America's Jihad: A History of Origins

By Parenti, Christian | Social Justice, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

America's Jihad: A History of Origins


Parenti, Christian, Social Justice


AS I WRITE, NEW YORK STILL SMOLDERS, A MASSIVE ROUNDUP OF MIDDLE Eastern immigrants is underway, and Afghanistan is being carpet-bombed with fuel-air ordinances know as "daisy cutters" -- the most powerful weapons next to tactical nukes.

To understand America's new war on terror, we must examine the role of the United States in nurturing the same Islamic military networks that are now global enemy number one. Political Islam has deep roots, which we cannot explore here, but it also has important, more recent origins that directly implicate U.S. policy. Our story begins in Afghanistan.

The "Good" Jihad

In 1978, Communist officers of the Afghan Armed Forces seized power from President Sardar Mohammed Daud. Though progressive in many respects -- the Communists favored expanding education, gender equality, and land reform -- the new government nonetheless succeeded in alienating Afghanistan's largely autonomous tribal leaders. (1) Scattered rebellions soon began. Well aware of Soviet support for the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, the United States immediately began discussing aid for the incipient rebellion. As early as March 30, 1979, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Robert Gates attended a meeting at which Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocumbe asked whether "there was value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, (and) sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire." (2) Toward that end, America was soon channeling aid to the rebels. In a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, the former national security advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, explained that the U.S . began aiding the tribalist and Islamic uprisings as early as July 3, 1979 -- six months before the Soviet invasion. (3)

The fight really got going when Leonid Brezhnev -- drunken, isolated, and against the better judgment of his party -- ordered the Soviet invasion of December 24, 1979. Soviet Special Forces (SPETNAZ) commandos killed one Communist leader, President Nur Mohammed Tarki, and replaced him with the more agreeable Babrak Karmal. For the next 13 years, the Soviet Union bled into the Hindu Kush, sending in war material and fresh troops only to bring out zinc caskets and heroin-addicted vets. As the war progressed, the Red Army's tactics devolved: mines were dropped indiscriminately from planes and civilian populations were bombed. In retrospect, the Afghan war was the long, slow fuse that set off the USSR's implosion. (4)

The U.S. side of this conflict was also massive. According to Fred Halliday, it was "the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA." (5) From 1979 to 1992, America channeled at least three billion dollars to the various mujahedeen factions fighting the Russians and then the Najibullah regime. The Saudi dynasty sent an equal amount, and additional aid flowed from China, Iran, assorted Islamic charities, drugrunning operations, privatized CIA funding sources (such as the collapsed Bank of Commerce and Credit International), as well as various Arab millionaires (such as Osama bin Laden). Most of the arms were Soviet hand-me-downs purchased from an increasingly Western-oriented Egypt. Running the pipeline of arms, training, money, information, and drugs in and out of Afghanistan was Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Described as a state within a state, the ISI almost doubled in size during the war and became the most religiously politicized apparatus of the Pakistani government. (6)

Throughout the Reagan years, U.S. funding for the mujahedeen steadily increased. Facilitated by innocuously named lobbying groups like the Afghan American Educational Fund, aboveboard appropriations for the largely secret campaign reached $250 million annually by 1985. (7) Much more issued from the CIA's black budget. The most radically Islamic groups always received the bulk of the funding: fully one-third of U.S. monies went to the religious zealot and Pashtun, Gulbuddin Hekmtyar. …

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