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  • Directorate S

  • The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • By: Steve Coll
  • Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner
  • Length: 28 hrs and 30 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (1,272 ratings)

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Directorate S

By: Steve Coll
Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner
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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)