CIA activities in Afghanistan
Since the 1970s, the CIA has engaged in multiple operations in Afghanistan.
- 1 Afghanistan 1979
- 2 Afghanistan 1980
- 3 Afghanistan 1985
- 4 Afghanistan 1987
- 5 Afghanistan 1989
- 6 Afghanistan 1990
- 7 Afghanistan 1991
- 8 Afghanistan 1992
- 9 Afghanistan 2001
- 10 Afghanistan 2006
- 11 References
The CIA National Foreign Assessment Center completed work on a report entitled "Afghanistan: Ethnic Divergence and Dissidence" in May 1979, although it was not formally published until March 1980. It is not known if the information was readily available to policymakers at the time of the December 1979 invasion.
Tribal insurgency, according to this report, began in 1978, with the installation of a pro-Soviet government. Even though the government tilted toward the Soviet Union, the analysis said that many tribal groups, especially Uzbek, saw the government as ethnically Pashtun, with hostility on ethnic and political grounds.
In April 1978, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution. Within months, opponents of the communist government launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan that quickly expanded into a civil war waged by guerrilla mujahideen against government forces countrywide. The Pakistani government provided these rebels with covert training centers, while the Soviet Union sent thousands of military advisers to support the PDPA government. Meanwhile, increasing friction between the competing factions of the PDPA – the dominant Khalq and the more moderate Parcham – resulted in the dismissal of Parchami cabinet members and the arrest of Parchami military officers under the pretext of a Parchami coup. By mid-1979, the United States had started a covert program to assist the mujahideen.
In September 1979, Khalqist President Nur Muhammad Taraki was assassinated in a coup within the PDPA orchestrated by fellow Khalq member Hafizullah Amin, who assumed the presidency. Distrusted by the Soviets, Amin was assassinated by Soviet special forces in December 1979. A Soviet-organized government, led by Parcham's Babrak Karmal but inclusive of both factions, filled the vacuum. Soviet troops were deployed to stabilize Afghanistan under Karmal in more substantial numbers, although the Soviet government did not expect to do most of the fighting in Afghanistan. As a result, however, the Soviets were now directly involved in what had been a domestic war in Afghanistan.
At the time some believed the Soviets were attempting to expand their borders southward in order to gain a foothold in the Middle East. The Soviet Union had long lacked a warm water port, and their movement south seemed to position them for further expansion toward Pakistan in the East, and Iran to the West. American politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, feared the Soviets were positioning themselves for a takeover of Middle Eastern oil. Others believed that the Soviet Union was afraid Iran's Islamic Revolution and Afghanistan's Islamization would spread to the millions of Muslims in the USSR.
After the invasion, President Jimmy Carter announced what became known as the Carter Doctrine: that the U.S. would not allow any other outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf. He terminated the Soviet Wheat Deal in January 1980, which was intended to establish trade with USSR and lessen Cold War tensions. The grain exports had been beneficial to people employed in agriculture, and the Carter embargo marked the beginning of hardship for American farmers. That same year, Carter also made two of the most unpopular decisions of his entire Presidency: prohibiting American athletes from participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and reinstating registration for the draft for young males. Following the Soviet invasion, the United States supported diplomatic efforts to achieve a Soviet withdrawal. In addition, generous U.S. contributions to the refugee program in Pakistan played a major part in efforts to assist Afghan refugees.
The supplying of billions of dollars in arms to the Afghan mujahideen militants was one of the CIA's longest and most expensive covert operations. The CIA provided assistance to the fundamentalist insurgents through the Pakistani secret services, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in a program called Operation Cyclone. At least 3 billion in U.S. dollars were funneled into the country to train and equip troops with weapons. Together with similar programs by Saudi Arabia, Britain's MI6 and SAS, Egypt, Iran, and the People's Republic of China, the arms included Stinger missiles, shoulder-fired, antiaircraft weapons that they used against Soviet helicopters. Pakistan's secret service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was used as an intermediary for most of these activities to disguise the sources of support for the resistance.
No Americans trained or had direct contact with the mujahideen. The skittish CIA had fewer than 10 operatives in the region because it "feared it would be blamed, like in Guatemala." Civilian personnel from the U.S. Department of State and the CIA frequently visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area during this time.
With U.S. and other funding, the ISI armed and trained over 100,000 insurgents. On July 20, 1987, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country was announced pursuant to the negotiations that led to the Geneva Accords of 1988, with the last Soviets leaving on February 15, 1989.
The early foundations of al-Qaida were allegedly built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan mujahadin during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country. However, scholars such as Jason Burke, Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Christopher Andrew, and Vasily Mitrokhin have argued that Bin Laden was "outside of CIA eyesight" and that there is "no support" in any "reliable source" for "the claim that the CIA funded bin Laden or any of the other Arab volunteers who came to support the mujahideen."
Michael Johns, the former Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst and White House speechwriter to President George H. W. Bush, stated that "the Reagan-led effort to support freedom fighters resisting Soviet oppression led successfully to the first major military defeat of the Soviet Union... Sending the Red Army packing from Afghanistan proved one of the single most important contributing factors in one of history's most profoundly positive and important developments."
A memorandum spoke of continued tribal rivalries as adding to the resistance to the Soviets.
While the actual document has not been declassified, National Security Decision Directive 166 of 27 March 1985, "US Policy, Programs and Strategy in Afghanistan" defined a US policy of using established the US goal of driving Soviet forces from Afghanistan "by all means available", including the provision of Stinger missiles.
Initially, this involved close cooperation with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence to assist mujahideen groups and in planning operations inside Afghanistan. This cooperation was already in place in 1984, prior to NSDD-166. Indeed, it was evident to residents in Islamabad and Peshawar in the 1980s that large numbers of Americans were present.
However, one of the main features of NSDD-166 was to allow CIA to enter Afghanistan directly and establish its own separate and secret relationships with Afghan fighters. The funding by ISI and CIA of Afghan anti-Soviet fighters created linkages among Muslim fighters worldwide.
At first, the US supported the effort cautiously, concerned that the Soviet Union would act against Pakistan.
On July 20, 1987, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country was announced pursuant to the negotiations that led to the Geneva Accords of 1988.
A Special National Intelligence Estimate, "Afghanistan: the War in Perspective", estimated that Najibullah government was "weak, unpopular, and factionalized", but would probably remain in power, with the war at a near impasse. It drew key judgments including:
- The mujahedin hold the military initiative, as long as they stay in the countryside, where government troops do not hinder them and they choose when and where to fight. As long as Soviet supplies continue, they will remain a guerilla force unable to seize major garrisons.
- As an insurgency, regime fragility, mujahedin disunity, and local tribal factors are as important to the outcome as strictly military aspects.
- While there is extensive popular support, the resistance will remain highly factionalized.
- The Afghan Interim Government and most major commanders will refuse direct negotiations with Najibullah, but indirect negotiations are possible.
Pakistan and the USSR remain the most important external powers. Pakistan will continue to support the resistance regardless of who is in power. The Soviets will seek a political settlement while providing massive support. Gorbachev would like to resolve the issue before the US summit next year.
Any of a number of changes in foreign support could break the impasse:
- Cessation of US support to the resistance
- Cessation of Soviet support to the government
- Mutual cuts by the US and USSR would be more harmful to the government
Aid cuts, however, will not stop the fighting.
After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, CIA's objective was to topple the government of Mohammad Najibullah, which had been formed under the Soviet occupation, according to author Steve Coll. Among others, the two main factions that CIA was supporting were:
- Ahmed Shah Massoud, unilaterally.
- Gulbadin Hekmatyar, through the ISI.
- Jalaluddin Haqqani, through the ISI.
According to Coll, during this period of time, there was disagreement between CIA and the U.S. State Department regarding which Afghan factions to support. U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Afghanistan Edmund McWilliams, after numerous tours of the interior of Pakistan, found that Afghan people were unhappy with the Wahhabist-leaning and anti-American Hekmatyar contingent, and recommended pulling back support for fighting in favor of a political settlement involving more of the ex-pat Afghan professional class. In this McWilliams was supported by British Intelligence. CIA station chief Milton Bearden felt that McWilliams was misreading U.S. policy. Bearden did not want to get involved in Afghanistan internal politics, trusted the ISI to establish a stable regime in Afghanistan which was favorable to Pakistan, felt that Afghanistan was historically divided from Pakistan only by a line drawn by the British, and felt that the British didn't know what they were talking about, since they had lost two wars in Afghanistan already. The argument between Bearden and McWilliams in Islamabad was curtailed when Bearden cabled the State Department a "request for curtailment" of duty tour on McWilliams behalf, and McWilliams found himself called away.
The policy dispute between CIA's Near East Division and the U.S. State Department, regarding political settlement versus continued fighting in Afghanistan, which was initiated between McWilliams and Bearden in 1989, continues with new protagonists, CIA's Thomas Tweeten and State's new special envoy to the Afghan resistance, Peter Tomsen.
Civil war develops as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and CIA-supported Gulbadin Hekmatyar seeks to violently eliminate all rivals, including the CIA-supported Ahmed Shah Massoud. In spite of this internecine warfare, ISI and CIA formulate a plan to topple the Najibullah government in a winter offensive on Kabul. As part of this offensive, CIA pays Massoud $500,000, over and above his monthly stipend of $200,000, to close the Salang Highway. Massoud fails to do so, and in consequence, his allowance is reduced to $50,000 per month.
In Spring of 1990, ISI hopes to install Gulbadin Hekmatyar contingent on defeating the Najibullah government. Hekmatyar also acquires millions of dollars in additional funding from Osama bin Laden, thus placing ISI, CIA and bin Laden in joint venture. On March 7, 1990, Gulbadin Hekmatyar and Shahnawaz Tanai attempts a coup, with Tanai, a member of Najibullah's government, orchestrating an attack using Najibullah's own forces against Najibullah's palace, with Hekmatyar's forces to follow up from outside Kabul. The money to buy the loyalty of Najibullah's troops comes in part from Osama bin Laden. This attempt fails.
At the same time, ISI asks "bin Laden for money to bribe legislators to throw Benazir Bhutto out of office". "That winter, then, bin Laden worked with Pakistani intelligence against both Najibullah and Bhutto, the perceived twin enemies of Islam they saw holding power in Kabul and Islamabad", according to author Steve Coll. Regarding the issue of whether bin Laden was acting alone or as an agent of Saudi intelligence, Coll writes (see the concept of plausible deniability):
"Did bin Laden work on the Tanai coup attempt on his own or as a semi-official liaison for Saudi intelligence? The evidence seems thin and inconclusive. Bin Laden was still in good graces with the Saudi government at the time of the Tanai coup attempt; his first explicit break with Prince Turki and the royal family lay months in the future. While the CIA's Afghan informants named bin Laden as a funder of the Hekmatyar-Tanai coup, other accounts named Saudi intelligence as the source of funds. Were these separate funding tracks or the same? None of the reports then or later were firm or definitive.
"It was the beginning of a pattern for American intelligence analysts: Whenever bin Laden interacted with his own Saudi government, he seemed to do so inside a shroud."
Note that, in a grand historical coincidence, in the investigation following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, Pakistan's Interior Ministry has laid the blame on "Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander who holds sway across a large part of South Waziristan", i.e. on an Al Queda-linked group, while Bhutto herself, in a letter she wrote prior to her death and subsequent to two prior attempts, laid the blame at the ISI's doorstep. In light of the above, perhaps both assertions are correct.
According to Human Rights Watch, there was a dispute, inside the US government, with the State Department on one side, and the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, ISI, on the other. HRW said The New York Times, in January 1991, said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Robert Kimmitt had "battled with [CIA] officials who would like to unleash the guerrillas in Afghanistan in one last effort," while United States Secretary of State James Baker worked to "coax the rebels and the Najibullah regime into democratic elections." In the interview, Kimmitt complained that agency officials were "just bucking policy." In February, as negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union remained stalled, The New York Times reported that "the [CIA], in a long policy dispute with the State Department that it now appears to be winning, has been arguing that negotiations cannot end the war and that Washington should step up its efforts to help the guerrillas win a military victory."
In the early 1980s, according to HRW, the ISI and CIA used their control over the arms pipeline to run the war and favor abusive mujahedin parties, particularly Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's faction, which used U.S.- and Saudi-financed weapons to launch indiscriminate attacks on Afghan cities, killing countless civilians.
In 2001, the CIA's Special Activities Division units were the first U.S. forces to enter Afghanistan. Their efforts organized the Afghan Northern Alliance for the subsequent arrival of USSOCOM forces. The plan for the invasion of Afghanistan was developed by the CIA, the first time in United States history that such a large-scale military operation was planned by the CIA. SAD, U.S. Army Special Forces and the Northern Alliance combined to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan with minimal loss of U.S. lives. They did this without the need for U.S. military conventional ground forces.
- "What made the Afghan campaign a landmark in the U.S. Military's history is that it was prosecuted by Special Operations forces from all the services, along with Navy and Air Force tactical power, operations by the Afghan Northern Alliance and the CIA were equally important and fully integrated. No large Army or Marine force was employed".
- "The valor exhibited by Afghan and American soldiers, fighting to free Afghanistan from a horribly cruel regime, will inspire even the most jaded reader. The stunning victory of the horse soldiers – 350 Special Forces soldiers, 100 C.I.A. officers and 15,000 Northern Alliance fighters routing a Taliban army 50,000 strong – deserves a hallowed place in American military history".
Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee in early 2005, Porter Goss said Afghanistan is on the "road to recovery after decades of instability and civil war. Hamid Karzai's election to the presidency was a major milestone. Elections for a new National Assembly and local district councils—tentatively scheduled for this spring—will complete the process of electing representatives. President Karzai still faces a low-level insurgency aimed at destabilizing the country, raising the cost of reconstruction and ultimately forcing Coalition forces to leave.
"The development of the Afghan National Army and a national police force is going well, although neither can yet stand on its own.
Forward Operating Base Chapman attack
On December 30, 2009, a suicide attack occurred at Forward Operating Base Chapman, a major CIA base in the province of Khost, Afghanistan. Seven CIA officers, including the chief of the base, were killed and six others seriously wounded in the attack. The attack was the second deadliest carried out against the CIA, after the 1983 United States Embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, and was a major setback for the intelligence agency's operations.
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- Hussain, Rizwan (2005). Pakistan And The Emergence Of Islamic Militancy In Afghanistan. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 108–109. ISBN 0-7546-4434-0.
- Meher, Jagmohan (2004). America's Afghanistan War: The Success that Failed. Gyan Books. pp. 68–69, 94. ISBN 81-7835-262-1.
- Kalinovsky, Artemy M. (2011). A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Harvard University Press. pp. 25–28. ISBN 978-0-674-05866-8.
- Time Magazine, May 13, 2003, "The Oily Americans," http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,450997-2,00.html
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- Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda (Penguin, 2003), p59.
- Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World (Penguin, 2006), p579n48.
- Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Penguin, 2004), p87.
- Peter Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know (Free Press, 2006), pp60-1.
- "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War," by Michael Johns, January 19, 2008.
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- Sullivan, Tim; Singer, Matt; Rawson, Jessica, What were policymakers' and intelligence services' respective roles in the decision to deploy Stinger Missiles to the anticommunist Afghan mujahedin during the rebels' struggle with the Soviet Union?, Georgetown University
- Coll,Steve (2005), Ghost Wars, Penguin, pp. 125–128
- Pervez Hoodbhoy (17–21 July 2003), "Afghanistan and the Genesis of Global Jihad", 53rd Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs: Advancing Human Security: The Role of Technology and Politics ([DEAD LINK])
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- Coll,Steve (2005), Ghost Wars, Penguin, pp. 190–199
- "Statement on Afghanistan: In Pursuit of Security and Democracy" by Peter Tomsen, statement to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, October 16, 2003
- "Bhutto's party rejects youth's assassination confession" by Declan Walsh, The Guardian, January 21, 2008
- Human Rights Watch (1991), Afghanistan: Human Rights Watch
- "CIA Confidential , Hunt for Bin Laden , National Geographic Channel". Channel.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- Schroen, Gary (2005). First In: An insiders account of how the CIA spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan.
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- Goss, Porter (16 Februarytr 2006), Global Intelligence Challenges 2005 Check date values in: