In February 1989, the CIA chief in Islamabad famously cabled a simple message: “We won.” It was an understated coda to America’s secret war in Afghanistan—the final and decisive battle of the Cold War, a brilliantly successful covert operation that would also prove to be the start of the global jihad.
In his new book, What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-1989 (Brookings Institution Press, 2014), CIA veteran and Director of the Brookings Intelligence Project Bruce Riedel seeks to answer how and why this intelligence operation succeeded so brilliantly. Riedel explores the complex personalities in the war—the Afghan communists, the Russians, the Afghan mujahedin, the Saudis, the Pakistanis, and the Americans—and what we can learn from a war in which no Americans fought on the battlefield. In surveying the decade-long intelligence enterprise, Riedel highlights the complexities of a war influenced both by the weaknesses and mistakes of America’s enemies, as well as the good judgment and strengths of the United States.
On July 8, the Brookings Intelligence Project launched Riedel’s new book with a conversation about the Afghan War, the lessons it offers for future intelligence operations, and America’s future role in Afghanistan. Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.