The “expert” community that has been speculating on terrorist links to the crash of TWA Flight 800 didn’t perk up a few weeks earlier when Islamic extremist Guibuddin [sic] Hekmatyar – the CIA’s favorite Afghan guerrilla in the ‘80s – was sworn in as Prime Minister of Afghanistan. But heroin overdose and terror bombing victims must have turned over in their graves.
For Hekmatyar’s is a textbook example of a CIA operation providing cover for drug trafficking and spawning grounds for terrorists – in this case three who have been decapitated for the November bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that claimed five American lives.
Only now, after tragedies in the Middle East and off Long Island, are former US officials taking responsibility for having tutored a legion of future terrorists in Afghanistan – while denying that they knew what they were doing.
The fateful CIA/Hekmatyar marriage of convenience can be traced to Jimmy Carter’s reaction to the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Wrestling with fallout from the February 1979 overthrow of the Shah in next-door Iran, including the taking of 55 American hostages – and the murder that same month of his ambassador to Afghanistan – Carter boosted assistance to the Afghan mujaheddin (holy warriors).
The mujaheddin were already waging guerrilla war on a government in Kabul, Afghanistan they deemed the embodiment of atheistic modernism. And their patrons in Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate (ISI) had already introduced the CIA’s Islamabad station chief to guerrilla leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar’s path to Peshawar in northwest Pakistan would not recommend him as a “freedom fighter” as most Americans relate to the expression on the Fourth of July.
In the ‘60s he founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Kabul. In the early ‘70s, according to a New York Times report, Hekmatyar “dispatched followers to throw vials of acid into the faces of women students who refused to wear veils.” The king imprisoned him in connection with the 1972 murder of a Maoist student. But he was released when the prime minister overthrew his cousin, the king.
Hekmatyar then fled to Pakistan, joined an Islamic fundamentalist group with adherents in the military, and became a Pakistani intelligence asset. International politics on a grander scale would unfold to his advantage.
The Reagan team hit the White House in January 1981 itching to roll back communism. Like Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, they looked at Afghanistan and saw a Russian Vietnam. If American politicians had learned nothing else in Indochina, they learned not to shed American blood. So, despite the opportunity to sight Russians between cross-hairs, the White House chose intervention by proxy, a.k.a. the Reagan Doctrine.
Washington persuaded Islamabad to run the war in return for $3 billion in military aid to Pakistan, besides $2 billion for Afghan guerrillas. The CIA dispatched military trainers to guerrilla encampments along the border.
CIA and State Department officials later told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Tim Weiner (now with the New York Times) that Hekmatyar was “scary … vicious … a fascist … definitely dictatorship material.” And a Boston-based businessman who has worked with the Free Afghanistan Alliance recently told this writer, half in jest, that mujaheddin press offices featured outer rooms with anti-Soviet posters and inner chambers depicting Uncle Sam as the Great Satan.
As if unaware of whom they were dealing with, the Reagan administration earmarked for Hekmatyar half the mujaheddins’ $2 billion. Another billion would flow into his coffers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, and Iraq. The White House hailed him as a “freedom fighter.” And the war against Soviet invaders heated up.
Nearly one million villagers would perish. And the Soviets would stumble through mountainous terrain no more friendly than the jungles of Vietnam.
In February 1989, nine years and 15,000 Soviet casualties later, Moscow withdrew ignominiously, having gained little other than the wrath of its own people. Their last puppet regime collapsed in 1992, leaving a vacuum filled by rival guerrilla factions. With the Soviets out of the picture, the Bush administration ended support for Hekmatyar.
The bloody inter-guerrilla combat continues, notwithstanding Hekmatyar’s deal with a rival to become prime minister on June 26. Helping to keep Hekmatyar’s image polished until well after the Russians withdrew was a blind eye to the massive heroin trafficking. But in May 1990 time became ripe to notice the emperor’s lack of apparel.
The Washington Post disclosed that month that Hekmatyar’s underlings were processing opium into heroin. Indeed, as University of Wisconsin history professor Al McCoy told this writer, what inspired him to expand his 1972 blockbuster “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia” into “The Politics of Heroin” was discovering that “drug trafficking was financing the CIA’s secret warriors in Afghanistan just as it had in Indochina.”
And narcotics have reportedly remained the Afghan guerrillas’ lifeblood since the White House shut off its billion-dollar spigot.
The payback for Washington’s investment has been a double-edged sword: Russia suffered a devastating stalemate; American heroin users got a shot in the arm. The US addict population, after falling sharply in the mid-‘70s due to poor harvests in Southeast Asia, doubled in the early ‘80s, with half the heroin arriving from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At the same time, the “Holy War” against Soviet infidels attracted Islamic extremists from far and wide to Afghanistan, there to be trained by the CIA and its proxies. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Not by chance did Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman flee in 1990 from Egypt – where he allegedly ordered the assassination of President Amwar Sadat – to Peshawar, Pakistan. There, he reportedly met with long-time disciple Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to commission the training of militant fundamentalists.
According to a former senior policy maker quoted recently in the Los Angeles Times, “The non-Afghans were there before we got to Afghanistan, and they were there when we left … They didn’t get much attention until shortly before the World Trade Center bombing.” And, according to present and former US officials, “American forces never knowingly trained non-Afghans.”
That’s hard to swallow in light of investigations following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which have revealed that a small army of future terrorists was trained in Pakistan for the war in Afghanistan. Two were convicted for that bombing. Their spiritual leader, Rahman, was convicted of instigating a wave of terrorist acts that included the bombing.
Three of the Islamic extremists beheaded on May 31 for the November bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, were trained in Pakistan for the Afghan Holy War.
And while Defense Secretary Perry has speculated that Iran might be responsible for the June 25 bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US soldiers, Saudi investigators are said to be pursuing an Afghan connection.