Coll pulls no punches, whatever his personal ties. He argues feckless policy and competition among the CIA, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security empowered al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Washington’s strategic failure was its inability to address Pakistan’s duel game as Islamabad traded access to land routes to Afghanistan and some counterterrorism collaboration for U.S. aid, even as it sponsored Taliban terror. Meanwhile, Afghan corruption and former President Hamid Karzai’s paranoia undercut attempts to negotiate peace. Coll argues America’s elected leaders bear the ultimate responsibility for the failure to develop a viable Pak-Afghan strategy, but documents how inter-agency battles and clashing egos also eroded U.S. leverage. Coll’s interviews with former Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, former President Karzai, and CIA sources highlight competing interests and grievances, anticipating current Trump administration struggles to respond to Islamabad’s double-dealing.
Coll writes that he sought to explore the “important secret operations, assumptions, debates, decisions, and diplomacy at the highest levels of government in Washington, Islamabad, and Kabul.” Directorate S does this and more, highlighting the mix of organizational folly and individual heroism that led to our current impasse.
Someday, we will have access to now-classified records from the NSC, CIA, State, and Defense. Until then, it is hard to imagine a more complete and thoughtful account of how the United States went wrong in Afghanistan.
Diana Bolsinger is a doctoral student at the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas, Austin. She specializes in U.S. national security strategy and is a Graduate Fellow at the Clements Center for National Security. She served as a Political Officer in the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in the 1990s.
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Staff Sgt. John Eller conducts pre-flights check on his C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 3 prior to taking off from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for a local area training mission. Sgt. Eller is a loadmaster from the 535th Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)
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U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan speaks at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
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A pair of U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat aircraft from Fighter Squadron VF-211 Fighting Checkmates in flight over Iraq in 2003/Department of Defense
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