COVERT ACTION

By Region

Afghanistan

A - C

Barzilai, Yaniv. 102 Days of War: How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda. and the Taliban Survived 2001. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2014.

From publisher: "Barzilai concludes that the failure to kill bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda at the Battle of Tora Bora was not only the result of a failure in tactics but, more importantly, the product of failures in policy and leadership." Freedman, FA 93.5 (Sep.-Octr. 2014), says the author "has done a good job pulling together the basic sources on this set of events."

Bearden, Milt, and James Risen. The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB. New York: Random House, 2003.

Clark comment: The authorship of this work rests with a 30-year CIA veteran whose assignments including running CIA operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Soviet operations in the 1990s (Bearden) and a New York Times reporter who covers intelligence matters (Risen).

Finding this "a most interesting and very readable account of the conflict waged between the intelligence agencies of the two powers," Friedman, CIRA Newsletter 28.3, concludes that the story "is guaranteed to hold the reader's attention." Similarly, Peake, Studies 48.4 (2004), states flatly that "[t]his is a splendid book by any measure."

Prados, Washington Post, 27 Aug. 2003, notes that Bearden's book "vividly demonstrates" that "his Cold War résumé covers the full gamut of clandestine operations.... Bearden provides a lively picture of how the officers at CIA headquarters reacted to the world of Soviet intelligence." One of the book's weaknesses that it "is preoccupied with its story and short on analysis or introspection.... In addition, Bearden is completely silent on some matters.... Yet these are small gaps in an arresting, large-canvas history." This "is a first-rate account from the front lines of the Cold War."

For Stein, NYTBR, 27 Jul. 2003, "[i]f there's a more revealing account of spies at work, it's classified." However, "[t]he revelations of 'The Main Enemy' are more in the details than the substance.... But the book unveils in astonishing detail a number of C.I.A. operations unreported or only rumored until now." Drew, New York Times, 4 May 2003, focuses on the book's assertion that "four of more than a dozen Russians caught spying for the West in the mid-1980's could not have been betrayed" by Ames, Hanssen, and Howard. This leads to a conclusion that there is "an as yet unidentified traitor" within the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Calabresi, Massimo. "The Bin Laden Capture that Never Was." Time, 20 Mar. 2000, 24.

A Presidentially approved plan for the CIA to help Pakistan organize a unit to slip into Afghanistan and capture Osama Bin Laden never got off the ground because of Pakistani footdragging.

Cogan, Charles G. "Partners in Time: The CIA and Afghanistan." World Policy Journal 10, no. 2 (Summer 1993).

Coll, Steve.

1 . "Anatomy of a Victory: CIA's Covert Afghan War." Part 1 of 2. Washington Post, 19 Jul. 1992, 1, 24.

2. "In CIA's Covert Afghan War, Where to Draw the Line Was Key." Part 2 of 2. Washington Post, 20 Jul. 1992, 1, 12. "The Other Battle for Afghanistan." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 31 Aug.- 6 Sep. 1992, 10-11.

Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Clark comment: Heavy and nuanced, this is a compelling work. Reading it is somewhat like watching the rerun of a train wreck the results of which you already know. This book is well-written but still is not easy going because of the massive amount of detail included. However, skim reading did not seem to work because the narrative is so tightly woven. Although there is no indication anywhere on the cover or inside, the "Afterword" of my paperback copy makes plain that it is a second edition with some changes from the first edition.

Bamford, Washington Post, 29 Feb. 2004, says the author has produced "a well-written, authoritative, high-altitude drama." Coll "is at his best when describing the convoluted relationships among the Afghan warlords and the resident spooks." Grasso, NIPQ 20.3, calls this "possibly the most comprehensive study available on the subject of Afghanistan, Bin Laden and the CIA's activities in South West Asia." The author "manages to dispassionately present the facts and circumstances so that political coloration will come solely from the reader.... While the story that Coll tells is a fascinating and engaging read, it is the research that makes his book so valuable."

For Latif, NWCR 58.3 (Summer 2005), the author "provides a useful, if overly long, chronology and analysis of pivotal events, missteps, indecision, apathy, and ultimately tragedy up to the day before the [9/11] attacks.... Coll meticulously documents every player and agenda in this drama.... One of the major strengths of Ghost Wars is how it skillfully captures the interagency debates within the U.S. government on Afghanistan ... which were wide-ranging and often contentious."

Coll, Steve.

This series of articles is based on Coll's Ghost Wars (2004).

1. "A Secret Hunt Unravels in Afghanistan: Mission to Capture or Kill al Qaeda Leader Frustrated by Near Misses, Political Disputes." Part 1 of 2. Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2004, A1. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

"In the years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the CIA carried out a secret but ultimately unsuccessful manhunt for [Osama] bin Laden. It was based at first on [a] band of Afghan tribal agents, and later expanded to include other agents and allies.... But the search became mired in mutual frustrations, near misses and increasingly bitter policy disputes in Washington between the Clinton White House and the CIA."

2. "Flawed Ally Was Hunt's Best Hope: Afghan Guerrilla, U.S. Shared Enemy." Part 2 of 2. Washington Post, 23 Feb. 2004, A1. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

In October 1999, the CIA plan was to initiate "secret intelligence and combat operations against bin Laden in partnership with guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance."

However, "Massoud was seen by some at the Pentagon and inside the Clinton Cabinet as a spent force commanding bands of thugs.... Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Henry H. 'Hugh' Shelton ... argued that Massoud's alliance was tainted and in decline. But at the CIA,... career officers passionately described Massoud ... as the United States' last, best hope to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan before his al Qaeda network claimed more American lives." Massoud was assassinated on 9 September 2001.

3. "Legal Disputes Over Hunt Paralyzed Clinton's Aides." Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2004, A17. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

"Between 1998 and 2000, the CIA and President Bill Clinton's national security team were caught up in paralyzing policy disputes as they secretly debated the legal permissions for covert operations against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The debates left both White House counterterrorism analysts and CIA career operators frustrated and at times confused about what kinds of operations could be carried out."

Cooley, John K. Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism. Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 1999.

Meyer, Los Angeles Times, 16 Jan. 2000, comments that the author "[p]ossibly ... tries to explain too much, and ... his text is marred by errors that a good copy editor would have caught." Nevertheless, Unholy Wars asks salient questions and draws on an impressive body of sources."

For Fuller, NYT, 9 Jan. 2000, this work "ultimately disappoints.... Cooley is unable to conceal a powerful bias against anything that the C.I.A. touches.... [O]ne searches in vain for any balance.... More seriously, Cooley superficially attributes to Washington's 'holy war' in Afghanistan the emergence of most subsequent regional viciousness, ignoring the deep roots of most of these crises.... [In addition,] the book is carelessly put together, a kind of reportorial pastiche of details ... that constantly bounce back and forth over four decades."

Cordovez, Diego, and Selig S. Harrison. Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Warren, Surveillant 4.4/5, identifies the authors as a UN diplomat (Cordovez) and a Washington Post reporter (Harrison). In this telling, DCI Bill Casey is portrayed as the "driving force" for a greater U.S. role in the war. Congressman Charlie Wilson (D-TX) "also gets credit for pushing the war." Although the authors give "too much credit to the good intentions of the Soviet Union and its latter day leaders,... [the book] has the ring of truth as a history of the war and the withdrawal." To McGehee, CIABASE Update Report, Aug. 1997, the book "gives an unusually well-documented account of this CIA covert operation and its wide-ranging and long-lasting consequences."

Crile, George. Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2003. My Enemy's Enemy: The Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History: The Arming of the Mujahideen by the CIA. London: Atlantic Books, 2003. 2004 [pb]

According to Lippman, Washington Post, 1 Jun. 2003, Charlie Wilson (D-TX) "used his power as chairman of a key [House] appropriations subcommittee to bully the CIA into providing a massive supply of weapons to the Afghan mujaheddin ... in the 1980s." The reviewer finds this "a rousing tale of jihad on the frontiers of the Cold War, infighting at the CIA and horse-trading in Congress, spiced by sex, booze, ambition and larger-than-life personalities.... The events are dramatic, and the characters are colorful, but there are wide gaps in the narrative, which fails to provide any contemporary context and leaves critical questions unanswered."

Peake, Studies 48.4 (2004), finds that the author "has told a good story well. It is a wonderful reading experience." Warren, Intelligencer 14.2 (Winter-Spring 2005), counters that this work is a "mishmash" that "is hardly believable" and "barely readable." The author "was fed much misinformation that he apparently accepted at face value." In addition, "Crile's characterizations of Agency officials, inlcuding Bill Casey, ring false in almost every instance." To Milowicki, NWCR 62.1 (Winter 2009), the author shows a "penchant for bringing a complex story to the reader in an evocative, entertaining, and compelling way."

The other hero in Crile's version of U.S. support for the Afghan mujaheddin was the CIA's Gust L. Avrakotos, who died on 1 December 2005. See Patricia Sullivan, "CIA Agent Gust L. Avrakotos Dies at Age 67," Washington Post, 25 Dec. 2005, C8.

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