Cold War Essay: The Sale of Weapons to the Afghans

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November 22, 2013


The Sale of Weapons to the Afghans through Pakistan’s ISI during the Afghan-Russian War


The Soviet War in Afghanistan lasted nearly nine years and involved the Mujahideen insurgents and the Soviet forces that aimed to overthrow the Marxist government of the Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The Afghanistan government was supported by the Soviet Union while the rebels were backed by the United States and Pakistan. This conflict was a proxy between two superpowers (the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union) during the Cold War years. There was no actual direct confrontation.

The Soviet Union deployed its first army in December, 1979 while the final troops were withdrawn on February 1989. This war witnessed heavy losses of life, and it was one of the major factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The invasion was seen as a product of the desire to spread communism and the expansionism of Marxist. Indeed, the standards of living deteriorated during this period and this led not only to the loss of public support for the war, but also the political system. This paper aims at establishing the events that made America train and arm the Afghanistan to fight the Russians. It would also examine the blowbacks of this war.


Islam has dominated Afghanistan since 882 CE. The country’s geography consists of extensive mountain ranges that are nearly impassable. It also has desert terrains that are reflected in its linguistically and ethnically diverse population. The biggest ethnic group in this country is the Pashtuns along with the Uzbeks, Aimak Hazara and Turkmen.

The military involvement of Russia in Afghan has a history that goes back to the expansions of the Tsarist. In other words, its involvement can be traced back to the so called “Great Game”, such as the Panjdeh incident in the 19th century. The interest by Russia in this region continued through the era of the Soviet Union in Russia. The United States-backed Shahs had been ousted during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that started in Iran.

Most Soviet Muslims in Asia had a tribal relationship in both Afghanistan and Iran. The Soviet Union was rattled by the fact that the U.S. had deployed more than 20 ships, which included aircraft carriers, and the constant threats of war between Iran and the US. In 1979, America signed a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. The Soviet Union saw this agreement as a major way for the US to progress into power in the region “the Soviets viewed the treaty as not only a cessation in the hostilities between the two nations but also as some form of military agreement” 2Moreover, America sold about five thousand missiles to the republic of Saudi Arabia.

After the Russian Revolution in the early 1920s, the Soviet Union gave Afghanistan some form of aid in the form of small arms, gold rubles ammunitions and aircrafts, so as to support the resistance of Afghanistan to the British Conquerors. In 1924, Afghanistan was given military aid by USSR. In this case, they were given aircraft and small arms and were allowed to do their training from Tashkent for cadre officers. By 1956, there was a regular Afghanstan- Soviet corporation, when the two countries signed an agreement. The Soviet Minister of Defense was given the responsibility of training military cadres.

U.S. Subversion

The fundamentalists tried to overthrow the PDPA government in June, 1975. “They started the insurgent movement in the Panjshir valley, some 100 kilometers north of Kabul, and in a number of other provinces of the country.”4 This notwithstanding, however, the insurgency was easily suppressed and a good number of insurgents settled and defected to Pakistan. Arguably, the insurgents had total freedom in Pakistan.

Afterwards, the insurgents established their training base in Pakistan where army bands were trained to combat Afghanistan. Similar centers were also established in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. There were several reports of acts of violations by US-backed Pakistan. Some of these acts included political activities, border crossing of material and men to Afghanistan from Pakistan, cross border firing, rocket attacks on urban areas, acts of sabotage violation of Afghan airspace, arms depot for insurgent groups and restriction on refugees who wanted to return to Afghanistan. The former director of Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Gates, argues that the US started giving aid to the opposing factions six months before the deployment of the factions.

On July 1979, Jimmy Carter signed a directive that authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to engage in covert propaganda operations. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the advisor of Carter stated, “According to the official version of history, Central Intelligence Agency aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980; that is to say after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. The reality is secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise.

“Zbigniew Brzezinski played a key role in developing the US policy, which was to a large extent aimed at inducing the Soviet military intervention. Zbigniew further claim that the covert intervention was a good idea as it helped in drawing the Soviets into the trap of the Afghans.

Most Muslims across the world regarded this war as jihad. Most of them volunteered to fight. The CIA helped in establishing the training grounds for them. One of the most prominent volunteer was Osama bin Laden, whom most people claimed that had a direct contact with the CIA. It was alleged that the CIA provided him with security training.

The U.S. Reaction

President Jimmy Carter had categorically stated that the incursion by the Soviet Union was a serious threat to peace. Consequently, he banned shipment of goods and commodities such as high technology and grains to the Soviet Union. There were increased anxiety and tension about the number of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. It should be noted that Afghanistan is regarded as one of the countries with rich deposits of oil.

As a result, the responsibility taken by the international diplomatic was severe. The actions included the severe warnings and threats to boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. “The invasion, along with other events, such as the revolution in Iran and the U.S. hostage stand-off that accompanied it, the Iran-Iraq war, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the escalating tensions between Pakistan and India, and the rise of Middle East-born terrorism against the West, contributed to making the Middle East an extremely violent and turbulent region during the 1980s.” The government of Babrak lacked the international support. Most non-alignment countries such as Algeria, India, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Finland opposed the illegal resolution which was put forward by the General Assembly.

A Short History of the US Involvement in Afghanistan

The initial aim of the CIA during this war was to ensure the invasion by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was not too costly. The CIA formed a good relationship with the General Intelligence Directorate of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s Inter-service Intelligence (ISI). This was aimed at funneling weapons and funds to Afghanistan fighters. The CIA program was started during the regime of President Jimmy Carter and was mainly done by the ISI for the most part.

It should be noted that both Pakistan and the US were aware of the threat posed by the Soviet’s occupation in Afghan. As noted, the Americans did not want to be directly involved in thwarting the invasion of the Soviet Union. As a result, it handed the operation program to the ISI. In this case, the ISI was given the mandate of providing weapons and funds to the Mujahedeen, as well as providing them with training grounds.

The intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia played a key role in providing them with funds that enabled the exercise to succeed. During the regime of President Reagan, the focus of CIA significantly changed. William Casey was named director of the CIA and was personally involved in the program. He ensured that the CIA took a more aggressive approach in ensuring that the attempts by the Soviet to occupy Afghanistan were ruined.

The weapons and funds channeled to the mujahedeen increased significantly. The involvement of the CIA in this exercise proved to be fruitful as the Soviet failed to gain a strong foothold in Afghanistan. As a result, the war became very expensive for them. Their decision to withdraw their Troops caught America off guard. Arguably, the Americans did not have a strategy on how they could be involved in Afghanistan after the war.

It was alleged that the communist government was supported by the Soviet could be overthrown soon by the Mujahedeen. The Americans were indecisive in their next course of action in Afghanistan, and as a result, the ISI took the advantage to undertake its own agenda in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan military played an important role in the military operations which were sponsored by the US. Their role was extended in the Americans intelligence operations, in Central Asia and Middle East. From the onset of this war, the Pakistan military regime supported the Islamic brigades. The Pakistan military intelligence liaison with the CIA and the ISI, and became a powerful organization.

Afghanistan was drawn into the Cold War between US and Russia

After World War II, India gained its independence, and the British declined the imperial power hence was replaced by the Americans. During the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the US tried to gain influence over Afghanistan. During this period, the Russians had no relation with the revolutionary country that lacked imperial designs. In the 1950s and 1960s, Afghanistan had high rates per head as opposed to other countries in the world.

The government was neutral and raked in financial assistance from all sides. The Afghanistan airforce had its pilots trained in America but flew the Russian MIGs. The Afghanistan government used the army and bomb to shoot Afghanistan citizens who participated in the local rebellion. In 1979, the pro-Russian government collapsed; as a result, the Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev sent in military forces that overtook the government and occupied the country.

The invasion by the Soviet military was aimed at ensuring the Afghanistan people remained friendly. It should be noted that their motives were the same as those of the US and the British imperialism today. The invasion by the Soviet proved to be disastrous to the Afghan people. There was close to ten years of bitter war. The resistance group had the support of the people, and as a result, the Russians fought back with repression.

In this case, the Russians used helicopter gunship, bombers and napalm. During this war, more than one million Afghanis died out of the 25 million population. The whole economy of the country collapsed as opium production took off. The Americans came out to support elements of Afghanistan resistance so as to destabilize the Russians. This was of the Cold War. The Americans kept supporting this war until 1989 when the Russians were finally forced to withdraw their troops.

In the course of this war, the American government had poured billions of cash in the name of military aid, and after the collapse and defeat of the Russians; the military aid was cut off. The American government did not want to be involved with a country that was of no use after the end of the Cold War. It should be noted “local powers encouraged civil war and in 1994, the Taliban (which had grown up in the refugee camps), invaded from Pakistan, supported by the US. Pakistani military support and Saudi money followed.” While Afghanistan was still ravaged by war and famine, America could not leave it alone. Bill Clinton bombed it in 1998. Arguably, the American government chose the weakest, most desperate and least defended place to attack after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In responding to the Soviet Invasion, President Jimmy Carter expressed the usual Cold War outrage and shock. Arguably, Carter expressed his protest by pulling America from the 1980 Olympics that were being held in Moscow. The American government also hoped that the Russians could also be damaged by the military conflict they had started.

Help From the U.S

The Soviet Union found it difficult to restrain the Afghani rebellion from the ground. As a result, its pilots were forced to turn their rockets and guns on towns and villages to discourage resistance and terrorize the population. Eventually, however, through the intervention of the US, the Soviet met its match. Indeed, the two sides followed the adage during the Cold War: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In this case, America had made friendship with Islamic Guerillas, otherwise known as the mujahedeen. This “holy warriors” helped America in fighting the Soviets. By 1987, America and its allies had already started arming this group with Stinger missiles. The missiles could hit the target from four miles. This meant the mujahedeen could shoot down Soviet Pilots before they could even know that they were being targeted.

There were concerns that America was likely to repeat the same mistakes it did with the Soviets in the Vietnam War. In this case, there have been allegations that America could use against guerillas. This army strikes very quickly, use trickery and sabotage before melting back into the population. Most people in the Congress opposed the involvement of America in Afghanistan.

The intervention by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan proved to be costly, and eventually, pointless war. Questions have been asked on why the soviet had to be involved directly in this war. It is alleged that geopolitical calculations were the main reason behind Kremlin’s goals. “These were to deter US interference in the USSR’s ‘backyard,’ to gain a highly strategic foothold in Southwest Asia and, not least of all, to attempt to contain the radical Islamic revolution emanating from Iran.”14 Another reason for the invasion was that the soviet aimed at securing an ideologically-friendly regime within the region.

The Soviet-Afghan was a covert agenda of the CIA, and was initiated during the administration of the Carter, which consisted in financing and supporting the Islamic brigades, who were later on known as AL Qaeda. From late 1970s, the Pakistan military government played an important role in the US sponsored intelligence and military operations in Afghanistan. After the Cold War, this key role by Pakistan in operations of the US intelligence was extended to Central Asia.

The US used Pakistan in its secrete war in Afghanistan. It is alleged “CIA aid to the Mujahedeen began during 1980; that is to say after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. However, reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise indeed; it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.”

According then Defense Secretary and former CIA chief Robert Gates, the American intelligence community was involved directly in Afghanistan six months before the invasion by the Soviet Union. 16 The U.S. was involved in providing assistance, such as weapons, to the Islamic brigades. The CIA backed and fuelled a large amount of American military aid while the ISI was composed of intelligence officers and military staff, informers, and undercover agents who were approximated to be 150,0000 people.

During this war, Pakistan was more anti-soviet than the US. After the Soviet attacked Afghanistan, the ISI chief was sent by Zia to destabilize the Soviet Central Asian states. In October 1984, the CIA conceded to this plan. The operation by ISI as the affiliate of the CIA heavily contributed in providing military assistance to the Islamic military groups in Afghanistan, and consequently to the Muslim republic of the former Soviet Union.

The ISI acted on behalf of the CIA and was involved in training and recruitment of the Mujahedeen. It is alleged that from 1982-1992, more than 30,000 Muslims from Islamic countries were recruited, to take part in the Afghan jihad. The Pakistan Madrassas were financed by Saudi charities, which were supported by America on the views of “uncalculating Islamic values.” It should be noted “weapons’ shipments” were sent by the ISI and the Pakistan army to rebel camps in the West Frontier Province.

The CIA recruited Osama bin Laden in 1979, at the outs of the American sponsored jihad.18 Osama was twenty-two years old by then. He was trained in a guerilla training camp that was sponsored by the CIA. During the administration of Reagan, Osama was given a responsibility of raising money for the Islamic brigades. Consequently, several foundations and charities were created. The Saudi intelligence, which was headed by Prince Turki al-Faisal in liaison with CIA, coordinated the whole operation.

The money raised from the charities was used to finance the enrollment of Mujahedeen volunteers. The Reagan Administration supports “Islamic Fundamentalism.” It is alleged “Pakistan’s ISI was used as a “go-between,” CIA covert support to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan operated indirectly through the Pakistani IS hence the CIA did not channel its support directly to the Mujahideen.”19 In this case, for the operations to succeed, the US could not reveal the major objectives of the “jihad.” Arguably, one of the main covert operations of the jihad was to destroy the Soviet Union. The American government worked behind the scenes to achieve this…”

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