Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Afghanistan: spectral apparitions 

"You know only - A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, - And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, - And the dry stone no sound of water. - Only - There is shadow under this red rock, (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), - And I will show you something different from either - Your shadow at morning striding behind you - Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust." ~ Thomas Stearns Eliot, The Waste Land

The following post contains excerpts from Ghost Wars; The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Steve Coll. It's intended as a kind of added accompanyment to Xan's earlier post Once Upon A Time which links to Juan Cole's recent reminder of the Reagan Bush administration's covert holy war, once upon a time, in Afghanistan.

"The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny"
If there is one thing that can be said for the entire contingence that characterized the Reagan administration's support of the insurgency in Afghanistan it might be that we helped sow and nurture and reap, to some considerable extent, the harvest of future wrath. We helped placate, fund, and train a revolution, a careless desolation, cloaked in the pretensions of some mottled divine retribution, for which relegated elements would ultimately return to haunt us. We showed the jihadist that, given the necessary tools and training, patience, ruthlessness and resolve, a small group of rag-tag "freedom fighters" could run a super-power out of town on a rail. We made true believers of the true believers. And now we are the occupation. We are the super-power to be uprooted from the sands. As far as the jihadist holy warriors of today are concerned - we are the new Soviet Union.

The Saudi ulama rejected religious pluralism, but many in the Saudi royal family, including Prince Turki, respected unbending religious faith even when it was Christian. [William] Casey won the GID's personal loyalty to the extent that Saudi intelligence, with permission from King Fahd, agreed to secretly fund Casey's riskiest anticommunist adventures in Central America.

More than any other American, it was Casey who welded the alliance among CIA, Saudi intelligence, and Zia's army. As his Muslim allies did, Casey saw the Afghan jihad not merely as statecraft, but as an important front in a worldwide struggle between communist atheism and God's community of believers. - 'Ghost Wars', page 93.

Blockquoted (boxed) below: more excerpts from Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll:
The CIA had strong contacts dating back decades among exiled nationalists from the Baltics and Ukraine. It knew far less about Soviet central Asia, the vast and sparsely populated steppe and mountain region to Afghanistan's immediate north. Pushed by Casey, American scholars and CIA analysts had begun in the early 1980s to examine Soviet Central Asia for signs of restiveness. There were reports that ethnic Uzbeks, Turksmen, Yajiks, and Kazakhs chafed under Russian ethnic domination. And there were also reports of rising popular interest in Islam, fueled in part by the smuggling of underground Korans, sermonizing cassette tapes, and Islamic texts by the Muslim Brotherhood and other proseltyizing networks. The CIA reported on a May 1984 lecture in Moscow where the speaker told a public audience that Islam represented a serious internal problem. [pages 103-104]

Perception Manager: William Casey, holy roller colporteur to the mujahedin.
Drawing on his experiences running dissident Polish exiles as agents behind Nazi lines, Casey decided to revive the CIA's propaganda proposals targeting Central Asia. The CIA's specialists proposed to send in books about Central Asian culture and historical Soviet atrocities in the region. The ISI's generals said they would prefer to ship Korans in the local languages. Langley agreed. The CIA commissioned an Uzbek exile living in Germany to produce translations of the Koran in the Uzbek language. The CIA printed thousands of copies of the Muslim holy book and shipped them to Pakistan for distribution to the mujahedin. The ISI brigadier in charge recalled that the first Uzbek Korans arrived in December 1984, just as Casey's enthusiasm was waxing. ISI began pushing about five thousand books into northern Afghanistan and onward across the Soviet border by early 1985.

At the same time, ISI's Afghan bureau selected small teams among the mujahedin who would be willing to mount violent sabotage attacks inside Soviet Central Asia. KGB-backed agents had killed hundreds of civillians in terrorist bombings inside Pakistan, and ISI wanted revenge. Mohammed Yousaf, the ISI brigadier who was the Afghan operations chief during this period, recalled that it was Casey who first urged these cross-border assaults during a meeting at ISI headquarters late in 1984, on the same visit that the CIA director traveled to the rebel training camps by helicopter.

As Yousaf recalled it, Casey said that there was a large Muslim population across the Amu Darya that could be stirred to action and could "do a lot of damage to the Soviet Union." The CIA director talked about propaganda efforts but went further. Casey said, according to Yousaf, "We should take the books and try to raise the local population against them, and you can also think of sending arms and ammunition if possible." In Yousaf's recollection, Akhtar [ISI director General Akhtar Abdur Rahman] voiced agreement about the Koran smuggling efforts but remained silent about the sabotage operations. Robert Gates, Casey's executive assistant and later CIA director, has confimed that Afghan rebels "began cross-border operations into the Soviet Union itself" during the spring of 1985. These operations included "raising cain on the Soviet side of the border." The attacks took place, according to Gates, "with Casey's encouragement." [pg 104]

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, and only then if the president notified senior members of the congressional intelligence committees. [pg 105]


And as Gates reflected later, referring more generally to his sense of mission, Casey had not come to the CIA "with the purpose of making it better, managing it more effectively, reforming it, or improving the quality of intelligence....Bill Casey came to the CIA primarily to wage war against the Soviet Union." [pg 105]

Brigadier Yousaf:
By early 1986, Brigadier Yousaf had constructed a large and sophisticated secret infrastructure for guerilla training along the Afghan frontier. Between sixteen thousand and eighteen thousand fresh recruits passed through his camps and training courses each year. He also began to facilitate independent guerilla and sabotage training by Afghan rebel parties, outside of ISI control. From six thousand to seven thousand jihadists trained this way each year, Yousaf later estimated. Some of these were Arab volunteers.


Yousaf established specialized training camps for explosives work, urban sabotage and car bombing, antiaircraft weapons, sniper rifles, and land mines. Thousands of new graduates - the great majority Afghans, but also now some Algerians, Palestinians, Tunisians, Saudi Arabians, and Egyptians - fanned out across Afghanistan as mountain snow melted in the spring of 1986 and a new fighting season began. [pg 144]

As the year turned, Brigadier Mohammed Yousaf, the ISI Afghan operations chief who had been one of Casey's most enthusiastic admirers, planned for new cross-border attacks inside Soviet territory - missions that Yousaf said he had heard Casey endorse.

In April 1987 as the snow melted, three ISI-equipted teams secretly crossed the Amu Darya into Soviet Central Asia. The first team launched a rocket strike against an airfield near Termez in Uzbekistan. The second, a band of about twenty rebels equipped with rocket-propelled grenades and antitank mines, had been instructed by ISI to set up violent ambushes along a border road. They destroyed several Soviet vehicles. A third team hit a factory site more than ten miles inside the Soviet Union with a barage of about thirty 107-millimeter high-explosive and incendiary rockets. The attacks took place at a time when the CIA was circulating satellite photographs in Washington showing riots on the streets of Alma-Ata, a Soviet Central Asian capital. [pg 161]

A few days later Bearden's [Milton Bearden: CIA station chief] secure phone rang in the Islamabad station. Clair George, then station chief of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, was on the line, and his voice was formal, measured.

"I want you to think very carefully before you answer the question I am about to ask," he said. "Were you in any way involved in an attack on an industrial site deep inside the Soviet Uzbekistan...anytime in the last month?

"if anything like that is going on, we're not involved here," Bearden said, equally carefully.

He knew that American law prohibited his involvement in such operations; they went far beyond the scope of the CIA's authority. Iran-Contra and its related inquiries were now in full tilt. The agency was under political fire as it had not been since the 1970s. There were lawyers crawling all over the Directorate of Operations. Bearden and Clair, confronting similar dilemmas in the past, had long taken the view that once the CIA supplied weapons to Pakistani intelligence, it lost all title of ownership and therefore all legal responsibility for the weapons' use. "We stand by our position that once the stuff is delivered to the Paks, we lose all control over it," Bearden said.

The Soviets were fed up with the attacks on their soil. As they counted their dead in Central Asia that April, they dispatched messengers with stark warnings to Islamabad and Washington. They threatened "the security and integrity of Pakistan," a euphemism for an invasion. The Americans assured Moscow that they had never sanctioned any military attacks by the mujahedin on Soviet soil. From army headquarters in Islamabad, Zia [Pakistani military dictator Gen Mohammed Zia-Ul-Haq] sent word to Yousaf that he had to pull back his teams. Yousaf pointed out that it might be difficult because none of his Afghan commandos had radios. But his superiors in ISI called every day to badger him: Stop the attacks.

Bearden called Yousaf for good measure. "Please don't start a third world war," he told him.

The attacks ended. They were Casey's last hurrah. [pg 162]

William Casey died of brain cancer on May 6, 1987

August 1988: Gen (President) Mohammed Zia-Ul-Haq and Akhtar Abdur Rahman die in plane crash.
The Afghan jihad had lost its founding father. General Akhtar, too, the architect of modern Pakistani intelligence, was dead. But Zia and Akhtar had left expansive, enduring legacies. In 1971 there had been only nine hundred madrassas in all Pakistan. By the summer of 1988 there were about eight thousand official religious schools and an estimated twenty-five thousand unregistered ones, many of them clustered along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier and funded by wealthy patrons from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. When Akhtar had taken over ISI almost a decade earlier, it was a small and demoralized unit within the Pakistani military, focused mainly on regime security and never-ending espionage games with India. Now ISI was an army within the army, boasting multiple deep-pocketed patron, including the supremely deep-pocketed Prince Turki [Turki al-Faisal] and his Saudi General Intelligence Department. ISI enjoyed an ongoing operational partnership with the CIA as well, with periodic access to the world's most sophisticated technology and intelligence collection systems. The service had welcomed to Pakistan legions of volunteers from across the Islamic world, fighters who were willing to pursue Pakistan's foreign policy agenda not only in Afghanistan but, increasingly, across its eastern borders in Kashmir, where jihadists trained in Afghanistan were just starting to bleed Indian troops. And as the leading domestic political bureau of the Pakistan army, ISI could tap telephones, bribe legislators, and control voting boxes across the country when it decided a cause was ripe. Outside the Pakistan army itself, less than ten years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, ISI has been transformed by CIA and Saudi subsidaries into Pakistan's most powerful institution. Whatever unfolded now would require ISI's consent. [pg 180]

Ten years later [1996] the vast training infrastructure that Yousaf and his collegues built with enormous budgets endorsed by NSDD-166 [National Security Decision Directive-166] - the specialized camps, the sabotage training manuals, the electronic bomb detonators, and so on - would be referred to routinely in America as "terorist infrastructure." At the time of its construction, however, it served a jihadist army that operated openly on the battlefield, attempted to seize and hold territory, and exercised sovereignty over civillian populations. They pursued a transparent national cause. By 1986, however, that Afghan cause entangled increasingly with the international Islamist networks whose leaders had a more ambitious goal: the toppling of corrupt and antireligious governments across the Islamic world. [pg 145]


President Reagan signed the classified NSDD-166, titled "Expanded U.S. Aid to Afghan Guerillas," in March 1985, formally anointing its confrontational language as covert U.S. policy in Afghanistan. His national security adviser, Robert McFarlane[*], signed the highly classified sixteen-page annex, which laid out specific new steps to be taken by the CIA. [pg 127]

[*] Timeline note: In the spring of 1985 Robert McFarlane began pushing his presidential directive which outlined plans to sell military equiptment to Iran. What would ultimately become the frick to the Contra frack in the Iran-Contra yoke.

"Support for the freedom fighters is self-defense." ~ President Ronald Reagan, State of the Union address, 1985.

Remember that rosy simplistic ditty the next time September eleven rolls around.

Read: Juan Cole's Fisking The War On Terror



Far out on the desert to the north dustspouts rose wobbling and augered the earth and some said they'd heard of pilgrims borne aloft like dervishes in those mindless coils to be dropped broken and bleeding upon the desert again and there perhaps to watch the thing that had destroyed them lurch onward like some drunken djinn and resolve itself once more into the elements from which it sprang. Out of that whirlwind no voice spoke and the pilgrim lying in his broken bones may cry out and in his anguish he may rage, but rage at what? And if the dried and blackened shell of him is found among the sands by travelers to come yet who can discover the engine of his ruin? ~ Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian

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