- About the Book
Winner of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for NonfictionLonglisted for the 2018 National Book Award for NonfictionFrom 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 9/11Prior 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.
Steve Coll has written a book of surpassing excellence that is almost certainly destined for irrelevance. The topic is important, the treatment compelling, the conclusions persuasive. Just don't expect anything to change as a consequence.... In each chapter of this very long but engrossing book, Coll takes a deep dive into some particular facet of the conflict. Readers will eavesdrop on contentious policy debates conducted at the highest levels in Washington. They will also accompany soldiers and spooks in the field. Yet among policymakers and operators alike, the sense of futility is palpable. If "Directorate S" has a unifying thread, it's this: Policies formulated on the basis of trial and error aren't likely to work as long as they fail to take critical factors into account.
—New York Times
—New York Times
Coll's meticulous research and well-placed sources combine to create a play-by-play drama portraying the personalities and relationships that drive public policy and shape world events.... While Coll is not the first to question Pakistan's double game, "Directorate S" is the most comprehensive unclassified account to expose it by leveraging numerous sources across the domestic and international government and intelligence communities.... Coll is among a select few English-language journalists who has reported from and lived in Central Asia over the past 30 years. His relentless reporting and fastidious cultivation of sources is his hallmark, and "Directorate S" is no exception.
—Christian Science Monitor
—Christian Science Monitor
Steve Coll's Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan is an account of a slow-motion military and policy disaster. It is sometimes as affectless as a wire report, but the unadorned facts in its narrative more than suffice to stoke bafflement and despair.... Coll's strongest sections detail the relationship not with the Taliban but with Pakistan.... Directorate S is one of the most unrelentingly bleak assessments of U.S. policy of recent years, and it shows, regrettably, that American errors have accumulated beyond recovery.