In the wake of the terrible shock of 9/11, the CIA scrambled to work out how to destroy Bin Laden and his associates. They had long familiarity with Afghanistan and had worked closely with the Taliban to defeat the Soviet Union there; now a tangle of assumptions, old contacts, favours and animosities from the time were reactivated. Superficially the invasion of Afghanistan was quick and efficient, but Bin Laden's successful escape - and a catastrophic failure to define the limits of NATO's mission in a tough, impoverished country the size of Texas - created a quagmire which lasted many years.
Today we know that the war in Afghanistan would falter badly because of military hubris at the highest levels. But more than anything, as Steve Coll's remarkable new book makes painfully clear, it was doomed because of the failure of the United States to apprehend the motivations and intentions of 'Directorate S': a highly secretive arm of the Pakistan state, which had been covertly training and arming the Taliban for years as part of a wider competition for global influence - and which assumed that the USA and its allies would soon be leaving.
Resuming the narrative of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars, Steve Coll tells for the first time a powerful, bitter story of a struggle of historic proportions, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of prominent players. Drawing on unsurpassed expertise and original research, it is a masterpiece of investigative journalism.