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What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 197989 Paperback – 30 Jul 2014
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""A penetrating analysis of America's covert war in Afghanistan from 1979-1989 and of the important lessons of that 'secret war.' In WHAT WE WON ", "Bruce Riedel shows once again that he ranks with the most authoritative voices on this episode, providing a brilliant chronicle of the development of the Afghan covert operation and offering an unblinking assessment of the consequences of the mujahedin defeat of the Soviets."" --General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army (Retired)
"The foremost intelligence and policy expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan has produced a vital and concise history of America's first engagement in that pivotal part of the world that is still President Obama's war today. This book is both cogent history and dramatic lesson."--Bob Woodward, Washington Post"
"An exceptionally fine piece of work by someone superbly qualified to address the subject with authority and perspective, it changed my mind on several key issues and players in the war."--John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA and professor at Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies
"A penetrating analysis of America's covert war in Afghanistan from 1979-1989 and of the important lessons of that 'secret war.' In WHAT WE WON, Bruce Riedel shows once again that he ranks with the most authoritative voices on this episode, providing a brilliant chronicle of the development of the Afghan covert operation and offering an unblinking assessment of the consequences of the mujahedin defeat of the Soviets."--General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army (Retired)
A penetrating analysis of America's covert war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 and of the important lessons of that 'secret war.' In What We Won, Bruce Riedel shows once again that he ranks with the most authoritative voices on this episode, providing a brilliant chronicle of the development of the Afghan covert operation and offering an unblinking assessment of the consequences of the mujahedin defeat of the Soviets.--General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army (Retired)
The foremost intelligence and policy expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan has produced a vital and concise history of America's first engagement in that pivotal part of the world that is still President Obama's war today. This book is both cogent history and dramatic lesson.--Bob Woodward, Washington Post
An exceptionally fine piece of work by someone superbly qualified to address the subject with authority and perspective, it changed my mind on several key issues and players in the war.--John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies
About the Author
Bruce Riedel is senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project. Riedel joined Brookings following a thirty-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as a senior adviser to four U.S. presidents on South Asia and the Middle East, working as a senior member of the National Security Council. In 2009 President Obama made him chairman of a strategic review of American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is author of the Brookings best seller The Search for al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future.
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A few points of clarification before I begin: one, I am NOT a member of any intelligence organization. I have no security clearance; I'm only reviewing a book based on publicly available information. Two, the ISI is the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence of the Pakistani armed forces, which was the principal interlocutor of the CIA during the secret war in Afghanistan. Three, the USA has been a major supplier of foreign aid to Pakistan since independence (with the exception of a brief interlude, which I'll mention below); in addition, or separately, the CIA funnelled money directly to the mujahidden). So when writers speak of the US "abandoning" Af-Pak" after the Soviet withdrawal, there's reason to question this narrative. I'll discuss that below also.
ABANDONING THE FIELD
It is frequently alleged, especially in Pakistan, that the USG abandoned Pakistan after the Soviet-Afghan War. In some senses, this is a fair allegation: in October 1990, after six years of looking the other way, the White House "noticed" Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and drastically all forms of aid. Diplomatically, the US was suddenly antagonistic to Pakistan; even as it shifted from military to civilian rule. The reason was that Pakistan was determined to use its alliance with the USA in a war against India, which would have been utterly horrific.
Aid continued to flow to the mujahidden after 1990; it continued until April 1992. The USG was faced with an insoluble dilemma: the ISI was essentially running Pakistani foreign policy through _fait acompli_, while the Bhutto (and subs. Sharif) governments were locked in a political deathmatch with Pres. Ishaq Khan and each other. The intelligence services (remember, Pakistan has several agencies) were implicated in the political turmoil, and it became apparent that aid to the government was sure to result in a political crisis for Pakistan. The rival factions of mujahidden were fighting each other; the comparatively benevolent ones, like Ahmed Shah Massood, were not accessible to the CIA.
For this reason, "sticking with the job" was not feasable. All of the parties in Pakistan were seeking to avoid public association with the USA anyway.
On p.149, in his list of recommendations for future covert wars, Bruce Riedel warns against "mission creep," which in this case meant going from the Carter plan of harassing the Soviets, to the Reagan [era] plan of defeating the Kabul government. This would have meant an even more "egregious" and arbitrary-seeming abandonment of Pakistan than what actually happened. But at least it's original.
ACCESS TO THE MUJAHIDDIN
Riedel claims many times in his book that the CIA "had very little direct contact" with the fighters or their leaders (p.41, quoting Robert Gates) as well as the Arab volunteers (p.81, preceding a detailed account of UbL's and Abdullah Azzam's CIA un-influenced experience in Afghanistan. Steve Coll corroborates this claim, which surprised me. For example, as late as 1989, Milton Bearden, CIA station chief in Islamabad (of the sort typically described as "colorful") describes running into a Gulf Arab (?) volunteer intent on killing "infidels" in Afghanistan. At first I expected to debunk this claim with documents available since 2004, but there really isn't a lot of evidence that the USG/CIA had any interaction with foreign volunteers. For the most part, encounters between either the Wahhabi volunteers or the higher ranking figures of the mujahiddin leadership were with Saudi entourages.
Interviews with US station personnel in Pakistan validates this thesis. Much of intelligence work done in Pakistan during the mid-late 1980s was to determine what the ISI was doing with US money and weapons. A key opponent was the embassy and CIA staff in Islamabad, who dreaded leakage of internal criticism to their Pakistani hosts. But gradually, the message reached Washington by 1988 that the ISI was totally devoted to the most extreme Wahhabist factions, rather than ones that were effective or likely to win respect in Afghanistan. Pakistan's hoped-for transition to democracy was a descent into anarchy and potential nuclear war with India; amid the endless repining about abandoning the region in the 1990s (along with Leonard Shelby-levels of forgetfulness about why "we" did so), the political establishment in the USA was unwilling to fully disavow the ideology and goals of the Taliban. Members of the US Congress certainly would not have liked to live in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, but they clearly preferred the Talib for the people of Afghanistan.
MY PROBLEM WITH THE PREMISE OF THE BOOK
There is a well-established pattern of the USG targeting modernizing foreign governments (sometimes with compelling reasons, sometimes not), ousting them at terrible cost, and leaving sectarian tyranny in place. Bruce Riedel is very anxious to remind us that it was the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan that created the international jihadist movement, and it was General Zia ul-Haq who made the decision to launch the war of resistance. Saudi-Pakistani motives were compatible, in Afghanistan, and in some respects Pakistan had opened itself up to internal development by the Saudis.
This was, in effect, a vending-machine regime-change; the USG dropped a lot of coins into the Pakistani slot, prevented do-gooders from unplugging the machine, and after ten years there was a loud clonking in the dispenser; but the soda was a little fizzier than anticipated. Who could have expected such a thing? At the very least, the ISI and the GIP bear some of the blame for the extreme comparative success of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani--who won because they let others fight the Soviets, while they fought the other _mujahiddin_. But even then, it's absurd to imagine that the CIA, or its political masters (snort) in Washington had no responsibility to notice the disturbing ideology of the fighting forces. The huge increase in the number of madrassas in Pakistan, funded by Saudi Arabia, was clearly intended to remold public perceptions of what Islam means. Pakistan was not a sequestered Shangri-La closed to Western eyes; its society was under intense scrutiny by official Washington. The notion that the State Department and the CIA were unable to predict the rise of a quasi-Islam targetting the USA, is impossible to take seriously.
Either the US endeavor in Afghanistan had no effect on the history of the region (unlikely), or it did. The Soviet commitment to the Afghan War was small: a peak commitment of 100,000 troops, in a war on its very border. In contrast, the US commitment to the War in Viet Nam was massive: a peak of 540,000 troops (both figures apply for a short time only). The famously casaulty-averse USA lost 58,000 Americans in the Vietnam War; the poorer, authoritarian USSR lost 15,000 troops in Afghanistan. As a share of available resources, the Afghan War for the Soviets was about the same as the Vietnam War on the USA. Economically, I find it hard to take seriously the proposition that the Afghan War caused the collapse of the USSR, or even contributed significantly; it merely made thousands of Soviet conscripts miserable. Liberating Afghanistan was naturally not a goal of the CIA; the ISI, as Riedel acknowledges, wanted to win control of Afghanistan for Pakistan.
On the other hand, insisting that the foreign jihadi volunteers who traveled to Afghanistan were not influenced by the CIA effort there is a bad faith argument. The CIA was well aware that the ISI's goal was to get at India, not the USSR or Communism. The Saudi goal for Afghanistan was directly visible in the refugee camps of the NWFP. Emotional antipathy towards the Americans was constantly on display in Pakistan; the ISI definitely felt the need to hide its cooperation with the Americans (but not the Saudis) from the Pakistani public. In 1979, rumors that the US was to blame for an uprising in Mecca caused Pakistanis to riot at the US embassy in Islamabad, killing four inside. This was, at the very least, a place that was (a) very poorly understood by the Americans, and (b) obviously receptive to the most explosive anti-American hatred. This alone ought to have given the US authorities pause, but it did not. Likewise, the ideological chasm between the GIP and American society could reasonably have been expected to forestall any joint black operation when the Americans were barred any chance to observe what was happening. A genuine ally does not have an uncontrollable urge to kill you if he meets you; this was what GIP and ISI agents explicitly said was the motive for denying CIA officers access to mujaheddin in theater. There is no way this could have failed to produce a massively deadly terrorist attack on the US and its allies, and of course it did.
(Check comments below for sources)
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I however liked the style of Bruce Riedel's writing and would recommend the book to anyone interested in knowing the Amercan perspective of Afghan Jehad.