How the CIA created Osama bin Laden
BY NORM DIXON
“Throughout the world ... its agents, client states and satellites are on the defensive — on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man — in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America ... [They are] freedom fighters.”
Is this a call to jihad (holy war) taken from one of Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden's notorious fatwas? Or perhaps a communique issued by the repressive Taliban regime in Kabul?
In fact, this glowing praise of the murderous exploits of today's supporters of arch-terrorist bin Laden and his Taliban collaborators, and their holy war against the “evil empire”, was issued by US President Ronald Reagan on March 8, 1985. The “evil empire” was the Soviet Union, as well as Third World movements fighting US-backed colonialism, apartheid and dictatorship.
How things change. In the aftermath of a series of terrorist atrocities — the most despicable being the mass murder of more than 6000 working people in New York and Washington on September 11 — bin Laden the “freedom fighter” is now lambasted by US leaders and the Western mass media as a “terrorist mastermind” and an “evil-doer”.
Yet the US government refuses to admit its central role in creating the vicious movement that spawned bin Laden, the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists that plague Algeria and Egypt — and perhaps the disaster that befell New York.
The mass media has also downplayed the origins of bin Laden and his toxic brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
In April 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in reaction to a crackdown against the party by that country's repressive government.
The PDPA was committed to a radical land reform that favoured the peasants, trade union rights, an expansion of education and social services, equality for women and the separation of church and state. The PDPA also supported strengthening Afghanistan's relationship with the Soviet Union.
Such policies enraged the wealthy semi-feudal landlords, the Muslim religious establishment (many mullahs were also big landlords) and the tribal chiefs. They immediately began organizing resistance to the government's progressive policies, under the guise of defending Islam.
Washington, fearing the spread of Soviet influence (and worse the new government's radical example) to its allies in Pakistan, Iran and the Gulf states, immediately offered support to the Afghan mujaheddin, as the “contra” force was known.
Following an internal PDPA power struggle in December 1979 which toppled Afghanistan's leader, thousands of Soviet troops entered the country to prevent the new government's fall. This only galvanized the disparate fundamentalist factions. Their reactionary jihad now gained legitimacy as a “national liberation” struggle in the eyes of many Afghans.
The Soviet Union was eventually to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989 and the mujaheddin captured the capital, Kabul, in 1992.
Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion (some estimates range as high as $20 billion) worth of arms, training and funds to prop up the mujaheddin factions. Other Western governments, as well as oil-rich Saudi Arabia, kicked in as much again. Wealthy Arab fanatics, like Osama bin Laden, provided millions more.
Washington's policy in Afghanistan was shaped by US President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and was continued by his successors. His plan went far beyond simply forcing Soviet troops to withdraw; rather it aimed to foster an international movement to spread Islamic fanaticism into the Muslim Central Asian Soviet republics to destabilize the Soviet Union.
Brzezinski's grand plan coincided with Pakistan military dictator General Zia ul-Haq's own ambitions to dominate the region. US-run Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe beamed Islamic fundamentalist tirades across Central Asia (while paradoxically denouncing the “Islamic revolution” that toppled the pro-US Shah of Iran in 1979).
Washington's favoured mujaheddin faction was one of the most extreme, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The West's distaste for terrorism did not apply to this unsavory “freedom fighter”. Hekmatyar was notorious in the 1970's for throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil.
After the mujaheddin took Kabul in 1992, Hekmatyar's forces rained US-supplied missiles and rockets on that city — killing at least 2000 civilians — until the new government agreed to give him the post of prime minister. Osama bin Laden was a close associate of Hekmatyar and his faction.
Hekmatyar was also infamous for his side trade in the cultivation and trafficking in opium. Backing of the mujaheddin from the CIA coincided with a boom in the drug business. Within two years, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was the world's single largest source of heroin, supplying 60% of US drug users.
In 1995, the former director of the CIA's operation in Afghanistan was unrepentant about the explosion in the flow of drugs: “Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets... There was a fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.”
Made in the USA
According to Ahmed Rashid, a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, in 1986 CIA chief William Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI proposal to recruit from around the world to join the Afghan jihad. At least 100,000 Islamic militants flocked to Pakistan between 1982 and 1992 (some 60,000 attended fundamentalist schools in Pakistan without necessarily taking part in the fighting).
John Cooley, a former journalist with the US ABC television network and author of Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, has revealed that Muslims recruited in the US for the mujaheddin were sent to Camp Peary, the CIA's spy training camp in Virginia, where young Afghans, Arabs from Egypt and Jordan, and even some African-American “black Muslims” were taught “sabotage skills”.
The November 1, 1998, British Independent reported that one of those charged with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Ali Mohammed, had trained “bin Laden's operatives” in 1989.
These “operatives” were recruited at the al Kifah Refugee Centre in Brooklyn, New York, given paramilitary training in the New York area and then sent to Afghanistan with US assistance to join Hekmatyar's forces. Mohammed was a member of the US army's elite Green Berets.
The program, reported the Independent, was part of a Washington-approved plan called “Operation Cyclone”.
In Pakistan, recruits, money and equipment were distributed to the mujaheddin factions by an organization known as Maktab al Khidamar (Office of Services — MAK).
MAK was a front for Pakistan's CIA, the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate. The ISI was the first recipient of the vast bulk of CIA and Saudi Arabian covert assistance for the Afghan contras. Bin Laden was one of three people who ran MAK. In 1989, he took overall charge of MAK.