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How the US supported the rise of extreme Islamic groups
in Afghanistan, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban

Notes: What follows are excerpts from books, documents and articles that provide contemporary and historical background for understanding today's War in Afghanistan.

A key source is "Taliban," by Ahmed Rashid,a 320-page book that is incredibly rich and informative, which includes Rashid's eyewitness accounts as well as his research. It should be noted that many areas covered in "Taliban," such as discussions with US and Argentine gas companies to build a pipeline across Afghanistan, the heroin trade and relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not cited here and what is cited only scratches the surface of Rashid's in-depth presentation. "Taliban" was published in 2001 and in 2009 by Yale University Press


(a) US support for Mujahideen before the Soviet invasion
in December 1979 may have provoked the invasion itself.

Zbigniew Brzezinski Interview in 1998

In a 1998 interview with the French newspaper Nouvelle Observateur, Zbigniew Brzezenski who was national security adviser to President Carter, declared that US aid to the Mujahideen began six months before the Soviet invasion in December 1979. Brzezenski said that he believed the US involvement in July 1979 "was going to induce a Soviet military intervention."

When asked whether he had regrets about US military support for the Mujahideen which ultimately resulted in the creation of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Brzezenski's responded:

"What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Eastern Europe and the end of the cold war?"

Brzezenski has disavowed the interview. However, it is fully consistent with the memoir of former CIA Director Robert Gates, written in 1996, "From the Shadows". Gates writes:

Robert Gates Book on US Covert Action Before Soviet Invasion

Robert Gates, "From the Shadows" (1996) pp. 144-149 (excerpts)

The Carter administration began looking at the possibility of covert assistance to the insurgents opposing the pro-Soviet, Marxist government of President Taraki at the beginning of 1979. On March 5, 1979, CIA sent several covert action options relating to Afghanistan to the SCC. The covering memo noted that the insurgents had stepped up their activities against the government and had achieved surprising successes. It added that the Soviets were clearly concerned about the setbacks to the Afghan communist regime and that the Soviet media were accusing the United States, Pakistan, and Egypt of supporting the insurgents. The SCC metthe next day and requested new options for covert action.

The DO informed DDCI Carlucci late in March that the government of Pakistan might be more forthcoming in terms of helping the insurgents than previously believed, citing an approach by a senior Pakistani official to an Agency officer to discuss assistance to the insurgents, including small arms and ammunition. The Pakistani had stated that without a firm commitment from the United States, Pakistan "could not risk Soviet wrath." Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a senior official also had raised the prospect of a Soviet setback in Afghanistan and said that his government was considering officially proposing that the United States aid the rebels ...

On March 30, 1979, Aaron chaired a historic "mini-SCC" as ... Walt Slocombe, representing Defense, asked if there was value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, "sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire?" Aaron concluded by asking the key question: "Is there interest in maintaining and assisting the insurgency, or is the risk that we will provoke the Soviets too great?" ...

The day before the SCC meeting on April 6 to consider Afghan covert action options, Soviet MO Arnold Horelick sent Turner a paper on the possible Soviet reactions ... The risk was that a substantial U.S. covert aid program could raise the stakes and induce the Soviets to intervene more directly and vigorously than otherwise intended.

... The meeting was finally held on July 3, 1979, and -- almost six months before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan -- Jimmy Carter signed the first finding to help the Mujahedin covertly. It authorized support for insurgent propaganda and other psychological operations in Afghanistan; establishment of radio access to the Afghan population through third-country facilities; and the provision either unilaterally or through third countries of support to the Afghan insurgents, in the form of either cash or nonmilitary supplies. The Afghan effort began relatively small. Initially, somewhat more than half a million dollars was allocated, with almost all being drawn within six weeks.

By the end of August, Pakistani President Mohammad Ziaul-Haq was pressuring the United States for arms and equipment for the insurgents in Afghanistan ... Separately, the Pakistani intelligence service was pressing us to provide military equipment to support an expanding insurgency.

When Turner heard this, he urged the DO to get moving in providing more help to the insurgents. They responded with several enhancement options, including communications equipment for the insurgents via the Pakistanis or the Saudis, funds for the Pakistanis to purchase lethal military equipment for the insurgents, and providing a like amount of lethal equipment ourselves for the Pakistanis to distribute to the insurgents.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1979, the Soviets massively intervened in Afghanistan. A covert action that began six months earlier funded at just over half a million dollars would, within a year, grow to tens of millions, and most assuredly included the provision of weapons.

(b) The US funded the Pakistan intelligence service (ISI) which supported the Taliban at its inception in 1994. Pakistan financed and supplied the Taliban during the civil war of the 1990s and after it took power in 1996.

Matt Waldman

In the 1980s the ISI was instrumental in supporting seven Sunni Muslim mujahedeen groups in their jihad against the Soviets, and was the principal conduit of covert US and Saudi funding. It subsequently played a pivotal role in the emergence of the Taliban (Coll 2005:292) and Pakistan provided significant political, financial, military and logistical support to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996-2001)(Rashid 2001). This support was comprised not only of arms, ammunition, equipment, fuel and other supplies, but also military advisers and trainers, as well as economic support. Even in 2001, in breach of UN sanctions,"up to thirty ISI trucks a day were still crossing into Afghanistan" (Rashid 2008:60).

(c) US Funded Recruitment, Equipping and Training
of Radical Arabs, including Osama Bin Laden, in the 1980s

Ahmed Rashid, "Taliban," (2001) p. 129 1986, CIA chief William Casey had stepped up the war against the Soviet Union by taking three significant, but at that time highly secret, measures.

He had persuaded the US Congress to provide the Mujaheddin with American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down Soviet planes and provide US advisers to train the guerrillas. Until then no US-made weapons or personnel had been used directly in the war effort.

The CIA, Britain's MI6 and the ISI also agreed on a provocative plan to launch guerrilla attacks into the Soviet Socialist Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the soft Muslim underbelly of the Soviet state from where Soviet troops in Afghanistan received their supplies. The task was given to the ISI's favourite Mujaheddin leader Gulbuddin Hikinetyar. In March 1987, small units crossed the Amu Darya river from bases in northern Afghanistan and launched their first rocket attacks against villages in Tajikistan ...

Thirdly, Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI initiative to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan andfight with the Afghan Mujaheddin. The ISI had encouraged this since1982 and by now all the other players had their reasons for supporting the idea. President Zia aimed to cement Islamic unity, turn Pakistan into the leader of the Muslim world and foster an Islamic opposition in Central Asia. Washington wanted to demonstrate that the entire Muslim world was fighting the Soviet Union alongside the Afghans and their American benefactors. And the Saudis saw an opportunity both to promote Wahabbism and get rid of its disgruntled radicals. None of the players reckoned on these volunteers having their own agendas, which would eventually turn their hatred against the Soviets on their own regimes and the Americans.

... Amongst these thousands of foreign recruits was a young Saudi student Osama Bin Laden, the son of a Yemeni construction magnate Mohammed Bin Laden who was a close friend of the late King Faisal and whose company had become fabulously wealthy on the contracts to renovate and expand the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. The ISI had long wanted Prince Turki Bin Faisal, the head of Istakhbarat, the Saudi Intelligence Service, to provide a Royal Prince to lead the Saudi contingent in order to show Muslims the commitment of the Royal Family to the jihad. Only poorer Saudis, students, taxi-drivers and Bedouin tribesmen had so far arrived to fight. But no pampered Saudi Prince was ready to rough it out in the Afghan mountains. Bin Laden, although not a royal, was close enough to the royals and certainly wealthy enough to lead the Saudi contingent. Bin Laden, Prince Turki and General Gul were to become firm friends and allies in a common cause.

(d) US blocked a Soviet proposal to form an Afghan
national coalition government after Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

Ahmed Rashid in the NY Review of Books, February 2010

For thirty years Afghanistan has cast a long, dark shadow over world events, but it has also been marked by pivotal moments that could have brought peace and changed world history.

One such moment occurred in February 1989, just as the last Soviet troops were leaving Afghanistan. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had flown into Islamabad -- the first visit to Pakistan by a senior Soviet official. He came on a last-ditch mission to try to persuade Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the army, and the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) to agree to a temporary sharing of power between the Afghan Communist regime in Kabul and the Afghan Mujahideen. He hoped to prevent a civil war and lay the groundwork for a peaceful, final transfer of power to the Mujahideen.

... The ISI refused to oblige Shevardnadze. It wanted to get Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the seven disparate Mujahideen leaders and its principal protege, into power in Kabul. The CIA had also urged the ISI to stand firm against the Soviets. It wanted to avenge the US humiliation in Vietnam and celebrate a total Communist debacle in Kabul -- no matter how many Afghan lives it would cost. A political compromise was not in the plans of the ISI and the CIA.

I was summoned to meet Shevardnadze late at night and remember a frustrated but visibly angry man, outraged by the shortsightedness of Pakistan and the US and the clear desire of both governments to humiliate Moscow. He went on to evoke an apocalyptic vision of the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region. His predictions of the violence to come turned out to be dead right.

At that pivotal moment, if Shevardnadze's compromise had been accepted, the world might well have avoided the decade-long Afghan civil war, the destruction of Kabul, the rise of the Taliban, and the sanctuary they provided al-Qaeda. Perhaps we could have avoided September 11 itself -- and much that has followed since, including the latest attempt by a Nigerian extremist to blow up a transatlantic airliner, the killing of seven CIA officers at an Afghan base, and the continuing heavy casualties among NATO troops and Afghan civilians in Afghanistan. In February 1989 after the last Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto, at the urging of the CIA, refused to discuss a proposal from Soviet Foreign Min. Shevardnadze to establish a national coalition government to include the pro-Soviet government and the Afghan Muhajidin

Robert Parry on US Refusal to Negotiate Coalition Government in 1989

In 1989, I was a correspondent for Newsweek magazine covering intelligence issues. After the Soviets left Afghanistan, I asked CIA officials why they were continuing the bloodshed. Why not, I asked, just look for a way to bring the war to an end with some kind of national unity government? Hadn't the U.S. national interest of driving out the Soviets been achieved?

One of the CIA hardliners responded to my question with disgust. "We want to see Najibullah strung up by a light pole," he snapped.

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