from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


During the Reagan years, the CIA ran nearly two dozen covert operations against various governments. Of these, Afghanistan was by far the biggest; it was, in fact, the biggest CIA operation of all time, both in terms of dollars spent ($5-$6 billion) and personnel involved. Yet it not only generated little controversy, but enjoyed strong bipartisan support. That's because its main purpose was to "bleed" the Soviet Union, just as we had been bled in Vietnam.

Prior to the 1979 Russian invasion, Afghanistan was ruled by a brutal dictator. Like the neighboring Shah of Iran, he allowed the CIA to set up radar installations in his country that were used to monitor the Soviets. In 1979, after several dozen Soviet advisors were massacred by Afghan tribesmen, the USSR sent in the Red Army.

The Soviets tried to install a pliable client regime, without taking local attitudes much into account. Many of the mullahs who controlled chunks of Afghan territory objected to Soviet efforts to educate women and to institute land reform. Others, outraged by the USSR's attempts to suppress the heroin trade, shifted their operations to Pakistan.

As for the CIA, its aim was simply to humiliate the Soviets by arming anyone who would fight against them. The agency funneled cash and weapons to over a dozen guerrilla groups, many of whom had been staging raids from Pakistan years before the Soviet invasion. Today, long after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan (and, in fact, has ceased to exist), most of these groups are still fighting each other for control of the country.

Besides tossing billions of dollars into the conflict, the CIA transferred sensitive weapons technology to fanatical Muslim extremists, with consequences that will haunt the US for years to come. One notable veteran of the Afghan operation is Sheik Abdel Rahman, famous for his role in the World Trade Center bombing.

The CIA succeeded in creating chaos, but never developed a plan for ending it. When the ten-year war was over, a million people were dead, and Afghan heroin had captured 60% of the US market.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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