Directorate S

The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner
Length: 28 hrs and 30 mins
Categories: History, Asia
4.5 out of 5 stars (960 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, 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 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. 

©2017 Steve Coll (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"[A]journalistic masterpiece...Coll succeeds on all levels.... Coll is masterful at plumbing the depths of agencies and sects within both Afghanistan and Pakistan.... In this era of fake news, Coll remains above it all, this time delivering an impeccably researched history of diplomacy at the highest levels of government in Washington, Islamabad, and Kabul." (Kirkus Reviews, starred)

“With his evenhanded approach, gift for limning character, and dazzling reporting skills, he has created an essential work of contemporary history.” (Booklist, starred)

“The most comprehensive work to date on the US war in Afghanistan.... Coll’s vital work provides a factual and analytical foundation for all future work on the Afghan War and US policy in Central Asia.” (Publisher’s Weekly

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    4 out of 5 stars

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!

16 people found this helpful

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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...

30 people found this helpful

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Good,but

I would have enjoyed the book even more if I had a map of the areas discussed a sort of group family trees for the various organizations. This may be in hard copy. Otherwise, enjoyed the book.

5 people found this helpful

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Superb!

Excellent sequel to Ghost Wars. Coll does not take sides nor take a polemic approach. One finishes the book convinced that America’s adventure in Afghanistan was an epic mistake but with good intentions. The ISI was largely responsible for the chaos in Afghanistan but the leaders are not evil. Karzai was an asshole and yet often correct about what was wrong about US policy. The narrator does an excellent job.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Outstanding history

This book reveals the long, ultimately unsuccessful American effort to eradicate terrorism in Afghanistan. An essential look at nearly two decades of a war that was begun without anyone's knowing who the real enemy was. A brilliant analysis compellingly written.

4 people found this helpful

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excellent. very detailed. well written

Just like the first volume , Steve Coll. tells this sad, cautionary tale as though it were a fiction novel
I wish that were true

3 people found this helpful

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Explains what a commitment of war is.

Loved it, modern day history explained as its best. Trump fired some great fighters. He for one should read or listen to this book.

2 people found this helpful

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excellent

couldn't stop listening. deeply researched but never slow. lot's of fresh reporting here for a subject that has been written about many times before.

5 people found this helpful

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must read history of the war in Afghanistn

must read history of the war in Afghanistn and the various players and events that have brought us to where we are today.

1 person found this helpful

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Anthology of the War in Afghanistan

Though the title implies this book focuses mainly on "Directorate S" (ISI), it is by far more of a journalistic history of America's diplomatic, military, and intelligence engagements with Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001-2018.

Anyone interested in a fair account (though it includes some heavy critique, mainly in the form of opinions expressed by persons other than the author) of the War in Afghanistan should read this. There are certainly "boring" chapters that are difficult to trod through, but there are a few gems here, such as the Marc Sageman account of internal base murders, the exploration of black-sites, and a real-life account of Bakersfield; additionally, there are several episodes of important events that are relatively unknown to the broader public.

Most importantly, it reveals the confused approach the international coalition took in Afghanistan, how inter-agency conflicts prevented common sense policies from being implemented, and how international security interests undermined the very goals of the US in Afghanistan.

It does not have a strong structural narrative other than aiming for an objective, chronological history using perspectives of two or so dozen individuals, such as Richard Holbrooke, David Patraeus, Leon Panetta, and Michael Flynn, amongst many others that are sometimes difficult to remember (prior familiarity with some of these figures is very useful); this is especially true of the individuals concerning inter-Afghan politics. However, the author does a good job of keeping track of who that person is aligned with and their reasoning, even if you may have already forgotten their name and position, which is especially helpful in an audio form of this book. A little bit of Wikipedia reference is helpful from time to time to get a better sense of "who is who."

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  • Saad
  • 05-08-18

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.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-25-18

Thorough picture of the crazy conflict of our time

loved it till the end. hope policy makers heed the mistakes and blunders mentioned in the book.

2 people found this helpful

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  • EnAhmad
  • 11-28-18

A must read for anyone interested in Afghanistan

I would call it a sequel to author's last book.
very well written and very detailed analysis.
the book gives background to many incidents that happened and I didn't Know the full story of it.
I would highly recommend it.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Richard
  • 04-04-19

Politics is killing innocent people

So, by far this is the longest book I’ve ever listened to, it took a couple of weeks of driving to and from work but I can honestly say the subject matter was excellent. I’ve long been interested in the complexity of The War o Terror, increasingly I want to understand why it’s gone so badly for the West and why there is so much hatred towards what in theory is a honourable quest - the desire to free people from the shackles of extremism.

Whilst honourable it’s clear to me that the intervention isn’t wanted, the People of the Islam resent Western involvement and it is not for the West to dictate another’s way of life.

This books discusses the Politics, the secrets and the back handed dealings of the West and Pakistan, the relationship is a cloak of deceit, The West doesn’t trust Pakistan, nor Afghanistan for that matter and the feeling is mutual but still people die.

Why - I’ll keep reading and listening in the hope that one day the rationale becomes clear.

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  • David H. Furnival
  • 03-29-19

Fascinating

A well researched insightful work detailing another failed attempt of a superpower to control Afghanistan

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  • steve
  • 08-16-18

Too focused on personality and drama.

Obviously well researched book that is written like an over-dramatic TV soap with the emphasis on caricatures of CIA agents and portraits of Pakistani military officers personalities. It would have been really interesting except it started to feel like a discovery channel voice-over that injects unnecessary drama into everything. In the end I gave up after about 1/3 and returned the book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-04-19

Good account of details.

V detailed but purely 1 sided story ignoring the fact that Pakistan paid the heaviest price in lives and economy. How did ISI benefit from all this if they were attacked again nd again. Pak Army lost more soldiers to Taliban than US nd ISAF together and that too in Waziristan only where the sanctuaries r reported to b. completely ignored APS school tragedy nd kids of Army offsrs murdered. Maths doesn't tie up.