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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ghost Wars
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...
Published on 19 May 2004 by Roy-Edwards Veronica

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars A difficult book to stay focused on
It took me a while to get used to the authors writing style as every sentence seemed to be written in reverse, or maybe it was just me, don't know but I found it hard going. On a lighter note the subject and content was informative yet the book didn't fill me with a desire to read it to the end.

I was also a tad annoyed that some 35% of the book was...
Published 1 month ago by Dave R


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ghost Wars, 19 May 2004
By 
Roy-Edwards Veronica (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
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`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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steve Coll's brilliant thesis is indispensable to understanding where the `war on terror' originates, 24 Nov. 2012
By 
The Guardian (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghost Wars (Hardcover)
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.

Coll's book focusses principally on Afghanistan and Pakistan but takes in the USSR, Iran, the Central Asian republics, Turkey and other players in the region, plus Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States who played a major part in financing the insurgent war against the Soviets in the 1980s and later bankrolled the Taliban both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coll demonstrates what all informed commentators now understand only too well: the Taliban is essentially the creation of the Inter-Service Intelligence agency of the Pakistani military who worked to produce a militant Sunni-Islamist client state in Afghanistan for `strategic depth' against their arch-enemy India, and to prevent Iranian influence taking significant hold in western Afghanistan.

There are several chapters on the `stranded gas' problems of the CARs and of the protracted political machinations behind various proposed pipeline projects to transport the oil and gas to serviceable ports via Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan or under The Caspian. These ideas were first proposed by the Argentine oil giant BRIDAS, followed later by others such as the small US company Unocal. Unsurprisingly, none of these ultimately unrealistic projects in such a volatile region have ever seen the light of day, nor are they likely to in future.

Coll paints detailed thumbnail sketches of many of the participants in this sorry drama: CIA directors Bill Casey and George Tenet; Gary Schroen, Paul Pillar and Richard Clarke; Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jallaladin Haqqanni and other tribal warlords in Afghanistan; Mullah Mohammed Omar; the Karzais; Prince Turki Al-Faisal, head of the Saudi Secret Service who carried millions of US$ into Pakistan in suitcases for the ISI to finance their proxies in Afghanistan; Generals Assad Durani, Hamid Gul and others who headed the ISI and largely guided US policy in the region (and deceived US policy-makers) are a small selection of the major players so described.

`Ghost Wars' is replete with detail and eschews commentary in favour of factual reporting, so could in no way be described as `light reading.' However if you get through its rather intimidating 576 pages you will be better informed than most about how misguided US policies in backing the wrong allies, lack of focus and political neglect led to the rising lethality of Sunni-Islamist jihadism in the 1990s which eventually led to the US being dragged into long, bloody and ruinously expensive conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hindsight is always 20/20 but these catastrophies might, with better political leadership, have been avoided.

Coll's book has no illustrations, but does have a comprehensive 120-page notes section citing original sources for further reading.

A recommended follow-up volume to `Ghost Wars' would be Jason Burke's excellent `The 9/11 Wars' which takes up the narrative after September 2001 and explores subsequent developments in the Af-Pak region following the US-led invasion.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXPLOSIVE READING, 30 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
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
This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
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
By 
SJ SMART "Smartie" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
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
By 
Mr. S. Rattu (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
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.
Recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 11 July 2013
By 
Steamboat "andy_go" - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
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. OK, this book isn't specifically about the history of Afghanistan, but having read it I feel I'm pretty up to speed on the last 40 years or so.

The story is fascinating, the narrative is enticing and you look forward to each new chapter. Some history books can go overboard on detail, but here I think the author has the balance between content and style spot on.

The chapter covering the origins of the Taliban I found to be a particular revelation, and I now have a significantly different perspective on the whole Afghanistan / Al Quaeda problem.

A job superbly done, Steve Coll. Together with Frances Fitzgerald's account of the Vietnam War (Fire in the Lake - buy it!) this is the best book of this kind I have read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Can't Imagine this Subject Covered Better Than This, 29 Jun. 2010
By 
Brian S. Meredith "Brian" (Exeter) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
Superb book. In a genre which attracts too many opportunistic third hand accounts, I was looking for an authoritive, well referenced work on this important chapter in recent history and I struck gold with this title. Ghost Wars is a meticulously researched book, free of unsupported assertions with copious footnotes and sources.
Author Steve Coll has produced what must be the definitive history, covering a gripping and dramatic story without any hint of sensationalism and commendable neutrality. A sober account but never dull. And because there are so many characters in this drama, there's even a list of principal characters so you can keep track of who's who, essential when many Arab names use such a small vocabulary. It's quite a long read but well worth the effort because if you want to begin to understand the present day situation in Afghanistan you really do need to read this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars First political book I have ever read. Fantastic read!, 11 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Paperback)
I admit that normally I like nothing better than to curl up with a book - usually fiction and normally with a romantic theme. I didn't really have any interest in world politics before picking up this book. I thought this was because I found politics boring but now I realise it was because I didn't understand political situations and it seemed too great a task to begin understanding. And then, I found this book. I found it easy to understand and was fascinated from start to finish. I love the way it reads like a novel and introduces key players with descriptions of their backgrounds and how they came to be involved. I also like that there are quotes from the key players which makes the book seem more 'friendly'. I have been recommending it to everyone I know!
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