Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency program to arm and finance the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, 1979 to 1989. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by 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). 
Background[edit | edit source]
According to noted neoconservative commentator Christopher Hitchens, President Carter reacted with "open-mouthed shock" to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and began promptly arming the Afghan insurgents. Vice-President Walter Mondale famously declared: "I cannot understand – it just baffles me – why the Soviets these last few years have behaved as they have. Maybe we have made some mistakes with them. Why did they have to build up all these arms? Why did they have to go into Afghanistan? Why can't they relax just a little bit about Eastern Europe? Why do they try every door to see if it is locked?" The Soviets, several times shortly before the intervention, had staged conversations with the Afghan leadership suggesting that they had no desire to intervene, even as the Politburo was—with much hesitation—considering such an intervention. After the intervention, Afghan President Hafizullah Amin was executed by the Soviets and replaced with Babrak Karmal, a less recalcitrant premier.
A 2002 article by Michael Rubin stated that in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, the United States sought rapprochement with the Afghan government—a prospect that the USSR found unacceptable due to the weakening Soviet leverage over the regime. Thus, the Soviets intervened to preserve their influence in the country.
According to Carter's national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, an NSC working group on Afghanistan wrote several reports on the deteriorating situation in 1979, but President Carter ignored them until the Soviet intervention destroyed his illusions. Brzezinski has stated that the US provided communications equipment and limited financial aid to the mujahideen prior to the "formal" intervention, but only in response to the Soviet deployment of forces to Afghanistan and the 1978 coup, and with the intention of preventing further Soviet encroachment in the region.
The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 significantly damaged the already tenuous relationship between Secretary of State Vance and Brzezinski. Vance felt that Brzezinski's linkage of SALT to other Soviet activities and the US's proposed MX ballistic missile system (a $34 billion addition to US's defenses described as the nation's "most important ICBM of the future"), together with the growing domestic criticisms in the United States of the SALT II Accord, convinced Leonid Brezhnev to decide on military intervention in Afghanistan. Brzezinski, however, later recounted that he repeatedly advanced proposals on how to maintain Afghanistan's "independence" and deter a Soviet intervention but was frustrated by the Department of State's opposition. According to Eric Alterman of The Nation, Cyrus Vance's close aide Marshall Shulman "insists that the State Department worked hard to dissuade the Soviets from invading." Months after the Saur Revolution brought a communist regime to power in Afghanistan, the US began offering limited humanitarian aid to Afghan dissidents through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, although the Carter administration rejected Pakistani requests to provide arms. Brzezinski seems to have been in favor of the provision of arms to the rebels, while Vance's State Department, seeking a peaceful settlement, publicly accused Brzezinski of seeking to "revive" the Cold War.
When the Soviet forces intervened in Afghanistan in December 1979, some believed that the Soviets were attempting to expand their borders southward in order to gain a foothold in the region. The Soviet Union had long lacked a warm water port, and their movement south seemed to position them for further expansion toward Pakistan in the East, and Iran to the West. American politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, feared the Soviets were positioning themselves for a takeover of Middle Eastern oil. Others believed that the Soviet Union was afraid Iran's Islamic Revolution and Afghanistan's Islamization would spread to the millions of Muslims in the USSR.
After the intervention, Carter announced what became known as the Carter Doctrine: that the U.S. would not allow any other outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf. He terminated the Russian Wheat Deal, which was intended to establish trade with USSR and lessen Cold War tensions. He also prohibited Americans from participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and reinstated registration for the draft for young males.
The Soviet war in Afghanistan led to the deaths of between 600,000 and 2 million Afghans. In 2010, Brzezinski defended the arming of the rebels in response, saying that it "was quite important in hastening the end of the conflict," thereby saving the lives of thousands of Afghans, but "not in deciding the conflict, because actually....even though we helped the mujaheddin, they would have continued fighting without our help, because they were also getting a lot of money from the Persian Gulf and the Arab states, and they weren't going to quit. They didn't decide to fight because we urged them to. They're fighters, and they prefer to be independent. They just happen to have a curious complex: they don't like foreigners with guns in their country. And they were going to fight the Soviets. Giving them weapons was a very important forward step in defeating the Soviets, and that's all to the good as far as I'm concerned." When he was asked if he thought it was the right decision in retrospect (given the Taliban's subsequent rise to power), he said: "Which decision? For the Soviets to go in? The decision was the Soviets', and they went in. The Afghans would have resisted anyway, and they were resisting. I just told you: in my view, the Afghans would have prevailed in the end anyway, 'cause they had access to money, they had access to weapons, and they had the will to fight." Likewise; Charlie Wilson said: "The U.S. had nothing whatsoever to do with these people's decision to fight … but we'll be damned by history if we let them fight with stones." The 2007 movie Charlie Wilson's War celebrated Charlie Wilson's and the CIA's involvement in the repulsion of the USSR troops from Afghanistan. Representative Wilson was awarded the Honored Colleague Award by the CIA for his involvement.
The program[edit | edit source]
On July 3, 1979, Carter signed a presidential finding authorizing funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan. Following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December Operation Storm-333 and installation of a more pro-Soviet president, Babrak Karmal, Carter announced, "The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War".
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 Red 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 Pakistani dictator 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.
According to Peter Bergen, writing in Holy War, Inc., no Americans trained or had direct contact with the mujahideen. The skittish CIA had fewer than 10 operatives in the region because it "feared it would be blamed, like in Guatemala." 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.
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.
With U.S. and other funding, the ISI armed and trained over 100,000 insurgents. On July 20, 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 February 15, 1989. Soviet forces suffered over 14,000 killed and missing, and over 50,000 wounded.
Funding[edit | edit source]
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. Sale of non-U.S. arms to Pakistan for destination to Afghanistan was facilitated by Israel. Somewhere between $3–$20 billion in U.S. funds were funneled into the country to train and equip Afghan resistance groups with weapons, including Stinger man-portable air-defense systems.
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 it's commitments .
Levels of support to the various Afghan factions varied. The ISI tended to favor vigorous Islamists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hezb-i-Islami, and Jalaluddin 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.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
The U.S. shifted its interest from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. American funding of Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezbi 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. 
Criticism[edit | edit source]
The U.S. government has been criticized for allowing Pakistan to channel a disproportionate amount of its funding to controversial Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin 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 U.S. says that all of its funds went to native Afghan rebels and denies that any of its funds were used to supply Osama bin Laden or foreign Arab mujahideen. However, even a portion of those native Afghan rebels would form parts of the Taliban, fighting against the US military. 
Critics of U.S. foreign policy consider Operation Cyclone to be substantially responsible for setting in motion the events that led to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 commonly known as the term blowback. The early foundations of al-Qaida were allegedly built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan mujahadin during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country. However, scholars such as Jason Burke, Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Christopher Andrew, and Vasily Mitrokhin have argued that Osama Bin Laden was "outside of CIA eyesight" and that there is "no support" in any "reliable source" for "the claim that the CIA funded bin Laden or any of the other Arab volunteers who came to support the mujahideen."
See also[edit | edit source]
- Ahmad Shah Massoud
- Allegations of CIA assistance to Osama bin Laden
- Afghan Civil War
- Afghan training camp
- Badaber Uprising
- CIA activity in Afghanistan under William J. Casey 1981-1987
- CIA Activities by Region: Near East, North Africa, South and Southwest Asia (see: Afghanistan 1978)
- Celebratory gunfire
- Charlie Wilson's War
- Gary Schroen
- Howard Hart
- Jalaluddin Haqqani
- Joanne Herring
- Milton Bearden
- Soviet war in Afghanistan
References[edit | edit source]
- "The Oily Americans". Time (magazine). 2003-05-13. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,450997-92,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
- Bergen, Peter, Holy War Inc., Free Press, (2001), p.68
- Crile, p 519 & elsewhere
- Hitchens, Christopher, Peanut Envy, Slate, May 21, 2007.
- Sperling, Godfrey Jr., Mondale in '84: he may run if Jimmy Carter doesn't, Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 1981.
- Rubin, Michael, "Who is Responsible for the Taliban?", Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 1 (March 2002). http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2002/issue1/mrubin.pdf
- “”. "Brzezinski and the Afghan War Pt2". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGjAsQJh7OM&feature=channel. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
- "Taking Aim at the MX Missile." TIME, 4/07/80
- Alterman, Eric (October 25, 2001). "'Blowback,' the Prequel". The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/blowback-prequel. Retrieved May 16, 2012.
- From the Shadows, by Bob Gates, Pg. 146. Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=N_hfPrIMYuEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=from+the+shadows+robert+gates&source=bl&ots=oN0umDr35R&sig=XSAOQ8XhK-OwqaDgszMeHSQjJ-k&hl=en&ei=yvUYTeigN46WsgPDg_2hAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&sqi=2&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=afghanistan&f=false. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
- White, Matthew (November 2010). "Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century". Users.erols.com. http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat2.htm#Afghanistan. Retrieved December 31, 2010.
- Crile, 259–62.
- "During book signing, Wilson recalls efforts to arm Afghans," Lufkin Daily News, November 11, 2003.
- Mark Urban, War in Afghanistan, Macmillan, 1988, p.56
- Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. Atlantic Monthly Press, page 246, 285 and 302
- "Sorry Charlie this is Michael Vickers's War", Washington Post, 27 December 2007
- Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Paperback) by Peter Schweizer, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994 page 213
- Heymann, Philip (2008). Living the Policy Process. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-533539-2.
- Pakistan's Foreign Policy: an Overview 1974-2004. PILDAT briefing paper for Pakistani parliamentarians by Hasan-Askari Rizvi, 2004. pp19-20.
- Interview with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski-(13/6/97). Part 2. Episode 17. Good Guys, Bad Guys. 13 June 1997.
- Bergen, Peter. Holy War, Inc. New York: Free Press, 2001. Pg. 66
- The New Republic, "TRB FROM WASHINGTON, Back to Front" by Peter Beinart, October 8, 2001.
- "United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan - Background". United Nations. http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/co_mission/ungomap/background.html. Retrieved 2008-11-21.
- Profile: Charlie Wilson
- Crile, see index
- Edward Girardet, Killing the Cranes, 2010, Chelsea Green
- Crile, see index
- "Winning the Endgame in Afghanistan," by James A. Phillips, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #181, May 18, 1992.
- "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War," by Michael Johns, January 19, 2008.
- "Think tank fosters bloodshed, terrorism," The Daily Cougar, August 25, 2008.
- Kepel, Jihad, (2002)
- Crile, pg 519
- Bergen, Peter, Holy War Inc., Free Press, (2001), p.67
- Graham Fuller in interview with Peter Bergen, Bergen, Peter, Holy War Inc., Free Press, (2001), p.68
- Henry S. Bradsher, Afghan Communism and Soviet Interventions, Oxford University Press, 1999, p.185
- "The Road to September 11". Evan Thomas. Newsweek. 1 October 2001.
- "Officially 'Terrorists': The Haqqani Network, And Why The U.S. Blacklisted Them"
- "Did the U.S. "Create" Osama bin Laden?". US Department of State. 2005-01-14. http://usinfo.state.gov/media/Archive/2005/Jan/24-318760.html. Retrieved 2007-01-09.
- William D. Hartung (October 27, 2006). "We Arm The World". TomPaine.com. http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/10/27/we_arm_the_world.php. Retrieved 2008-11-21.
- See Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda (Penguin, 2003), p59; Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Penguin, 2004), p87; Peter Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know (Free Press, 2006), pp60-1; Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive II: The KGB and the World (Penguin, 2006), p579n48.