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WAR ON TERRORISM: THE TALIBAN AND AL QAEDA
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In April of 1995, bin Laden told a French journalist that his decision to fight alongside Afghan Mujahadeen dated from "the time when the Americans decided to help the Afghans fight the Russians.

"To counter these atheist Russians, the Saudis chose me as their representative in Afghanistan… I did not fight against the Communist threat while forgetting the peril from the West.

"For us, the idea was not to get involved more than necessary in the fight against the Russians, which was the business of the Americans, but rather to show our solidarity with our Islamist brothers. I discovered that it was not enough to fight in Afghanistan, but that we had to fight on all fronts against Communist or Western oppression. The urgent thing was Communism, but the next target was America… This is an open war up to the end, until victory."

It is true that the American CIA helped create Osama bin Laden, and was allied with the Taliban. During the Cold War, Ronald Reagan praised our allies in the fight against Soviet expansion.  

“Throughout the world…its agents, client states and satellites are on the defensive - on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive," said Reagan on March 18, 1985. "Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man - in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America ... [They are] freedom fighters.”

Just as Roosevelt and Churchill had allied with Stalin to fight the Nazis, Reagan allied with bin Laden and the Taliban (Mujahadeen) to fight the Communists. Naturally, the critics have had a field day in making this connection. It is another example of how America, in taking on the massive responsibility of world protector, has been forced to mix it up with terrible elements of society in order to defeat even worse elements. Other countries, who have taken a convenient seat on the sidelines while the U.S. has done all the heavy lifting, like to point these anomalies out as our "faults." They are not eligible to make such judgments. 

The US government supported the Mujahadeen that stopped the Soviets in Afghanistan. Between 1978 and 1992, the U.S. government poured at least $6 billion worth of arms, training and funds to prop up the Mujahadeen factions. Other Western governments, as well as oil-rich Saudi Arabia, joined the effort. Osama bin Laden provided millions more.

National security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski formulated the original plan. Part of the operation was to exploit the religious angle. The Soviets, with their avowed atheism, were viewed as the most hated enemy of Mankind. The West and Islamic fanatics in the Middle East shared this "convenient" view. Brzezinski hatched a plan to arm and supply the Fundamentalists against the Soviets. The idea was that the Fundamentalists would spread into the Muslim Central Asian Soviet republics, thereby destabilizing the Soviet Union (they did, and now they destabilize Russia).

Brzezinski's plan coincided with Pakistan military dictator General Zia ul-Haq's own ambitions to dominate the region. U.S.-run Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe beamed Islamic Fundamentalist messages throughout Central Asia. It was a period of paradox in the Carter Administration, since they were at the same time fighting Islamic revolution in Iran.

Washington "favored" Mujahadeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who applied terrorist methods in his fight with the Russians. Hekmatyar was notorious in the 1970s for throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil. The Mujahideen took Kabul in 1992, using U.S.-supplied missiles and rockets, killing 2,000 civilians in the process.

Osama bin Laden was a close associate of Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar trafficked in opium. Backing the Mujahadeen, the CIA found itself intertwined with the drug trade. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border allegedly supplied 60 percent of the U.S. heroin trade.

“Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets..." the former director of the CIA's operation in Afghanistan said in 1995. "There was a fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.”

He was 100 percent correct. The Americans had begun the ingenious concept of pitting bad guys against worse bad guys, eliminating the worst first, then eliminating the others in like order, as opportunity allowed. It is not a great solution. There seem to be no others, outside of the unacceptable idea of just nuking everybody into oblivion.   

According to Ahmed Rashid, a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, in 1986 CIA chief William Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI proposal to recruit from around the world to join the Afghan jihad. At least 100,000 Islamic militants flocked to Pakistan between 1982 and 1992 (some 60,000 attended Fundamentalist schools in Pakistan without necessarily taking part in the fighting).

John Cooley, a former journalist with the ABC television network and author of "Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism", wrote that Muslims worked with the CIA, which operated a spy training camp at Camp Peary, Virginia. Young Afghans, Arabs from Egypt and Jordan, and African-American “black Muslims” were taught “sabotage skills.”

Ali Mohammed, one of those charged with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was reportedly a product of this training. Recruits were given paramilitary training at the al Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, then sent to Afghanistan to join up with Hekmatyar. Mohammed was a U.S. Army Green Beret. The program was called “Operation Cyclone.”

In Pakistan, recruits, money and equipment were distributed to the Mujahadeen by the Maktab al Khidamar, a front for Pakistan's CIA, the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate, charged with providing covert assistance for the Afghan opposition forces.

Mohammed trained El Sayyid Nosair, jailed in 1995 for killing Israeli rightist Rabbi Meir Kahane and plotting to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993.

Shiekh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Egyptian religious leader jailed for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, may have been part of Operation Cyclone. He allegedly entered the country in 1990 with the CIA's approval. While all of this sounds terrible, the reality is that the U.S. was, as Michael Corleone might have said, keeping its friends close and its enemy's closer. In the long run, the U.S. knew where most of these people were, and when they "turned," used the information to round them up. Perfect, no. Effective? Sometimes. 

Osama bin Laden was also an ally of the U.S. in the fight against the Soviets.

His close working relationship with Maktab al Khidamar (MAK) was in conjunction with the CIA. Milt Bearden, the CIA's station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989, said in a January 24, 2000 New Yorker interview that he never personally met bin Laden, but added “Did I know that he was out there? Yes, I did… [Guys like] bin Laden were bringing $20-$25 million a month from other Saudis and Gulf Arabs to underwrite the war. And that is a lot of money. It's an extra $200-$300 million a year. And this is what bin Laden did.”

Bin Laden also brought construction expertise to Afghanistan, helping to build “training camps,” dug deep into the sides of mountains, and roads to reach them.

Washington later called the camps "terrorist universities". They were built in collaboration with the ISI and the CIA. Afghan fighters included tens of thousands of mercenaries recruited and paid for by bin Laden, armed by the CIA, Pakistan, and Britain.

“The Americans were keen to teach the Afghans the techniques of urban terrorism - car bombing and so on - so that they could strike at the Russians in major towns…" said Tom Carew, a former British SAS soldier who secretly fought for the Mujahadeen, in the August 13, 2000 British Observer. "Many of them are now using their knowledge and expertise to wage war on everything they hate.”

Al Qaeda (the Base), bin Laden's organization, was established in 1987-88 to run the camps and other business enterprises. Bin Laden became a “terrorist” in the view of the United States when he fell out with the Saudi royal family over its decision to allow more than 540,000 U.S. troops to be stationed on Saudi soil following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

After the Soviets were ousted from Afghanistan, bin Laden decided that the U.S. was his enemy. It is important to understand that he is to blame for his actions. The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan in an unprovoked, violent military action. The U.S. had been asked by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to attack and force Iraq out in 1991. Bin Laden's war was over. He had accomplished his mission with the help of the United States. The opportunity to live in peace was his. It was his Fundamentalist Islamic designs on worldwide terror that prompted him to continue to fight, this time against the Americans. There is no "blame" that is properly attributed to the United States. This nation did what it had to do to eradicate the evil of Communism. There were radical elements that had been joined in that fight, and they were out there. America invaded no Muslim country without provocation, and offered only friendship and help in getting nations to join the worldwide family. Hate and evil existed and opposed us. It meant the fight was not over.   

Bin Laden joined with the Taliban, who had emerged as the dominant force in Afghanistan. In an August 28, 1998, in a report posted on MSNBC, Michael Moran quoted Senator Orrin Hatch, who was a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee which approved U.S. dealings with the Mujahadeen, as saying he would make “the same call again.”

“It was worth it," said Hatch. "Those were very important, pivotal matters that played an important role in the downfall of the Soviet Union.”

“What was more important in the world view of history?" asked Zbigniew Brzezinski. "The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

The answer to that question is: The liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War. Despite 9/11, that is still the answer.

            The Taliban were a largely rural, Pashtun-dominated Islamic Fundamentalist movement that took a particularly draconian view of Islamic law. Muslim scholars generally disavow this view as one that is not the "true" teachings of Mohammad, but it is nevertheless part of a Wahabi sect of Islam that has endured for centuries. Only until the Muslim world addresses this view and eliminates it as a popular sect of Islam, and force for terror, will the religion be ready to move beyond its current state.

The Taliban and bin Laden defiled Islam in two major ways. First, as terrorists, they went against the peaceful tenets of Islam, which the majority of Muslims believe is the true nature of the religion. Second, they were worldwide drug dealers on a par with the Medellin cartel. This effectively eliminates them as moral entities.

The Taliban trafficked all the opium from the Pakistani border region. It was responsible for enormous destabilization of the Pakistani political situation. Developments in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 threatened Central Asia in its recovery after 70 years of Soviet rule. The five Central Asian states (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan) were threatened by a lucrative opium and heroin trade, financial crisis, refugee migration flows, and the potential rise of Islamic opposition movements. These states faced internal economic collapse during this time.

Afghanistan became a country that knew only war. The Taliban, whose name means "students," were boosted by the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI. The ISI gave them organizational, logistical, and material support. As Pashtuns, the Taliban shared significant ethnic identification with Pakistan, whose military is heavily Pashtun.

The Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, imposing restrictive Islamic law throughout Afghanistan. It could only be described as inhumane. Afghan women were denied schooling, medical care, and freedom to travel. Extrajudicial killings and massacres marked the Taliban regime.

            Hatred of the United States stemmed not just from Islamic Fundamentalism within the Taliban, but because America left Afghanistan after the war with the Soviets. The United States had stated laudable objectives since 1992. It wanted an end to the civil war, establishment of a representative government that respected international norms (especially with regard to terrorism, drug trafficking, and human rights), and an end to foreign interference. But the United States had no real strategy to achieve these objectives. It supported U.N. efforts for a negotiated settlement, but provided no viable solutions. A vacuum was created between Soviet departure and U.S. disengagement, increasing ethnic divisions, the influx of terrorist groups, and rivalry between regional powers, most notably Iran and Pakistan.

            Looking back, it seems that the U.S. was in a position in which nothing they did was going to be right. By leaving Afghanistan independent, they incurred Afghan wrath. However, had they stayed they would have been viewed as a "conqueror," an "occupier" and a "foreign infidel."

As the situation worsened, America distanced itself from all elements in Afghanistan. The United Nations was futile in their "efforts" at stabilization. On October 1, 1998, the United States Institute of Peace and the Middle East Institute co-sponsored a Current Issues Briefing to explore the regional and security ramifications of the Taliban movement's consolidation of power in Afghanistan. The consensus was that under the Taliban, Afghanistan had become completely de-stabilized. The U.S. continued its "hands off" approach. That would have been the continued policy had 9/11 not occurred.