BY NORM DIXON
“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. 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]
Is this a call to jihad (holy war) taken from one of Islamic
fundamentalist Osama bin Laden's notorious fatwas? Or perhaps a
communique issued by the repressive Taliban regime in Kabul?
In fact, this glowing praise of the murderous exploits of today's supporters
of arch-terrorist bin Laden and his Taliban collaborators, and their holy war
against the “evil empire”, was issued by US President Ronald Reagan on March 8,
1985. The “evil empire” was the Soviet Union, as well as Third World movements
fighting US-backed colonialism, apartheid and dictatorship.
How things change. In the aftermath of a series of terrorist atrocities — the
most despicable being the mass murder of more than 6000 working people in New
York and Washington on September 11 — bin Laden the “freedom fighter” is now
lambasted by US leaders and the Western mass media as a “terrorist mastermind”
and an “evil-doer”.
Yet the US government refuses to admit its central role in creating the
vicious movement that spawned bin Laden, the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist
terrorists that plague Algeria and Egypt — and perhaps the disaster that befell
The mass media has also downplayed the origins of bin Laden and his toxic
brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
In April 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized
power in Afghanistan in reaction to a crackdown against the party by that
country's repressive government.
The PDPA was committed to a radical land reform that favoured the peasants,
trade union rights, an expansion of education and social services, equality for
women and the separation of church and state. The PDPA also supported
strengthening Afghanistan's relationship with the Soviet Union.
Such policies enraged the wealthy semi-feudal landlords, the Muslim religious
establishment (many mullahs were also big landlords) and the tribal chiefs. They
immediately began organising resistance to the government's progressive
policies, under the guise of defending Islam.
Washington, fearing the spread of Soviet influence (and worse the new
government's radical example) to its allies in Pakistan, Iran and the Gulf
states, immediately offered support to the Afghan mujaheddin, as the
“contra” force was known.
Following an internal PDPA power struggle in December 1979 which toppled
Afghanistan's leader, thousands of Soviet troops entered the country to prevent
the new government's fall. This only galvanised the disparate fundamentalist
factions. Their reactionary jihad now gained legitimacy as a “national
liberation” struggle in the eyes of many Afghans.
The Soviet Union was eventually to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989 and the
mujaheddin captured the capital, Kabul, in 1992.
Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion (some
estimates range as high as $20 billion) worth of arms, training and funds to
prop up the mujaheddin factions. Other Western governments, as well as
oil-rich Saudi Arabia, kicked in as much again. Wealthy Arab fanatics, like
Osama bin Laden, provided millions more.
Washington's policy in Afghanistan was shaped by US President Jimmy Carter's
national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and was continued by his
successors. His plan went far beyond simply forcing Soviet troops to withdraw;
rather it aimed to foster an international movement to spread Islamic fanaticism
into the Muslim Central Asian Soviet republics to destabilise the Soviet Union.
Brzezinski's grand plan coincided with Pakistan military dictator General Zia
ul-Haq's own ambitions to dominate the region. US-run Radio Liberty and Radio
Free Europe beamed Islamic fundamentalist tirades across Central Asia (while
paradoxically denouncing the “Islamic revolution” that toppled the pro-US Shah
of Iran in 1979).
Washington's favoured mujaheddin faction was one of the most
extreme, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The West's distaste for terrorism did not
apply to this unsavoury “freedom fighter”. Hekmatyar was notorious in the 1970s
for throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil.
After the mujaheddin took Kabul in 1992, Hekmatyar's forces rained
US-supplied missiles and rockets on that city — killing at least 2000 civilians
— until the new government agreed to give him the post of prime minister. Osama
bin Laden was a close associate of Hekmatyar and his faction.
Hekmatyar was also infamous for his side trade in the cultivation and
trafficking in opium. Backing of the mujaheddin from the CIA coincided
with a boom in the drug business. Within two years, the Afghanistan-Pakistan
border was the world's single largest source of heroin, supplying 60% of US drug
In 1995, the former director of the CIA's operation in Afghanistan was
unrepentant about the explosion in the flow of drugs: “Our main mission was to
do as much damage as possible to the Soviets... There was a fallout in terms of
drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left
Made in the USA
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 US ABC television network and
author of Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International
Terrorism, has revealed that Muslims recruited in the US for the
mujaheddin were sent to Camp Peary, the CIA's spy training camp in
Virginia, where young Afghans, Arabs from Egypt and Jordan, and even some
African-American “black Muslims” were taught “sabotage skills”.
The November 1, 1998, British Independent reported that one of those
charged with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Ali
Mohammed, had trained “bin Laden's operatives” in 1989.
These “operatives” were recruited at the al Kifah Refugee Centre in Brooklyn,
New York, given paramilitary training in the New York area and then sent to
Afghanistan with US assistance to join Hekmatyar's forces. Mohammed was a member
of the US army's elite Green Berets.
The program, reported the Independent, was part of a
Washington-approved plan called “Operation Cyclone”.
In Pakistan, recruits, money and equipment were distributed to the
mujaheddin factions by an organisation known as Maktab al Khidamar
(Office of Services — MAK).
MAK was a front for Pakistan's CIA, the Inter-Service Intelligence
Directorate. The ISI was the first recipient of the vast bulk of CIA and Saudi
Arabian covert assistance for the Afghan contras. Bin Laden was one of three
people who ran MAK. In 1989, he took overall charge of MAK.
Among those trained by Mohammed were El Sayyid Nosair, who was jailed in 1995
for killing Israeli rightist Rabbi Meir Kahane and plotting with others to bomb
New York landmarks, including the World Trade Center in 1993.
The Independent also suggested that Shiekh Omar Abdel-Rahman, an
Egyptian religious leader also jailed for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade
Center, was also part of Operation Cyclone. He entered the US in 1990 with the
CIA's approval. A confidential CIA report concluded that the agency was “partly
culpable” for the 1993 World Trade Center blast, the Independent
Osama bin Laden, one of 20 sons of a billionaire construction magnate,
arrived in Afghanistan to join the jihad in 1980. An austere religious
fanatic and business tycoon, bin Laden specialised in recruiting, financing and
training the estimated 35,000 non-Afghan mercenaries who joined the
The bin Laden family is a prominent pillar of the Saudi Arabian ruling class,
with close personal, financial and political ties to that country's pro-US royal
Bin Laden senior was appointed Saudi Arabia's minister of public works as a
favour by King Faisal. The new minister awarded his own construction companies
lucrative contracts to rebuild Islam's holiest mosques in Mecca and Medina. In
the process, the bin Laden family company in 1966 became the world's largest
private construction company.
Osama bin Laden's father died in 1968. Until 1994, he had access to the
dividends from this ill-gotten business empire.
(Bin Laden junior's oft-quoted personal fortune of US$200-300 million has
been arrived at by the US State Department by dividing today's value of the bin
Laden family net worth — estimated to be US$5 billion — by the number of bin
Laden senior's sons. A fact rarely mentioned is that in 1994 the bin Laden
family disowned Osama and took control of his share.)
Osama's military and business adventures in Afghanistan had the blessing of
the bin Laden dynasty and the reactionary Saudi Arabian regime. His close
working relationship with MAK also meant that the CIA was fully aware of his
Milt Bearden, the CIA's station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989, admitted
to the January 24, 2000, New Yorker that while he never personally met
bin Laden, “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.”
In 1986, bin Laden brought heavy construction equipment from Saudi Arabia to
Afghanistan. Using his extensive knowledge of construction techniques (he has a
degree in civil engineering), he built “training camps”, some dug deep into the
sides of mountains, and built roads to reach them.
These camps, now dubbed “terrorist universities” by Washington, were built in
collaboration with the ISI and the CIA. The Afghan contra fighters, including
the tens of thousands of mercenaries recruited and paid for by bin Laden, were
armed by the CIA. Pakistan, the US and Britain provided military trainers.
Tom Carew, a former British SAS soldier who secretly fought for the
mujaheddin told the August 13, 2000, British Observer, “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 ...
Many of them are now using their knowledge and expertise to wage war on
everything they hate.”
Al Qaeda (the Base), bin Laden's organisation, was established in 1987-88 to
run the camps and other business enterprises. It is a tightly-run capitalist
holding company — albeit one that integrates the operations of a mercenary force
and related logistical services with “legitimate” business operations.
Bin Laden has simply continued to do the job he was asked to do in
Afghanistan during the 1980s — fund, feed and train mercenaries. All that has
changed is his primary customer. Then it was the ISI and, behind the scenes, the
CIA. Today, his services are utilised primarily by the reactionary Taliban
Bin Laden only became a “terrorist” in US eyes when he fell out with the
Saudi royal family over its decision to allow more than 540,000 US troops to be
stationed on Saudi soil following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
When thousands of US troops remained in Saudi Arabia after the end of the
Gulf War, bin Laden's anger turned to outright opposition. He declared that
Saudi Arabia and other regimes — such as Egypt — in the Middle East were puppets
of the US, just as the PDPA government of Afghanistan had been a puppet of the
He called for the overthrow of these client regimes and declared it the duty
of all Muslims to drive the US out of the Gulf states. In 1994, he was stripped
of his Saudi citizenship and forced to leave the country. His assets there were
After a period in Sudan, he returned to Afghanistan in May 1996. He
refurbished the camps he had helped build during the Afghan war and offered the
facilities and services — and thousands of his mercenaries — to the Taliban,
which took power that September.
Today, bin Laden's private army of non-Afghan religious fanatics is a key
prop of the Taliban regime.
Prior to the devastating September 11 attack on the twin towers of World
Trade Center, US ruling-class figures remained unrepentant about the
consequences of their dirty deals with the likes of bin Laden, Hekmatyar and the
Taliban. Since the awful attack, they have been downright hypocritical.
In an August 28, 1998, report posted on MSNBC, Michael Moran quotes Senator
Orrin Hatch, who was a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee which
approved US dealings with the mujaheddin, as saying he would make “the
same call again”, even knowing what bin Laden would become.
“It was worth it. Those were very important, pivotal matters that played an
important role in the downfall of the Soviet Union.”
Hatch today is one of the most gung-ho voices demanding military retaliation.
Another face that has appeared repeatedly on television screens since the
attack has been Vincent Cannistrano, described as a former CIA chief of
Cannistrano is certainly an expert on terrorists like bin Laden, because he
directed their “work”. He was in charge of the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contras
during the early 1980s. In 1984, he became the supervisor of covert aid to the
Afghan mujaheddin for the US National Security Council.
The last word goes to Zbigniew Brzezinski: “What was more important in the
world view of history? 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