Operation Cyclone

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For the Allied invasion of Noemfoor in 1944, also known as Operation Cyclone, see Battle of Noemfoor. For the commando operations during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, also known as Operation Cyclone, see Operation Black Tornado.
Operation Cyclone
Part of Soviet war in Afghanistan
Operational scope Operational
Location Afghanistan
Planned by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Target Government of Afghanistan and USSR invasion force
Date 1979–1989
Executed by Inter-Services Intelligence and Central Intelligence Agency

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the Jihad warriors, mujahideen, in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, rather than other, less ideological Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the Marxist-oriented Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet intervention.[1] Operation Cyclone was one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken;[2] funding began with $20–$30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987.[1] Funding continued after 1989 as the mujahideen battled the forces of Mohammad Najibullah's PDPA during the civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992).[3]


In April 1978, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution. Within months, opponents of the communist government launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan that quickly expanded into a civil war waged by Islamist guerrilla mujahideen against government forces countrywide. The Pakistani government, that under general Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (since July 1977) had started the policy of aggressive islamization, provided these rebels with covert training centers, while the Soviet Union sent thousands of military advisers to support the PDPA government.[4] Meanwhile, increasing friction between the competing factions of the PDPA – the dominant Khalq and the more moderate Parcham – resulted in the dismissal of Parchami cabinet members and the arrest of Parchami military officers under the pretext of a Parchami coup.

By mid-1979, the United States had started a covert program to finance the mujahideen.[5] President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was later quoted as saying that the goal of the program was to "induce a Soviet military intervention",[6][7] but later clarified that this was "a very sensationalized and abbreviated" misquotation and that the Soviet invasion occurred largely because of previous U.S. failures to restrain Soviet influence.[8][9] According to Eric Alterman, writing in The Nation, Cyrus Vance's close aide Marshall Shulman "insists that the State Department worked hard to dissuade the Soviets from invading and would never have undertaken a program to encourage it, though he says he was unaware of the covert program at the time. Indeed, Vance hardly seems to be represented at all in [Robert] Gates' recounting".[10]

In September 1979, Khalqist President Nur Muhammad Taraki was assassinated in a coup within the PDPA orchestrated by fellow Khalq member Hafizullah Amin, who assumed the presidency. Distrusted by the Soviets, Amin was executed by Soviet special forces in December 1979. A Soviet-organized government, led by Parcham's Babrak Karmal but inclusive of both factions, filled the vacuum. Soviet troops were deployed to stabilize Afghanistan under Karmal in more substantial numbers, although the Soviet government did not expect to do most of the fighting in Afghanistan. As a result, however, the Soviets were now directly involved in what had been a domestic war in Afghanistan.[11]

At the time some believed the Soviets were attempting to expand their borders southward in order to gain a foothold in the Middle East. The Soviet Union had long had a dearth of warm water ports, and their movement south seemed to position them for further expansion toward Pakistan in the East, and Iran to the West. American politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, feared the Soviets were positioning themselves for a takeover of Middle Eastern oil. Others believed that the Soviet Union was afraid Iran's Islamic Revolution and Afghanistan's Islamization would spread to the millions of Muslims in the USSR.

After the invasion, President Jimmy Carter announced what became known as the Carter Doctrine: that the U.S. would not allow any other outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf. He terminated the Soviet Wheat Deal in January 1980, which was intended to establish trade with USSR and lessen Cold War tensions. The grain exports had been beneficial to people employed in agriculture, and the Carter embargo marked the beginning of hardship for American farmers. That same year, Carter also made two of the most unpopular decisions of his entire Presidency: prohibiting American athletes from participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and reinstating registration for the draft for young males. Following the Soviet invasion, the United States supported diplomatic efforts to achieve a Soviet withdrawal.


A mujahideen resistance fighter shoots an SA-7, 1988.

On 3 July 1979, Carter signed a presidential finding authorizing funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan.[1] Following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December Operation Storm-333 and installation of a more pro-Soviet president, Babrak Karmal, Carter announced, "The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War".[12]

President Reagan greatly expanded the program as part of the Reagan Doctrine of aiding anti-Soviet resistance movements abroad. To execute this policy, Reagan deployed CIA Special Activities Division paramilitary officers to equip the Mujihadeen forces against the Soviet Army. Although the CIA and Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson have received the most attention for their roles, the key architect of the strategy was Michael G. Vickers, a young CIA paramilitary officer working for Gust Avrakotos, the CIA's regional head who had a close relationship with Wilson. Vicker's strategy was to use a broad mix of weapons, tactics, logistics, along with training programs, to enhance the rebels' ability to fight a guerilla war against the Soviets.[13][14] Reagan's program assisted in ending the Soviet's occupation in Afghanistan.[15][16] A Pentagon senior official, Michael Pillsbury, successfully advocated providing Stinger missiles to the Afghan resistance, according to recent books and academic articles.[17]

The program relied heavily on the Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who had a close relationship with Wilson. His Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was an intermediary for funds distribution, passing of weapons, military training and financial support to Afghan resistance groups.[18] Along with funding from similar programs from Britain's MI6 and SAS, Saudi Arabia, and the People's Republic of China,[19] the ISI armed and trained over 100,000 insurgents between 1978 and 1992[citation needed]. They encouraged the volunteers from the Arab states to join the Afghan resistance in its struggle against the Soviet troops based in Afghanistan.[18]

According to Peter Bergen, writing in Holy War, Inc., no Americans trained or had direct contact with the mujahideen.[20] The skittish CIA had fewer than 10 operatives in the region because it "feared it would be blamed, like in Guatemala".[21] Civilian personnel from the U.S. Department of State and the CIA frequently visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area during this time, and the US contributed generously to aiding Afghan refugees.

The U.S.-built Stinger antiaircraft missile, supplied to the mujahideen in very large numbers beginning in 1986, struck a decisive blow to the Soviet war effort as it allowed the lightly armed Afghans to effectively defend against Soviet helicopter landings in strategic areas. The Stingers were so renowned and deadly that, in the 1990s, the U.S. conducted a "buy-back" program to keep unused missiles from falling into the hands of anti-American terrorists. This program may have been covertly renewed following the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in late 2001, out of fear that remaining Stingers could be used against U.S. forces in the country.[22]

With U.S. and other funding, the ISI armed and trained over 100,000 insurgents[citation needed]. On 20 July 1987, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country was announced pursuant to the negotiations that led to the Geneva Accords of 1988,[23] with the last Soviets leaving on 15 February 1989. Soviet forces suffered over 14,000 killed and missing, and over 50,000 wounded.


President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office in 1983
See also: Reagan Doctrine

The U.S. offered two packages of economic assistance and military sales to support Pakistan's role in the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The first six-year assistance package (1981–87) amounted to US$3.2 billion, equally divided between economic assistance and military sales. The U.S. also sold 40 F-16 aircraft to Pakistan during 1983–87 at a cost of $1.2 billion outside the assistance package. The second six-year assistance package (1987–93) amounted to $4.2 billion. Out of this, $2.28 billion were allocated for economic assistance in the form of grants or loan that carried the interest rate of 2–3 per cent. The rest of the allocation ($1.74 billion) was in the form of credit for military purchases. More than $20 billion in U.S. funds were funneled into the country to train and arm the Afghan resistance groups.[24]

The program funding was increased yearly due to lobbying by prominent U.S. politicians and government officials, such as Charles Wilson, Gordon Humphrey, Fred Ikle, and William Casey. Under the Reagan administration, U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen evolved into a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, called the Reagan Doctrine, in which the U.S. provided military and other support to anti-communist resistance movements in Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.

The mujahideen benefited from expanded foreign military support from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia in particular agreed to match dollar for dollar the money the CIA was sending to the Mujahideen. When Saudi payments were late, Wilson and Avrakotos would fly to Saudi Arabia to persuade the monarchy to fulfill its commitments.[25]

Levels of support to the various Afghan factions varied. The ISI tended to favor vigorous Islamists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hezb-i-Islami, and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Some Americans agreed.[25][26] However others favored the relative moderates like Ahmed Shah Massoud. These included two Heritage Foundation foreign policy analysts, Michael Johns and James A. Phillips, both of whom championed Massoud as the Afghan resistance leader most worthy of US support under the Reagan Doctrine.[27][28][29]


The U.S. shifted its interest from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. American funding of Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezbi Islami party was cut off immediately.[30] The U.S. also reduced its assistance for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

In October 1990, U.S. President George H. W. Bush refused to certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device, triggering the imposition of sanctions against Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment (1985) in the Foreign Assistance Act. This disrupted the second assistance package offered in 1987 and discontinued economic assistance and military sales to Pakistan with the exception of the economic assistance already on its way to Pakistan. Military sales and training programs were abandoned as well and some of the Pakistani military officers under training in the U.S. were asked to return home.[18]

As late as 1991 Charlie Wilson persuaded the House Intelligence Committee to give the Mujahideen $200 million for fiscal year 1992, and the Saudi agreement to match dollar for dollar brought the budget to $400 million.[31]


Critics assert that funding the mujahideen played a role in causing the September 11 attacks.

The U.S. government has been criticized for allowing Pakistan to channel a disproportionate amount of its funding to controversial Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,[32] who Pakistani officials believed was "their man".[33] Hekmatyar has been criticized for killing other mujahideen and attacking civilian populations, including shelling Kabul with American-supplied weapons, causing 2,000 casualties. Hekmatyar was said to be friendly with Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, who was running an operation for assisting "Afghan Arab" volunteers fighting in Afghanistan, called Maktab al-Khadamat. Alarmed by his behavior, Pakistan leader General Zia warned Hekmatyar, "It was Pakistan that made him an Afghan leader and it is Pakistan who can equally destroy him if he continues to misbehave."[34]

In the late 1980s, Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, concerned about the growing strength of the Islamist movement, told President George H. W. Bush, "You are creating a Frankenstein."[35]

The U.S. says that all of its funds went to native Afghan rebels and denies that any of its funds were used to supply Osama bin Laden or foreign Arab mujahideen. However, even a portion of those native Afghan rebels would form parts of the Taliban, fighting against the US military.[36]

While there is no evidence that the CIA had direct contact with Osama Bin Laden[37][38] and US funding was directed to Afghan Mujahedin groups,[39] critics of U.S. foreign policy consider Operation Cyclone to be substantially responsible for setting in motion the events that led to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001,[40] a view Brzezinski has dismissed.[41] William Hartung argues that the early foundations of al-Qaeda were built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan mujahadin during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country.[42] According to Christopher Andrew and Vasily Mitrokhin, there is "no support" in any "reliable source" for "the claim that the CIA funded bin Laden or any of the other Arab volunteers who came to support the mujahideen."[43] Peter Bergen writes that "[t]he real problem is not that the CIA helped bin Laden during the 1980s, but that the Agency simply had no idea of his possible significance until the bin Laden unit was set up within the CIA in January 1996."[37]

The United States provided financial aid and weapons to the mujahideen through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). ISI are believed to have access to bin Laden in the past.[44] Bin Laden met and built relations with Hamid Gul, who was a Lieutenant General in the Pakistani army and head of the ISI agency.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bergen, Peter, Holy War Inc., Free Press, (2001), p.68
  2. ^ Barlett, Donald L.; Steele, James B. (13 May 2003). "The Oily Americans". Time (magazine). Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  3. ^ Crile, p 519 & elsewhere
  4. ^ Hussain, Rizwan (2005). Pakistan And The Emergence Of Islamic Militancy In Afghanistan. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 108–109. ISBN 0-7546-4434-0. 
  5. ^ Meher, Jagmohan (2004). America's Afghanistan War: The Success that Failed. Gyan Books. pp. 68–69, 94. ISBN 81-7835-262-1. 
  6. ^ Gibbs, David (June 2000). "Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion in Retrospect" (PDF). International Politics. 37: 233–246. Retrieved 2013-04-27. The key revelation is that Brzezinski had urged Carter to send aid to the Mujahiddin knowing that this would probably cause a Soviet intervention. 
  7. ^ Alejandro Colás; Richard Saull (2006). The War on Terrorism and the American 'empire' after the Cold War. Routledge. pp. 57–. ISBN 978-0-415-35426-4. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  8. ^ Yong, Tang (2006-03-20). ""Agenda for constructive American-Chinese dialogue huge": Brzezinski". People's Daily Online. Retrieved 2014-01-15. 
  9. ^ Gati, Charles (2013). Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-1421409771. 
  10. ^ Alterman, Eric, "'Blowback,' the Prequel," The Nation, 12 November 2001.
  11. ^ Kalinovsky, Artemy M. (2011). A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Harvard University Press. pp. 25–28. ISBN 978-0-674-05866-8. 
  12. ^ Mark Urban, War in Afghanistan, Macmillan, 1988, p.56
  13. ^ Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. Atlantic Monthly Press, page 246, 285 and 302
  14. ^ "Sorry Charlie this is Michael Vickers's War", Washington Post, 27 December 2007
  15. ^ http://www.globalissues.org/article/258/anatomy-of-a-victory-cias-covert-afghan-war
  16. ^ Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Paperback) by Peter Schweizer, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994 page 213
  17. ^ Heymann, Philip (2008). Living the Policy Process. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-533539-2. 
  18. ^ a b c Pakistan's Foreign Policy: an Overview 1974-2004. PILDAT briefing paper for Pakistani parliamentarians by Hasan-Askari Rizvi, 2004. pp19-20.
  19. ^ Interview with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski-(13/6/97). Part 2. Episode 17. Good Guys, Bad Guys. 13 June 1997.
  20. ^ Bergen, Peter. Holy War, Inc. New York: Free Press, 2001. Pg. 66
  21. ^ The New Republic, "TRB FROM WASHINGTON, Back to Front" by Peter Beinart, 8 October 2001.
  22. ^ "http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1057196.html".  External link in |title= (help);
  23. ^ "United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan - Background". United Nations. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  24. ^ "Cold War (1945-1991): External Course". The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History. Oxford University Press. 8 January 2013. p. 219. ISBN 0199759251. 
  25. ^ a b Crile, see index
  26. ^ Edward Girardet, Killing the Cranes, 2010, Chelsea Green
  27. ^ "Winning the Endgame in Afghanistan," by James A. Phillips, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #181, 18 May 1992.
  28. ^ "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War," by Michael Johns, 19 January 2008.
  29. ^ "Think tank fosters bloodshed, terrorism," The Daily Cougar, 25 August 2008.
  30. ^ Kepel, Jihad, (2002)
  31. ^ Crile, pg 519
  32. ^ Bergen, Peter, Holy War Inc., Free Press, (2001), p.67
  33. ^ Graham Fuller in interview with Peter Bergen, Bergen, Peter, Holy War Inc., Free Press, (2001), p.68
  34. ^ Henry S. Bradsher, Afghan Communism and Soviet Interventions, Oxford University Press, 1999, p.185
  35. ^ "The Road to September 11". Evan Thomas. Newsweek. 1 October 2001.
  36. ^ "Officially 'Terrorists': The Haqqani Network, And Why The U.S. Blacklisted Them"
  37. ^ a b Peter Bergen (20 January 2006). The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader. Free Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-9592-5. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  38. ^ Steve Coll (3 March 2005). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 148–. ISBN 978-0-14-193579-9. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  39. ^ Burke, Jason (2007). Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam. Penguin. ISBN 0141901322. 
  40. ^ "Did the U.S. "Create" Osama bin Laden?". US Department of State. 14 January 2005. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  41. ^ Garfinkle, Adam (2008-05-01). ""I'd Do It Again": Talking about Afghanistan with Zbigniew Brzezinski". The American Interest. 
  42. ^ William D. Hartung (27 October 2006). "We Arm The World". TomPaine.com. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  43. ^ Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World (Penguin, 2006), p579n48.
  44. ^ West, Julian (2001-09-23). "Pakistan's 'godfathers of the Taliban' hold the key to hunt for bin Laden". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  45. ^ "Pakistan's spymaster Hamid Gul: angel of jihad or windbag provocateur?". The Guardian. 31 May 2011.