Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the Jihadi warriors, mujahideen, in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, rather than other, less ideological Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the Marxist-oriented Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet intervention. Operation Cyclone was one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken; funding began with $20–$30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987. Funding continued after 1989 as the mujahideen battled the forces of Mohammad Najibullah's PDPA during the civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992).
|Part of Soviet war in Afghanistan|
|Planned by||Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)|
|Target||Government of Afghanistan and USSR invasion force|
|Executed by||Inter-Services Intelligence and Central Intelligence Agency|
Communists under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki seized power in Afghanistan on April 27, 1978. The new regime—which was divided between Taraki's extremist Khalq faction and the more moderate Parcham—signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in December of that year. Taraki's efforts to improve secular education and redistribute land were accompanied by mass executions (including of many conservative religious leaders) and political oppression unprecedented in Afghan history, igniting a revolt by mujahideen rebels. Following a general uprising in April 1979, Taraki was deposed by Khalq rival Hafizullah Amin in September. Amin was considered a "brutal psychopath" by foreign observers; the Soviets were particularly alarmed by the brutality of the late Khalq regime, and suspected Amin of being an agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although that was not the case. By December, Amin's government had lost control of much of the country, prompting the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan, execute Amin, and install Parcham leader Babrak Karmal as president.
In the mid-1970s, Pakistani intelligence officials began privately lobbying the U.S. and its allies to send material assistance to the Islamist insurgents. Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's ties with the U.S. had been strained during Jimmy Carter's presidency due to Pakistan's nuclear program and the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979, but Carter told National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance as early as January 1979 that it was vital to "repair our relationships with Pakistan" in light of the unrest in Iran. According to former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official Robert Gates, "the Carter administration turned to CIA ... to counter Soviet and Cuban aggression in the Third World, particularly beginning in mid-1979." In March 1979, "CIA sent several covert action options relating to Afghanistan to the SCC [Special Coordination Committee]" of the United States National Security Council. At a March 30 meeting, U.S. Department of Defense representative Walter B. Slocombe "asked if there was value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, 'sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire?'" When asked to clarify this remark, Slocombe explained: "Well, the whole idea was that if the Soviets decided to strike at this tar baby [Afghanistan] we had every interest in making sure that they got stuck." Yet an April 5 memo from National Intelligence Officer Arnold Horelick warned: "Covert action would raise the costs to the Soviets and inflame Moslem opinion against them in many countries. The risk was that a substantial U.S. covert aid program could raise the stakes and induce the Soviets to intervene more directly and vigorously than otherwise intended." In May 1979, U.S. officials secretly began meeting with rebel leaders through Pakistani government contacts. A former Pakistani military official claimed that he personally introduced a CIA official to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that month (Freedom of Information Act requests for records describing these meetings have been denied). After additional meetings on April 6 and July 3, Carter signed a "presidential 'finding'" that "authorized the CIA to spend just over $500,000" on non-lethal aid to the mujahideen, which "seemed at the time a small beginning."
Brzezinski later claimed that "We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would." According to Brzezinski, he became convinced by mid-1979 that the Soviets were going to invade Afghanistan regardless of U.S. policy due to the Carter administration's failure to respond aggressively to Soviet activity in Africa, but—despite the risk of unintended consequences—support for the mujahideen could be an effective way to prevent Soviet aggression beyond Afghanistan (particularly in Brzezinski's native Poland). The full significance of the U.S. sending aid to the mujahideen prior to the invasion is debated among scholars. Some assert that it directly, and even deliberately, provoked the Soviets to send in troops. Bruce Riedel, however, believes that the U.S. aid was intended primarily to improve U.S. relations with Pakistan, while Steve Coll asserts: "Contemporary memos—particularly those written in the first days after the Soviet invasion—make clear that while Brzezinski was determined to confront the Soviets in Afghanistan through covert action, he was also very worried the Soviets would prevail. ... Given this evidence and the enormous political and security costs that the invasion imposed on the Carter administration, any claim that Brzezinski lured the Soviets into Afghanistan warrants deep skepticism." Carter himself has stated that encouraging a Soviet invasion was "not my intention." Gates recounted: "No one in the Carter Administration wanted the Soviets to invade Afghanistan and no one, as I can recall at least, ever advocated attempting to induce them to invade ... Only after the Soviet invasion did some advocate making the Soviets 'bleed' in their own Vietnam."
Carter expressed surprise at the invasion. According to Riedel, the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community during 1978 and 1979—reiterated as late as September 29, 1979—was that "Moscow would not intervene in force even if it appeared likely that the Khalq government was about to collapse." Indeed, Carter's diary entries from November 1979 until the Soviet invasion in late December contain only two short references to Afghanistan, and are instead preoccupied with the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran. In the West, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was considered a threat to global security and the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the failure to accurately predict Soviet intentions caused American officials to reappraise the Soviet threat to both Iran and Pakistan, although it is now known that those fears were overblown. For example, U.S. intelligence closely followed Soviet exercises for an invasion of Iran throughout 1980, while an earlier warning from Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that "if the Soviets came to dominate Afghanistan, they could promote a separate Baluchistan ... [thus] dismembering Pakistan and Iran" took on new urgency.
In the aftermath of the invasion, Carter was determined to respond vigorously. In a televised speech, he announced sanctions on the Soviet Union, promised renewed aid to Pakistan, and committed the U.S. to the Persian Gulf's defense. Carter also called for a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which raised a bitter controversy. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher enthusiastically backed Carter's tough stance, although British intelligence believed "the CIA was being too alarmist about the Soviet threat to Pakistan." The thrust of U.S. policy for the duration of the war was determined by Carter in early 1980: Carter initiated a program to arm the mujahideen through Pakistan's ISI and secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia to match U.S. funding for this purpose. U.S. support for the mujahideen accelerated under Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, at a final cost to U.S. taxpayers of some $3 billion. The Soviets were unable to quell the insurgency and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, precipitating the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. However, the decision to route U.S. aid through Pakistan led to massive fraud, as weapons sent to Karachi were frequently sold on the local market rather than delivered to the Afghan rebels; Karachi soon "became one of the most violent cities in the world." Pakistan also controlled which rebels received assistance: Of the seven mujahideen groups supported by Zia's government, four espoused Islamic fundamentalist beliefs—and these fundamentalists received most of the funding. Despite this, Carter has expressed no regrets over his decision to support what he still considers the "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan.
President Reagan greatly expanded the program as part of the Reagan Doctrine of aiding anti-Soviet resistance movements abroad. To execute this policy, Reagan deployed CIA Special Activities Division paramilitary officers to equip the Mujihadeen forces against the Soviet Army. Although the CIA and Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson have received the most attention for their roles, the key architect of the strategy was Michael G. Vickers, a young CIA paramilitary officer working for Gust Avrakotos, the CIA's regional head who had a close relationship with Wilson. Vicker's strategy was to use a broad mix of weapons, tactics, logistics, along with training programs, to enhance the rebels' ability to fight a guerilla war against the Soviets. Reagan's program assisted in ending the Soviet's occupation in Afghanistan. A Pentagon senior official, Michael Pillsbury, successfully advocated providing Stinger missiles to the Afghan resistance, according to recent books and academic articles.
The program relied heavily on the Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who had a close relationship with Wilson. His Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was an intermediary for funds distribution, passing of weapons, military training and financial support to Afghan resistance groups. Along with funding from similar programs from Britain's MI6 and SAS, Saudi Arabia, and the People's Republic of China, the ISI armed and trained over 100,000 insurgents between 1978 and 1992. They encouraged the volunteers from the Arab states to join the Afghan resistance in its struggle against the Soviet troops based in Afghanistan. All support to the Sunni Mujahideen was funneled through the government of Pakistan, given that the Shiite Mujahideen had close ties to Iran at the time. Given American-Iranian tensions during the period, the US government aided solely the Sunni Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
According to Peter Bergen, no Americans trained or had direct contact with the mujahideen., and one report has claimed the CIA had fewer than 10 operatives in the region because it "feared it would be blamed, like in Guatemala". Other reports show civilian personnel from the U.S. Department of State and the CIA frequently visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area during this time, and the US contributed generously to aiding Afghan refugees. CIA director William Casey secretly visited Pakistan numerous times to meet with the ISI officers managing the mujahideen, and personally observed the guerrilla's training on at least one occasion. Coll reports that
Casey startled his Pakistani hosts by proposing that they take the Afghan war into enemy territory -- into the Soviet Union itself. Casey wanted to ship subversive propaganda through Afghanistan to the Soviet Union's predominantly Muslim southern republics. The Pakistanis agreed, and the CIA soon supplied thousands of Korans, as well as books on Soviet atrocities in Uzbekistan and tracts on historical heroes of Uzbek nationalism, according to Pakistani and Western officials.
Other direct points of contact between the US government and mujahideen include the CIA flying Hekmatyar to the United States, where he was hosted by State Department official Zalmay Khalizad. Hekmatyar was invited to meet with President Reagan but refused, and was replaced at the White House's October 1985 conference with mujahideen by Younis Khalis, who publicly invited Reagan to convert to Islam. CIA agent Howard Hart developed a personal relationship with Abdul Haq which led to the Afghan meeting both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage regularly met with mujahideen, particularly Burhanuddin Rabbani. CIA agents are also known to have given direct cash payments to Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The U.S.-built Stinger antiaircraft missile, supplied to the mujahideen in very large numbers beginning in 1986, struck a decisive blow to the Soviet war effort as it allowed the lightly armed Afghans to effectively defend against Soviet helicopter landings in strategic areas. The Stingers were so renowned and deadly that, in the 1990s, the U.S. conducted a "buy-back" program to keep unused missiles from falling into the hands of anti-American terrorists. This program may have been covertly renewed following the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in late 2001, out of fear that remaining Stingers could be used against U.S. forces in the country.
On 20 July 1987, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country was announced pursuant to the negotiations that led to the Geneva Accords of 1988, with the last Soviets leaving on 15 February 1989. Soviet forces suffered over 14,000 killed and missing, and over 50,000 wounded.
The U.S. offered two packages of economic assistance and military sales to support Pakistan's role in the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The first six-year assistance package (1981–87) amounted to US$3.2 billion, equally divided between economic assistance and military sales. The U.S. also sold 40 F-16 aircraft to Pakistan during 1983–87 at a cost of $1.2 billion outside the assistance package. The second six-year assistance package (1987–93) amounted to $4.2 billion. Out of this, $2.28 billion were allocated for economic assistance in the form of grants or loan that carried the interest rate of 2–3 per cent. The rest of the allocation ($1.74 billion) was in the form of credit for military purchases. More than $20 billion in U.S. funds were funneled into the country to train and arm the Afghan resistance groups.
The program funding was increased yearly due to lobbying by prominent U.S. politicians and government officials, such as Charles Wilson, Gordon Humphrey, Fred Ikle, and William Casey. Under the Reagan administration, U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen evolved into a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, called the Reagan Doctrine, in which the U.S. provided military and other support to anti-communist resistance movements in Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.
The mujahideen benefited from expanded foreign military support from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia in particular agreed to match dollar for dollar the money the CIA was sending to the Mujahideen. When Saudi payments were late, Wilson and Avrakotos would fly to Saudi Arabia to persuade the monarchy to fulfill its commitments.
Levels of support to the various Afghan factions varied. The ISI tended to favor vigorous Islamists like Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami and Haqqani. Some Americans agreed. However others favored the relative moderates like Ahmed Shah Massoud. These included two Heritage Foundation foreign policy analysts, Michael Johns and James A. Phillips, both of whom championed Massoud as the Afghan resistance leader most worthy of US support under the Reagan Doctrine.
The U.S. shifted its interest from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. American funding of Hekmatyar and his Hezb-i-Islami party was cut off immediately. The U.S. also reduced its assistance for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
In October 1990, U.S. President George H. W. Bush refused to certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device, triggering the imposition of sanctions against Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment (1985) in the Foreign Assistance Act. This disrupted the second assistance package offered in 1987 and discontinued economic assistance and military sales to Pakistan with the exception of the economic assistance already on its way to Pakistan. Military sales and training programs were abandoned as well and some of the Pakistani military officers under training in the U.S. were asked to return home.
As late as 1991 Charlie Wilson persuaded the House Intelligence Committee to give the Mujahideen $200 million for fiscal year 1992, and the Saudi agreement to match dollar for dollar brought the budget to $400 million.
The U.S. government has been criticized for allowing Pakistan to channel a disproportionate amount of its funding to the controversial Hekmatyar, who Pakistani officials believed was "their man". Hekmatyar has been criticized for killing other mujahideen and attacking civilian populations, including shelling Kabul with American-supplied weapons, causing 2,000 casualties. Hekmatyar was said to be friendly with Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, who was running an operation for assisting "Afghan Arab" volunteers fighting in Afghanistan, called Maktab al-Khadamat. Alarmed by his behavior, Pakistan leader General Zia warned Hekmatyar, "It was Pakistan that made him an Afghan leader and it is Pakistan who can equally destroy him if he continues to misbehave."
The CIA and State Department have been criticized for their direct relationship with Hekmatyar, beyond ISI contact, in spite of his being one of the leading heroin smugglers in the region.
Conspiracy theorists have alleged that bin Laden and al Qaeda were beneficiaries of CIA assistance. This is challenged by experts such as Coll—who notes that declassified CIA records and interviews with CIA officers do not support such claims—and Peter Bergen, who argues: "The theory that bin Laden was created by the CIA is invariably advanced as an axiom with no supporting evidence." Bergen insists that U.S. funding went to the Afghan mujahideen, not the Arab volunteers who arrived to assist them.
However Sir Martin Ewans noted that the Afghan Arabs "benefited indirectly from the CIA's funding, through the ISI and resistance organizations," and that "it has been reckoned that as many as 35,000 'Arab-Afghans' may have received military training in Pakistan at an estimated cost of $800 million in the years up to and including 1988." Some of the CIA's greatest Afghan beneficiaries were Arabist commanders such as Haqqani and Hekmatyar who were key allies of bin Laden over many years. Haqqani—one of bin Laden's closest associates in the 1980s—received direct cash payments from CIA agents, without the mediation of the ISI. This independent source of funding gave Haqqani disproportionate influence over the mujahideen. Haqqani and his network played an important role in the formation and growth of al Qaeda, with Jalalhuddin Haqqani allowing bin Laden to train mujahideen volunteers in Haqqani territory and build extensive infrastructure there.
- Ahmad Shah Massoud
- Allegations of CIA assistance to Osama bin Laden
- Afghan Civil War
- Afghan training camp
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If the CIA did have contact with bin Laden during the 1980s and subsequently covered it up, it has so far done an excellent job.
- Bergen, Peter (2006). The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader. Simon and Schuster. pp. 60–61. ISBN 9780743295925.
- Sir Martin Ewans, Conflict in Afghanistan:Studies in Asymmetric Warfare (Routledge, 2004) p. 128
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- "The Haqqani History: Bin Ladin's Advocate Inside the Taliban" National Security Archive, September 11, 2012
- "Haqqani Network" Mapping Militant Groups, Stanford University