Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
The Cold War Era Context: U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region were protected by alliances during the early Cold War. In 1947, a defense commitment was made to Saudi Arabia, by executive agreement. After 1953, the Shah of Iran was a close ally of the U.S. But in the 1970s, reverses occurred: Britain withdrew its navy from policing the Gulf; strain developed in the U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship over oil pricing and over the Arab-Israeli conflict; and, most importantly, the Shah of Iran was deposed by an Islamic Revolution of clear anti-U.S. character in 1978-79. The Soviet Union took advantage of this strategic shift. The Red Army had moved south into neutral Afghanistan, Dec. 26, 1979. This brought MIG aircraft into a position to menace shipping through the Persian Gulf exit point. the Strait of Hormuz, for the first time.
In response, U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter enunciated The Carter Doctrine on January 23, 1980:
"An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
Thus, as we entered the 1980s, nearby and formerly neutral Afghanistan became an important site in the resumed Cold War. This primer outlines that conflict:
a. Afghanistan before the Soviet Invasion
-April 1978, Afghan Communists of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power.
-December 1978, a "Friendship Treaty" between the USSR and this new Afghanistan government led by prime minister Mohammed Taraki was signed, ending Afghani neutrality. At article four, this treaty stated that "the two sides would take appropriate measures to ensure the security, independence, and territorial integrity of the two countries."
-Communist Afghanistan was Unstable: between April 1978 and December 1979 several Communist Afghani rulers briefly held nominal power in Kabul:
Mohammed Daoud (overthrown April 17, 1978),
Nur Mohammed Taraki (overthrown Sept. 1979), and
-Resistance against the PDPA government first began in the north; initially, the Pushtuns of the south obeyed the Pushtun-ethnic dominated PDPA. But the Soviet invasion of Dec. 1979 ignited jihad among Pushtuns as well.
b. December 1979: Soviet Invasion
-Agents of the KGB Spetsnaz "Alpha Group" murdered Amin and installed Babrak Karmal as president as it arrived with 120,000 troops (Sudoplatov: 415).
-Later, in May 1986, the USSR installed Najibullah as Afghani president. (He was killed only in 1996).
-Sovietization was unpopular: Radical plans for land reform and secularization of education were announced;
c. Large segments of the Afghani population Resisted Sovietization
Muslim fundamentalists reacted by calling for a holy war (jihad) against these heretical policies of the "infidels." These fighters, or "mujahideen," fiercely fought the Red Army. In the next five years, over one million persons were reported to have died; over five million refugees fled into neighboring Iran and Pakistan (with millions more displaced within Afghanistan itself).
The "mujahideen" were supported by the US, Pakistan, China and certain other Islamic nations, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran.
During 1980-89, the US covert operation in Afghanistan would amount to a $2 billion project there
d. U.S. Policy to aid Afghani "mujahideen"
Stage One, the Carter era approach 1979-81:
Division among advisors: Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski pushed hard for a large covert operation. CIA Director (Adm.) Stansfield Turner opposed a major effort. Carter sided with Brzezinski: the covert operation in Afghanistan was started by Pres. Carter.
Policy consisted of:
-aid to the "mujahideen"
-leading condemnations of the Soviet aggression in the UN
-supplying aid to the refugees
-symbolic gestures, e.g. Brzezinski visited the Khyber Pass
Stage Two, the Reagan approach 1981-85:
In 1981-84, some $300 million in total U.S. aid appears to have been sent to the mujahideen.
Worldwide, during Reagan's first term: the CIA's budget would grow 50 percent in those four years.
Pakistan's role was strategically very important: In 1981, Chinese weapons began to find their way to the mujahideen. US and Saudi Arabian covert aid went through Pakistan. Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) coordinated all of the US and other non-Pakistani aid to the rebels in the early years of the war. Correspondingly, the CIA's station in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, would grow to become one of the largest in the whole world.
In 1982, the Red Army turned its war against the civilian population, attempting to sever the link between rural peoples and the guerrillas. Late in 1983, the anti-civilian Soviet strategy was coupled with a Soviet-run economic war against food production, irrigation systems, food storage facilities, etc.
In May of 1984, the US Senate publicly voted to appropriate $15 million in aid that was distributed to the Afghan people through private charities, a sum that was increased to $50 million if non-military aid in all forms is counted.
Congressional Enthusiasm for the Afghan War
The real US Afghan program was hidden in the "Black Budget." In 1984, the Afghan program amounted to $30 million.
House Appropriations Committee member Charles Wilson (Democrat of Texas), virtually single-handedly caused the sum to be increased to around $70 million. The technique used by Wilson was to simply insist that these monies be earmarked into the Defense Budget, bypassing the jurisdiction of the House Intelligence Committee.
Wilson was convinced that the mujahideen needed the high tech, Swiss-made Oerlikon gun; within a year, this CIA present made its way to the rebels.
Saudi Arabia then was matching US aid to the mujahideen dollar-for-dollar: the Afghan rebels no longer had to operate on a shoestring.
Stage Three: Reagan's Second Term: Escalation
The problem: Soviets' use of armored attack helicopters which proved virtually invulnerable to the fire from antique Chinese machine guns in the mujahideen's arsenal through the mid-1980s.
Congress publicly and officially appropriated $50 million for the mujahideen's military needs, though CIA sources unofficially were quoted as saying that much more -- some $250 million -- of U.S. funds actually were spent on military aid to them that year
Psychological Warfare intensified. CIA Director William Casey's new plan included:
sending Koran's into Islamic areas of the USSR itself;
distributing documentary works about Soviet Afghan atrocities into Uzbekistan via the Afghan rebels.
National Security Decision Directive 166 (March 1985) had a new goal: the defeat the USSR in Afghanistan. Among the new means authorized were:
-high tech US arms would be introduced into the rebels' arsenals.
-Oerlikons were delivered
-hand held "Stinger" surface to air missiles were transferred to the mujahideen (see CIA comment, below)
-a school to teach them how to use the missiles was set up in near Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
-Delayed timing devices for tons of C-4 plastic explosives were supplied for use by the mujahideen in urban sabotage.
Obliquely commenting on these changes, the CIA that month wrote of an overall "increased insurgent effectiveness" (CIA 1985: iii) and "increased insurgent capabilities" (CIA 1985: 1). Without identifying its own role, the agency commented that "the resistance [is] increasingly armed and trained from the outside" (CIA 1985: 1, point 6) and that "on the basis of an improving military supply situation, we project that the performance of the resistance in Afghanistan will improve steadily during 1985 as it did during 1984" (CIA 1985: 1, point 10), going on to note the key role of "the greater availability of ammunition and other materiel." Without directly mentioning the critically important provision of U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles by name, the CIA report stated: "Resistance effectiveness against aircraft is likely to increase substantially against both airborne targets and airbases" (CIA 1985: 1, point 10). Near its conclusion, the CIA analysts predicted that "If present trends continue, the Soviets may well face 10 years or more of fighting in Afghanistan" (CIA 1985: 4, point 20).
Stage Four: Soviet Defeat and Withdrawal
In November 1986, the leadership of the USSR determined its objectives could not be met.
In February 1988, the Gorbachev government publicly announced that all of its forces would be withdrawn before the end of the year.
In April 1988, Afghanistan and Pakistan inked a U.N.-sponsored accord that called for the departure of all Soviet troops.
On February 14, 1989, the last of those 115,000 departed. By Soviet admission, 15,000 of its soldiers had died there.
The new Bush Administration, however, took Reagan's position a step further: it insisted on an American prerogative to supply the guerrillas until the fall of the Najibullah government. Thus, US involvement in the Afghan civil war continued.
On January 1, 1992, a complete halt to all deliveries of military supplies by the armed forces of the former USSR was announced by the new Russian Government.
Incredibly, the Afghani quisling Najibullah --without further Soviet-backing-- would hang onto Kabul until April 1992, when the mujahideen took the city; Najibullah himself was captured trying too late to escape. Najibullah was hung when the Taliban militia captured Kabul in 1996. Civil war continued into 2001.
After the Cold War came Stage Six: Rise of the Taliban. The Taliban movement, which governed Afghanistan until it was forced from power by the United States in Fall 2001, arose after the withdrawal of the USSR from Afghanistan, first among students in Kandahar. But, religious students long had criticized trends toward secularization of Afghanistan. The Taliban's ideology represents a rejection not only of communism and westernization; it represents a rejection of modernity. The Taliban reject trends in Afghanistan that far pre-date the Cold War:
-PM Muhammad Daoud Khan, 1953-63, had introduced secular education and women's rights to work. Riots in Kandahar in 1959 opposed this, attacking girl's school, a cinema, and a women's bath house as symptoms of this modernization that the religious there opposed.
-1964 Constitution granted full equality to men and women.
-1964 Constitution established secular legal system, reversing legal role of shari'a law in 1931 Const.
-Four of 216 elected legislators in 1965 were women.
-1973 former PM Daoud seized power; declares=d land reform and forced Islamist parties to flee to Pakistan.
-April 1978: Daoud is overthrown by PDPA. N. M. Taraki ruled 1 1/2 years. Policies further alienated religious Afghanis:
-established minimum marriage age
-limited land holdings' sizes
-abolished the bride price
-established schools for girls, with emphasis on secular education.
All of these trends, all of this policy, offended the sense of Islam which guided the Taliban. Their interpretation required men, only, to work; barred male medical doctors from treating females; forbade education of women; and sought to impose these and other extreme views by force. Civil war raged in parts of the country for many years after the departure of the last Soviet troops, and after the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996. The U.S. never recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government, and at the U.N. was in the forefront in condemning violations of human rights by the Taliban. Of special concern was Afghanistan's willingness to harbor and support international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, leader of the Al Qaeda. In 1998, U.S. cruise missiles were used to attack terrorist bases in Afghanistan in response to the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
U.S. Military Action Overturns Taliban Rule. After the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States by Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorists, the Bush Administration delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban: turn over Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda, or face the wrath of the U.S. A short delay followed, in which Taliban leader Mullah Omar refused to cooperate. But early in October 2001, the U.S. launched a military campaign which gave decisive assistance to Omar's opponents, principally the Northern Alliance, a rebel group consisting primarily of Afghans of the Tadjik and Uzbek minorities. Combining high tech U.S. air power with horseback riding Northern Alliance fighters was the job of U.S. Special Forces on the ground. After two months of sparring, the U.S. backed Northern Alliance put to siege, then took all the major cities of the north, including Kabul, as Taliban power disintegrated. A final battle for the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar unexpectedly was avoided as the final remnants of the Taliban regime fled. Thus was ended the most radical Islamist regime in the modern world, but further efforts to run down the remaining elements of Al Qaeda in the Tora Bora region failed to locate large numbers of terrorists.
Early in 2002, an interim government led by Pres. M. Karzai was appointed and confirmed later by a loya jurga of tribal and other Afghan leaders. Vigorous efforts then were undertaken to ascertain the extent to which Al Qaeda in Afghanistan had created weapons of mass destruction that potentially might be useful to their terrorist campaign (Commission). An intensive review of intelligence practices discovered that in terms of biological weapons capabilities, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan possessed more advanced capabilities than previously had been postulated. Similarly, more advanced Al Qaeda efforts in the area of nuclear weapons acquisition and radiological weapons was discovered after the intense first fighting phase of the war in Afghanistan ended. These findings underlined the importance of the overthrow of the Taliban regime that had harbored Al Qaeda, reinforcing American efforts to implant a different, pro-Western government there. American military power remained the key element of security for the new regime, and over 5000 U.S. troops initially remained in Afghanistan. These forces proved instrumental in foiling an assassination attempt against Karzai on a visit to Kandahar in September 2002, but their other mission of finding all remnants of Al Qaeda proved less successful. Many of these former allies of the Taliban, including Bin Laden himself, appear to have escaped into tribal areas of adjacent Pakistan as substantial amounts of U.S. Special Forces were shifted to Iraq in preparation for the Spring 2003 war there.
In 2004, Karzai was elected Afghan President and solidified the new regime. His government continued to enjoy strong support from the U.S., augmented by smaller numbers of peacekeeping troops dispatched to Afghanistan by the N.A.T.O. allies of the U.S., including Germany. More actively, U.S. and Afghan armed forces continued in 2004-06 to search for remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, though rates of casualties overall were far lower than in the concurrent conflict in Iraq. Some combat assistance in this regard was received from Canadian and British troops, but other NATO allies were reluctant to send troops into combat. In 2006-2009, the Taliban grew in importance as an insurgency based in adjacent border areas of Pakistan allowed infiltration and re-supply of Taliban fighters inside Afghanistan. In response, U.S. Armed Forces were increased, rising to over 30,000 by late 2008. Significant support for the Taliban was evident among some Pashtun ethnics on both sides of the border. Casualties and incidents of violence escalated each year, with Kandahar and Helmund provinces being the sites of some of the most difficult resistance to the authority of the Karzai Government and its NATO/US backers. Bin Laden, however, continued to elude capture. Karzai's re-election as Afghan President in 2009 did little to build the legitimacy of his government, as charges of corruption widely came to be believed.
The Obama Years. Entering office in January 2009, Pres. Barack Obama refocused U.S. war efforts onto the Afghanistan / Pakistan theater, with increased reliance on more frequent air attacks inside Pakistan as a key feature. These were apparently accomplished primarily through use of U.S. Predator and other drone aircraft. In Afghanistan, he increased military personnel very substantially during his first year, firing the U.S. Commander in the Spring, and weighing his replacement's request for 40,000 additional troops throughout the Fall of 2009. On Dec. 1, 2009, Obama announced his second increase in U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan, with slightly under 100,000 to be engaged there by early 2010. In that speech, he also outlined a goal of beginning to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011. Notably absent from his expressed objectives was the goal of fully eliminating the Taliban. Instead, the goal of the mission was redefined to suggest that the U.S. goal now would be to "degrade" the capabilities of the Taliban to the point that the organization no longer threatened to be able to provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda and other violent extremists bent on attacking the United States (see: Kornblut). Pakistani cooperation with these escalated efforts was uneven, with notable joint operations to capture militants succeeding at times in places distant from the war zone (e.g., in Karachi), but with vigorous counter-insurgency efforts by the Pakistan Army absent in key districts adjacent to the Afghanistan border, notably in North Waziristan. Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan sharply worsened when Raymond Davis, a CIA employee listed as having diplomatic status, shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January 2011. Many Pakistani politicians and broad sections of the Pakistani public sharply denounced the apparently free rein given to CIA operations inside Pakistan that was represented by the Davis case, which was resolved in March 2011, and Davis released, only after a payment of over $2 million to relatives of the dead Pakistanis. The origins of these funds were never disclosed. Relations between the two ostensible "allies" (i.e., the U.S. and Pakistan) further were strained when secret documents released through Wikileaks suggested that the Pakistan Government had advised the Afghanistan Government to break with the U.S. and to pursue closer relations with China. Despite numerous high level exchanges between the governments, Pakistani-U.S. relations continued to fray, e.g., in April 2011 Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a visit to Pakistan publicly criticized continuing ties between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and one Taliban faction, the Haqqani network.
An illustrated timeline of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is available here:
sources for more reading:
Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (NY: HarperCollins Perennial, 1991).
Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), Soviet Problems, Prospects and Options in Afghanistan in the Next Year: SNIE 11/37-2-85-L (Washington: Central Intelligence Agency, March 1, 1985).
Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (NY: The Free Press, 2004)
Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (NY: Penguin, 2004).
Commission: Final Report of Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (March 31, 2005): section on Afghanistan.
Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison, Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (NY: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Michael Dobbs, "Dramatic Politburo Meeting Led to End of War," Washington Post (Nov. 16, 1992): 1, 16.
Michael Dobbs, "Secret Memos Trace Kremlin's March to War," Washington Post (Nov. 15, 1992): 1
Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
Antonio Giustozzi, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan 2002-2007 (London, U.K.: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers Ltd., 2007)
Mary Habeck, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007)
Ryan C. Hendrickson, "The Clinton Administration's Strikes on Usama Bin Laden: Limits to Power," in Contemporary Cases in U.S. Foreign Policy: From Terrorism to Trade ed. Ralph G. Carter (Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, copyright 2002; issued 2001): 196-216.
Seymour Hersh, "The Getaway: Questions Surround a Secret Pakistani Airlift," The New Yorker (January 28, 2002): 36-40.
David Isby, Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires (Cambridge, U.K.: Pegasus Publishers, 2010)
Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2002).
Ali Ahmad Jalali, Afghan Guerrilla Warfare (Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press, 2002)
M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
John Keegan, "The Ordeal of Afghanistan," The Atlantic Monthly (November 1985): 94-105.
Anne E. Kornblut, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, "Obama pressed for faster surge," Washington Post (December 6, 2009): 1, 18-19.
Bernard Lewis, Islam: the Religion and the People (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2008)
Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy (NY: The Free Press, 1994).
David Pryce-Jones, The Strange Death of the Soviet Empire (NY: Henry Holt and Co., 1995).
Muhammad Amir Rana, A to Z of Jehadi Organizations in Pakistan (Pakistan: Mashal Books, 2004).
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010)
Andrew Roe, Waging War in Waziristan: The British Struggle in the Land of Bin Laden, 1849-1947 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010)
Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan second edition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).
Barry Rubin, Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader (NY: Oxford U.P., 2002).
Stephen Sestanovich, "Kabul Crunch," The New Republic 198, 16 (April 18, 1998): 11-14.
Philip Smucker, Al Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror's Trail (Dulles, VA: Brassey's, 2004).
Pavel Sudoplatov and Anatoli Sudoplatov, Special Tasks: The Memoir of an unwanted witness - a Soviet Masterspy (Boston: Little-Brown, 1994): 415.
Shaista Wahab and Barry Youngerman, A Brief History of Afghanistan (New York: Checkmark Books, 2010)
Bob Woodward, Veil (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987).
Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
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