Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Sep 22 07:09:24 MDT 2001

Blasts from the past
The weaponry the Taliban could turn on us may be our own, the relics
of a $7 billion Cold War campaign.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Ken Silverstein (

Sept. 22, 2001 | WASHINGTON -- In January of 1980, just weeks after
the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan in support of a puppet
government, U.S. intelligence agencies were quietly working with
international arms brokers to set up a weapons pipeline to back
rebels fighting the government in Kabul.

One top-secret memo sent to the CIA from a team of London-based
dealers at the time proposed a worldwide hunt for arms, and the
establishment of a "Rear Base Area" outside Afghanistan from where
they would be ferried to the insurgents as needed.

"The Sponsor's role must be held in complete confidence and utmost
security must be exercised in all aspects of the proposed operation,"
reads the six-page memo, heretofore unpublished. And this memo marked
the start of what would become the biggest covert operation in
American history: the arming of the mujahedin guerrillas that drove
the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

Between 1979 and 1991, the United States and a few foreign
collaborators spent some $7 billion on the Afghan program, much of it
to buy arms. The money also helped train 80,000 fighters, including
radicals from the Middle East who came to join the jihad against the
Soviet Union.

Now, as the U.S. prepares for war, American troops may face one-time
allies armed in part with weapons sent to them by the U.S.
government, as they have in the past in places such as Somalia,
Panama and Iraq. How dangerous are these weapons that may be turned
around to face us? Military and intelligence experts say it's
difficult to tell, and much will depend on what sort of military
operation the government undertakes. But particular weapons -- such
as U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles -- that made it
impossible for the Soviets to dislodge Afghan fighters from their
mountainous retreats could prove just as threatening now.

The covert arming of the mujahedin began under President Jimmy
Carter, who argued that Russian control of Afghanistan threatened the
Arabian Sea, the oil lifeline of the West. U.S. Army Intelligence
took the lead role, as the CIA was still reeling from revelations
about its involvement in the coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet
to power in Chile, its attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and its
illegal spying on U.S. citizens. In response, Carter's CIA director,
Stansfield Turner, had fired 800 agents, thereby leaving the agency
badly uninformed about the international arms market.

Under Army auspices, arms dealers linked to the U.S. bought the
mujahedin land mines, grenades, machine guns and thousands of
Russian-made surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), the latter of which were
acquired from Poland by bribing military officials who oversaw
defense stocks.

By 1982, the year after Ronald Reagan took office, the CIA had
already taken over the program from the Army. Though Reagan called
the rebels "freedom fighters," few within the government had any
illusions about the forces that the United States was backing. The
mujahedin fighters espoused a radical brand of Islam -- some
commanders were known to have thrown acid in the faces of women who
refused to wear the veil -- and committed horrific human rights
violations in their war against the Red Army. (Of course, neither
were the Russians zealous adherents to the Geneva Convention. They
razed entire villages, burned crops and liberally targeted

In the Machiavellian world of national security, though, little
thought was given to the morality of our allies. "No one expected we
were going to be great buddies with the muj," says a former CIA
officer involved in procuring weapons for the rebels. "They were the
best means to an end, which was to bleed the Soviet Union."

One former Army officer turned arms dealer who helped supply the
rebels is equally forthright. "We didn't care about Afghanistan
itself -- it was just a bunch of rocks up there in the desert," says
John Miley. "Arming the mujahedin was an opportunity to give the
Russians a black eye, and their victory hastened the downfall of the
Soviet Union. No one could have foreseen that the Taliban would end
up running the place."


Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 09/22/2001

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