercial airliners as missiles to strike at the financial, military and political power centres of their declared enemy.

Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 Coll reveals the degree to which US policy in the region became muddled and unfocussed, blighted by slashed budgets, inter-agency rivalries and White House indifference. By continually choosing to back Pakistan as an ally the US inadvertently allowed militant Islam to take root in the region, only acknowledging the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and the Afghan-based Wahhabi jihadists following his declaration of war on the US in 1996, and only taking serious action (cruise missile strikes on jihadist training camps, and numerous secretly-planned but failed attempts to kill or capture bin Laden) following the African Embassy attacks in August 1998.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed
Incredibly detailed book with some interesting observations and some revealing interviews or reminisces on events. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Nico
5.0 out of 5 stars great
good book
Published 1 month ago by Omar
4.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going but some interesting facts
Written in an incredibly small for which makes it a hard book to read at bedtime. Content is interesting and worrying if true - still only half way through though
Published 5 months ago by D. M. Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book and Very Rich
It is by far the best book written in the perspective of terrorism and it modern form.It gives a very rich and informative historic background all the way from the establishment of... Read more
Published 6 months ago by EnAhmad
1.0 out of 5 stars Useless
This book is useless and do not waste your money on this book. There are hardly any solid facts in this book and the title promisses more that it actually offers.
Published 8 months ago by Writer
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book!
One of my top 3 all time favourite books! Gripping and fascinating all the way! Gives you a 360 degree view of the events in Afghanistan
Published 12 months ago by Vivek Subramanyam
5.0 out of 5 stars The clearest understanding of rise of Al-Qaeda
An essential reference work for every Sandhurst cadet, officer and all those involved in global security and addressing the rise of al-Qaeda and other extreme terrorist groups.
Published 12 months ago by james c
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
I read a lot of history books, many about the cold war. I have read a couple about the more recent history of Afghanistan and found them quite difficult to get into. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Steamboat
5.0 out of 5 stars very interesting
a great book difficult to put down.
a clear account of a complicated subject would recommend it to anyone who wants to be enlightened
Published 16 months ago by Terence Butcher
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
A very detailed reading into a very complicated situation that is currently facing Pakistan. Very hard to put the book down. However the book was bit too long for me. Read more
Published 18 months ago by MR N KHAN
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