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.
Communists under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki seized power in Afghanistan on April 27, 1978. The new regime—which was divided between Taraki's extremist Khalq faction and the more moderate Parcham—signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in December of that year. Taraki's efforts to improve secular education and redistribute land were accompanied by mass executions (including of many conservative religious leaders) and political oppression unprecedented in Afghan history, igniting a revolt by mujahideen rebels. Following a general uprising in April 1979, Taraki was deposed by Khalq rival Hafizullah Amin in September. Amin was considered a "brutal psychopath" by foreign observers; even the Soviets were alarmed by the brutality of the Afghan communists, and suspected Amin of being an agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although that was not the case. By December, Amin's government had lost control of much of the country, prompting the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan, execute Amin, and install Parcham leader Babrak Karmal as president.
Carter was surprised by the invasion, as the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community during 1978 and 1979—reiterated as late as September 29, 1979—was that "Moscow would not intervene in force even if it appeared likely that the Khalq government was about to collapse." Indeed, Carter's diary entries from November 1979 until the Soviet invasion in late December contain only two short references to Afghanistan, and are instead preoccupied with the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran. In the West, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was considered a threat to global security and the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the failure to accurately predict Soviet intentions caused American officials to reappraise the Soviet threat to both Iran and Pakistan, although it is now known that those fears were overblown. For example, U.S. intelligence closely followed Soviet exercises for an invasion of Iran throughout 1980, while an earlier warning from Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that "if the Soviets came to dominate Afghanistan, they could promote a separate Baluchistan ... [thus] dismembering Pakistan and Iran" took on new urgency. These concerns were a major factor in the unrequited efforts of both the Carter and Reagan administrations to improve relations with Iran, and resulted in massive aid to Pakistan's Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Zia's ties with the U.S. had been strained during Carter's presidency due to Pakistan's nuclear program and the execution of Ali Bhutto in April 1979, but Carter told Brzezinski and secretary of state Cyrus Vance as early as January 1979 that it was vital to "repair our relationships with Pakistan" in light of the unrest in Iran. One initiative Carter authorized to achieve this goal was a collaboration between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI); through the ISI, the CIA began providing some $500,000 worth of non-lethal assistance to the mujahideen on July 3, 1979—several months prior to the Soviet invasion. The modest scope of this early collaboration was likely influenced by the understanding, later recounted by CIA official Robert Gates, "that a substantial U.S. covert aid program" might have "raise[d] the stakes" thereby causing "the Soviets to intervene more directly and vigorously than otherwise intended."
In the aftermath of the invasion, Carter was determined to respond vigorously to what he considered a dangerous provocation. In a televised speech, he announced sanctions on the Soviet Union, promised renewed aid to Pakistan, and committed the U.S. to the Persian Gulf's defense. Carter also called for a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which raised a bitter controversy. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher enthusiastically backed Carter's tough stance, although British intelligence believed "the CIA was being too alarmist about the Soviet threat to Pakistan." The thrust of U.S. policy for the duration of the war was determined by Carter in early 1980: Carter initiated a program to arm the mujahideen through Pakistan's ISI and secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia to match U.S. funding for this purpose. U.S. support for the mujahideen accelerated under Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, at a final cost to U.S. taxpayers of some $3 billion. The Soviets were unable to quell the insurgency and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, precipitating the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. However, the decision to route U.S. aid through Pakistan led to massive fraud, as weapons sent to Karachi were frequently sold on the local market rather than delivered to the Afghan rebels; Karachi soon "became one of the most violent cities in the world." Pakistan also controlled which rebels received assistance: Of the seven mujahideen groups supported by Zia's government, four espoused Islamic fundamentalist beliefs—and these fundamentalists received most of the funding. Despite this, Carter has expressed no regrets over his decision to support what he still considers the "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan. Similarly, 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."
Conspiracy theorists have alleged that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were beneficiaries of CIA assistance. This is refuted by experts such as Steve Coll—who notes that declassified CIA records and interviews with CIA officers do not support such claims—and Peter Bergen, who concludes: "The theory that bin Laden was created by the CIA is invariably advanced as an axiom with no supporting evidence." U.S. funding went to the Afghan mujahideen, not the Arab volunteers who arrived to assist them.
A memorandum spoke of continued tribal rivalries as adding to the resistance to the Soviets.
September 23, 1980, the intelligence community at the Southwest Asia Analyst Center, Office of Political Analysts Intelligence created a report on Afghanistan's power structures and tribal affiliations. The report reveals there are hundreds of tribes and more than a dozen ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The intel reports focuses on the power structures and loyalties, perhaps in efforts to best identify the best way to subvert their power, sabotage them, or create internal conflicts in the future. Other significant section includes a detail that those who cling closely to traditional tribal ways are least likely to be swayed by communism and that traditional beliefs include dedication to revenge, masculine superiority, emphasis on bravery and honor, and suspicion of outsiders. This in information that seem to foreshadow future relations between the US and Afghanistan. The reports states, “Any change in the traditional way of life is considered wrong, and modern ideas —whether communist or western— are seen as a threat.” Perhaps this is why the US has historically chosen to fund rebels in Afghanistan instead of immediately intervening themselves by inserting agents in the field, etc. While the US supported Afghani rebels against the Soviets, their prescience did not reach far enough in the future to predict that the very elements they identified as problematic in the 1980 conflict would later turn against US interests. 
October 4, 1983 A National Intelligence Estimate that was presented by the Director of the CIA, William J. Casey, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this meeting Casey made the case that the Soviets would force Afghanistan into Communism. This was, of course, an unacceptable outcome for the United States. The United States struggled to develop an acceptable strategy to counter the Soviet incursion due to the fact that the Afghanis did not have a well organized and single resistance force. Instead the notes of the meeting noted, "The resistance more simultaneous uprisings of a large number of villages and tribes," that the intelligence community believed could be shaped into a well-organized national liberation movement.
During the meeting the JCS and CIA stated, "the insurgency could not continue [with] the present level of outside support." They believed that more foreign support was necessary to make the resistance more effective." Going on this point they finally stated, "Overt Soviet pressure could require additional US response. Covert pressure, designed to weaken the military regime, could ultimately contribute to an unstable political situation in Pakistan."
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 three 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.
- National Foreign Assessment Center, Central Intelligence Agency (1 March 1980), "Afghanistan: Ethnic Diversity and Dissidence", September 11 Sourcebooks, Volume II, Afghanistan: Lessons of the Last War. U.S. Analysis of the Soviet War in Afghanistan: Declassified (PDF), George Washington University National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book 57
- Kaplan, Robert D. (2008). Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Knopf Doubleday. pp. 115–117. ISBN 9780307546982.
- Kepel, Gilles (2006). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. I.B. Tauris. pp. 138–139, 142–144. ISBN 9781845112578.
- Blight, James G. (2012). Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979-1988. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 69–70. ISBN 978-1-4422-0830-8.
- Riedel, Bruce (2014). What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979–1989. Brookings Institution Press. pp. ix–xi, 21–22, 93, 98–99, 105. ISBN 978-0815725954.
- Gates, Bob (2007). From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War. Simon and Schuster. pp. 145–147. ISBN 9781416543367. When asked whether he expected that the revelations in his memoir (combined with an apocryphal quote attributed to Brzezinski) would inspire "a mind-bending number of conspiracy theories which adamantly—and wrongly—accuse the Carter Administration of luring the Soviets into Afghanistan," Gates replied: "No, because there was no basis in fact for an allegation the administration tried to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan militarily." See Gates, email communication with John Bernell White, Jr., October 15, 2011, as cited in White, John Bernell (May 2012). "The Strategic Mind Of Zbigniew Brzezinski: How A Native Pole Used Afghanistan To Protect His Homeland" (PDF). pp. 45–46, 82. Retrieved 2016-09-11.
- Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin. pp. 87, 581. ISBN 9781594200076.
Contemporary memos—particularly those written in the first days after the Soviet invasion—make clear that while Brzezinski was determined to confront the Soviets in Afghanistan through covert action, he was also very worried the Soviets would prevail. ... Given this evidence and the enormous political and security costs that the invasion imposed on the Carter administration, any claim that Brzezinski lured the Soviets into Afghanistan warrants deep skepticism.
- Toohey, Kristine (November 8, 2007). The Olympic Games: A Social Science Perspective. CABI. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-84593-355-5.
- "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War," by Michael Johns, January 19, 2008.
- Bergen, Peter (2006). The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader. Simon and Schuster. pp. 60–61. ISBN 9780743295925.
- Office of Political Analysis, Directorate of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (23 September 1980), "The Soviets and the Tribes of Southwest Asia", September 11 Sourcebooks, Volume II, Afghanistan: Lessons of the Last War. U.S. Analysis of the Soviet War in Afghanistan: Declassified (PDF), George Washington University National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book 57
- "The Soviets and the Tribes of Southwest Asia" (PDF). National Security Archive. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
- "Afghanistan: Prospects for the Reistance" https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0005564710.pdf
- 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, archived from the original on October 10, 2006
- Afghanistan / Pakistan - UNGOMAP - Background United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Director of Central Intelligence (November 1989), Special National Intelligence Estimate 37-89, "Afghanistan: the War in Perspective" (PDF)
- 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. Archived from the original on February 13, 2010. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- Schroen, Gary (2005). First In: An insiders account of how the CIA spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan.
- Berntsen, Gary; Ralph Pezzulla (2005). Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A personal account by the CIA's field Commander. Crown. ISBN 978-0-307-23740-8.
- Woodward, Bob (2002) "Bush at War", Simon & Schuster, Inc.
- Washington Post Editorial, John Lehman former Secretary of the Navy, October 2008
- Barcott, Bruce (May 17, 2009). "Special Forces". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
- Goss, Porter (2005-02-16), Global Intelligence Challenges 2005