Published online at Znet (www.zmag.org) in September, 2001
Like a subliminal “Wanted” poster, TV newscasts flash images of the destroyed Twin Towers, followed at longer intervals by the face of Osama bin Laden. The disclaimer that we still have no idea who is responsible for the brutal attacks in Manhattan, Washington, and Pittsburgh seems weak in comparison with this visual “evidence”. Unlikely to be accorded anything approaching due process, the suspect of the decade will probably find his interests under violent attack by the US and NATO within the next few days. It is too much to hope for no civilian casualties, as GW Bush fulfils his promise to “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them,” implying that the people of Afghanistan will soon be subjected to aerial bombardment. The US will likely “validate…the logic of terrorism” (Human Rights Watch), following the dictum that violence and terror are the proper responses to violence and terror.
Michael Sheehan, the State Department’s Counterterrorism Coordinator, has made a big deal about a “geographic shift” in terrorist activity from the Middle East to South Asia. Sheehan attributes the shift to the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s: “This war destroyed the government and civil society of Afghanistan, at the same time bringing arms, fighters from around the world, and narcotics traffickers to the region.” Sheehan eliminates any trace of human involvement–“this war” brought arms, fighters, and narco-traffickers to Afghanistan, destroying civil society. What Washington tends to conveniently ignore is that bin Laden and the rest of the extremist terrorists empowered to fight in Afghanistan were taught “the logic of terrorism” by our own Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA assembled a terror network that remains a cause of misery worldwide. CIA Director William Casey called it “the kind of thing we should be doing.” According to standard sources, aid to extremist groups in Afghanistan was a response to the Soviet invasion. The truth is that President Carter gave the green light for covert support to the Mujaheddin six months _before_ the December 1979 invasion. In the words of then National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a major architect of Carter’s policy, they were “drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap.” The US supported seven fundamentalist extremist groups throughout the 1980s and into the early 90s with cash, sophisticated weapons, and training to the tune of $5 billion–according to official figures. The secret Black Budget of the CIA reportedly quadrupled to $36 billion per year when Reagan became president in 1980, and some of this money went to support secret operations in Afghanistan. Some of the earliest training exercises took place inside the US, including rifle shooting at the High Rock gun club in Naugtuck, Connecticut. More technical training took place at the CIA’s Camp Peary, nicknamed “The Farm,” northeast of Williamsburg, Virginia. Among the topics covered by training sessions were surveillance and countersurveillance, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and paramilitary operations.
Around the same time, a source of private funding was sought for the war. Osama bin Laden, a man with “impeccable Saudi credentials” (his father’s construction company had just been awarded a contract to rebuild and restore the holy sites in Mecca and Medina) was given “free rein in Afghanistan” by the CIA. Using his share of his family’s business empire, he built training camps and airplane landing strips, and carved underground bunkers in the mountains of Afghanistan, all with Washington’s approval. Just across the border, bin Laden’s base in Pakistan was the Binoori mosque in Karachi. The prayer leader at this mosque was one Mullah Mohammed Omar, now “supreme leader” of the Taliban.
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the Mujaheddin groups began turning their US-supplied weapons on each other, and on the civilian population of Afghanistan. In 1990, the CIA began supplying the Mujaheddin directly, rather than using Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service as a conduit. According to then chief of ISI’s Afghanistan branch, Mohammad Youssaf, the CIA’s aim was to “play on differences between the various factions and their commanders,” in an effort to “curb the power” of the factions and make way for an unknown “Transition Regime,” perhaps the Taliban.
The CIA’s propping up of the fundamentalist terrorists in Afghanistan began to show its consequences during this period. The first victims were the people of Afghanistan. The group getting the most US aid, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, began rocket shelling Kabul. A close friend of bin Laden, Hekmatyar was understood by his benefactors to be “a nut, an extremist, and a very violent man” (US ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Neumann). In the 1970s he gained notoriety for throwing acid on the faces of women who refused to wear the veil. Journalist Michael Griffin writes of Kabul under Hekmatyar’s onslaught: “no city since the end of the Second World War – except Sarajevo – had suffered the same ferocity of jugular violence as Kabul from 1992 to 1996. Sarajevo was almost a side-show by comparison and, at least, it wasn’t forgotten.” From 1990-1994 45,000 civilians were killed, 300,000 had fled to Pakistan, and Kabul was “turned into a rubble resembling Dresden after the fire-bombing.” Most Afghans are now without livelihood, reduced to begging from international aid agencies. They currently live under the fascistic Taliban, who keep bin Laden safe.
Terrorists trained and armed by the CIA to fight in Afghanistan have since been implicated in attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, and in US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed hundreds of people. These efforts pale in comparison to the recent destruction in Manhattan, Washington, and Pittsburgh. Ifproven guilty in fair trial, bin Laden should certainly be held accountable. But the Afghan people, no strangers to the terrorism of bin Laden and his friends, should not be made to pay further for the consequences of our actions. It was our officials who originally unleashed these forces of destruction on Afghanistan. Perhaps the faces of Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Casey, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan should be on the TV screen too, next to Osama bin Laden’s and the empty holes in the ground where twin towers stood.
The author is on the Board of Directors of the Afghan Women’s Mission, and is a Staff Scientist at the California Institute of Technology.