This month marks the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, which led to a brutal neocolonialist war and the creation of Al Qaeda.
The Soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 24 1979 in defence of a fledgling satellite regime in Kabul. After the 1978 pro-Soviet coup, a disastrous land reform programme and secular modernisation measures drew mass opposition from the traditional Muslim countryside. The ensuing decade of repression spelt the death and disappearance of 50-100,000 people. Villagers would often be massacred outright, while 000s more were tortured and executed by the communist regime1.
On July 3 1979, US President Jimmy Carter authorised the CIA to provide $500,000 to the Mujahideen (as the armed resistance to the regime was known). Though the intelligence consensus was that Moscow would not intervene even if the regime collapsed, national security advisor Zbniew Brzezinski advised Carter that in his estimation this fund “was going to induce a Soviet military intervention”2. Sure enough, six months after Carter’s decision, the Soviets invaded.
Brzezinski (left) and President Carter (right)
The next ten years spelt genocide for the Afghan people: the Red Army and its proxies subjected entire provinces to depopulation programmes. In 1987, a Fallujah-type campaign in Kandahar reduced the city’s population by 87.5%. Indiscriminate bombing of the population, including the use of chemical weapons, was designed to neutralise and isolate popular support for the resistance3. By the war’s end, 1-2 million Afghan civilians had perished.
President Reagan with Mujahideen leaders in the White House
The biggest covert operation since the Second World War, the CIA’s Operation Cyclone armed, trained and funded the Mujahideen with the assistance of the Gulf states and the British and Pakistani intelligence services4. At the border with Pakistan, to whose pursuit of nuclear weapons the White House turned a blind eye, Brzezinski rallied the Mujahideen: “…your cause is right”, he told them, “and God is on your side”. A similar performance was given by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, while Carter’s successor Ronald Reagan personally welcomed Mujahideen leaders to the White House for a photo-op. They were, he said, “the moral equivalents of our founding fathers”.
The most enduring Cyclone myth is that, like many a later foe of the United States, Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was directly supported by the CIA. In fact Cyclone only involved the 250,000-odd Mujahideen, not the 2000-odd non-Afghan volunteers, known as the Afghan Arabs, from across the Muslim world4.
Nonetheless, had the Russians not invaded, there’d have been no Afghan Arabs, and hence no bin Laden. And Carter’s fund, to quote Brzezinski, “knowingly increased the probability that they (Russians) would invade (Afghanistan)”2.
Lower Manhattan on September 11 2001
When asked in 1997 if he regretted the blowback of global jihadism from Carter’s original 0.5m dollar fund for the Mujahideen, Brzezinski replied: “Regret what? That…was a great idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it?…What’s more important to world history: a few stirred up Moslems, or the collapse of communism?”2. Three years later, Al Qaeda struck the twin towers.
The Afghan people have since endured another brutal foreign occupation, this time by the Western imperialists. And like so many former invaders of the ‘graveyard of empires’, the combined might of the world’s most powerful armies have yet to subdue this proud nation.
1. UN Conflict Mapping Report 1978-2005 as cited by https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/death-list-published-families-of-disappeared-end-a-30-year-wait-for-news/
2. Bruce Riedel; William Blum
4. See Steve Coll, “Ghost Wars”; 911myths.com; for Britain’s role, see Mark Curtis, “Secret Affairs”