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The murky deals that fuelled international terrorism By Giles Foden

by TruePeace Thursday, Jul. 04, 2002 at 7:50 PM

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, US officials passed billions in funding and training to the mojahedin.

The murky deals that fuelled international terrorism By Giles Foden

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, US officials passed billions in funding and training to the mojahedin.

The CIA, in particular while under the direction of William Casey - head of the agency during the Reagan administration - was the main manager of these operations. With the Russian withdrawal in 1989, the CIA "celebrated its victory with champagne". So says Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (Pluto Press, £12.99), the definitive account by ABC journalist John Cooley.

The celebrations, under the presidency of George Bush senior (himself a former CIA director), were premature. The sophisticated methods taught to the mojahedin, and the thousands of tonnes of arms supplied to them by the US - and Britain - are now tormenting the west in the phenomenon known as "blowback", whereby a policy strategy rebounds on its own devisers. The sins of the father, it might well be said, are being heaped on the head of the son.

Self-laceration may seem the last thing the US needs right now. But the lesson of these books is that only by facing up to its dark past will a beleaguered country be able to create a future in which terrorist attacks on this scale can be avoided. The whole issue of American "creation" of bin Laden in the Frankenstein's laboratory of Afghanistan during the 1980s is generally avoided by government sources. Cooley points out that while the State Department released a fact sheet on bin Laden in 1997 (the year prior to the bombing of the East African embassies), the document "omits the background facts which help to explain how early and close were his connections in the United States - making it easier for the Reagan-Casey jihad team to enlist his talents and his fortune".

The British military establishment colluded with the US in supporting the mojahedin, with SAS and Green Berets going into Afghanistan itself. As ex-SAS soldier Tom Carew explains in his Andy McNab-like Jihad: The Secret War in Afghanistan (Mainstream, £7.99), they were inevitably drawn into actual combat. "We came to a small hamlet and were stopped by a couple of mojahedin. They asked us, surprisingly politely, whether we would mind helping them, as their commander had decided he was going to make some kind of stand against the Russians."

As Cooley points out, in this country, "it was only Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's British government which supported the jihad with full enthusiasm". Hindered by Congressional interference, the CIA covertly sought Mrs Thatcher's help - in one incident, during the Falklands war, they curried favour by handing over an illegal supply of Stinger missiles to British officials in a Washington car park.

Much of the help given to the mojahedin was coordinated by an MI6 field officer in Islamabad. It was surely only a matter of time before some of this aid would find its way to the likes of bin Laden. Like the covert British and American teams, many of which received dollar-for-dollar funding from the Saudi royal family, he arrived in Afghanistan directly after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Everyone was getting along famously, according to Cooley. "Delighted by his impeccable Saudi credentials, the CIA gave Osama free rein in Afghanistan, as did Pakistan's intelligence generals."

In Ken Connor's Ghost Force: The Secret History of the SAS (Orion, £7.99), it is claimed that the elite regiment actually trained Afghan fighters in remote locations in Scotland. In Afghanistan itself, the services of Keenie-Meenie Services were used. This was an offshoot of British security firm Control Risks, mainly comprising ex-SAS members and former members of Rhodesian and South African special forces. It took its name from the Swahili word for the movement of a snake through grass. KMS later played a role in the Oliver North, Iran-Contra affair of 1987.

On American soil, the CIA used Muslim charities and mosque communities as fronts for recruitment of fighters in their secret war against the USSR in the Hindu Kush. As Cooley writes in Unholy Wars : "One was [in] New York's Arab district, in Brooklyn along Atlantic Avenue... Another was a private rifle club in an affluent community of Connecticut."

Bin Laden and a man named Mustafa Chalaby, who ran a jihad refugee centre in Brooklyn, were both protégés of Abdullah Azzam. A formative influence on bin Laden, the charismatic Azzam was killed in a car-bomb in 1987: according to some rumours he was killed by the CIA. Others claim he was himself a CIA agent. Cooley says that those directly recruited by the US went to Camp Peary - "the Farm", as the CIA's spy training centre in Virginia is known in the intelligence community - in scenes, as he tells them, reminiscent of the preparations for the killing of JFK recounted in Don DeLillo's Libra.

At the Farm and other secret camps, young Afghans and Arab nationals from countries such as Egypt and Jordan learned strategic sabotage skills. Passed down to the younger jihad generation which filled the ranks of the bin Laden organisation, these skills would come back to haunt the US. Simon Reeve's The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism (Deutsch, £17.99) looks at how they were applied at the time of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre and the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

In the financial world, too, there is a blowback scenario, given that for years global banking has gained considerable benefits from lack of transparency and regulation. BCCI, the British-Pakistani bank that was closed down in 1991 after a massive fraud, was a regular route for mojahedin funding, including that provided by Saudi intelligence.

Financing for Pentagon and CIA "black budget" operations - particularly in the era of William Casey - also passed through BCCI, as did drug money. Some analysts claim black-budget US and British operatives flew out opium on the planes with which they brought in arms. Later, jihad funding came from the construction-industry coffers of Osama bin Laden and other Muslim "philanthropists". Bin Laden established his own bank, the Al-Shamal Islamic, in Khartoum.

In Unholy Wars, Cooley provides convincing evidence that Arab businessman and arms merchant Adnan Kashoggi had dealings with bin Laden's father, receiving a ,000 cheque from him. Oil broker Roy Furmark, Cooley says, provided a link between his CIA friend Casey and Kashoggi, introducing the latter to Manuchehr Ghorbanifar, "the Iranian middleman who became a central figure in the arms for hostages and funds for Contras deals with Iran, in which Kashoggi got involved".

Oil itself has long been a factor in the "great game" of Asian geopolitics, one which brings the other big player in the blowback scenario, Russia, into the picture. As Afghan expert Michael Griffin puts it in Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (Pluto, £19.95): "A trans-Afghan pipeline would undermine Russia's control of energy prices from Central Asia".

Griffin argues that the US under Clinton trimmed its opposition to the Taliban to gain an advantage in oil politics. By that time, in this high-stakes game of snakes and ladders, Clinton's successor was effectively already in the picture, as the son of a man with close ties to the oil company Unocal, which wanted to put a pipeline across Afghanistan. Among their partners in the venture were BP and the Saudi royal family. The future was beginning to cast as heavy a shadow as the past.

Griffin's introduction was penned seven months ago, but what he has to say still makes sobering reading.

"The accession in the US of President George W Bush... may shed yet fresh light on at least two central mysteries of the Taliban ... The first is the extent to which the administration of Bill Clinton actively encouraged its former cold war allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to assemble and finance a tribal military force to end the misrule of the mojahedin in the post-Soviet years. The second - of greater sensitivity
- is to provide a coherent explanation for the studied incompetence of the FBI, CIA and other American intelligence agencies in addressing the alleged threats posed to the US by Osama bin Laden and his network. Bush's links with the US energy industry, most notably Unocal, are, regrettably, more likely to restrict the current state of knowledge about US policy in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, than to enlarge it."

Appalling as they are, this week's events may yet begin to force some dark secrets out into the light.

• Zanzibar, Giles Foden's novel about the US embassy bombings in East Africa, is published by Faber next year.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, US officials passed billions in funding and training to the mojahedin.

The murky deals that fuelled international terrorism By Giles Foden

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