HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html History Repeats As U.S. Finds Unlikely Allies
Pubdate: Sun, 21 Oct 2001
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2001 Orlando Sentinel
Author: Jeff Kunerth


If politics makes strange bedfellows, foreign policy sometimes means 
sleeping with the devil.

And that's what the United States did when it allied itself with Osama bin 
Laden and other Islamic militants in the 1980s.

The United States helped build some of the terrorist facilities it is now 
destroying in Afghanistan. The Central Intelligence Agency trained Islamic 
militants on the use of explosives and the concept of "strategic sabotage" 
- -- picking targets with a symbolic significance.

Altogether, the United States poured an estimated $3 billion in arms, 
training and financial support to mujahedeen guerrillas in efforts to drive 
the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

Thousands of those trained by the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence agency 
ISI were Islamic radicals recruited from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, 
China, the Philippines and the Chechnya republic in the Soviet Union.

"The Islamic fundamentalists would not be in power in Afghanistan if not 
for U.S. intervention," said William Blum, author of Killing Hope: U.S. 
Military and CIA Interventions since World War II. "The CIA orchestrated 
the symphony. They brought in warriors from over a dozen Muslim countries 
who were trained and armed."

Blum contends that the United States was so blinded by its obsession to 
bring down the Soviet Union that it ignored the anti-Western ideology of 
Islamic militants such as bin Laden.

Alliance has links to drugs

Today, some of the same criticism is being leveled at the United States for 
its support of the Northern Alliance, which has a history of human-rights 
abuses and drug smuggling. In its full-throttle pursuit of terrorists, the 
United States once again finds itself allied with mujahedeen of ill repute 
- -- just as it was 20 years ago in the Afghan-Soviet war.

At the time, the Reagan administration saw its role in Afghanistan as an 
opportunity to bleed the Soviet Union's economy through a prolonged, costly 
war against the Afghan rebels. America's financial and military support of 
the mujahedeen was justified at the time as a cost-effective way to defeat 
the communists in the "last battlefield of the Cold War."

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah defended the strategy recently when he 
said, "It was worth it. Those were very important, pivotal matters that 
played an important role in the downfall of the Soviet Union."

The United States' support included supplying the mujahedeen with an 
estimated 1,000 Stinger missiles -- the same mobile, highly accurate 
missiles the Taliban forces can use to target American tanks, helicopters 
and low-flying air-fueling tankers.

Arming militant Islamic rebels was a calculated risk the United States took 
in the 1980s with unforeseen consequences in the 21st century, experts said.

"We clearly understood that once we teach people certain things, there 
might be some blowback -- not to the United States but to the nations from 
which these militants came," said Roger Handburg, an authority on terrorism 
and foreign policy at the University of Central Florida.

"Blowback" is a CIA term for an agent, or operation, that backfires on its 
creator. Critics of America's involvement in Afghanistan during the Soviet 
occupation contend that the Taliban and bin Laden are the personification 
of blowback.

Others, however, argue that nothing about bin Laden in the 1980s suggested 
his future occupation as an international terrorist.

"In no sense was the United States involved in blowback," said Harvey 
Kushner, author of Terrorism in America. "We did what we had to do to bring 
the Soviet Union to its knees."

And that meant enlisting the help of warlords, drug lords and Islamic 
mercenaries such as bin Laden: "In the real world of international 
relations, this is what you have to do," Kushner said. "The enemy of my 
enemy is my friend. That's how we viewed the mujahedeen, and that's how we 
view the Northern Alliance now."

The United States was aware of rogue agents among the Soviet opposition.

Chief among them was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a known drug smuggler and good 
friend of bin Laden's with anti-American sentiments. In the 1970s, 
Hekmatyar made headlines for throwing acid in the faces of Afghan women who 
failed to wear veils.

According to some reports, the vehicles and Tennessee mules supplied by the 
CIA to ship arms into Afghanistan were used by Hekmatyar and other drug 
lords to transport opium and heroin out of the country.

"You couldn't find anybody in Washington who thought we should trust this 
guy, but he was Pakistan's favorite," said Teresita Schaffer, director of 
South Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 
Washington, D.C.

Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, was an agent-in-good-standing from 
Saudi Arabia, one of our staunchest allies in the Middle East. A member of 
a prominent Saudi family, bin Laden counted Prince Turki ben Faisal al-Saud 
of the Saudi royal family as one of his strongest supporters.

Wealthy and benevolent, bin Laden gave money to Afghan widows and orphans 
and built roads and hospitals for those fighting the Soviets. Those were 
good enough credentials for the U.S. government when it went looking for 
allies against the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan.

U.S. helped build camps

The CIA even helped bin Laden with the construction of facilities at Zhawar 
Kili al-Badr. Later identified as a "terrorist university," those 
facilities were bombed by the Clinton administration in 1998 in retaliation 
for the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 
224 people.

Bin Laden and his partner in terrorism, Egyptian surgeon Ayman al- Zawahri, 
were indicted in New York for those bombings.

Now, those same terrorist facilities in Afghanistan are again targets of 
the bombing raids ordered by President Bush.

Although bin Laden's opposition to the United States dates back to the 
peace treaty between Israel and Egypt orchestrated by President Carter in 
1979, it wasn't until the Gulf War in 1991 that bin Laden turned to 
terrorism against the United States for stationing American troops in Saudi 
Arabia and imposing what he saw as a corrupt Western lifestyle on Islam.

"At the time the Afghan-Soviet war was going on, he was not saying anything 
that gave any indication he was going to be the person he is today," said 
Saiful-Islam Abdul-Ahad, an authority on Afghanistan at the University of 
Central Florida.

If the United States didn't see the change in bin Laden, it also failed to 
recognize the agendas of the militant Islamics in the mujahedeen and their 
Pakistani sponsors.

"The United States had its interests and its perspective with very little 
awareness of how it might be used by the radical Islamics," said Robert L. 
Canfield, professor of sociocultural anthropology at Washington University 
in St. Louis. "We didn't realize we were creating a cohort of zealous young 
men from all over the world."

Pakistan at the time was ruled by strongman Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, who envisioned 
his nation becoming the key player in the Middle East by helping create 
fundamentalist Islamic regimes in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran 
and Turkey. Before his death in a plane crash in 1988, Zia hoped to 
accomplish that goal by attracting and training Muslim extremists who would 
then return to their homelands as Islamic rebels.

Today, Muslim terrorists who trained in Afghanistan are operating in the 
Philippines, China, Chechnya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries. 
President Bush said that cells of bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist 
organization now exist in 68 nations -- including the United States.

Among those who learned the terrorism trade in Afghanistan are the Abu 
Sayyaf extremists who have kidnapped Sanford-based New Tribes missionaries 
in the Philippines. Three of the kidnapped missionaries are presumed dead 
while two others are still being held hostage.

Selig Harrison, a terrorism expert at The Century Foundation in Washington, 
D.C., contends that the CIA made a historic mistake by supporting the 
Islamic extremists recruited to fight the jihad against the Soviets in 

"I warned them that we were creating a monster," Harrison said at a 
conference on terrorism in March.

Alliances change quickly

But in the Middle East, where alliances shift as quickly as the desert 
dunes, it's often hard to tell the good guys from the bad, the heroes from 
the villains.

In the topsy-turvy world of Middle Eastern politics, friends and enemies 
are often one and the same.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, bin Laden was allied with 
Ahmed Shah Massood, a leader of the Northern Alliance that is now battling 
the Taliban for control of Afghanistan.

On Sept. 9, two days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the 
Pentagon, suicide bombers posing as Arab journalists killed Massood. The 
CIA thinks bin Laden's organization was behind the assassination.

In its western provinces, China is fighting Islamic rebels it helped arm 
and train to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Russia itself is now providing arms to the Northern Alliance -- the same 
mujahedeen warriors who helped drive them from Afghanistan.

And the United States, in its global effort to root out terrorism, has 
enlisted the support of Sudan -- a former home base for bin Laden and one 
of seven nations on the State Department's state-sponsored terrorism list.

Once again, the United States finds itself involved in Afghanistan with an 
unholy alliance of friends and foes.

"We were happy to have anyone who was against the Soviets, just as we are 
happy to have anyone who helps us fight Osama bin Laden," said Louise K. 
Davidson-Schmich, a foreign-policy expert at the University of Miami.

If the U.S. forces oust the Taliban, Davidson-Schmich said, its leaders 
must ask: "Who do we want in there?

"We can't delude ourselves that the Northern Alliance will be a nice, 
pro-West democratic regime."
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