Fact checking the debate:
‘MCCAIN: Now, let me just go back with you very briefly. We drove the Russians out with — the Afghan freedom fighters drove the Russians out of Afghanistan, and then we made a most serious mistake. We washed our hands of Afghanistan. The Taliban came back in, Al Qaeda, we then had the situation that required us to conduct the Afghan war.’
The ‘freedom fighters’ included Gulbadin Hikmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, i.e. what McCain now calls ‘radical Islamic extremists.’
The US is now trying to kill Haqqani, who has joined up with the neo-Taliban attacking US troops.
The Reagan Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, supported by the fundamentalist military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq, destabilized Pakistan and enormously expanded the bank accounts of ‘freedom fighters’ (i.e. mujahideen) like Hikmatyar. Hikmatyar’s Hizb-i Islami is also attacking US troops.
Then McCain says that the US ‘washed our hands of Afghanistan.’ Actually George H.W. Bush made a deal with the Soviets that if they would depart Afghanistan and keep hands off, the US would cease supplying the mujahideen. “We” did not wash our hands of the country. The Republican Party led by its then president did a deal with the Soviet Communists.
Then McCain says that “the Taliban came back in.” This is a very odd assertion. The Taliban were seminary students going to kindergarten and grade school as refugees in Pakistan at the time of the 1980s guerrilla war. They only emerged as a disciplined paramilitary group, with Pakistani help, in 1994. They did not ‘come back in.’ They arose and supplanted the mujahideen, though some mujahideen joined them.
So it was in part the very mujahideen or Muslim holy warriors for whom McCain voted more money from Congress in the 1980s that came to menace US interests in the late 1990s and who gave shelter to al-Qaeda.
The recent US air strikes on the tribal agencies in Pakistani territory have in some large part targeted the Haqqani network.