Review Directorate S - Steve Coll

AWP

Formerly Known as Freefalling
Administrator
Joined
Sep 8, 2006
Messages
13,839
Location
Not Afghanistan
#1
BLUF: If you like Ghost Wars you'll love Directorate S. If you haven't read Ghost Wars, shame on you, read it, and then pick up Directorate S.

DS picks up where GW left off: 9/11. This time it focuses on our relationship with Pakistan, the Afghan war in general, Karzai, and the ISI.

The ISI and PK...you should know my thoughts and feelings on those...entities.

Coll is a fantatstic writer, the book contains a billion footnotes, including interviews with the participants, and goes into as much depth as he can muster. He manages to make clinical observations without passing judgement, conclusions without emotion. A few takeaways presented in the book:
- Karzai...a very complex relationship with the US, PK, and his perceived legacy. He was truly off the rails towards the end, even going so far as to create his own version of events that even the US or PK couldn't support.
- The war was horribly mismanaged. Iraq undercut the Afghan war, we spent too much time coddling PK (thanks to their nukes), and our constant rotation of military leaders created a bunch of different independent mini wars or campaigns.
- PK...the book leaves zero, and I do mean ZERO, doubt that PK supports the Taliban and Haqqanis.

Most of the above we've talked about before, but Coll lays it out in black and white, with sources. It is a great book and you should read it if you care anything about the Afghan war.
 

AWP

Formerly Known as Freefalling
Administrator
Joined
Sep 8, 2006
Messages
13,839
Location
Not Afghanistan
#3
Mentioned on another thread, was there any mention of UBL having PK support?
Great question.

Coll addressed it, but offered the pro/con arguments. He never drew a conclusion in the book, but devoted a few paragraphs to the debate and moved on to other topics. One new-to-me "against" argument he offered is that the house/ compound was the largest in the area, but otherwise unusual to an outsider. To date, I'm not aware of any smoking guns, just very strong arguments for both sides.

Personally, given that he was in touch with others via his couriers and his couriers were known to the PKs and other parties, I have to think some members of Directorate S knew. Maybe at the absolute "best" they suspected he was in PK and did nothing to investigate, but I think some within the PK gov't knew UBL was there.
 

Ocoka

Combined Action
Verified Military
Joined
Jun 29, 2014
Messages
5,790
Location
Decisive Terrain
#5
It arrived yesterday afternoon and I started reading it last night.

I'm deeply skeptical about claims that ISI was completely in the dark about UBL's presence in Abbotobad. I think someone in the onion that is ISI knew, and was prepared to abet and support, at least with an indirect tip-off or word of caution. And would have...had the CIA continued to share intel with the Paks. The record, as they say, speaks for itself.

I also firmly believe that al-Zawahiri is in Pakistan and ISI knows it and is facilitating his efforts to evade the radar.

Be interesting to read the points of view presented in the book. More later.
 

Ocoka

Combined Action
Verified Military
Joined
Jun 29, 2014
Messages
5,790
Location
Decisive Terrain
#6
I powered through this book, it was that good. Lost sleep, missed meals etc. I even read the footnotes.

I can't add to @AWP 's comments. When reading, I am very sensitive to any feeling that the author is politically driven or biased and I never got that sense reading this book. Very fair all around to both the Bush and Obama administrations, equally critical of both with valid evidence.

For instance, instead of outright condemning EIT (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques), he puts the process in context. We bent the rules and used questionable (and perhaps illegal) methods because everybody felt that another 9/11 type attack--possibly with a nuclear device--was inevitable and possibly imminent. It was a frantic effort to head off another disaster.

In the book, Coll also addresses the shocking number of green-on-blue murders that had been blamed on cultural incompatibility; the friction between Afghan and Western counterparts. He details studies that were conducted that indicated many of the incidents had nothing to do with cultural/personal antagonisms but were instead motivated by the Taliban or to impress the Taliban prior to a defection. This chapter was especially meaningful and illuminating to me having lost a teammate to a GoB in VN by an ARVN officer contemplating "switching sides." Even with that background, I was always shocked by the frequency of green-on-blue murders that occurred in OEF.

He also gives an account of the Obama Administration's frustrating and, some would say, half-assed attempt to negotiate peace with the Taliban, a job partly entrusted to a former 60's radical who'd been a member of the often violent SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). If the Bush Administration screwed the pooch in a number of ways, the Obama administration did also, and seemed at times to be flailing in the dark. The controversial Taliban negotiations--as many predicted--failed.

As has been said, we are given as good a look as possible from an outsider into the duplicity of ISI and it's various and sometimes conflicting agendas. The Pak-Taliban alliance is well-documented here, as are the arguments for and against it's alleged support for UBL. Nothing I read changed my opinion that ISI knew, in some deeply compartmented way, that UBL was in Abbotobad.

I think both of Coll's books are essential to anyone trying to grasp the complexities of the conflict.
 
Last edited:
Top