Making Conservatives Cringe Since 1977

I'm not Liberal, I'm paying attention.

21 January 2006


The concept of Drafting

Who was he? I just finished up an article by Richard A. Clarke at The Washington in which he reviews Peter Bergen's book on Osama bin Laden. Clarke gives a decent overview, running throught the strengths and weaknesses, and relaying the feel of the book. One thing jumped out at me, lets see if it jumps out at you as well:
The result is a detailed, well-researched narrative that persuasively answers dozens of questions that are still painfully relevant today: Did the CIA give bin Laden his start in Afghanistan in the 1980s jihad against the Soviets? (No, the CIA's aid went directly to Afghan mujaheddin fighting the occupiers, not to Arab outsiders like bin Laden.) Did the Pentagon let him slip away in 2001? (Yes, by only belatedly sending U.S. troops to Tora Bora, where Bergen -- despite Bush administration claims -- confirms that bin Laden was cornered.) Is bin Laden behind Abu Musab Zarqawi's insurgent attacks in Iraq? (No, Zarqawi's group was always a separate, Jordanian-based organization, not one that takes orders from bin Laden.) Did Saddam Hussein and bin Laden work together? (No, the fanatically religious bin Laden loathed the secular Iraqi tyrant.)
Go ahead and Google, "Did the CIA give bin Laden his start in Afghanistan in the 1980s jihad against the Soviets?" You'll find that among the other established facts, about bin Laden's relationship with Zarqawi and Saddam, Bergan's implication (via Clarke) that bin Laden had no connection whatso ever with the CIA is on less solid ground. I'm not saying that the CIA created bin Laden, and I'm not saying that Google should be the end all, be all of research, but the results are interesting. Items of intrest...
Exhibit A: Thursday, June 10th, 2004 Ghost Wars: How Reagan Armed the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan
During Reagan's 8 years in power, the CIA secretly sent billions of dollars of military aid to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in a US-supported jihad against the Soviet Union. We take a look at America's role in Afghanistan that led to the rise of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda with Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. [Includes transcript]
Listen to Segment || Download Show mp3 Watch 128k stream Watch 256k stream Read Transcript
Exhibit A-1: Abolish the CIA! By Chalmers Johnson

Friday 05 November 2004

This piece is adapted from and printed thanks to the permission of the London Review of Books where, in slightly altered form, it appeared on 21 October 2004, pp. 25-28.

"Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to 10 September 2001", by Steve Coll, New York: Penguin, 2004, 695 pp, $29.95.


Funding the Fundamentalists

The CIA had no intricate strategy for the war it was unleashing in Afghanistan. Howard Hart, the agency's representative in the Pakistani capital, told Coll that he understood his orders as: "You're a young man; here's your bag of money, go raise hell. Don't fuck it up, just go out there and kill Soviets." These orders came from a most peculiar American. William Casey, the CIA's director from January 1981 to January 1987 . . . Casey knew next to nothing about Islamic fundamentalism or the grievances of Middle Eastern nations against Western imperialism. He saw political Islam and the Catholic Church as natural allies in the counter-strategy of covert action to thwart Soviet imperialism. He believed that the USSR was trying to strike at the U.S. in Central America and in the oil-producing states of the Middle East. He supported Islam as a counter to the Soviet Union's atheism, and Coll suggests that he sometimes conflated lay Catholic organizations such as Opus Dei with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian extremist organization, of which Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, was a passionate member. The Muslim Brotherhood's branch in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami, was strongly backed by the Pakistani army, and Coll writes that Casey, more than any other American, was responsible for welding the alliance of the CIA, Saudi intelligence, and the army of General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's military dictator from 1977 to 1988. On the suggestion of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organization, Casey went so far as to print thousands of copies of the Koran, which he shipped to the Afghan frontier for distribution in Afghanistan and Soviet Uzbekistan. He also fomented, without presidential authority, Muslim attacks inside the USSR . . .
Fair-Weather Friends

A co-operative agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan was anything but natural or based on mutual interests. Only two weeks after radical students seized the American Embassy in Tehran on November 5, 1979, a similar group of Islamic radicals burned to the ground the American Embassy in Islamabad as Zia's troops stood idly by. But the US was willing to overlook almost anything the Pakistani dictator did in order to keep him committed to the anti-Soviet jihad. After the Soviet invasion, Brzezinski wrote to Carter: "This will require a review of our policy toward Pakistan, more guarantees to it, more arms aid, and, alas, a decision that our security policy toward Pakistan cannot be dictated by our non-proliferation policy." History will record whether Brzezinski made an intelligent decision in giving a green light to Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons in return for assisting the anti-Soviet insurgency.

From the beginning, Zia demanded that all weapons and aid for the Afghans from whatever source pass through ISI hands. The CIA was delighted to agree. Zia feared above all that Pakistan would be squeezed between a Soviet-dominated Afghanistan and a hostile India. He also had to guard against a Pashtun independence movement that, if successful, would break up Pakistan. In other words, he backed the Islamic militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan on religious grounds but was quite prepared to use them strategically. In doing so, he laid the foundations for Pakistan's anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir in the 1990s.

Enter bin Laden and the Saudis
From the moment agency money and weapons started to flow to the mujahidin in late 1979, Saudi Arabia matched the U.S. payments dollar for dollar. They also bypassed the ISI and supplied funds directly to the groups in Afghanistan they favored, including the one led by their own pious young millionaire, Osama bin Laden. According to Milton Bearden, private Saudi and Arab funding of up to $25 million a month flowed to Afghan Islamist armies. Equally important, Pakistan trained between 16,000 and 18,000 fresh Muslim recruits on the Afghan frontier every year, and another 6,500 or so were instructed by Afghans inside the country beyond ISI control. Most of these eventually joined bin Laden's private army of 35,000 "Arab Afghans." . . . the CIA made almost no effort to recruit paid agents or collect intelligence. The result was that Saudi Arabia worked continuously to enlarge the ISI's proxy jihad forces in both Afghanistan and Kashmir, and the Saudi Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the kingdom's religious police, tutored and supported the Taliban's own Islamic police force.
-now fast forward back to more Bergen... Exhibit B:
"While the charges that the CIA was responsible for the rise of the Afghan Arabs might make good copy, they don't make good history. The truth is more complicated, tinged with varying shades of gray. The United States wanted to be able to deny that the CIA was funding the Afghan war, so its support was funneled through Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). ISI in turn made the decisions about which Afghan factions to arm and train, tending to favor the most Islamist and pro-Pakistan. The Afghan Arabs generally fought alongside those factions, which is how the charge arose that they were creatures of the CIA. [Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: The Free Press, 2001), pp. 64-66.]

The summary seen at

• U.S. covert aid went to the Afghans, not to the "Afghan Arabs."

• The "Afghan Arabs" were funded by Arab sources, not by the United States.

• United States never had "any relationship whatsoever" with Osama bin Laden.

• The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Arab backing for the "Afghan Arabs," and bin Laden's own decisions "created" Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, not the United States.

So we have exhibits A thru B, and misinformation from our own government which ignores the established fact that we had a dollor for dollar working agreemnet with the Saudis. I could add more from other sources, but the water would still be muddied. Clarke repeated Bergan's assessment without any caveat. John Stuart Blackton does, for the most part, the same at TMPCafe, but at least he notes that:
What we did do was: * Facilitate Arab funding for the fight against the Russians * Use the Pakistani intelligence services as intermediaries far more that was prudent * Tolerate the modest number of "Arab fighters" who joined the cause because we assumed that while they were not militarily significant, they were somehow a necessary part of keeping the flow of private Arab funding at substantial levels.
I'm not going to let Clarke slip by with what he said anymore than Blackton's commentors:

Mr. Blackton,

When people say that the CIA created Bin Laden, I interpret them as saying that CIA operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere created conditions that empowered the Aghan Arabs, encouraged the explicitly Islamist dimension of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan, and thereby nurtured the rise of Bin Laden and the broader movement of jihadist, anti-Western anti-imperialism that he represents. Whether or not Bin laden or his associates were ever actually on the CIA payroll is quite beside the point.
Members of the CIA assigned to the first Afghan war must have been morons if they did not know that Osama bin Laden was a member of one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia and owners of one of the the biggest construction companies in the world. Or were they just too busy hustling the sale of arms and heroin to notice a 6'6" young man with a lot of money at his disposal?
It's simply the principle of drafting.


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