The acclaimed journalist delivers “a second volume” of the history he recounted in the Pulitzer Prize–winning Ghost Wars (2004).
Based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of pages of documents, New Yorker staff writer Coll’s (Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, 2012, etc.) latest journalistic masterpiece “seeks to provide a thorough, reliable history of how the C.I.A., I.S.I., and Afghan intelligence agencies influenced the rise of a new war in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, and how that war fostered a revival of Al Qaeda, allied terrorist networks, and eventually, branches of the Islamic state.” Coll succeeds on all levels, and his prodigious research leads to only one conclusion: while the United States has won some battles in the so-called war on terror, it has unquestionably lost the war while feeding the radical fires of countless terrorists. The author demonstrates what he has suggested previously and what dozens of other authors have learned: that the U.S. has largely destroyed Afghanistan while trying to save it, similar to what occurred during the Vietnam War. The most prominent actor in this second volume is Pakistan. There are numerous examples of Pakistani factions promising to assist the American-led war on terror only to break promises while raking in billions of dollars in foreign aid. Whether the administration is that of George W. Bush or Barack Obama, the author’s reporting demonstrates countless foolish decisions by the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House. The State Department comes across as slightly less foolish but not devoid of criticism. Coll is masterful at plumbing the depths of agencies and sects within both Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the murderous groups that have become the main targets of the war on terror. The cast of characters at the beginning of the book will help readers keep track of all the players.
In this era of fake news, Coll remains above it all, this time delivering an impeccably researched history of “diplomacy at the highest levels of government in Washington, Islamabad, and Kabul.”