Steve Coll delivers a brilliant account of America’s secret wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan after the invasion of 2001
America’s long war in Afghanistan continues on the turbulent watch of Donald Trump – maintaining military pressure on the Taliban to try to force them to negotiate. It is now, in the president’s Twitter-friendly words, not about nation-building but fighting terrorists, though on a far smaller scale since Barack Obama ended what George W Bush started in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaida was quickly routed but it was another decade before Osama bin Laden was tracked down and killed in his Pakistani compound.
Steve Coll’s deeply impressive new book picks up the story where his acclaimed Ghost Wars left off, in the aftermath of the US invasion in 2001. It is a complicated tale of counter-insurgency operations, high politics and low cunning. It plays out in one of the poorest countries in the world, a graveyard for empires and a vicious battleground for regional rivalry. And it is truly, as he writes, “a humbling case study in the limits of American power”.
David Petraeus, who served as CIA director after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes confused the two countries