On September 9, 2001, two suicidal Arabs posing as journalists murdered Ahmed Shah Massoud, the brilliant strategist of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Two days later, Al Qaeda operatives flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center. In The Lion's Grave: Dispatches From Afghanistan, a collection of pieces written for The New Yorker magazine, reporter Jon Lee Anderson develops a strong case that the two events were related with Massoud's death quashing the best chance of tracking and capturing Osama bin Laden.

Afghan intelligence officials surmise that the link between Massoud's slaying and the attack on the World Trade Center was this: Al Qaeda anticipated that Massoud's death would destroy the Northern Alliance. Thus, if America struck back, it would have no Afghan allies on the ground. Anderson writes that Massoud, as a veteran of two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, knew most of the places where bin Laden might hide. In the early stages of U.S. retaliation, televised news featured on-the-spot reports by national and local anchors. These visiting stars typically attended military briefings, peered through the windows and returned home a few days later as "experts." Then there were the seasoned war reporters who sneaked into places where few sane people dared to go. That's what Anderson did in order to capture better than television could the nuances of a land ruled by gun-hugging tribal chiefs, ruthless warlords and gangs of renegade Taliban fighters.

Anderson shares his exclusive moments with people high and low officials, warlords, prisoners, bandits, peasants and details the perplexing politics, deep-rooted blood feuds and shifting allegiances that characterize Afghanistan. A special treat is the collection of private messages Anderson sent to The New Yorker. The messages reflect the perils of war reporting and the savvy required to get a story to the editors. This compelling book supports the widely held notion that no job in journalism is harder than the foreign correspondent's. To understand September 11, we have to understand Afghanistan and that's what Anderson bravely helps us do. Alan Prince, a former news editor, lectures at the University of Miami.

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