CIA activities in Afghanistan

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Since the 1970s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has engaged in multiple operations in Afghanistan. The first major operation, code-named Operation Cyclone, began in 1979. It was a program to arm and finance the mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan prior to and during the military intervention by the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). President Ronald Reagan had supported an expansion of the Reagan Doctrine, which aided anti-Soviet resistance movements. The program primarily supported militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, at the expense of other resistance groups fighting the Marxist-oriented Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA).[1] Operation Cyclone was one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken;[2] costing over $20–$30 million per year in 1980, and rising to $630 million per year in 1987.[1][3][4][5] Funding continued after 1989 as the mujahideen battled the forces of Mohammad Najibullah's PDPA during the civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992).[6] After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the CIA's objective was to topple the Najibullah government, which had been formed under the Soviet occupation. The three main factions that the CIA supported were: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Another civil war developed in 1990, as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Hekmatyar sought to violently eliminate all rivals, including Massoud. In spite of this internecine warfare, the ISI and CIA formulated a plan to topple the Najibullah government in a winter of 1989–1990 offensive on Kabul. As part of this offensive, the CIA paid Massoud $500,000, over and above his monthly stipend of $200,000, to close the Salang Pass, which Massoud failed to do. During this period, the U.S. became increasingly concerned with the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban, as the Taliban became a more extreme and direct threat to the United States, its citizens, and its foreign dignitaries.

Afghanistan 1979[edit]

Intelligence analysis[edit]

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.[7]

According to this report, Pashtun tribal insurgency began in 1978, with the installation of a pro-Soviet government. The Pashtuns are devout Muslims and communist atheism is not in line with their strong Islamic beliefs. Furthermore, the historic preeminence of Pashtun politicians in Afghan politics since the 18th century served as a divisive issue that strengthened the resistance of the tribal groups. Ethnic solidarity among the Pashtun is strong compared to the Tajiks, who are the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.[7]

Soviet invasion and U.S. response[edit]

Afghan communists under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki seized power from Mohammed Daoud Khan in the Saur Revolution on April 27, 1978.[8] The Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) had previously invested in exporting communist ideology to Afghanistan and trained many of the army officers involved in Khan's overthrow. Khan had himself ousted King Mohammed Zahir Shah, ending more than two centuries of rule by the Afghan monarchy, five years earlier in the 1973 Afghan coup d'état.[9] The newly formed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA)—which was divided between Taraki's extremist Khalq faction and the more moderate Parcham—signed a treaty of friendship with the U.S.S.R. in December 1978.[8][10] Hundreds of Soviet advisors arrived in Afghanistan.[11] Taraki's efforts to improve education and redistribute land were accompanied by mass executions (including of many conservative religious leaders) and political repression without precedent in Afghan history, igniting a revolt by mujahideen rebels.[8] The rebellion began to take shape with the March 1979 uprising in the western Afghan city of Herat, which has a relatively large Shi'ite population and deep ties to Iran (then in the throes of the Iranian Revolution); Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini's rhetoric along with the defection of Captain Ismail Khan from the DRA's armed forces inspired countless Afghans—Sunnis and Shi'ites alike—to violently resist secular change. The DRA's mass killing of up to 20,000 residents of Herat, followed by the Kerala massacre, failed to deter additional mutinies in Jalalabad and then across Afghanistan: By 1980, desertion had reduced the size of the Afghan army by considerably more than half.[12] After a general uprising in April 1979, Taraki was deposed by Khalq rival Hafizullah Amin in September.[8][10] 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.[8][10][13] In reality, the CIA (which was blindsided by the 1978 coup) had little interest in or understanding of Afghanistan's internal politics at the time; its limited intelligence-gathering efforts in the country focused overwhelmingly on the Soviet presence, particularly with regard to Soviet military technology, and it was unwilling to expend considerable resources on recruiting Afghan communists.[14] By December, Amin's government had lost control of much of the country, prompting the U.S.S.R. to invade Afghanistan, execute Amin, and install Parcham leader Babrak Karmal as the new Afghan leader.[8][10]

U.S. President Jimmy Carter expressed surprised at 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.[3] However, while CIA analysts misjudged the likelihood of an invasion, the CIA carefully tracked Soviet military activities in and near Afghanistan, allowing it to accurately predict the Christmas Eve invasion on December 22.[15] In the West, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was considered a threat to global security and the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf.[10] 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 (NSA) 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.[3][13] 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 President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. President Zia's ties with the U.S. had been strained during Carter's presidency due to Pakistan's nuclear program and the execution of Zulfikar 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 unrest in Iran.[3] 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 over $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 senior 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."[3][4][5]

Although Gates described Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Stansfield Turner and the CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO) as contemplating "several enhancement options"—up to and including the direct provision of arms from the U.S. to the mujahideen through the ISI—as early as late August 1979,[16] and an unnamed Brzezinski aide acknowledged in conversation with Selig S. Harrison that the U.S.'s nominally "non-lethal" assistance to the mujahideen included facilitating arms shipments by third-parties,[17] Steve Coll, Harrison, Bruce Riedel, and the head of the DO's Near East–South Asia Division at the time—Charles Cogan—all state that no U.S.-supplied arms intended for the mujahideen reached Pakistan until January 1980, after Carter amended his presidential finding to include lethal provisions in late December 1979.[18][19][20][21]

Coll describes Carter's early presidential finding:

In any event, policymakers back in Washington did not believe the Soviets could be defeated militarily by the rebels. The CIA's mission was spelled out in an amended Top Secret presidential finding signed by President Carter in late December 1979 and reauthorized by President Reagan in 1981. The finding permitted the CIA to ship weapons secretly to the mujahedin. The document used the word harassment to describe the CIA's goals against Soviet forces. The CIA's covert action was to raise the cost of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. It might also deter the Soviets from undertaking other Third World invasions. But this was not a war the CIA expected to win outright on the battlefield. The finding made clear that the agency was to work through Pakistan and defer to Pakistani priorities. The CIA's Afghan program would not be "unilateral," as the agency called operations it ran in secret on its own. Instead the CIA would emphasize "liaison" with Pakistani intelligence. The first guns shipped in were single-shot, bolt-action .303 Lee Enfield rifles, a standard British infantry weapon until the 1950s. With its heavy wooden stock and antique design, it was not an especially exciting weapon, but it was accurate and powerful.[18]

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 U.S.S.R., promised renewed aid to Pakistan, and committed the U.S. to the Persian Gulf's defense.[3][4] Carter also called for a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which raised a bitter controversy.[22] 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."[3] 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 (per Riedel, based on congressional appropriations). The Soviets were unable to quell the insurgency and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, precipitating the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself.[3] 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.[10] By 1992, the combined U.S., Saudi, and Chinese aid to the mujahideen was estimated at $6–12 billion, whereas Soviet military aid to Afghanistan was valued at $36–48 billion. The result was a heavily-armed, militarized Afghan society: Some sources indicate that Afghanistan was the world's top destination for personal weapons during the 1980s.[23]

There are allegations that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were beneficiaries of CIA assistance. This is contradicted by journalists such as Coll—who notes that declassified CIA records and interviews with CIA officers do not support such claims—and more forcefully by Peter Bergen, who concludes: "The theory that bin Laden was created by the CIA is invariably advanced as an axiom with no supporting evidence."[5][24] According to them, U.S. funding went exclusively to the Afghan mujahideen fighters, not the Arab volunteers who arrived to assist them.[24] Yet Coll also documents that bin Laden at least informally cooperated with the ISI and with Saudi intelligence during the 1980s and had intimate connections to CIA-backed mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani; Milton Bearden, the CIA's Islamabad station chief from mid-1986 until mid-1989, took an admiring view of bin Laden at the time. Afghan assets recounted the fanaticism and intolerance of many of the so-called "Afghan Arabs" to the CIA, yet the CIA discounted these reports, instead contemplating direct support to the Arab volunteers under the guise of a Spanish Civil War-inspired "international brigade"—a concept that never got off paper.[25]

Afghanistan 1980[edit]

Intelligence analysis[edit]

A memorandum spoke of continued tribal rivalries as adding to the resistance to the Soviets.[26]

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 were hundreds of tribes and more than a dozen ethnic groups in Afghanistan, focusing on power structures and loyalties. Other significant sections includes a detail that those who clung closely to traditional tribal ways were 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. 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."[27]

Afghanistan 1985: Escalation[edit]


Largely as a result of lobbying by ideological conservatives and Democratic representative Charlie Wilson, the fiscal year beginning in October 1984 coincided with a large increase in funding and, ultimately, in the scale of the CIA's activities in Afghanistan. An agreement between Wilson, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) William J. Casey, and the Defense Department permitted congressional hardliners, with Wilson in the lead, to transfer tens of millions in unspent congressional funds originally allocated for the U.S. military to the CIA's Afghan program each year, notwithstanding the preference of many career CIA officials (including Cogan and Casey's deputy director John N. McMahon) for a smaller program. Congressional funding for fiscal 1985 (not even including matching funds from Saudi intelligence) reached $250 million, which was almost the same as the total amount previously spent on aid to the mujahideen. This funding surge led Casey to call for a reassessment of the CIA's role in Afghanistan. Casey wrote in December 1984: "In the long run, merely increasing the costs to the Soviets of an Afghan incursion, which is basically how we have been justifying the activity when asked, is not likely to fly."[28]

Following an interagency review of Afghan policy overseen by the National Security Council (NSC) and including representatives from the State Department and Defense Department in addition to the CIA, in March 1985 President Reagan signed a draft of a National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) that was pushed for by Fred Iklé and especially the arch-conservative Michael Pillsbury at the Defense Department, which formalized and provided a legal rationale for the changes that were already taking place with regard to CIA activities in Afghanistan. The resulting NSDD–166 reportedly included a highly classified supplement signed by NSA Robert McFarlane that detailed expanded forms of U.S. assistance to the mujahideen, such as the provision of satellite intelligence, "burst communication" devices, advanced weapons systems, and additional training to the Afghan rebels through the ISI. Furthermore, the document allowed the CIA to unilaterally support certain Afghan assets without the ISI's participation or knowledge. In sum, NSDD–166 defined the Reagan administration's policy as aiding the mujahideen by "all available means." In an April 30 meeting, Iklé communicated the general thrust of this policy to ISI Director Akhtar Abdur Rahman.[29] Vastly more Americans arrived in Pakistan to train ISI handlers on the new weapons systems. In turn, the ISI developed a complex infrastructure that was training 16,000 to 18,000 Afghan mujahideen annually by early 1986, with ISI chief of Afghan operations Mohammed Yousaf estimating that a further 6,000 to 7,000 rebels (including a number of Arab volunteers) were trained every year by mujahideen that had previously been recipients of ISI instruction. Although the CIA was theoretically empowered to act more independently of the ISI and took some steps to "audit" the ISI's handling of American resources in response to congressional concerns about fraud, the ISI remained the main conduit for U.S. support to the mujahideen and the bulk of the Reagan-era aid championed by conservatives went to Muslim Brotherhood-inspired commanders favored by the ISI, most notably Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.[30]

There were discussions within the U.S. government regarding the connection between the CIA's support for an Afghan insurgency that was actively killing Soviet troops and the legal rule prohibiting employees of the U.S. government from engaging in assassination. Casey asked rhetorically: "Every time a mujahedin rebel kills a Soviet rifleman, are we engaged in assassination?" On paper, the CIA's lack of command and control over the mujahideen insulated it from charges of assassination; in practice, however, there were ambiguities. Among many other examples, the CIA's Islamabad station chief from May 1981 to mid-1984, Howard Hart, previously called for a Pakistani bounty on killed or captured Soviet troops; Gust Avrakotos, serving as the head of the CIA's task force on Afghan operations, praised a Pakistani program that provided incentives to mujahideen commanders based on the volume of captured Soviet belt buckles they turned in; the ISI organized repeated unsuccessful assassination attempts on Mohammad Najibullah, then in charge of Afghanistan's secret police (and later the President of Afghanistan), using CIA funds; and CIA-supplied long-range rockets (originally of Chinese or Egyptian origin) killed and maimed countless civilians during the bombardment of Kabul from 1985 on. Ultimately, the CIA had no way to know with certainty how any weapon that it supplied would be used on the battlefield, but it generally refrained from providing a weapon if a determination was made that the weapon's primary purpose was more likely than not to be assassination, terrorism, or other unlawful conduct. This "most likely use" standard had no bearing on so-called "dual use" weapons that could plausibly serve a legitimate military purpose and were shipped to Pakistan under the auspices of NSDD–166—such as tons of C-4 explosives, thousands of timed detonators, and dozens of sniper rifles—but in a concession to its in-house legal advisors the CIA declined to provide night vision technology or satellite intelligence on the apartment residences of Soviet military officers along with the sniper rifles.[31] Several years later the U.S. was compelled by ISI activities in the disputed territory to warn Indian officials in Kashmir to take protective measures against the long-range rifles.[32]

Cross-border activities[edit]

Beginning in early 1985, the CIA and ISI shipped thousands of translated Qurans across Afghanistan's northern border into the Central Asian Soviet republics. In retaliation for KGB-sponsored bombings that had killed hundreds in Pakistan, the ISI also organized mujahedin teams to carry out violent raids inside Soviet territory, which the CIA was at least aware of. Many other raids were launched by northern Afghan commanders operating largely independently of the ISI and CIA, including by Ahmad Shah Massoud. CIA and State Department analysts were horrified by these raids (believing they could cause an international crisis akin to the 1960 U-2 incident) and Hart's successor William Piekney conveyed a State Department message to Akhtar to the effect that the ISI should not encourage Afghans to cross the Soviet border (albeit with the caveat that, in Piekney's own words, "the Afghans would exploit opportunities that arose and do pretty much what they wanted to do"). However, Yousaf recounted that Casey had approved such acts of sabotage; according to Yousaf, Casey first broached the idea in late 1984 to an ambivalent reception by Akhtar, stating that "You should take the books ... and you can think of sending arms and ammunition if possible." Some of Casey's colleagues questioned this anecdote, but it was later corroborated by Gates (Casey's executive assistant at the time). Because President Reagan never signed a presidential finding to authorize this risky expansion of the CIA's mandate in Afghanistan, which would have entailed notifying certain members of the U.S. Congress, Coll observes: "If Casey spoke the words Yousaf attributed to him, he was almost certainly breaking American law. No one but President Reagan possessed the authority to foment attacks inside the Soviet Union."[33]

As a side note, the CIA began funding Massoud to a limited extent in late 1984 without Pakistani connivance, but CIA officers remained prohibited from interacting with him directly. British and French intelligence officers, however, did not operate under the same legal restrictions as their CIA counterparts and spoke with Massoud in person. The British role was particularly resented by the Pakistanis and some CIA officers found the French to be "grating," but the CIA came to rely on MI6 for intelligence regarding Massoud during these years.[34]

In April 1987, three separate teams of Afghan rebels were directed by the ISI to launch coordinated violent raids on multiple targets across the Soviet border and extending, in the case of an attack on an Uzbek factory, as deep as over 10 miles into Soviet territory. In response, the Soviets issued a thinly-veiled threat to invade Pakistan to stop the cross-border attacks: No further attacks were reported. Casey had been forced to resign his DCI post after being afflicted by a brain tumor in December 1986, a condition that proved fatal several months later, but Coll characterized the April 1987 raids as "Casey's last hurrah."[35]

Afghanistan 1986: Stinger missiles[edit]

In late September 1986, roughly two months after Bearden replaced Piekney as Islamabad station chief, the CIA began delivering U.S.-made state-of-the-art FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles to the mujahideen. The Stingers used infrared homing technology to destroy Soviet aircraft from a distance of roughly 12,500 feet, seriously disrupting the increasingly effective use of low-flying attack helicopters by the Soviet Spetsnaz special forces; the Soviets eventually decided that it was no longer safe to evacuate their wounded by helicopter. CIA officers were aware that the Stingers could easily be used by terrorists to shoot down civilian aircraft and were reticent to abandon the last vestiges of plausible deniability by introducing U.S.-origin weaponry into Afghanistan, but their objections were overruled by Reagan administration hardliners, including by senior State Department official Morton I. Abramowitz. China and Pakistan, which were consulted in advance out of consideration for the security risks posed to those countries by the prospect of Soviet retaliation, approved the deliveries after careful deliberation. The possibility that the Stingers might be diverted for purposes not intended by U.S. policymakers provided an additional impetus for the CIA to expand the number of unilateral agents on its Afghan payroll (including both Massoud and Abdul Haq until Bearden ended direct subsidies to Haq after the latter criticized the ISI's role in the conflict), which was a comparatively minor expense when juxtaposed with the unprecedented congressionally-allocated $1.1 billion budget that it had to work with for its Afghan operations in fiscal 1986 ($470 million) and fiscal 1987 ($630 million). Bearden subsequently endorsed supplying the Stingers as a turning point in the Soviet–Afghan war.[36] In total, the CIA sent approximately 2,300 Stingers to Afghanistan, creating a substantial black market for the weapons throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and even parts of Africa that persisted well into the 1990s. Perhaps 100 Stingers were acquired by Iran. The CIA later operated a program to recover the Stingers through cash buy-backs.[37]

Afghanistan 1988: Soviet withdrawal begins[edit]


Edmund McWilliams, special envoy to the Afghan resistance, October 1988, as quoted by Steve Coll.[38]

Mikhail Gorbachev emerged as the reformist leader of the Soviet Union in 1985 and was determined to extricate his country from Afghanistan as quickly as possible, openly calling the war a "bleeding wound" in widely-reported 1986 remarks. By November 1986 the decision to withdraw Soviet troops had been made, although the exact timetable remained subject to revision; Najibullah was informed of the fait accompli in December. Around the same time, the CIA inaccurately predicted that the Soviet Union would stay the course in Afghanistan, possibly distorting the intelligence to support the hawkish views of Reagan administration officials; even a year later Gates was adamant that the imminent withdrawal was a Soviet ruse, although other officials, such as Secretary of State George Shultz (after speaking with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze), by then accepted that the Soviets were sincere. The U.S. rejected out of hand Soviet entreaties to work together to prevent civil war or the rise of what KGB head Vladimir Kryuchkov told Gates would be a "fundamentalist Islamic state" in Afghanistan; U.S. negotiators initially signaled a willingness to suspend CIA support to the mujahideen in exchange for a Soviet withdrawal, but President Reagan personally intervened to declare an aid cut-off unacceptable as long as the Soviets assisted Najibullah's regime. Nevertheless, Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan began in May 1988 pursuant to the terms of the Geneva Accords and was completed in February 1989. These events produced much elation in the U.S. government—which was only slightly dampened by the deaths of President Zia, Akhtar, and U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Lewis Raphel in an August 1988 plane crash and by a warning from special envoy to the Afghan resistance Edmund McWilliams that the ISI was colluding with Hekmatyar to install an Islamist regime in Afghanistan by killing or intimidating Hekmatyar's opponents, thereby making a mockery of U.S. claims to support Afghan "self-determination." Raphel's successor Robert B. Oakley and Bearden responded to McWilliams's dissent by working to undermine McWilliams's credibility through an internal investigation that uncovered no personally derogatory information. Meanwhile, President Zia left a formidable legacy including a roughly ten-fold increase in the number of madrassas in Pakistan (a large proportion of them built along the Afghan–Pakistan border) and the transformation of the ISI into a powerful state-within-a-state, much of which the formerly cash-strapped country of Pakistan could not have accomplished without funding from the CIA, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf.[39] Many of these madrassas introduced a new generation of Afghan religious students, or "taliban," from Kandahar to a severe, Deobandi-influenced interpretation of Islam that had never previously played a significant role in Afghan history or culture.[40]

Afghanistan 1989[edit]

Intelligence analysis[edit]

A Special National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), "Afghanistan: The War in Perspective", estimated that the Najibullah government "is weak, unpopular, and factionalized, but it will probably remain in power over the next twelve months."[41]

Afghanistan 1992: Aid cut-off[edit]

Najibullah's government, backed by hundreds of millions in Soviet aid every month, demonstrated more staying power than some CIA analysts had anticipated, successfully fending off a disastrous 1989 attempt by the mujahideen to take Jalalabad (which was largely planned by Akhtar's successor as ISI Director Hamid Gul, Bearden, and the CIA's designated Kabul station chief Gary Schroen), a winter of 1989–1990 coordinated assault on Kabul and Khost (the failure of which was blamed on Massoud's inability or unwillingness to close the Salang Pass, resulting in a cut to Massoud's CIA stipend), and a March 1990 coup attempt organized by Khalq defector Shahnawaz Tanai in collaboration with Hekmatyar (and reportedly funded by bin Laden). Despite these setbacks, the mujahideen scored a major victory by capturing Khost in early 1991. With the end of the Soviet occupation, policy disagreements between the State Department—including its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and McWilliams's ambassadorial-level successor as special envoy to Afghanistan Peter Tomsen—and the CIA regarding the future of the Afghan conflict became more pronounced, as illustrated by the CIA's apparent acquiescence in a mass rocket attack on Kabul planned by ISI Director Asad Durrani and Hekmatyar for October 1990 (which was cancelled only after a last-minute intervention by Oakley and Tomsen) and a remark by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Robert M. Kimmitt to the effect that the U.S. saw nothing objectionable in Najubullah participating in Afghan elections as part of a peaceful settlement. Regardless, this internal debate would soon be rendered moot by the November 1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.[42]

Shortly after taking office in 1989, President George H. W. Bush signed a presidential finding renewing the CIA's legal authority to conduct covert operations in Afghanistan, but the country ranked low on the fledgling administration's priorities; Bearden recalled a conversation about Afghanistan in which President Bush asked: "Is that thing still going on?" Congress was losing interest in Afghanistan as well, slashing the CIA's Afghan budget to $280 million for fiscal 1990 with additional cuts in fiscal 1991. In late 1990, the U.S. suspended most aid to Pakistan as a consequence of Pakistan's continued progress towards developing a nuclear weapon, as legally required by an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. Finally, after Soviet hardliners tried to oust Gorbachev in a failed August 1991 coup attempt, triggering a series of crises that culminated in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, President Bush's secretary of state James Baker reached an agreement with his Soviet counterpart Boris Pankin for both sides to cease sending weapons to either the mujahideen or Najibullah. This agreement—honored by the new government of Russia—came into force on January 1, 1992, at which point the Soviet Union no longer existed. While the CIA therefore played no direct role in the fall of Kabul (and Afghanistan's subsequent descent into civil war between rival mujahideen factions) later that year, the cessation of external assistance was clearly much more devastating to Najibullah than to the mujahideen (especially when combined with erstwhile Najibullah ally Abdul Rashid Dostum's nearly-simultaneous defection to the latter).[43]

Afghanistan 1996[edit]

The U.S. originally sought to work with the Taliban as a legitimate Afghan political faction.[44] 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.[45][46] In August 1996, the ISI was providing between $30,000–$60,000 per month to the militant Kashmiri group Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA). This group was also reaching out for money from 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 ways and Pakistani officials considered themselves to be in control of the group, but history has shown that the Taliban pursued its own interests rather than acting as a proxy for external forces.[47] Pakistani support of the Taliban led to tensions with the U.S., as the Taliban became a more extreme and direct threat to the United States, its citizens, and its foreign dignitaries.[47]

Afghanistan 1998[edit]

On August 7 of 1998 truck bombs were detonated at the U.S. embassies in two different East African capital cities: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These explosions killed 224 people, wounded more than 4,500, and caused a substantial amount of property damage.[45] Although twelve Americans were killed in these attacks, the vast majority of the casualties were Kenyan civilians.[48] A faction of al-Qaeda was determined to be responsible 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; bin Laden was subsequently placed on the FBI's most wanted fugitives list. Prior to the bombings, al-Qaeda was relatively unknown to the Western public. The CIA, however, was well aware of al-Qaeda before the attacks. The al-Qaeda cell in East Africa had even been monitored by the CIA prior to the 1998 attacks. The Nairobi Embassy had increased security measures and issued warnings about its vulnerabilities. In addition, representatives from the U.S. were sent to the Nairobi Embassy for security assessments, on multiple occasions, prior to the bombings.[48] The embassy bombings exposed potential U.S. vulnerability to the growing global threat posed by terrorism.[49]

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the United States launched cruise missiles at "targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in response to the clear evidence of Bin Laden's responsibility for the planning and execution ... of the bombings."[50] 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."[51]

Afghanistan 1999[edit]

In a declassified CIA document, there are mentions of 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."[52] In this document, the CIA also stressed to the Taliban that bin Laden was not its only terrorist problem, and that it needed to immediately cease all terrorist activities.[53] The Taliban adamantly claimed to be restricting bin Laden's activities. In February, the Memoranda of Notification, a provision signed by the president that oversaw covert action in Afghanistan, "authorized the CIA to work with the Afghan Northern Alliance ... against [bin Laden]."[50] In October, the Taliban proposed solutions including a trial of bin Laden by a panel of Islamic scholars or monitoring of 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.[53]

Afghanistan 2001[edit]

The CIA began reporting with increasing frequency about the danger that bin Laden posed to the United States. A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief dated February 6, 2001 stated that the threat of Sunni terrorism was growing. The report also stated that the increase in al-Qaeda activities "stems in part from changes to Bin Laden's practices. To avoid implicating himself and his Taliban hosts, Bin Laden over the past two years has allowed cells in his network ... to plan attacks more independently of the central leadership and has tried to gain support for his agenda outside the group."[54] Before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, United States intelligence had determined that Afghanistan had been a training ground for bin Laden's terrorist network. These warnings were not enough to stop the attacks from occurring, resulting in the United States declaring war on Afghanistan.

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.[55] 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.[56][57][58]

The Washington Post stated in an editorial by John Lehman in 2006:

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.[59]

In a 2008 review in The New York Times of Horse Soldiers, a book by Doug Stanton about the invasion of Afghanistan, Bruce Barcott wrote:

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.[60]

Khost Province[edit]

From a base in Khost Province called Forward Operating Base Chapman, the CIA supports a militia called the Khost Protection Force (KPF).[61] The KPF emerged out of the 25th Division of the Afghan Military Forces, a term that denotes irregular forces that came under the control of the Afghan Ministry of Defence in 2001 and 2002.[62] The KPF has been accused of numerous extrajudicial killings, such as the shooting of six men in Zurmat District, Paktia in 2018.[61] The organization was reported to have 4,000 members in 2015, and 3,000–10,000 in 2018.[63]

Afghanistan 2003[edit]

In June 2003, the CIA published a report entitled, "11 September: The Plot and the Plotters." This document analyzes the 9/11 attack and also includes CIA intelligence on al-Qaeda and the attack, including detailed biographical pages on each of the hijackers. According to the report, the CIA found that the attackers had traveled back and forth to Afghanistan and that most of the attackers traveled to Afghanistan to pledge their loyalty to bin Laden.[64]

Afghanistan 2006[edit]

Intelligence analysis[edit]

Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee in early 2005, Porter Goss[65] 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 the 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.

In 2007, the United Nations published a report titled "Afghanistan Opium Survey." The report detailed the extent of drug trafficking in the area, a reality that underpinned the Taliban's ability to sustain its insurgency. The report found that 53% of the country's GDP increased as a result of revenue from the heroin trade. 8,200 tons of heroin were being shipped in and out of Afghanistan annually. Intelligence asserting the Taliban's involvement confirmed that the guerrillas were using the revenue to buy arms and resources.[66]

Afghanistan 2009[edit]

Forward Operating Base Chapman attack[edit]

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.


As of 2018, the CIA is engaged in a program to kill or capture militant leaders, codenamed ANSOF, previously Omega.[67] CIA manpower is supplemented with personnel assigned from United States Army Special Operations Command.[67]

In mid–2019, the NGO Human Rights Watch stated that "CIA-backed Afghan strike forces" have committed "serious abuses, some amounting to war crimes" since late 2017.[68]


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