Oprah time: Directorate S The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars In Afghanistan And Pakistan, 2001 – 2016 by Steve Coll

Directorate S

Coll is a veteran journalist and professor of journalism. He did time abroad working for an American newspaper covering South Asia. Later Coll wrote for The New Yorker on defence and intelligence.

In 2004, Coll’s book Ghost Wars covered America’s involvement with Pakistan’s intelligence service. He focused on the Soviet invasion Afghanistan through to 2001.

Directorate S is a natural successor to Ghost Wars picking up the story on September 11, 2001 to the end of 2016. Directorate S takes its name from part of the Pakistani intellgience service. It covers the perspectives from all the parties involved. Surprisingly it included more than I expected about clandestine operations in Pakistan.

Coll knows his material and what unfolds is an in-depth scholarly blow-by-blow account. It doesn’t have the zip and excitement of say Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. Coll’s story instead sits at the seat of power. Colls tells the story of:

  • Ambassadors
  • Policymakers
  • Generals and civil servants
  • Politicians

When Coll dips into the operational reporting, it is used to illustrate a wider point.

What comes out is not one story of a war, but a succession of parallel agendas and pivots. The CIA and special forces had very different objectives to their military colleagues. The planning and chain of command was fragmented. Directorate S takes a good deal of commitment to read, but it looks as if it will be as much of a go-to book as Ghost Wars.