Hidden history of our first step into the Afghanistan War. It’s still important for us to understand.

Summary:  Here we examine one of our key steps into the Afghanistan War, in 1979.  It’s bitterly ironic, showing that we played the USSR into Afghanistan just as bin Laden suckered us in the WOT.  Beyond that it’s an example of one of the themes on the FM website: our hidden history. To move forward to a better America we must better understand our past. Observation is the vital first step of the OODA loop.

It was our piece, but rebelled.


  1. Introduction
  2. CNN interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski
  3. Brzezinki was more specific in an interview in Paris
  4. Brzezinski later qualifies the story
  5. A rare moment of candor from a high US official: Robert Gates
  6. For more information

(1)  Introduction

The post-WWII history of American foreign policy to an astonishing degree consists of the government lying to us — and our consistent gullible belief in their new lies.  The bomber and missile gaps.  Eisenhower lied in May 1960 about the downing of the U-2. The largely fake Tonkin Gulf incident of August 1964, used to justify the Vietnam War. Saddam’s nukes. And the start of US involvement in Afghanistan before the December 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union.  None of the officials involved paid any price for these lies, so we must enjoy being lied to.

This little vignette is in one sense just another lie, denied for so long. Our government goaded the Soviets into a long, draining, hopeless Afghanistan war. Our role supporting the insurgents before the invasion was concealed to better paint the Soviets as evil invaders — and not a great power to some degree responding to our interference in their zone of influence — as we have done so often in Latin America.  (The Soviets’ role helping women in Afghanistan is crimethink, as is our role wrecking their lives — as we’ve done in Iraq)

The Soviets took the bait and suffered accordingly. Just as we responded to bin Laden’s provocation on 9-11, fulfilling all his dreams of a US jihad against Islam — trashing our reputation, damaging our political regime, draining our strength. Bin Laden did to the USA what we did to the USSR  (Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?)

Bitter irony.

Here is some of the available evidence about our involvement at that critical stage in the long Afghanistan nightmare. I doubt that this tells the full story. BTW — it’s also counter-evidence to the “Carter as wimp” theory, more evidence policy continuity between the Carter and Reagan administrations (eg, foreign policy, deregulation).

(2)  CNN interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter’s National Security Advisor)

CNN, 13 June 1997. From the George Washington U National Security archive.

Interviewer: How did you interpret Soviet behavior in Afghanistan, such as the April revolution, the rise of — I mean, what did you think their long-term plans were, and what did you think should be done about it?

Brzezinski: I told the President, about 6 months before the Soviets entered Afghanistan, that in my judgment I thought they would be going into Afghanistan. And I decided then, and I recommended to the President, that we shouldn’t be passive.

Interviewer: What happened?

Brzezinski: We weren’t passive. (An interruption followed; this line of inquiry was not continued — they skipped ahead to the Soviet invasion)

(3)  Brzezinski was more specific in an interview in Paris


Le Nouvel Observateur, 15-21 January 1998. Translated by Bill Baum. It has been circulated widely, but this at The South Asian Exchange Net appears to be the original source. It was a short interview, appearing (they say) only in the French edition

Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

B: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

B: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries.

(4)  Brzezinski later qualifies the story

Interview with Paul Jay on The Real News Network, 15 January 2010. Transcript and video here (starts at 1:55).  See a full transcript of the interview (over 3 shows) here.

JAY: When you go back in history, there’s a famous interview you gave to a French paper where you talked about the decision to advise Jimmy Carter to arm the jihadists in Afghanistan against the communist government of Afghanistan. And you’re quoted as saying that this would help induce or would lead to the Soviets intervening in Afghanistan, which might lead to their Vietnam.

BRZEZINSKI: No, that’s not an accurate quote. I don’t know, you know, what yours is based on. But there are two different aspects here that are kind of connected. One, Robert Gates revealed in his memoirs, accurately, that before the Soviets staged the formal invasion of Afghanistan (but they were already in Afghanistan with special forces and so forth), we increased military, not {stutter} we increased financial assistance to the mujaheddin, it was mostly for the acquisition, presumably, of weapons. And then, after they came in, when the Soviets came in, I did send the president a memo saying, yes, they’re entering into Afghanistan at a time of turmoil in Iran, and in the whole Persian region, Gulf region as a consequence, potentially. We have the chance to give the Soviets their Vietnam.

JAY:  Because the interview says this was before.

B: Well, that’s not right. That’s not right.

JAY: that leads to Carter’s decision

B: That’s not right. That’s not right. I mean, the archives are open at the Carter Center. You can send someone down to have them check.

(5)  A rare moment of candor from a high US official: Robert Gates

Robert Gates’ memoir From the Shadows (1996) pp. 144-149. He was Brzezinski’s executive assistance at this time.

The Carter administration began looking at the possibility of covert assistance to the insurgents opposing the pro-Soviet, Marxist government of President Taraki at the beginning of 1979. On March 5, 1979, CIA sent several covert action options relating to Afghanistan to the SCC. The covering memo noted that the insurgents had stepped up their activities against the government and had achieved surprising successes. It added that the Soviets were clearly concerned about the setbacks to the Afghan communist regime and that the Soviet media were accusing the United States, Pakistan, and Egypt of supporting the insurgents. The SCC met the next day and requested new options for covert action.

The DO informed DDCI Carlucci late in March that the government of Pakistan might be more forthcoming in terms of helping the insurgents than previously believed, citing an approach by a senior Pakistani official to an Agency officer to discuss assistance to the insurgents, including small arms and ammunition. The Pakistani had stated that without a firm commitment from the United States, Pakistan “could not risk Soviet wrath.” Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a senior official also had raised the prospect of a Soviet setback in Afghanistan and said that his government was considering officially proposing that the United States aid the rebels …

On March 30, 1979, Aaron chaired a historic “mini-SCC” … Walt Slocombe, representing Defense, asked if there was value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, “sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire?” Aaron concluded by asking the key question: “Is there interest in maintaining and assisting the insurgency, or is the risk that we will provoke the Soviets too great?”

… The day before the SCC meeting on April 6 to consider Afghan covert action options, Soviet MO Arnold Horelick sent Turner a paper on the possible Soviet reactions … The risk was that a substantial U.S. covert aid program could raise the stakes and induce the Soviets to intervene more directly and vigorously than otherwise intended.

… The meeting was finally held on July 3, 1979, and — almost 6 months before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan — Jimmy Carter signed the first finding to help the Mujahedin covertly. It authorized support for insurgent propaganda and other psychological operations in Afghanistan; establishment of radio access to the Afghan population through third-country facilities; and the provision either unilaterally or through third countries of support to the Afghan insurgents, in the form of either cash or nonmilitary supplies. The Afghan effort began relatively small. Initially, somewhat more than half a million dollars was allocated, with almost all being drawn within six weeks.

By the end of August, Pakistani President Mohammad Ziaul-Haq was pressuring the United States for arms and equipment for the insurgents in Afghanistan … Separately, the Pakistani intelligence service was pressing us to provide military equipment to support an expanding insurgency.

When Turner heard this, he urged the DO to get moving in providing more help to the insurgents. They responded with several enhancement options, including communications equipment for the insurgents via the Pakistanis or the Saudis, funds for the Pakistanis to purchase lethal military equipment for the insurgents, and providing a like amount of lethal equipment ourselves for the Pakistanis to distribute to the insurgents.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1979, the Soviets massively intervened in Afghanistan. A covert action that began six months earlier funded at just over half a million dollars would, within a year, grow to tens of millions, and most assuredly included the provision of weapons.

(6)  For more information

See the two declassified Executive Findings signed by President Carter:  79-1579 and 79-1581 (both dated 3 July 1979), authorizing information operations and propaganda worldwide supporting insurgents in Afghanistan.

For more about this see the FM Reference Page Information & disinformation, the new media & the old.

Other propaganda and information operations run against us

  1. Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
  2. More propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island, 4 February 2010
  3. A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
  4. About the political significance of the conservatives’ health care propaganda, 23 March 2010
  5. The similar delusions of America’s Left and Right show our common culture – and weakness, 26 March 2010
  6. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  7. Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 15 September 2010
  8. The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
  9. Why Conservatives are winning: they use the WMD of political debate, 28 April 2011
  10. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
  11. Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
  12. More use of the big lie: shifting the blame for the housing crisis, 29 December 2011
  13. What does Greenpeace’s “Shell” hoax tell us about America?, 22 July 2012


The generic Presidential Speech



14 thoughts on “Hidden history of our first step into the Afghanistan War. It’s still important for us to understand.”

  1. If the fundamentalist/authoritarian movement known as the Taliban/Mujahedeen was intentionally strengthened by the US as a means of trapping the USSR, then does that suggest that cold wars between great powers are actually advantageous to such movements?

    1. Also, let’s not get sloppy and start conflating the Taliban with the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen are just fighters, from all different regions and in many different groups. The Taliban are a movement which at one point induced the local warlords and Mujahideen across most of Afghanistan to submit to them and swear allegiance. In our initial push into Afghanistan, most of the local warlords and Mujahideen switched their allegiances and backed us. Now the trend is once more in the other direction…

      1. Good point. I think what atheist meant was that our aid strongly (even preferentially) supported (esp thru Pakistan’s ISI) the fundamentalist wing of the Afghan insurgents, from which emerged the Taliban.

        You description of the to and fro is accurate, except that the Pashtun tribes were and are the core of the Taliban (but the two are not identical). It’s not clear how many seriously switched their allegance to us.

    2. …and both these groups are distinct from the foreign fighters/Mujahideen (aka Bin Laden & co.) that we backed in Afghanistan in the 1980’s who then returned to their countries of origin in the Arab world and beyond. Most people attribute the “blowback” from US involvement in Afghanistan to this group. Maybe these are the “Mujahideen” you were referring to in your post.

  2. I highly recommend Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner. It’s a history of the CIA’s stupidity and shenanigans that – apparently – needs a few new chapters.

    The idea that a “democratic” government can engage in secret diplomacy is directly contrary to the idea of democracy. Although I suppose in a “representative democracy” one could argue that the actions of out political leaders represent us because we chose them. Except that they don’t and almost half of us didn’t.

  3. Americans need to recognize the true purpose of the CIA. Its first operation after WW II involved destabilizing the Communist party in our ally, Italy, using black ops to insure that leftists would not win power in the Italian elections of 1948.

    The CIA’s central function involves black ops within America and inside the U.S. media (including the well-known Operation Mockingbird, in which the CIA put America’s most influential journalists on its payroll to slant news stories), and inside our allies to insure that “the wrong people” don’t gain power and that news stories damaging to the interests of the U.S. military-prison-surveillance-antiterror complex don’t become prominent in the U.S. media. Counterintelligence against ostensible enemies of the United States remains a tangential and minor function of the CIA.

    Doubtless various uninformed commenters will decry these documented facts as “wild paranoia,” so, from wikipedia, here’s the documentation:

    “In 1977, a People article by Alexander Butler alleged that one of the most important journalists under the control of Operation Mockingbird was Joseph Alsop, whose foreign affairs articles appeared in over 300 different newspapers. Other journalists alleged by People Magazine to have been willing to promote the views of the CIA included Stewart Alsop who headed the international bureau of New York Herald Tribune, Ben Bradlee foreign affairs correspondent for Newsweek, James Reston for the international section of the New York Times, Charles Douglas Jackson foreign photo-journalist for Time Magazine, and international correspondents such as Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, Charles Bartlett of the Chattanooga Times and William C. Baggs and Herb Gold of The Miami News.[9] According to Nina Burleigh (A Very Private Woman), these journalists sometimes wrote articles that were commissioned by Frank Wisner. The CIA also provided them with classified information to help them with their work.[10]

    “Congressional hearings in 1976 proved CIA had been paying off editors and reporters in most mainstream media outlets.”

    Alsop has since confirmed his role as a paid CIA stooge, stating “I’m proud they asked me and proud to have done it.”

    Carl Bernstein, “CIA and the Media,” People magazine, 1977
    Nina Burleigh (1998). A Very Private Woman. pg 105, pg. 118.
    Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities. April 1976. pp. 191–201.

  4. It seems like anarchy with its attendant war and pestilence is a common result of our foreign interventions. Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia, potentially Syria, plus a long list of Sub-Saharan African states beginning perhaps with Ghana. Seems like millions of mice have been killed by a couple of elephants. Rather careless, don’t you think?

    1. As Naomi Wolf explains in her book Shock Doctrine anarchy and pestilence are intended. This makes possible “disaster capitalism” in which normal features of civil society such as usury limits on interest rates, property rights backed up by official documentation, and the rule of law as it applies to dissenters are eliminated in the name of dealing with the “economic emergency.” American multinational corporations then make trillions by exploiting these suspensions of the rule of law and civil society.

      Less recognized? The rude fact that the Shock Doctrine and its attendant disaster capitalism is now being applied domestically in the United States. See this hour-long episode of Bill Moyers’ Journal in which Chris Hedges talks about the wholesale destruction of entire cities and communities throughout America by giant U.S. multinational corporations in the name of disaster capitalism: Detroit, Baltimore, East St. Louis, New Orleans, South Central Los Angeles, and so on. Hedges has been all over the world covering America’s innumerable foreign wars, and says that conditions in America’s worst destroyed communities approximate those in banana republic slums.
      Capitalism’s ‘Sacrifice Zones’“, Moyers & Company, PBS, first broadcast 20 July 2012:

      There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed. Journalist Chris Hedges calls these places “sacrifice zones,” and joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company to explore how areas like Camden, New Jersey; Immokalee, Florida; and parts of West Virginia suffer while the corporations that plundered them thrive.

      “These are areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. We’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed,” Hedges tells Bill.

      “It’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings… And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating essentially a corporate oligarchic state.”

      The broadcast includes a visit with comics artist and journalist Joe Sacco, who collaborated with Hedges on Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, an illustrated account of their travels through America’s sacrifice zones. Kirkus Reviews calls it an “unabashedly polemic, angry manifesto that is certain to open eyes, intensify outrage and incite argument about corporate greed.”

  5. From a certain perspective groups like the Taliban did benefit from the Cold War superpower rivalry. From a different perspective, a humanitarian perspective, the Cold War was an utter disaster for people and countries around the world. Look at Afghanistan’s history since 1979; millions dead, millions wounded, millions of people left homeless or refugees in neighboring countries and practically every city and town in the country pummeled in the fighting. The people of Afghanistan were caught, used as pawns or weapons, in a battle between two ideologies mostly foreign to their culture and history.

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