1. A Nuclear al-Qa’ida. Shortly after 9/11, the CIA station in Islamabad discovered that a senior Pakistani nuclear scientist had met with bin Laden and provided al-Qa’ida with a
crude nuclear design. For several agonizing weeks, as CIA questioned the scientist, it could not be sure what else he might have given the terrorists, as persistent, unconfirmed reports circulated that al-Qa’ida would next strike in the U.S. homeland with a nuclear device. Fragments of this story have been revealed before; this is the complete, definitive account.
2. The Great Escape. On December 7, 2001, the day Kandahar fell, several hundred alQa’ida fighters escaped the city en masse under U.S. noses. A single airstrike could have
wiped them out. A few months later, they inflicted serious losses on U.S. troops during Operation Anaconda, and made good their escape into the Pakistani tribal areas, where
they would be free to launch new attacks and plot against America. Drones still pursue them there to this day.
3. Preemptive Presidential Pardon. In late 2005, Andrew Card, the White House Chief of Staff, coyly hinted to Robert Grenier and some of his officers about the possibility of
preemptive Presidential pardons – provided they would continue the CIA’s program of harsh interrogations. Grenier refused, as legal protections vanished under the McCain
4. A Brush with Nuclear War. In May 2002, both Robert Grenier, CIA Chief of Station in Pakistan, and the senior CIA officer in New Delhi independently concluded that nucleararmed Pakistan and India were about to go to war – and that American diplomacy was actually making war more likely. Their joint warning triggered an American exodus from New Delhi and a bout of shuttle diplomacy by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who succeeded in defusing the crisis.
5. A Deal with the Taliban. At a meeting with Robert Grenier on October 2, 2001, Mullah Osmani, the second-ranking figure in the Taliban, agreed that he would push Mullah Omar aside, seize power, and cut a deal with the Americans. He and Grenier remained in touch by satellite phone for several days, as Osmani weighed whether he should follow through. With the start of the American bombing campaign on October 7, Osmani angrily demanded that the bombing stop before he would continue negotiations; he then broke contact.
6. British Mendacity. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, senior British officials, prodded by Prime Minister Tony Blair to provide assistance to the Americans, lied to us about
their covert capabilities in Afghanistan in hopes of buying time to come up with something real. The effort collapsed in embarrassment. 7. Afghanistan: Illusion of Victory. When anti-Taliban Afghans and their American supporters won the first American-Afghan War, US. officials little understood that victory in the southern Taliban heartland was as much a product of the Taliban’s political weakness as of superior American arms. The precepts of limited political war advocated by CIA station chief Robert Grenier and adopted by President Bush, and responsible for the initial victory, were quickly set aside. When the Taliban returned in 2005, Americans took the lead, shoving their Afghan allies to the curb. The result was
the disaster we see today.
8. ISIS and the Lessons of Afghanistan. As America sets out to contain and ultimately defeat the extremists who have seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq, we see unfolding the same situation we faced in Afghanistan. Our allies in both Syria and Iraq are weak and unreliable. Pressure is building for Americans to take the lead in the fight. That would be a prescription for disaster. In Syria and Iraq we need to show the same patience and wisdom we exhibited in the First American-Afghan War – and avoid repeating the grievous errors of the Second.