Listen free for 30 days

Audible Membership

$14.95 a month

1 credit a month, good for any title to download and keep.
The Plus Catalogue—listen all you want to thousands of Audible Originals, podcasts, and audiobooks.
$14.95 a month plus applicable taxes after 30 day trial. Cancel anytime.
Buy Now for $56.33

Buy Now for $56.33

Pay using card ending in
By confirming your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Amazon's Privacy Notice. Tax where applicable.

Publisher's Summary

Winner of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars, the epic and enthralling story of America's intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11. 

Prior to 9/11, the United States had been carrying out small-scale covert operations in Afghanistan, ostensibly in cooperation, although often in direct opposition, with I.S.I., the Pakistani intelligence agency. While the US was trying to quell extremists, a highly secretive and compartmentalized wing of I.S.I., known as "Directorate S", was covertly training, arming, and seeking to legitimize the Taliban, in order to enlarge Pakistan's sphere of influence. After 9/11, when 59 countries, led by the US, deployed troops or provided aid to Afghanistan in an effort to flush out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the US was set on an invisible slow-motion collision course with Pakistan. 

Today, we know that the war in Afghanistan would falter badly because of military hubris at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the drain on resources and provocation in the Muslim world caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq, and corruption. But, more than anything, as Coll makes painfully clear, the war in Afghanistan was doomed because of the failure of the United States to apprehend the motivations and intentions of I.S.I.'s "Directorate S". This was a swirling and shadowy struggle of historic proportions, which endured over a decade and across both the Bush and Obama administrations, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of players, including some of the most prominent military and political figures. A sprawling American tragedy, the war was an open clash of arms but also a covert melee of ideas, secrets, and subterranean violence. 

Coll excavates this grand battle, which took place away from the gaze of the American public. With unsurpassed expertise, original research, and attention to detail, he brings to life a narrative at once vast and intricate, local and global, propulsive and painstaking. This is the definitive explanation of how America came to be so badly ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia. Nothing less than a forensic examination of the personal and political forces that shape world history, Directorate S is a complete masterpiece of both investigative and narrative journalism. 

©2017 Steve Coll (P)2017 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

"[A]journalistic masterpiece...Coll succeeds on all levels.... Coll is masterful at plumbing the depths of agencies and sects within both Afghanistan and Pakistan.... In this era of fake news, Coll remains above it all, this time delivering an impeccably researched history of diplomacy at the highest levels of government in Washington, Islamabad, and Kabul." (Kirkus Reviews, starred)

“With his evenhanded approach, gift for limning character, and dazzling reporting skills, he has created an essential work of contemporary history.” (Booklist, starred)

“The most comprehensive work to date on the US war in Afghanistan.... Coll’s vital work provides a factual and analytical foundation for all future work on the Afghan War and US policy in Central Asia.” (Publisher’s Weekly

What listeners say about Directorate S

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    21
  • 4 Stars
    4
  • 3 Stars
    1
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    1
Performance
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    18
  • 4 Stars
    2
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    15
  • 4 Stars
    3
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Great but I wish there was supplementary material

I loved this book along with Coll's first book, Ghost Wars (although Ghost Wars has some audio issues). I do have one suggestion though. There should be a supplementary web page with an ordered list (ordered by number of appearances) of everyone in the book, with photos, and a brief description of their roles in the Afghan war. As someone who grew up in an English country and only speaks english, it's very hard for me to remember all of the Islamic names mentioned in the book on sound alone. I would love to be able to see a picture of them with their names spelled out, and brief descriptions of their roles. It would really help the reader remember names like Ahmed Pasha and Ashfaq Kayani.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing! Fulfilling!

I couldn't wait to listen to Malcolm Hillgarnter. I listened and was totally struck by the amount of research that must have been undertaken by Steve Coll.
simply ultimate

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Louis Macareo
  • 2018-03-06

All the detail you could want

This was not a barn burner, but it was an extremely detailed account and for 27 hours the presentation is rather fluid and digestable. I can not imagine how much work it took to put this book together. Congratulations to the author on his accomplishment. Oh, and Afghanistan . . . goodness what a hot mess!

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Gillian
  • 2018-02-20

Slow At Times But Always Horrifying And Engaging

If you aren't horrified and heartsick after listening to Directorate S, you need to listen to it again. It might take that: I listened to it twice because, while extraordinarily well-researched, it packs soooo much of EVERYthing, every move, every plot, every person involved, it sometimes has a tendency to drag. But if you listen carefully, you might feel rage, horror, a certain sense of helpless dread.
Every person from the young wannabe terrorist, to the absolutely most soulless of operatives, from the politician with a bit of knowledge, to the politician who should know better, from the sociopaths of Pakistan, to the paranoid of Afghanistan is/are covered in great detail.
Steve Coll has pulled together a most fascinating work, and I wound up feeling bouts of shame, bouts of exasperation and anger.
While, as I said, it does drag a bit at first, it's always engaging, and if the subject matter is anything of interest to you, you'll be well-pleased with Coll's results.
You can't get any more in-depth than Directorate S. And you won't feel any more helpless than when you come to its conclusion. There's plenty of blame to go around; nobody gets a pass. And we as the American people are left holding a mixed bag of chaos...

32 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • K Kravitz
  • 2018-09-09

Good,but

I would have enjoyed the book even more if I had a map of the areas discussed a sort of group family trees for the various organizations. This may be in hard copy. Otherwise, enjoyed the book.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • philip
  • 2018-03-05

Superb!

Excellent sequel to Ghost Wars. Coll does not take sides nor take a polemic approach. One finishes the book convinced that America’s adventure in Afghanistan was an epic mistake but with good intentions. The ISI was largely responsible for the chaos in Afghanistan but the leaders are not evil. Karzai was an asshole and yet often correct about what was wrong about US policy. The narrator does an excellent job.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • 2018-04-19

Outstanding history

This book reveals the long, ultimately unsuccessful American effort to eradicate terrorism in Afghanistan. An essential look at nearly two decades of a war that was begun without anyone's knowing who the real enemy was. A brilliant analysis compellingly written.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • MJB
  • 2018-03-20

excellent. very detailed. well written

Just like the first volume , Steve Coll. tells this sad, cautionary tale as though it were a fiction novel
I wish that were true

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • howie
  • 2018-04-15

Explains what a commitment of war is.

Loved it, modern day history explained as its best. Trump fired some great fighters. He for one should read or listen to this book.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Chris Hedgecock
  • 2018-02-14

excellent

couldn't stop listening. deeply researched but never slow. lot's of fresh reporting here for a subject that has been written about many times before.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ian
  • 2018-05-10

must read history of the war in Afghanistn

must read history of the war in Afghanistn and the various players and events that have brought us to where we are today.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • ben
  • 2021-12-02

Decent (but uneven) overview of subject

On the whole this was decent enough. However it really comes in three parts. The Bush era, which is well cited and talks about pig picture politics and movements. The Early Obama years, where it starts focusing more on people and their conversations (and jumps back/forth in time). Then the late obama years, where everything is abbreviated.

Would rate each section as such, 4 stars, 3 stars and 2 stars.

Also expect the usual Monday morning quarterbacking that these types of books do. Picks winners and losers. While I only noticed one or two inaccuracies, a lot of Liberties were taken in the authors interpretation.

All in all recommended if you want to learn more about the Afghan/Pakistan angle to the war.