Bigger than Bounties: How the U.S. Created the Taliban

Unnamed members of the U.S. intelligence community recently told U.S. media that Russia paid cash bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan. U.S. media has reported the allegations as fact, even though the “leak” happened right before a congressional vote on withdrawing troops and even though the NSA doesn’t agree that the story is true. While this unproven story is being published as fact, the truth about how the U.S. created the Taliban is being deliberately ignored. 

In 1979, a young college graduate named Osama Bin Laden first began communicating with the U.S. government according to the Swiss paper Tribune de Geneve. Bin Laden, a Saudi national and religious extremist, would have been exactly the type of person the U.S. was looking for. 

1979 was the year the socialist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was founded and war broke out between that government and local Islamic militias known as “the Mujahideen”. Attempting to topple the socialist government, the U.S. launched Operation Cyclone, a top secret program to arm and finance the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen was also being armed and financed by Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Overmatched by the western armed rebels, the Afghan government requested military assistance from the USSR and Soviet troops were on the ground within the year. Afghanistan would be the final battleground in the cold war.

Initially, Operation Cyclone financing was small under President Jimmy Carter. Only $695,000 ($2,383,828.51 today’s USD) was given to the Mujahideen in 1979. During the early stages of the war, the CIA used Pakistan as an intermediary to meet with Mujahideen fighters. Inside Pakistan, CIA advisors gave the Mujahideen military advice, equipment, and training. U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said “We didn’t push the Russians (Soviets) to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.” After the Soviet Union responded to Operation Cyclone by deploying troops within Afghanistan, Carter immediately gave a television address announcing increased sanctions on the USSR, U.S. withdrawal from the SALT II treaty, increased military aid To Pakistan, and a U.S. lead boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  

Pakistan was absolutely crucial for Operation Cyclone. Mujahideen fighters were trained, armed, and paid after crossing the border into Pakistan. CIA “advisors” would then cross back into Afghanistan with the Mujahideen militias to continue the fight. Pakastani intelligence (ISI) oversaw much of the program, and determined which militia’s would get what weapons and money. Corruption within the program was rampant, and much of the advanced weaponry ended up on the black market. 

Even with this massive amount of aid, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the USSR appeared to be on the verge of a military victory. Utilizing elite Spetsnaz special forces, Soviet air power, and encrypted communication, the government and Soviet forces launched a series of offensives between 1980-1985. Before victory could be achieved however, the U.S. ramped up it’s intervention. 

In 1984 Operation Cyclone dramatically escalated. The CIA took direct control over the process of arming the Mujahideen from the ISI. A year earlier, Director of the CIA William Casey proposed and began a plan to export the war directly into the Soviet Union. According to the Washington Post, the CIA “shipped subversive propaganda through Afghanistan to the Soviet Union’s predominantly Muslim southern republics.” The CIA even gave weapons to Mujahideen fighters to carry out attacks on Soviet troops within the USSR. This was just the beginning. In March 1985, U.S. President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166. From now on, the Mujahideen would have access to the latest cutting edge weapons of the U.S. military, as well as U.S. intel. The Mujahideen would now be armed with weapons such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, grenade launchers,  plastic explosives, artillery pieces with U.S. satellite targeting, sniper rifles, and laser guided missiles. According to one anonymous western official, the 1985 escalation “was directed at killing Russian (Soviet) military officers.”  Many within the western intelligence community worried that the USSR would respond in kind. The Soviets never did. 

The CIA even built Osama Bin Laden an underground bunker to recruit Mujahideen fighters from. Bin Laden was trained by the CIA during this time. By 1987, the CIA was supplying 65,000 tons of advanced weaponry to the Mujahideen annually, as well as financial support, intelligence sharing, and CIA “advisors”. The intelligence supplied to the Mujahideen proved to be vital, as high resolution satellite photos from the U.S. showed exactly where to attack. Intercepted Soviet communiques showed exactly how the Soviets would respond to the attack. The CIA even deployed psychological warfare experts to help the Mujahideen create propaganda. 

In total, over $20 billion (approximately $50 Billion USD today) was given to the insurgents. This aid even continued three years after the USSR withdrew all of its forces from Afghanistan.The Mujahideen would eventually defeat the  Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1992. Yet the “mujahideen”, which is actually just Arabic for “one engaged in Jihad”, was never a single entity. The Mujihadeen was always a loose collection of Muslim fighters, from different countries, some more radical than others, temporarily united in defeating the USSR. Terrorists, like Osama Bin Laden, had always been a significant part of the militias. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sums it up well.  “We have helped create the problem that we are fighting…we had this brilliant plan that we were gonna go to Pakistan and create this force of Mujahideen, equip them with Stinger missiles and everything else, to go after the Soviets within Afghanistan…leaving these trained people, who were fanatical, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaving them well armed, creating a mess that at the time we didn’t recognize…Now you look back and the people we are fighting today are the people we were supporting in the fight against the Soviets.”

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