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Blowback: Bin Laden, the CIA and US war against Afghanistan

Compiled by Richard Sanders,
Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade


From: Richard Sanders 09/12/01 20:42
Subject: Blowback: Bin Laden's CIA roots and the US war against Afghanistan

Blowback: Bin Laden, the CIA and US war against Afghanistan

Blowback is the term that the CIA uses to describe a situation when a some operative, a terrorist, or some situation that they've created gets out of their control and comes back to haunt them. It's a situation where the scientist (Frankenstein) creates a monster that "blows back" on its creator.

Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden are all pretty good examples of blowback. They were all nurtured for many years by the CIA, the US military or military intelligence. They all eventually "blew back."

Below you'll find some background on the CIA war against Afghanistan. More research is needed on bin Laden's connection to the CIA and it's counterparts in Pakistan. Does anyone out there have time to spend a few hours finding the info on bin Laden's CIA connections? It would be very useful to dig that info up. You'd think people might want to know this guy's connection to US-sponsored terrorist groups.

Here are some basic facts on the context from which bin Laden emerged. All but one of the following articles are from COAT's issue on the CIA (#43) (January 2001: A People's History of the CIA: The Subversion of Democracy from Australia to Zaire)

Pre-1979-1989, Afghanistan: The CIA's Biggest Covert War

By Mark Zapezauer

During the Reagan years, the CIA ran nearly two dozen covert operations against various governments. Of these, Afghanistan was by far the biggest; it was, in fact, the biggest CIA operation of all time, both in terms of dollars spent (US$5 to US$6 billion) and personnel involved.

Its main purpose was to "bleed" the Soviet Union, just as the U.S. had been bled in Vietnam. Prior to the 1979 Russian invasion, Afghanistan was ruled by a brutal dictator. Like the neighboring shah of Iran, he allowed the CIA to set up radar installations in his country that were used to monitor the Soviets. In 1979, after several dozen Soviet advisors were massacred by Afghan tribesmen, the USSR sent in the Red Army.

The Soviets tried to install a pliable client regime, without taking local attitudes into account. Many of the mullahs who controlled chunks of Afghan territory objected to Soviet efforts to educate women and to institute land reform. Others, outraged by the USSR's attempts to suppress the heroin trade, shifted their operations to Pakistan.

As for the CIA, its aim was simply to humiliate the Soviets by arming anyone who would fight against them. The agency funneled cash and weapons to over a dozen guerrilla groups, many of whom had been staging raids from Pakistan years before the Soviet invasion. For many years, long after the Soviets left Afghanistan, most of these groups were still fighting each other for control of the country.

One notable veteran of the Afghan operation is Sheik Abdel Rahman, famous for his role in the World Trade Center bombing.

The CIA succeeded in creating chaos, but never developed a plan for ending it. When the ten-year war was over, a million people were dead, and Afghan heroin had captured 60% of the U.S. market.

Source: Excerpted from CIA's Greatest Hits

Osama bin Laden

By Michael Moran, International Editor, MSNBC.

Since the early 1990s, Osama bin Laden, heir to a Saudi construction fortune, has financed attacks on interests of U.S. and its Arab allies.

As his unclassified CIA biography states, bin Laden left Saudi Arabia in 1979 to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. By 1984, he was running Maktab al-Khidamar (MAK) that funneled money, arms and fighters into the Afghan war. MAK was nurtured by Pakistan's intelligence agency, the CIA's primary conduit for conducting the covert war in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Islamic militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East, were partners in the CIA's war.

By 1988, bin Laden split from the relatively conventional MAK and established a new group, al-Qaida, that included many MAK members.

Source: MSNBC, Aug. 24, 1998.

Stinger missiles

By Christopher Kremmer

Heat-seeking, supersonic shoulder-fired "stinger" missiles and launchers were doled out generously by the CIA to inflict a humiliating blow on the Soviet Union.

From 1986 to 1989, the CIA distributed more than a thousand of these surface-to-air missiles to the Afghan mujihadeen, who used some of them to bring down 270 Soviet aircraft. The U.S. is still looking for the Stinger missiles, fearing they may be in the hands of Islamic extremists, like Osama bin Laden, or hostile foreign governments.

In a covert buy-back scheme, funded by the U.S. Congress, the CIA has offered up to $US175,000 apiece, five times their original cost, to get the missiles back. The scheme initially provoked a flood of responses from Afghan warlords and shady Pakistani middlemen. Hundreds of Stingers are believed to be still unaccounted for.

Pakistani technicians trained mujihadeen fighters to use the Stingers, which enjoyed a 79% strike rate.

The lion's share of missiles went to mujihadeen leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who became Afghanistan's U.S.-backed Prime Minister. He is now exiled in Iran.

China, Iran and North Korea are among the countries rumored to possess Stingers bought from Afghan commanders.

Source: The Age, April 15, 1999.

Mujahedeen: The CIA's Heroin Heroes

CIA-supported mujahedeen engaged heavily in drug trafficking while fighting against the Soviet-supported government and its plans to reform the very backward Afghan society. The CIA's principal client was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the leading druglords and a major heroin refiner. CIA-supplied trucks and mules, which had carried arms into Afghanistan, were used to transport opium to laboratories along the Afghan/Pakistan border. They provided up to half of the heroin used annually in the U.S. and three-quarters of that used in Western Europe. U.S. officials admitted in 1990 that they had failed to investigate or take action against the drug operation. In 1993, an official of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency called Afghanistan the new Colombia of the drug world.

Source: William Blum, A Brief History of CIA Involvement in the Drug Trade, 1997.

From January 2001: A People's History of the CIA: The Subversion of Democracy from Australia to Zaire

The Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2000

The Consequences Of Our Actions Abroad:
Americans Feeling the Effects of 'Blowback'

by Chalmers Johnson

Our intelligence agencies--the CIA and its rivals in the Pentagon--have a history of creating neologisms to describe our world that cover up more than they reveal. There have been lofty coinages like "host-nation support," meaning foreign countries pay to base our troops on their soil, and military jargon like "low-intensity warfare" that repackages the most brutal strife in antiseptic language.

Every now and then, however, a useful new word emerges from the labyrinth of our secret services. The American media recently started to use the term "blowback." Central Intelligence Agency officials coined it for internal use in the wake of decisions by the Carter and Reagan administrations to plunge the agency deep into the civil war in Afghanistan. It wasn't long before the CIA was secretly arming every moujahedeen volunteer in sight, without considering who they were or what their politics might be--all in the name of ensuring that the Soviet Union had its own Vietnam-like experience.

Not so many years later, these "freedom fighters" began to turn up in unexpected places. They bombed the World Trade Center in New York City, murdered several CIA employees in Virginia and some American businessmen in Pakistan and gave support to Osama bin Laden, a prime CIA "asset" back when our national security advisors had no qualms about giving guns to religious fundamentalists.

In this context, "blowback" came to be shorthand for the unintended consequences of U.S. policies kept secret from the American people. In fact, to CIA officials and an increasing number of American pundits, blowback has become a term of art acknowledging that the unconstrained, often illegal, secret acts of the United States in other countries can result in retaliation against innocent American citizens. The dirty tricks agencies are at pains never to draw the connection between what they do and what sometimes happens to those who pay their salaries.

So we are supposed to believe that the bombings of American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the proliferation of sophisticated weapons, not to mention devices of mass murder, around the world, or the crack cocaine epidemic in American cities are simply examples of terrorism, the work of unscrupulous arms dealers, drug lords, ancient hatreds, rogue states; anything unconnected to America's global policies.

Perhaps the term "blowback" can help us to re-link certain violent acts against Americans to the policies from which they secretly--as far as most Americans are concerned--sprang. From refugee flows across our southern borders from countries where U.S.-supported repression has created hopeless conditions, to U.S.-supported economic policies that have led to unimaginable misery, blowback reintroduces us to a world of cause and effect.

We also might consider widening the word's application to take in the unintended consequences U.S. policies may have for others. For example, even if the policies that our government fostered and that produced the economic collapse of Indonesia in 1997 never blow back to the U.S., the unintended consequences for Indonesians have been staggering. They include poverty, serious ethnic violence and perhaps political disintegration. Similarly, our "dirty hands" in overthrowing President Salvador Allende in Chile and installing Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who subsequently killed thousands of his own citizens, are just now coming fully into the open. Even when blowback from our policies mainly strikes other peoples, it has a corrosive effect on us, debasing political discourse and making us feel duped when the news finally emerges.

The United States likes to think of itself as the winner of the Cold War. In all probability, to those looking back at blowback a century hence, neither side will appear to have won, particularly if the United States maintains its present imperial course.

Chalmers Johnson Is President of the Japan Policy Research Institute and Author of Blowback: the Costs and Consequences of American Empire (Metropolitan Books, 2000)

Richard Sanders
Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)

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