It isn’t often that you come across a book which offers unique insight into world changing events from the perspective of someone who had an intimate involvement in those events. And the books that are in that category are justly well known. So, it was with a sense of fascination that I read “The Afghanistan File” by Prince Turki al Faisal Al Saud, co-authored with Michael Field.
First, I think it’s important to spell out just who the author is.
Turki al Faisal is a senior prince in the Saudi Royal family, a son of King Faisal and nephew to the current king. He received an extensive western education, attending school in the United States before going to Princeton and then the Universities of Cambridge and London in the UK.
Soon after completing his education, he was appointed as the Director of the Saudi Arabian General Intelligence Directorate, holding this position from 1977 until August 2001. After this he was also the Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom and then to the United States.
As a result, he has played a key part in some of the affairs that have shaped the modern world. It’s safe to say, the Prince is a man very familiar with the corridors of power, and that is why his book is of particular note.
The books initial focus, and most detailed component, deals with the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan and the actions taken to combat it.
In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Prince Turki was instrumental in both creating the international coalition that supported the Afghan Mujahidin fighting against the occupation and helping to run the covert operations to assist them.
Because of the Saudi’s intelligence bureau’s key role in both liaising with their counterparts in Pakistan intelligence and the CIA, as well as the Saudi’s putting up a huge proportion of the funding for the Mujahedeen, Turki was absolutely central in this conflict and, by extension, the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result, fully half the book is devoted to the history of this effort, those involved and how the whole affair was managed.
Additionally, the Prince provides some details of the ending of the conflict that, as far as I am aware, have never been made public. He recounts how he arranged secret talks between the Soviets and the Mujahidin in Saudi Arabia that allowed the Soviet withdrawal to occur unmolested. This greatly assisted in ending direct Soviet involvement in the country smoothly.
This thorough recollection is, I would assess, critical knowledge for those studying the late Soviet Union or their war in Afghanistan.
The book also looks at the subsequent invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the international response that led to the Gulf War, developments in Afghanistan through the 1990s and Saudi’s actions in the region. And regarding this, of special interest are the Saudi government’s actions regarding one of their errant citizens – one Osama bin Laden.
Turki’s memoir thus gives insight into the mindset of the man who would mastermind the attack on 9/11 and the formation of Al Qaeda. As head of intelligence for Saudi Arabia, his insight into the history and evolution of that organization is, needless to say, thorough.
Though his tenure finished just a few weeks prior to the 9/11 attack, Turki also records and assesses the actions taken in the first few years of what became known as the Global War on Terror.
Now, it is here I should spell out the conflicting interests in this memoir. As said, Prince Turki is an important figure in events that continue to affect the world to the present day. And as a participant, we must treat this source for the bias it undoubtedly contains.
In fact, what we have in “The Afghanistan File” is effectively the unofficial history of Saudi Intelligence operations from 1979 to 2001. Prince Turki admits that the reason for writing the book in the first place was inspired by the late King Abdullah. He was concerned that every other party involved in the aftermath of 9/11 had told their side of the story and Saudi Arabia was left, in many ways, “carrying the can”.
It is to readdress this that Prince Turki was set to writing this history. So obviously, we can see that “The Afghanistan File” is, practically by sell-admission, something of a public relations job. And Prince Turki, as an extremely well-educated man with a long background in both intelligence operations and diplomacy is no doubt a master at dissemination should that be required of him.
But that is, quite frankly, not enough to dismiss this book. After all, the King was essentially correct, and the Saudi side is one that has little material existing concerning it. This book is practically the only one available, and certainly the best informed, to tell that part of the history.
But on top of this, and what I found particularly of interest, were the little snippets that are to be gained from reading “The Afghanistan File”. For example, Turki refers to some of the operations mounted against the Soviets, such as the use of British Special Forces veterans and the sabotage of the main fuel pipeline between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, as basically side notes.
But I’m pretty sure that these are, for those studying this particular war, new revelations. Or if already known detailed here in ways that were not publicly admitted.
The book also offers interesting insights into both Arab and Saudi culture, something that Turki’s fluid style of writing makes it easy for a layman of these subjects such as myself to understand.
What are also of interest are Turki’s observations on the historic events that have led to the issues currently afflicting the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, and the possible solutions to them.
So, if you have an interest in the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan, or Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, or the War on Terror or basically military or intelligence history, well, I thoroughly recommend “The Afghanistan File”. I suspect it may become a “go-to” source for future historians as our current situation gradually recedes into history.
“The Afghanistan File” is available at Amazon for £17.97 or $29.40 at time of this video publishing.