Directorate S
Resuming the narrative of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars, bestselling author Steve Coll tells for the first time the epic and enthralling story of America's intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11 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 fifty-nine countries, led by the U. S., deployed troops or provided aid to Afghanistan in an effort to flush out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the U.S. 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 U.S.-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.

Directorate S Details

TitleDirectorate S
Author
ReleaseFeb 6th, 2018
PublisherPenguin Press
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Politics, War, Military

Directorate S Review

  • Murtaza
    January 1, 1970
    Reading Ghost Wars many years ago provided a great background education on the history of the U.S. War on Terror. This book is billed as a continuation of that history, focused primarily on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan that began in 2001. Directorate S aims to be a definitive narrative of that period and as such covers a lot of ground, running to over 700 pages that cover everything from top-level political negotiations to accounts of ground-level combat in specific theaters of the Reading Ghost Wars many years ago provided a great background education on the history of the U.S. War on Terror. This book is billed as a continuation of that history, focused primarily on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan that began in 2001. Directorate S aims to be a definitive narrative of that period and as such covers a lot of ground, running to over 700 pages that cover everything from top-level political negotiations to accounts of ground-level combat in specific theaters of the Afghan war. For those who have been following the wars in the region a lot of what is documented in the book will be familiar. But what Coll manages to do is flesh out background about key episodes of political intrigue during the war, through interviews with the high-ranking officials whom he has access to. Among the best parts of the book were the behind-the-scenes insights into negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, as well as the Pakistani and Afghan governments. There are not really solid characters through whom the narrative is told, though there are several people whose experiences Coll draws on considerably to try and give the history of this period. As much as possible he tries to give a balance of telling the story from the side of ordinary Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans, as well as elite figures whom we're all familiar withThe narrative runs from 2001 to 2016, telling the whole story of the U.S. war in Afghanistan as well as America's fraught relationship with the Pakistani ISI. The title of the book refers to the ISI's notorious S-Wing, the directorate of the agency responsible for managing Pakistan's relationship with militant Islamist proxies. I was hoping that, as the title suggested, the book would be something like an expose of this shadowy and powerful organization. Instead it functioned more as a general history of the war, drawing on public sources as well as interviews that Coll conducted. There was surprisingly little shocking or revelatory information here, although he provides a good summation of events to date and manages to provide some more color to the history. He also does a good job of portraying the perspective of every side on the conflict, describing comprehensively how and why irreconcilably conflicting interests continue to torment the U.S, Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as the Taliban.Regarding the story that the book tells, the strong message that comes across is how disjointed and confused American policy in Afghanistan is. The Pentagon, White House, State Department and CIA all seem to be operating at cross-purposes with one another, pursuing different policies that don't really connect with each other. The White House and State publicly state that the war against the Taliban is unwinnable on military terms and that a political solution is necessary. As such, they have tried to pursue talks with the Taliban on those grounds. But at the same time the military and CIA have been conducting a kill-every-Taliban policy that seems to be completely at odds with what U.S. leadership and the civilian leadership is saying. Even the Taliban have noticed that the Department of Defense are the main hardliners on the U.S. side, while the civilians generally are amenable to cutting a deal.Even the Trump administration has conceded publicly that they can not win the war outright, but they are still unable to engage in the political work necessary to end the conflict. Why the U.S. would have assassinated Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in 2016 (under Obama) when he would have had to be their interlocutor in any negotiated settlement is baffling. It seems very clear that there is no unified or coherent vision for what U.S. strategy should be. This perverse situation has helped create the grounds for an endless war (which CIA officials at one point in the book openly describe the conflict as), the true costs of which are manifesting over time in the loss of U.S. prestige, global Muslim radicalization and regional destabilization in South Asia. There is no victory on the horizon in Afghanistan and the trends depicted in this book are gloomy one for the future of that country.Coll is a gifted writer, not in the sense that his writing is aesthetically wonderful, but that its so clear and accessible that the narrative is a breeze to get through. I was really impressed by this accomplishment, which I think is an important one given how much information he had to convey. People should not be daunted by the scope and size of this book, as it can be read and absorbed in relatively short order. Unfortunately the advance copy that I got was missing footnotes for some of the chapters so I was unable to see what his research was based on at some points.Although the narrative could have tied up better at times and there were not many huge scoops in the book (although there were a couple eyebrow raising passages), I would classify this as a must-read of War on Terror reportage. It really puts current events into perspective, particularly as the U.S.-Pakistan relationship continues to deteriorate over the Afghan war.
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  • Steven Z.
    January 1, 1970
    In 2004 Steve Coll earned his second Pulitzer Prize for GHOST WARS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, AFGHANISTAN AND BIN LADEN, FROM THE SOVIET INVASION TO SEPTEMBER 10, 2001. The book provided a reliable analytical approach as it explained what led to al-Qaeda’s rise amidst Afghanistan’s civil war which culminated with the attack on September 11th. Coll’s new book DIRECTORATE S: THE CIA AND AMERICA’S SECRET WARS IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN, 2001-2016 picks up where GHOST WARS leaves off and attem In 2004 Steve Coll earned his second Pulitzer Prize for GHOST WARS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, AFGHANISTAN AND BIN LADEN, FROM THE SOVIET INVASION TO SEPTEMBER 10, 2001. The book provided a reliable analytical approach as it explained what led to al-Qaeda’s rise amidst Afghanistan’s civil war which culminated with the attack on September 11th. Coll’s new book DIRECTORATE S: THE CIA AND AMERICA’S SECRET WARS IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN, 2001-2016 picks up where GHOST WARS leaves off and attempts to deal with a number of important questions pertaining to a war that caused the death of over 2400 soldiers and contractors with more than 20,000 wounded, many of which suffered life altering injuries.In his latest volume Coll effectively explains how the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 fostered a revival of al-Qaeda and the eventually the Taliban, allied terrorist networks, and branches of ISIS. Further, he examines the connection between American, Afghan, and Pakistani policies, and the failure to eliminate jihadi terrorism. Coll concentrates on the CIA, ISI, and Afghan intelligence services in developing his analysis and narrative. Coll interviewed over 500 people for the book, made numerous trips to the region, and has excellent command of the research provided by scores of journalists and scholars who have also written on aspects of the Afghan War, the roles of Pakistan, and the United States government.Coll’s harshest criticism rests with the Pakistani government and its duplicitous intelligence service that was obsessed with India. The ISI (Inter Service Intelligence) was responsible for the creation of the Taliban going back to the 1990s. Coll explains the relationship between the Taliban and ISI, the different agendas of each, and the most important personalities involved, from Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, to Ashfaq Kayani, the head of the ISI, to Amrullah Saleh, the head of the Afghani N.D.S. The ISI is broken down into different directorates and Coll concentrates on Directorate S which was the locus of Pakistan’s covert operation to aid the Taliban in Afghanistan, aid Kashmiri guerillas against India, and other violent Islamist radicals. For Pakistan, the Taliban was their ace in the whole because from President Parvez Musharraf on down they believed that the US did not have the staying power to remain in Afghanistan. They needed to have a major player in the Afghanistan game, particularly after 2006 when the Taliban’s resurgence began and affect daily life in Kabul and other major Afghani cities.Coll is also very critical of the United States. These observations rest in a number of areas. First, the refusal to commit the necessary ground forces to capture Osama Bin-Laden in December, 2001 when he was trapped in Tora Bora. The CIA pleaded for 2-3,000 troops to help close off escape routes to Pakistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not be moved and with President George W. Bush’s backing refused to “put boots on the ground.” Second, it seemed almost immediately the US turned its attention to Iraq and its commitment and aid to the Kabul government receded, and reaffirmed that it did not want to get involved in nation-building in Afghanistan. With no concrete plan for Afghanistan once the Taliban was removed, only a weak, corrupt government under Hamid Karzai would evolve. Third, American intelligence failed in its lack of comprehension of Pakistani fears and motivations. The US used economic and military aid to Pakistan as a means of gaining cooperation, but never really held the Islamabad government with their feet to the fire. There was always a rationalization to back off; fear of the Islamist generals in the ISI, and reasoning that if the Pakistani army went after Taliban and other Islamists in North Waziristan full force, it would backfire on the regime. Fourth, the US was caught off guard with the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan. Fifth, the strategy pursued and willingness to accept collateral damage could only alienate Afghani citizens, and the treatment of jihadi prisoners just exacerbated existing tensions. Many authors have pointed out these mistakes, but Coll offers a strong synthesis and explanation of these and other policy decisions made by Washington that others do not.Coll’s approach is comprehensive and he integrates all the major characters into his narrative. He provides background for each individual and their historical context. The major players include CIA operatives, Station Chiefs, and agents present throughout the book. Further, we are introduced to the various Taliban leaders and tacticians, those of al-Qaeda, and ISIS. The American military’s planning, or lack of it, from General Tommy Franks to Donald Rumsfeld is presented. The Pakistani leadership under Musharraf and a number of ISI generals are explored in detail and the reader is given an accurate picture of Pakistani goals, particularly those that did not line up with the United States. Perhaps one of the most interesting characters introduced is Zalmay Khalilzad, who grew up in Afghanistan and knew Karzai from his early career. He was multi-lingual and was able to work with the Afghani president. He opposed American occupation plans for Iraq and his role was to “mentor” Karzai after he was elected in 2004. Since the United States did not have an Afghan policy, Khalilzad had to make one up as he went along. Bush would appoint Khalilzad as ambassador to Iraq in May, 2005, a time when the Taliban was reconstituting, a major error.One of the major themes of the narrative was the lack of trust between Washington and Kabul. The longer we remained the harder it became to bend the Afghans to our will. As the United States went behind his back to cut deals to get things done, the more the somewhat paranoid Karzai would turn against us. Karzai’s regime was corrupt and elections were questionable, but he was the only game in town for a long period of time. Another major theme was the relationship between Washington and the Pakistani Army, which dominated all policy decisions. As Andrew Bacevitch has pointed out; “pacifying Afghanistan was always going to pose a challenge. Absent full-throated Pakistani collaboration, it would become next to impossible.”* The Pakistani military believed that Afghanistan was vital to its national security and would not do things that they felt would compromise that position, i.e.; close off its borders and not allow sanctuary to jihadists (when those jihadists could be used against India in Kashmir). The US would provide aid and knew it was being had, but there was little they could do about it.Coll makes a very important observations in dealing with Pakistan throughout the period. It was very difficult to interpret their policy goals because they seemed to shift often as Directorate S engaged a number of militant groups “for different purposes at different times.” Decisions made to affect the tribal areas with radicals were made for defensive and tactical reasons to stop attacks on themselves or resupply areas. Other times, the I.S.I. made deals for strategic reasons to influence Afghanistan or attack Indian targets. This inability to understand what motivated Pakistan reflects Coll’s attempt to explain and present an objective view in dealing with their actions that seemed to be opposed to American interests.America’s relationship with Pakistan went through a number of phases during this period. Coll is correct as he describes each phase. A case in point is 2008 as the Bush administration grew tired of what it perceived as ISI and Pakistani military duplicity. As more attacks emanated from the Frontier regions, i.e.; truck bomb at the Danish Embassy in Kabul, the US decided to step up targeted assassinations, drone surveillance, and troops in North Waziristan. The Pakistani’s were not happy, but they remained quiet; however, no reform of the ISI would be forthcoming. The Pakistani government explained there were “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” but could not differentiate between the two. Pakistan as always had its own agenda, and if they did cooperate with the US, jihadists would attack, i.e., the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. For the ISI, Taliban radicals were still useful in destabilizing Afghanistan and providing recruits for Kashmir so there was no clear motivation to change.The next major phase that Coll discusses is how the new Obama administration grappled with Afghanistan and Pakistan. From the outset a three pronged strategy was employed. One, counterinsurgency based on the principle of clear-hold-transfer performed by ground troops. Two, CIA run independent drone war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban hold up in Waziristan. Three, a diplomatic strategy designed to talk with Mullah Omar’s lieutenants about peace. The problem was very little of this was synchronized. Coll is correct in that the dominant problem faced by the Obama administration in trying to achieve any progress with the war is best described as “triangular distrust.” Karzai was afraid the US would make a deal with Pakistan behind his back – the Pakistanis, obsessed with India believed that Karzai was to close with New Dehli – Washington had little faith in Karzai’s corrupt regime, the ISI, and the Taliban. Secretary of State Clinton was frustrated with Obama because the US did not have an “end of state vision” or a real Pakistan strategy or reconciliation strategy, just words and process, particularly after the failed bombing by a Pakistani trained terrorist in Times Square. After Obama agreed to a surge of 30,000 troops, he also announced they would be withdrawn within 18 months which caused confusion as to US policy. Coll describes it as “going in – while going out,” a policy designed for domestic consumption, but did not sit well with the Pentagon and US allies. According to Coll Obama’s policy was “a system of parallel policies and priorities running on diverse premises.” (433) Perhaps the most disturbing chapters dealt with the ”insider killing spree” by Afghan soldiers against Americans, be they soldiers, contractors, or civilians. US authorities seemed at a loss to explain its constant increase because there was no precedent for this type of behavior in the history of modern counterinsurgency. The Pentagon and State Department conducted a number of studies and investigations, but it became obvious that the US had overstayed its welcome as we were not only fighting the Taliban, seeking out al-Qaeda, but also fighting Karzai’s soldiers. Studies finally concluded it was not cultural incompatibility that caused the killings, but defections to the Taliban who instructed defectors to kill NATO soldiers as proof of their sincerity as they switched sides.Overall “America failed to achieve its aims in Afghanistan for many reasons: underinvestment in development and security immediately after the Taliban’s fall; the drains on resources and the provocations caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq; corruption fed by NATO contracting and CIA deal making with strongmen; and military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon.”(667) The end result there are about 9,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan with the increasing possibility that more will join them.In 2001 President Bush announced Operation Enduring Freedom and vowed the United States would remain in Afghanistan until it finished the job, but 17 years later Vice-President Pence stated, “We’re here to stay….until freedom wins.”* If we examine the result of our blood, sweat, and tears, what we see is opium production on the rise in Taliban held areas, increasing corruption, a lack of effectiveness on the part of the government, and instability in Kabul. Coll has written an excellent analysis of what went wrong with US policy, by mostly concentrating on the role of intelligence agencies operating in the region, many times at cross purposes. Will this book impact American strategy, it seems not, based on President Trump’s commitment to send more troops. If you would like a greater understanding of what went wrong consult Coll, but do so knowing what he states should make you angry.*Andrew Bacevitch, “The Never-Ending War,” New York Times, February 18, 2018
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  • Stephen Yoder
    January 1, 1970
    Wow. The scope of this book is simply impressive. It covers 15 years, several nations, a wide scope of characters, many government agencies, leaders that come & go, and so many covert actions from all sides. I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I don't anticipate ever visiting Afghanistan or Pakistan so this is the closest I'll get to learning about the endless intrigue inside & between these two nations. Coll calls out all of follies surrounding the American involvement. It would take me too Wow. The scope of this book is simply impressive. It covers 15 years, several nations, a wide scope of characters, many government agencies, leaders that come & go, and so many covert actions from all sides. I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I don't anticipate ever visiting Afghanistan or Pakistan so this is the closest I'll get to learning about the endless intrigue inside & between these two nations. Coll calls out all of follies surrounding the American involvement. It would take me too long to list them all, sadly. I knew that Pakistan was in a heap of trouble internally but now I know more about their self-inflicted insurgencies. Support the Taliban long enough, outside & inside your borders, and eventually they will come for you. Reading about all of the intelligence intercepts & covert actions, plus the various events that haven't (as far as I know) ever hit the headlines was truly eye-opening. A terrorist attack by Pakistanis upon a nuclear-armed Pakistani naval ship? I had no idea this happened, and Coll warns attacks like this will more than likely occur again. Coll colors his cast of characters quite well. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Afghanistan and its interrelationships with Pakistan, as well as our own nation's woeful attempts at subduing the insurgencies in both areas.I received an ARC for this book and for that I'm grateful.PS--Read the part about dogs and drones. PPS--I hope the US & Indian intelligence officers who are in charge of keeping track of Pakistan's nuclear weapons are good at what they do.
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  • Bettie☯
    January 1, 1970
    Why is US still in Afghanistan, Pakistan
  • Miles Kwiatek
    January 1, 1970
    Directorate S is a book, yes, but if I were to try and find a more accurate word to describe it, I'd probably have to settle on "tome". It's extremely long, very detailed (with a five-page dramatis personae), and monolithic in its scope. Of course, any book describing the better part of two decades in one of the world's most complicated regions would be. Fortunately, Steve Coll is a master of exploring vast subjects through various lenses, and Directorate S is no exception.The book is essentiall Directorate S is a book, yes, but if I were to try and find a more accurate word to describe it, I'd probably have to settle on "tome". It's extremely long, very detailed (with a five-page dramatis personae), and monolithic in its scope. Of course, any book describing the better part of two decades in one of the world's most complicated regions would be. Fortunately, Steve Coll is a master of exploring vast subjects through various lenses, and Directorate S is no exception.The book is essentially a sequel to Ghost Wars, a book about the U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan (among other nations), set between 1979 and 2001. While that book covered the U.S.'s efforts to support guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan, and the involvement of Pakistan, Directorate S is about the U.S. invasion in 2001, and the succession of plans, peace talks, surges, intrigues, studies, battles, meetings, and countless other factors that played into American and Pakistani policy afterwards. Coll achieves this by focusing in on the individuals at the heart of the drama, whether it's Pakistani intelligence chiefs, former guerrillas turned spymasters, American soldiers, or Afghan-born expats who return home to make their mark. By paying attention to the individuals involved, Coll avoids any dryness. There isn't a dull page in the book, even when it's talking about bilateral meetings instead of IEDs and armed convoys. On the other hand, one could certainly criticize Directorate S for lacking real analysis, or for never coming to a decisive conclusion about what America should do about Afghanistan. But Coll isn't out to do that. Instead, he lays out the facts and provides a narrative of events, without ever coming down on a particular side. I certainly can't fault him for that. So while Directorate S never exactly comes to a conclusion, it doesn't really need to. Directorate S isn't a perfect narrative. It's a story of how we got to where we are, and how even the best of intentions can go awry when the future isn't accounted for. If you're interested in the region, or in current events, I highly recommend it.
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  • Mubeen Irfan
    January 1, 1970
    This is a sequel to Ghost Wars but can be read even without reading Ghost Wars. Still, I strongly recommend to anyone who hasn't read Ghost Wars to go back and read it before starting this one. This book will then make a hundred times more sense.It starts with the death of Ahmed Shah Masood and 9/11 immediately happening post his assassination bringing the US back to Afghanistan. What follows is a detailed account of tri party mess created in this unfortunate country by the US, Pakistan & Af This is a sequel to Ghost Wars but can be read even without reading Ghost Wars. Still, I strongly recommend to anyone who hasn't read Ghost Wars to go back and read it before starting this one. This book will then make a hundred times more sense.It starts with the death of Ahmed Shah Masood and 9/11 immediately happening post his assassination bringing the US back to Afghanistan. What follows is a detailed account of tri party mess created in this unfortunate country by the US, Pakistan & Afghans themselves. The relationship between these parties has always lacked trust and mutual understanding, the results of which can be seen in how there is still no sign of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. In addition to this, the book talks about multi parties in the US establishment and how diverse methodologies, policies & thinking has ended up in no clear line on how the war in Afghanistan should be managed.Overall, this is Steve Coll is at its best.
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  • Peter Podbielski
    January 1, 1970
    Steve Coll's most disturbing book. The narrative is Afghanistan, however, the underlying theme is a story of limits of American power and mismatched means and ends. The U.S., "rich, technologically advanced, and often ably staffed, [with a] foreign policy, intelligence, and military machine built for competition with other states" to win conventional wars against opposing armies, to negotiate treaties with professional diplomats, to patrol sea lanes, or to steal the secrets of other governments. Steve Coll's most disturbing book. The narrative is Afghanistan, however, the underlying theme is a story of limits of American power and mismatched means and ends. The U.S., "rich, technologically advanced, and often ably staffed, [with a] foreign policy, intelligence, and military machine built for competition with other states" to win conventional wars against opposing armies, to negotiate treaties with professional diplomats, to patrol sea lanes, or to steal the secrets of other governments. At those sort of tasks, the machine remained mostly competent. It was never well equipped to build good governance in deeply impoverished, violent landscapes or to win asymmetric conflicts with ideological, media-savvy guerrillas on short time lines." This is a great strategic failure.
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  • Kanishka Nawabi
    January 1, 1970
    No doubt Coll has an esthetical sense of writing! 'Directorate S', however, is a 'got carried away' version of his Ghost Wars. The 800-page book covers a lot of ground with little revelations, bordering drab. The book also narrates an Afghan story, full of villains and vilified history; a makeshift premise for all Afghanistan issues. A bit biased 'shoved down Afghan throats' approach but 'if you don't tell your story, someone else will.'
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  • Liz
    January 1, 1970
    I won this in a first reads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. This is one of the most depressing books I have read in years. The author goes into exhausting detail about all of the mistakes we made in Afghanistan [like trusting the Pakistanis!] and the amount of money we have wasted blows my mind. I knew it was bad but not QUITE THIS BAD!
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  • Mythili
    January 1, 1970
    Colossal and clarifying. In his review of this book for The Atlantic, Mark Mazzetti compares reading Directorate S to "watching a slow-motion video of a truck going off a cliff, frame by agonizing frame." I strongly agree. Reading this book I was sometimes so filled with despair I had to put it down, but I'm glad I stuck it out.
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  • Arfan Ismail
    January 1, 1970
    Outstanding, brilliant, superb. An in-depth insight into one of the most troubled regions in the world. A must read for all diaspora Pakistanis and Afghanis.
  • Patricia Beltraante
    January 1, 1970
    Steve coll is so readable _ I could not put the. Book down, a long slog as was Exxon/ Mobil. I wonder how he is able to write so well about such disparate subjects. Perhaps he gets little sleep!
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