Blowback from Reagan’s Afghanistan Policy
The relevant information on the role of the US in encouraging the Chinese
and the Pakistanis to arm the Mujahidin with ever more sophisticated
weaponry is in a Washington Post article of July 20, 1992, by Steve Coll,
of the Post’s Foreign Service. Orrin Hatch and Ikle, with some others,
flew to Beijing to lobby for this early in 1986.
Coll also notes:
“During the mid-1980s, the CIA aided Pakistan’s Inter-Services
Intelligence agency (ISI) in establishing and supplying two secret
mujaheddin training schools in guerrilla warfare, including one that
concentrated on urban sabotage techniques, according to Yousaf. Pakistani
instructors trained by the CIA taught Afghans how to build and conceal
bombs with C-4 plastic explosives and what Yousaf estimated were more than
1,000 chemical and electronic-delay bomb timers supplied by the CIA. The
principal idea was to carry out attacks against military targets such as
fuel and ammunition depots, pipelines, tunnels and bridges, Yousaf and
Western sources said.
Some mujaheddin trained at the CIA-assisted guerrilla schools used the
materials and training supplied to carry out a number of car bombings and
other assassination attacks in Kabul under ISI direction, according to
Yousaf. By his account, a graduate of the urban sabotage school nearly
blew up future Afghan president Najibullah in downtown Kabul in late 1985,
when Najibullah was chief of the hated Afghan secret police.
“We made numerous attempts to kill Najibullah,” Yousaf wrote in a recently
published memoir of the secret war titled “The Bear Trap.” “
While it is true that the CIA handed off a lot of the money and
supervision to the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI was merely
acting as a pass-through for the CIA. It is not as if the CIA did not
know how the billions were being used. The CIA and ISI were close allies.
The CIA was not an innocent bystander that wrung its hands as its money
went to people it did not like or support. There were lots of Pakistanis,
including some in government, who became extremely alarmed by the ISI’s
growing role and its entanglement with the Afghan guerillas, fearful that
these developments would “blow back” on Pakistan (which they did).
I don’t have anything against the intelligence community, and am a big
supporter of the US armed forces, and if there were anything I could do to
help them do their job against al-Qaeda better, I would. In the 1980s in
Pakistan and Afghanistan, the field agents were just doing their job.
But this policy implemented by the Reaganauts of giving the Yousafs of the
world special training and lots of bombs was to say the least extremely
unwise, and it is not the less unwise if ISI served as an intermediary.
I did not criticize US containment strategies of the Soviet Union in
general. I criticized the aggressiveness of the Reagan approach, and note
that both in Afghanistan and Central America it involved getting into bed
with very, very bad characters. This step simply was not necessary, and
its long-term consequences are most unfortunate.
Afghanistan was a small thing for the Soviet Union and was not a major
factor in its 1991 fall. Maybe a minor factor. That system couldn’t have
been kept going anyway; it was bankrupt. Stirring up and helping train a
radical Islamic International to help take it down was unwise and
That the looming Iraq war is being brought to us by the same people, in
the main, who thought up the Reagan Afghanistan policy should give
everyone some pause.
With regard to Wolfowitz see The Guardian, Aug. 9, 2001:
“Washington’s missile defence project is instead just one manifestation of
an epochal and potentially irreversible shift in the relationship between
the US and the rest of the world. The strategy, the latest issue of Le
Monde Diplomatique notes, was first formulated in 1992 by Paul Wolfowitz
and Lewis Libby (now respectively deputy secretary of defence and national
security adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney) in a confidential Pentagon
document. They said the US should prevent any “hostile power from
dominating regions” whose resources would allow it to attain great power
status; should discourage attempts by any other advanced industrial nation
to challenge US leadership or upset the established political and economic
order; and should act to prevent the emergence of any potential global
competitor. These are the people now running US defence policy.”
For how badly Wolfowitz all along over-estimated Soviet strength, a
telling article appeared in the Washington Post May 18, 1989:
“Soviet Threat Has Not Abated, Pentagon Aide Says.
Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon’s new policy director, said yesterday that
Soviet foreign policy “continues to challenge U.S. interests around the
world” and warned that even if Moscow reduced its military forces as
promised they will remain “a powerful threat to the West.” Wolfowitz’s
testimony before the House Armed Services Committee underscored President
Bush’s determination to reject advice calling for more dramatic responses
to the initiatives of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and stick with a
cautious approach . . . In defending the cautious reaction to Gorbachev’s
announced arms cuts, Wolfowitz said that “after the announced unilateral
reductions the Warsaw Pact will still outnumber the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization in tanks, artillery and divisions by 2 to 1. The planned
reduction of 500,000 troops will still leave the Soviets with
approximately 5 million men in their armed forces, including internal
security forces, KGB border guard and military railroad and construction
units . . .”
Wolfowitz was part of the famous B Team set up in the mid-1970s to second
guess CIA estimates on Soviet military power and capabilities, which came
out with estimates that proved completely unrealistic compared to the more
accurate CIA ones. We now know even the CIA estimates were exaggerated.