Bottom Line Up Top
Amazon link: Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016
Author: Steve Coll (@SteveCollNY)
Thumbnail sketch: Examination of the fraught alliance between the US and Pakistan to battle terrorism in Afghanistan after 9/11, a partnership in name only as each side pursued frequently non-complimentary aims. Want to have an idea about why there is no end in sight for America’s longest war? Read this.
My Take On Directorate S
I’m not a fan of “American Exceptionalism” — the belief that the U.S. is unique among nations with respect to its ideas of democracy and personal freedom — because too many politicians have decided this uniqueness ALSO means we are superior and have the mission of transforming the world in our image. This isn’t to say I don’t approve of, or love my country; just that I don’t approve of imposing our values, systems or standards on any other nation. That’s arrogance, plain and simple.
Sadly, arrogance is frequently on display in American foreign policy. What other label applies when the U.S. ignores the goals, wants and/or needs of other nations, expecting them to do our bidding? That, for me, is much of the story told in Directorate S. Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders see India as their most serious threat, and especially desire control of all of the disputed Kashmir region, which has been the site of three wars between the two nations since 1947.
After 9/11, President Bush made his (in)famous statement that the nations of the world were either “…with us or you are with the terrorists.” Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had for years supported radical groups including the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan. Keeping Afghanistan relatively weak and dependent served Pakistan’s interests in several ways, including providing training areas for insurgent groups active in Kashmir. But, with the Taliban providing sanctuary to Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Pakistani and American interests were in conflict.
With the US as it’s primary source of military equipment, Pakistan chose the course of appearing to fall into line with America (and thus being rewarded with billions to support their efforts against terrorism) while secretly continuing to support radical groups. This was somewhat of an open secret to regional experts in both the Bush and Obama administrations, but the quick and relatively easy overthrow of the Taliban and then the invasion of Iraq kept Washington from addressing the situation. Time passed, Iraq waxed and waned, Afghanistan languished, and the “we know you know that we know” dance between America and Pakistan continued.
Eventually Pakistan’s support for radical groups while maintaining an outward appearance of aiding America backfired, leading to terrorist attacks against the state including suicide bombings. The Pakistani military fared poorly in it’s attempt to assert control in the semi-autonomous Tribal Areas that sheltered many radical groups including the remnants of the Afghan Taliban and were therefore the scene of many US drone strikes — a particular irritant to those opposing the government’s support of America. Perhaps it was the discovery that Bin Laden was living a stone’s throw from the Pakistani version of West Point, but American funding steadily decreased and Pakistan has turned to China for military aid.
And there is no end in sight for the American war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history.
This book continues the narrative from the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. I have not read the earlier book, yet. I plan to at some point, but reading it is not a prerequisite to understanding and learning from Directorate S.