15 May, 2021

Masterful Two-Front Managers

This detailed book on the US’s Afghan strategy elaborates on the ISI’s shadowy dance of deception, but downplays larger failures of American policy

Photograph by AP
Masterful Two-Front Managers

To understand what this book is all about, it is important to look at its subtitle as well. It is about the CIA’s role in Operation End­uring Freedom, launched to defeat the Taliban, who had been sheltering Osama bin Laden, and the kaleidoscopic interaction bet­ween the US, its ally, Pakistan, as well as the country it sought to ‘free’—Afg­hanistan. Following its termination in December 2014, we have entered another complicated round of the US-Afghan-Pakistan relationship.

This book should be seen as the indispensable second volume of a history of a conflict that has wracked South Asia since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the first volume, Ghost Wars, Steve Coll looked at the CIA’s secret history in the period between 1979 and its aftermath, its role in the rise of bin Laden and 9/11.

Coll promised to give us “a thorough, reliable history” of the secret wars that followed the defeat of the Taliban and its subsequent revival, aided by the ISI, the destruction of the Al...

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