Prior to 9/11, the United States had been carrying out small-scale covert operations in Afghanistan, ostensibly in cooperation, although often in direct opposition, with I.S.I., the Pakistani intelligence agency. While the US was trying to quell extremists, a highly secretive and compartmentalized wing of I.S.I., known as "Directorate S", was covertly training, arming, and seeking to legitimize the Taliban, in order to enlarge Pakistan's sphere of influence. After 9/11, when 59 countries, led by the US, deployed troops or provided aid to Afghanistan in an effort to flush out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the US was set on an invisible slow-motion collision course with Pakistan.
Today, we know that the war in Afghanistan would falter badly because of military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the drain on resources and provocation in the Muslim world caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq, and corruption. But, more than anything, as Coll makes painfully clear, the war in Afghanistan was doomed because of the failure of the United States to apprehend the motivations and intentions of I.S.I.'s "Directorate S". This was a swirling and shadowy struggle of historic proportions, which endured over a decade and across both the Bush and Obama administrations, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of players, including some of the most prominent military and political figures. A sprawling American tragedy, the war was an open clash of arms but also a covert melee of ideas, secrets, and subterranean violence.
Coll excavates this grand battle, which took place away from the gaze of the American public. With unsurpassed expertise, original research, and attention to detail, he brings to life a narrative at once vast and intricate, local and global, propulsive and painstaking. This is the definitive explanation of how America came to be so badly ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia. Nothing less than a forensic examination of the personal and political forces that shape world history, Directorate S is a complete masterpiece of both investigative and narrative journalism.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Saad on 08-05-18
Filled with facts and beautifully written
As someone aware of the events in Afghanistan and familiar with the characters, I can say that Steve has done it once again. The book starts where his last book, The Ghost Wars, ended. It is filled with facts and details and Steve has access to people and stories that hardly leave close circles. There are some claims, however, that are clearly untrue. For instance, the claim that Massoud had $60million in UK accounts. As a matter of fact, Massoud and the Northern Alliance never had a cash more than $10million dollars at any time of their resistance against the Taliban. In fact, after Massoud's visit to the EU parliament and France, he was promised a sum of more than $50million in the following year which he saw as a green light by the international community to increase the fight and push back the Taliban. This was evident in his post-France visit plans of buying new heavy military equipment, warheads, etc. Including stocks of military uniforms/gears to begin what the process of the creation of the Afghan National Army. Financially he struggled and countries were reluctant to help, this is why the fight remained in the northeast and pockets in central, west and southern Afghanistan. His cash flow was so inconsistent and mediocre that he had to rely on a combination of some foreign assistance, selling of minerals, and donations to make ends meet and feed the resistance fighters. Additionally, it is hard to miss the heroes in of this book. Amrullah Saleh, seems to dominate the first few chapters of the book, he also happens to be a friend of Steve as well as one of his main sources on the inner stories and workings of the Northern Alliance. Nontheless, Saleh has been a prominent character in the Afghan politics atlleast since the 2004 Afghan presidential elections.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Louis Macareo on 06-03-18
All the detail you could want
This was not a barn burner, but it was an extremely detailed account and for 27 hours the presentation is rather fluid and digestable. I can not imagine how much work it took to put this book together. Congratulations to the author on his accomplishment. Oh, and Afghanistan . . . goodness what a hot mess!
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
By Gillian on 20-02-18
Slow At Times But Always Horrifying And Engaging
If you aren't horrified and heartsick after listening to Directorate S, you need to listen to it again. It might take that: I listened to it twice because, while extraordinarily well-researched, it packs soooo much of EVERYthing, every move, every plot, every person involved, it sometimes has a tendency to drag. But if you listen carefully, you might feel rage, horror, a certain sense of helpless dread.
Every person from the young wannabe terrorist, to the absolutely most soulless of operatives, from the politician with a bit of knowledge, to the politician who should know better, from the sociopaths of Pakistan, to the paranoid of Afghanistan is/are covered in great detail.
Steve Coll has pulled together a most fascinating work, and I wound up feeling bouts of shame, bouts of exasperation and anger.
While, as I said, it does drag a bit at first, it's always engaging, and if the subject matter is anything of interest to you, you'll be well-pleased with Coll's results.
You can't get any more in-depth than Directorate S. And you won't feel any more helpless than when you come to its conclusion. There's plenty of blame to go around; nobody gets a pass. And we as the American people are left holding a mixed bag of chaos...
26 of 30 people found this review helpful