Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.By Steve Coll; published by Penguin Books; available online and from retailers; 695 pages; $18.87 (at amazon.com).
Every war yields probably hundreds of books. Only a few stand the test of time. Fewer still are must-haves. For security and intelligence professionals, Ghost Wars achieves that status.
The conflict that serves as the launching point for the book is the Soviet Union's invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which lasted from late 1979 to the Soviet pullout a decade later. With this backdrop, Ghost Wars uses a multidisciplinary approach to the study of terrorism in Afghanistan, including its various causes, effects, philosophies, groups, and evolution.
Author Steve Coll's reporting is exemplary. Information comes from a range of respected and noted intelligence officers who served in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation or the rise of the Taliban. Coll details such topics as command of the Northern Alliance and the plan to target Tarnak Farm, where Osama bin Laden stayed with his family. Coll also paints a thorough picture of CIA and State Department achievements and setbacks in the region.
This fascinating book will appeal to a wide range of readers, be they security professionals, intelligence officers, foreign-affairs specialists, political scientists, historians, or terrorism experts. Beyond the captivating prose, Coll presents an assortment of maps, references, contributor information, and notes from interviews, all of which by themselves are highly informative.
Reviewer: Mark H. Beaudry, CPP, is a senior security professional for IBM-SWG, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a member of ASIS International.