Andrew J. Bacevich in the New York Times:
Steve Coll has written a book of surpassing excellence that is almost certainly destined for irrelevance. The topic is important, the treatment compelling, the conclusions persuasive. Just don’t expect anything to change as a consequence.
The dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Coll is a seasoned and accomplished reporter. In 2004, “Ghost Wars,” his account of conflict in Afghanistan from the 1979 Soviet invasion to the eve of 9/11, earned him a Pulitzer Prize, his second. “Directorate S” — the title refers to the arm of Pakistani intelligence that covertly supports the Afghan Taliban — is a sequel to that volume, carrying the story up to 2016.
That story is a dispiriting one, abounding in promises from on high, short on concrete results. In December 2001, with Operation Enduring Freedom barely underway, President George W. Bush declared it America’s purpose “to lift up the people of Afghanistan.” Bush vowed that American forces would stay until they finished the job. In December 2017, during a brief visit to Kabul — unannounced because of security concerns — Vice President Mike Pence affirmed that commitment. “We’re here to stay,” he told a gathering of troops, “until freedom wins.”
Yet mission accomplishment remains nowhere in sight. Over the past year, the Taliban have increased the amount of territory they control. Opium production has reached an all-time high. And corruption continues to plague an Afghan government of doubtful legitimacy and effectiveness. For a war now in its 17th year, the United States has precious little to show, despite having lost over 2,400 of its own soldiers and expending an estimated trillion dollars.