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 1986
- 5 Afghanistan 1987
- 6 Afghanistan 1989
- 7 Afghanistan 1990
- 8 Afghanistan 1991
- 9 Afghanistan 1992
- 10 Afghanistan 1996
- 11 Afghanistan 1998
- 12 Afghanistan 1999
- 13 Afghanistan 2001
- 14 Afghanistan 2006
- 15 2018
- 16 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 Afghan 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.
1986 the Russian military was attacking the mujahideen and even civilians in civilian locations and refugee camps. They used snipers and attacked from the skies with helicopters and jets. The mujahideen had taken a significant loss in lives and moral. In September 1986 the CIA recruited a select group of the mujahideen fighters to train how to use Stinger missiles. This was the first time the Stinger missile was used in war. The use of Stinger missiles ultimately made the Russians pilots bomb from much higher altitudes, that significantly reduced their accuracy, while they took on heavy casualties. This was ultimately the turning point in the war. The mujahideen were once on the brink of defeat and had taken a distinct advantage.
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. The CIA estimates the removal of Soviet troops to be largely a "sham", with regiments of tanks, artillery, and even infantry being sent to Afghanistan so they could be ceremonially and publicly removed, giving the world the impression of a troop withdrawal.
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.
Afghanistan was home to some al-Queda training camps which was ultimately "attacked" (via air) by the US as a revenge on the attack of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Mullah Omar, Taliban commander, criticized US for their actions and stated that the Taliban will continue to protect Bin Laden.
The United States' original goal in Afghanistan was to provide aid and work with the Taliban as if they were another political faction. The CIA stated that it had expressed concern over Bin Laden and his involvement with the Taliban even before the 1998 truck bombings of two United States Embassy buildings in East Africa that resulted in over two hundred casualties. In August 1996 Pakistani Intelligence (ISID) was providing between $30-$60k per month to the militant Kashmiri group Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA). This group was also reaching out for money from Osama bin Laden. Over a seven year period the U.S. became increasingly concerned with the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban. Pakistan supported the Taliban in different forms and considered themselves to be in control over the group, but history has proven that the Taliban would not conform to outside interests. Their support of the Taliban by escalated tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, and a careful eye was placed on the interrelations between the two. This relationship (between Pakistan and the Taliban) was concerning for the U.S. as the Taliban grew more to be a more extreme and direct threat to the United States, its citizens, and its foreign dignitaries.
On August 7 of 1998 two truck bombs were detonated at U.S. Embassies in two different East African cities. One of the bombs was detonated at the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and the other was detonated at the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. These explosions killed 224 people, wounded more than 4,500, and caused a substantial amount of property damage. Although twelve Americans were killed in these attacks; the vast majority of the casualties were Kenyan non-combatants. A faction group of al-Qaeda was attributed responsibility for the attacks. Al-Qaeda's portrayal within the realm of Western media would go on to become relatively notorious in response to the 1998 bombings; Osama Bin Laden was subsequently placed on the FBI's most wanted fugitives list. Prior to the bombings, al-Qaeda was relatively unknown in the Western popular knowledge of foreign affairs. The CIA, however, was well aware of al-Qaeda before the attacks. The al-Qaeda group in East Africa had even been monitored by the CIA previous to the 1998 attacks. Prior to the attacks, the Nairobi Embassy in Kenya increased security measures and issued warnings about its vulnerabilities. In addition, representatives from the US were sent to the Nairobi Embassy for security assessments, on multiple occasions, prior to the bombings. The 1998 bombings were the result of failures in CIA intelligence processes. The preceding events seem to indicate the bombings were not totally without warning. That being said, they exposed potential U.S. vulnerability to the global threat posed by terrorism.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the United States launched cruise missiles at "suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan." In addition, seven suspected members of al-Qaeda were arrested. On November 4, 1998 the U.S. moved to "indict Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda military chief Muhammad Atef on 224 counts of murder for the embassy bombings." 
In 2011 declassified CIA document, there are mentions of Osama Bin Laden and the United Nations's efforts to have him expelled to a country where he could be prosecuted for his crimes: "in our talks we have stressed that UBL (Usama Bin-Laden) has murdered Americans and continues to plan attacks against Americans and others and that we cannot ignore this threat. [The CIA] also emphasized that the international community shares this concern." In this document the CIA also stressed to the Taliban that Bin Laden was not their only terrorist problem, and that they needed to immediately cease all terrorist activities. The Taliban adamantly claimed to be restricting Bin Laden's activities. In October 1999, The Taliban claimed they had solutions including Bin Laden trials by a panel of Islamic scholars or monitoring or Bin Laden by the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) or the United Nations. The U.S., however refused to be bound by the panel's decisions.
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. This was the first time in 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.
The CIA is engaged in a program to kill or capture militant leaders, codenamed ANSOF and Omega. CIA manpower is supplemented with personnel assigned from United States Army Special Operations Command.
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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.
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