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The First American-Afghan War, a CIA war, was approved by President George W. Bush and directed by the author, Robert Grenier, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. Forging separate alliances with warlords, Taliban dissidents, and Pakistani intelligence, Grenier launched the “southern campaign,” orchestrating the final defeat of the Taliban and Hamid Karzai’s rise to power in eighty-eight chaotic days.

In Grenier’s gripping narrative, 88 DAYS TO KANDAHAR, we meet: General Tommy Franks, who bridled at CIA control of “his” war; General “Jafar Amin,” a gruff Pakistani intelligence officer who saved Grenier from committing career suicide; Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s brilliant ambassador to the US, who tried to warn her government of the al-Qa’ida threat; “Mark,” the CIA operator who guided Gul Agha Shirzai to bloody victory over the Taliban; General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, a cautious man who became the most powerful man in Pakistan, struggling with Grenier’s demands while trying to protect his country; and Hamid Karzai, the puzzling anti-Taliban insurgent, a man of courage, petulance, and vacillating moods.

Grenier’s enemies out in front prove only slightly more lethal than the ones behind his own lines. This first war is won despite Washington bureaucrats who divert resources, deny military support, and try to undermine the only Afghan allies capable of winning. Later, as he directed the CIA’s role in the Iraq War, Grenier watched the initial victory squandered. His last command was of CIA’s CounterTerrorism Center (CTC), as Bush-era terrorism policies were being repudiated, as the Taliban re-emerged in Afghanistan, and as Pakistan descended into fratricidal violence.

Advance Praise

“After more than a decade, the war in Afghanistan is fizzling to an ignominious end, leaving tens of thousands of dead and wounded, a trillion wasted dollars, and a resurgent Taliban poised to return to power. Now Robert Grenier, the CIA’s man in Pakistan and Afghanistan at 9/11, gives a dramatic spy’seye view of how it all began. In captivating detail, Grenier describes his plans for the original limited invasion, his secret negotiations with warlords, how the war might have been prevented, and how “colossal overreach” and the decision “that failure was not an option” led to tragic defeat in America’s longest war.”
—James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America and other best-selling books on intelligence

“88 Days to Kandahar drips with tension and insight. Bob Grenier is the role model for members of the National Clandestine Service. He captures the highs and lows of the spy business with unwavering accuracy. His portrayal of events immediately preceding and following 9/11 is illuminating and gritty. Members of the CIA station in Islamabad faced numerous enemies —Al Qaida, the Taliban, extremists in Pakistan and our own bureaucracy with its jealousies and rivalries.”
—Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State

“A fascinating account of our early post 9/11 days in Afghanistan by one of the CIA’s key figures in the drama. A sobering, but must-read primer for the complexities of these tumultuous times.”
—General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Army (Ret.), former commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan

“Most often history comes to us through a distant and detached analyst who tries to make sense of an event they did not experience. Here Bob Grenier, the ultimate insider, opens a window of insight into a pivotal time in our own historical consciousness. It is a gripping narrative.”
—John J. Hamre, President and CEO, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense

“If you want an insider's account of the first American-Afghan War, you can't do better than this; the CIA station chief in Islamabad at the time, Grenier directed the effort. Important reading to understand where we are today.”
—Library Journal

“Grenier delivers an action-packed tale, rich in implication, of the post-9/11 race to unseat the Taliban and rout al-Qaida in Afghanistan… Apart from his taut, well-written account of action on the ground, its heroes mostly gnarly Special Forces troops and spooks, CIA watchers will be fascinated by Grenier's look at the twisted, surprisingly nasty politics within the intelligence community in the age of Bush/Cheney and their appointees, squabbling that makes Afghanistan look tame. A catalog of occasional victories and constant missteps that is eye-opening, illuminating and maddening.”
—Kirkus Reviews

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Newsworthy Revelations

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 Amendment.

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.


The Taliban were driven from their capital in Kandahar in December, 2001 by twin southern Pashtun tribal rebellions led by Hamid Karzai and Gul Agha Shirzai. Both were supported by joint CIA-Special Forces teams. These are the routes taken by each as they and their militia forces closed in on Kandahar.

Route of Hamid Karzai

October 8 to December 9, 2001

Route of Gul Agha Shirzai

November 14 to December 7, 2001