Afghanistan Intrigue:
The CIA and Osama bin Laden

Revolutionary Worker #1120, September 30, 2001, posted at

Young boys digging bomb shelters in the dusty hills of Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghani refugees trekking to the border of Pakistan, desperate to leave before U.S. bombs fall on their country. What will happen to the people of Afghanistan who have lived in war and poverty for so long? It is a terrible thing, that the U.S. power structure is moving its forces halfway around the world--that the U.S. is putting the people of Afghanistan, once again, in the crosshairs of war.

Our heart-felt solidarity goes out to our sisters and brothers there--to the revolutionary people struggling under such difficult conditions in the vast refugee camps of Pakistan and the war-torn villages of Afghanistan itself. We are inspired by the heroic women daring to defy the Taliban and tradition's chains. And we salute our courageous Maoist comrades working underground among the masses, strategizing about how to launch and win a genuine revolution.

They are walking the only road that offers hope to the people of Afghanistan. It is the people alone who can create a bright and liberated future through revolutionary struggle against imperialism and domestic reactionaries.


Within hours after hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. government claimed that its "prime suspects" were the al-Qaida organization and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Within days, the U.S. president was threatening war on Afghanistan--accusing the Muslim fundamentalist government of that country, the Taliban, of "harboring" the networks that attacked the U.S. As we go to press, U.S. authorities have offered very little evidence to back their public claims.

Who are these forces around Osama bin Laden that the U.S. government has accused? Where did they come from? Who trained and organized them?

The answers to these questions lead back to the CIA--back to major crimes, campaigns and global rivalries of U.S. imperialism.

Osama bin Laden first appeared on the stage 20 years ago as a major recruiter for U.S.-backed armed forces who were fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

War Comes to Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a rich tapestry of many different peoples living relatively isolated, deep in the highlands of Central Asia. In the 1960s, the U.S. power structure considered Afghanistan as a "buffer state" between the Soviet Union to the north and the strategically important U.S.-backed states of Iran and Pakistan to the south. The overwhelming majority of the population of 18 million lived as impoverished farmers in the extremely backward countryside--dominated by large landowners and the heads of feudal clans. But then, at the end of 1970s, the intensifying global rivalry between the U.S. and USSR brought bitter warfare to Afghanistan.

In 1978, bureaucrat-capitalist forces allied with the Soviet imperialists staged a coup and took over Afghanistan's weak central government in Kabul. Resistance to the Kabul regime developed among a wide range of forces who were hostile to each other--from Maoists, who opposed Soviet domination, to traditional patriarchal clans who were in an uproar over girls going to school. And in 1979, the Soviet army invaded to prop up their local allies.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said: "Literally the day after the Soviet action in Kabul, I wrote a memo to the president in which the key sentence was 'We now have the opportunity to give the Soviet Union its Vietnam.'" According to Charles Cogan, the former CIA station chief for this area, U.S. arms were arriving at the scene within 13 days of the Soviet invasion.

The U.S.-Soviet rivalry produced a war that would tear Afghanistan apart. More than one million Afghani people were killed and one-third of the population fled into refugee camps. Tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers died in the war. Twenty years later, the fighting in Afghanistan has still not ended.

Jimmy Carter's Jihad

"It is a deliberate effort by a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people."

Jimmy Carter denouncing
the 1979 Soviet invasion

"Portraying the Soviet imperialists as 'communists' and hence the anti-imperialist struggle of the Afghanistani people as one between 'communism' and the 'soldiers of Allah' helped strengthen backward religious feeling amongst the masses and propped up the authority of the feudals and clergy. This was done with the full backing of the Western imperialists, who funded religious propaganda and armed the Mujahedeen as a weapon in their rivalry with the Soviet social-imperialists."

M.N. Cham, A World To Win magazine

For the masses of Afghani people, the Soviet invasion was an intolerable attempt at direct foreign domination. Revolutionary and progressive forces, including the country's Maoist organizations, threw themselves into the fight against the invaders. However, as M. N. Cham writes, "In the absence of a revolutionary party capable of uniting the people into a people's war against imperialism and feudalism, the resistance of the masses was in the main organized under the leadership of various feudal and bourgeois forces."

The U.S. ruling class threw its resources behind some of the most reactionary forces in Afghan society--who came to be called the Afghan Mudjahadeen. Their program for Afghanistan was the all-round defense of traditional feudal society--including the protection of big estates from land reform and the violent defense of traditional practices oppressing women. They were organized under the banner of jihad--holy war--to drive foreign troops from the Muslim world. But the truth is that this modern jihad was controlled from the White House and conducted to serve the interests of U.S. imperialism.

These U.S. interests were completely opposed to those of the masses of people. The U.S. wanted to bog down their Soviet imperialist rivals. The U.S. was looking to fund and arm forces who would fight the Soviet Union, while precisely not opposing imperialism and traditional Afghani feudalism in any fundamental way. Brzezinski and Carter dreamed that an anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan could be spread across the border among the Muslim peoples of the USSR's Central Asian republics.

Bin Laden comes to Afghanistan

This U.S. takeover of the Afghan resistance was done with great secrecy. Millions of dollars were funneled through the intensely conservative monarchy of Saudi Arabia. The training of the Afghan Mudjahadeen was carried out largely from bases along the Pakistani-Afghan border by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)--under the close supervision of the CIA's "covert war" experts. The weapons they provided in the beginning were Soviet- and Chinese-made--so the U.S. backing would not be obvious.

Osama bin Laden came to this region in 1980 as a "Checkbook Mudjahadeen." He spent two years bringing funds from the Saudi ruling class to reactionary forces within the Afghan resistance. He is the son of a construction capitalist whose close ties to the Saudi monarchy made him a billionaire.

When the CIA and Pakistan's ISI decided to train tens of thousands of Muslims from around the world to fight in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden was one of the key organizers of the effort.

Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, estimates that after 1982 more than 100,000 Muslims from dozens of countries received political or military training in the CIA-backed camps of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to Ahmed Rashid, Osama bin Laden helped build the Khost tunnel complex, a major arms storage depot, training facility and medical center built with CIA funds. Nearby, Bin Laden established a military camp for about 9,000 followers of Wahabbism, the Islamic creed promoted by the Saudi monarchy and Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun nationality. This Khost camp became the headquarters for al-Qaida [which means "military base"] and in 1998 was a target of Bill Clinton's cruise missile attack on Afghanistan.

The CIA's Ugly Army

Through the 1980s, a war-hardened army, with a quarter million fighters, took shape in Afghanistan under CIA guidance.

It has been widely reported how some of these forces burned down schools and slit the throats of schoolteachers for teaching boys and girls together in mixed classes. M.N. Cham recounts that in the desperate camps of refugees where they recruited fighters, the Mujahedeen severely punished and even killed anyone who questioned the dogmas and reactionary social norms of their Islam in any way.

These military operations were combined with massive drug smuggling. Alfred McCoy, a leading researcher into the global drug trade, writes that within two years of the CIA intervention in Afghanistan, "the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world's top heroin producer, supplying 60 percent of U.S. demand." Cheap heroin flooded Pakistan, where the number of addicts went from near zero in 1979 to over 1 million by 1985. Charles Cogan, a CIA director of the Afghan operation, later said: "Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn't really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade...I don't think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout."

In a 1997 interview with Robert Fisk, Osama bin Laden claimed that he and his associates never saw "evidence of American help" in Afghanistan. This is hard to believe.

The U.S. hand was more and more impossible to miss--especially after March 1985, when President Reagan's National Security Decision Directive 166 authorized a massive escalation of U.S. funding and weapons supply. The Afghan war against Soviet forces was a multi-billion dollar operation--largely paid for by CIA and the Saudi ruling class. U.S. contributions exploded, from $30 million in 1980 to over $600 million per year after 1987. 65,000 tons of U.S.-made weapons and ammunition a year were entering the war by 1987--including the high-profile Stingers used against Soviet helicopters. By the end of the 1980s, Mudjahadeen commanders were openly meeting with U.S. congressional leaders and with Ronald Reagan himself--they were part of a global network of such CIA-organized cutthroats that included the contras of Central America and UNITA in southern Africa. The U.S. media shamelessly called all these forces "freedom fighters."

It is inconvenient now, for both the U.S. government and for Osama bin Laden, to remember that Bin Laden was a key operative in the largest CIA covert war in history. His movement (and several other Islamist armed movements) emerged from the CIA training camps in Pakistan.

After the Soviet Defeat

On February 15, 1989, the last of the Soviet Union's troops left Afghanistan in defeat. The fighting continued as the various feudal warlords split into warring camps. The U.S. and Soviet Union left behind a collection of reactionary armies who combined and recombined in the years after Soviet withdrawal. And the masses of people continued to suffer terribly.

Determined to help forge a different future for the people of Afghanistan, in 1991 the Organization of Revolutionary Communists of Afghanistan founded the Communist Party of Afghanistan (CPA), a participating party of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM).

M.N. Cham writes in A World to Win "The Taliban [which means "students of religion"] appeared on the political scene of Afghanistan soon after a trip by a high ranking Pakistani delegation to Turkmenistan to negotiate trade between the two countries which would go through Afghanistan. Supported by Pakistan, the Taliban emerged with the slogan of securing the roads and fighting piracy. The banner of anti-corruption was raised, religious schools were emptied as the 'students' joined the struggle, and it was not long before Taliban artillery were pounding the gates of Kabul, finally capturing it in September 1996. The Taliban have their roots in the pro-U.S. Muslim fundamentalist forces, are Wahabi Muslims (a sub-branch of Sunni) and represent Pashtun chauvinism."

An editorial in the Kathmandu Post (September 20) said, "When the Taliban...entered Kabul on 27 September 1996, the US state welcomed the development with the hope that the new rulers might bring stability to the region despite the fact that they are notoriously illiberal in social terms. The US media offered a muted and cliched sense of horror at the social decay of the Taliban, but without any sense of the US hand in the manufacture of such theocratic fascists for its own hegemonic ends. In 30 years, Afghanistan has been reduced to a "concession" in which corporations and states vie for control over commodities and markets without concern for the dignity and destiny of the people of the region. Oil, guns, landmines and heroin are the coordinates for policy-makers, not the shadowy bodies that hang from the scaffolds like paper-flags of a nation without sovereignty."

The U.S. dreamed of an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan into Pakistan. It was part of their plan for dismantling the former Soviet empire and linking Central Asia directly to Western corporations and markets. The Taliban was their hope for establishing some stability in Afghanistan's chaos. Robert Scheer documents that as recently as May 17, 2001, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a $43 million aid package to the Taliban which "in addition to other recent aid, makes the U.S. the main sponsor of the Taliban."

For the masses of people, this Taliban has a nightmare of extreme religious reaction and repression. M.N. Cham writes: "The rise of the Taliban was accompanied by savage attacks on women. Women are forced to wear dark veils covering them from head to toe; they are forbidden to work or go to school; they cannot walk in the streets, shop or seek care in hospitals unless accompanied by a mahram male (husband, brother or father), and even public baths are barred to them. Women are bought and sold, taken as war spoils, raped and killed."

A Turning Point in the Gulf

In December 1991, the USSR collapsed. This changed all kinds of alignments on a world scale. Thousands of war-hardened Islamist fighters were spreading out from Afghanistan throughout the Muslim world. Some 4,000 of them settled in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina alone.

Chossudovsky writes: "The CIA continued to support the Islamic 'jihad' out of Pakistan. New undercover initiatives were set in motion in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. Pakistan's military and intelligence apparatus essentially 'served as a catalyst for the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of six new Muslim republics in Central Asia.' "

At the same time, these Islamist veterans of the Afghan war also came into intense conflict with pro-U.S. governments--and with larger U.S. interests--over the Persian Gulf war. A key turning point was when the U.S. brought 540,000 troops into the Persian Gulf in 1991 to attack Iraq's armed forces.

The jihad movement had been formed to wage war against foreign invasion in the Muslim world. And yet now, hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim U.S. troops were based in Saudi Arabia--the guardian of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed state of Israel was refusing to even discuss Palestinian control of another holy Muslim site in Jerusalem.

There were deep splits within the Saudi ruling class over the Gulf War. Prominent ruling class forces, including Osama bin Laden, considered it treason when Saudi King Fahd welcomed NATO forces into the Arab world. In their eyes, the U.S. client states like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were profoundly corrupt and traitorously anti-Islamic. The conflict deepened after the war, when the U.S. did not withdraw but instead built permanent bases in the Gulf.

Within Saudi Arabia, opposition was suppressed and, in 1992, Osama bin Laden fled Saudi Arabia for Sudan where he formed an alliance with Dr. Hassan Al Turabi, Chairman of the Sudan National Council. He was stripped of Saudi citizenship in 1994.

In 1996 Osama bin Laden moved back to Afghanistan. And in 1998, he reportedly participated in the creation of an "Islamic front for Jihad" to wage war against the U.S. The U.S. authorities claim that his role is (as it was in his days in the Afghan war) one of funneling money.

Many of the old networks funded and trained by the CIA now reassembled themselves for a jihad against the U.S. and the Arab governments working with the U.S. The arms supplied by the CIA, the training camps, the religious schools, and the trained fighters all became the infrastructure of this force.

The demands of this movement include the end of Western military presence and cultural influence in Muslim countries--the dismantling of U.S. bases in the Gulf, an end to Western support for Israel, and the replacement of pro-Western Arab states with strict Muslim theocracies based on the Sharia (law drawn from the Koran's rules).

Blowback of the Empire

"Any resistance fighter is a terrorist if the Europeans don't like him. They call him a resistance fighter if they like him....It is just the misconduct of American foreign policy, military policy that has changed the American image into the incarnation of the devil... Now they have developed Osama bin Laden as the champion, as the symbol of Islam for all young people in the whole Muslim world. Anyone who is a Muslim now, who is moved now to fight for Islam, to strike for Islam, the image is Osama bin Laden. If they kill him, strike him, oh, they will generate thousands of Bin Ladens."

Dr. Hassan Al Turabi, Chairman of
Sudan National Council, October 1998

"Most Americans are probably unaware of how Washington exercises its global hegemony, since so much of this activity takes place either in relative secrecy or under comforting rubrics. Many may, as a start, find it hard to believe that our place in the world even adds up to an empire. But only when we come to see our country as both profiting from and trapped within the structures of an empire of its own making will it be possible for us to explain many elements of the world that otherwise perplex us.... The term 'blowback,' which officials of the Central Intelligence Agency first invented for their own internal use, is starting to circulate among students of international relations. It refers to the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people. What the daily press reports as the malign acts of 'terrorists' or 'drug lords' or 'rogue states' or 'illegal arms merchants' often turn out to be blowback from earlier American operations."

Chalmers Johnson, Blowback--The Costs and
Consequences of American Empire

"Who has put the masses in the U.S. in harms way? The U.S. power structure points the finger to the Middle East. But the answer lies on U.S. soil. These imperialists--who have perpetrated countless crimes and rained havoc on the people of the world through their relentless global exploitation and their military actions--have created a situation where millions of people all around the world hate the government of the United States.

"As the dust clears from our eyes, the people in the most powerful country in the world find ourselves held hostage to the inevitable repercussions of the actions of this U.S. power structure and their bloody military machine. Now, besides the horrors that they have perpetuated against the people around the world--horrors that multiply the tears shed in NY and Washington a thousand times--these cold-hearted imperialists have called forth the same kind of devastation in the belly of their own beast.

Revolutionary Communist Party, USA,
September 14, 2001

It is hard to know what Osama bin Laden's role has really been in the various attacks on the U.S. since the Gulf War. But it is clear that by targeting him as "Enemy Number One," the U.S. imperialists made him and his reactionary form of Islamism a symbol of resistance for even more people across the world.

On August 20, 1998, President Bill Clinton sent 75 cruise missiles pounding into rural Afghanistan--supposedly targeting Osama Bin Laden. The raid killed children gathered in a village school and left a local mosque in ruins. And after that, bin Laden's portrait appeared on even more walls, especially among Muslim youth who are bitterly disenchanted with a world dominated, perverted and robbed by the U.S.

As we go to press, the former "freedom fighters" of Ronald Reagan are now the "terrorists" of George W. Bush. And Pentagon generals are now consulting their former adversaries--the defeated generals of the Soviet Army--about how to fight in Afghanistan.

In the midst of all this intrigue, the people of the world cry out for an end to the brutal imperialist domination of the Middle East--and the rest of the planet.


Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press,2000

Michel Chossudovsky, "Who Is Osama bin Laden?" Sept. 2001, posted on

M.N. Cham, "Cutting Through the Darkness in Afghanistan," A World To Win, 1998/24

Robert Scheer, "Faustian Deal--On May 17, We Sent $43 Million To The Taliban," Village Voice, Sept. 19-25, 2001

Robert Fisk, "Talks with Osama bin Laden," The Nation, September 21, 1998

"Behind the Terror: Understanding the Enemy," Discovery Channel special with Forrest Sawyer, info posted on

Dilip Hiro, "Bush and bin Laden," The Nation, October 8, 2001 and "The Cost of an Afghan 'Victory,' " The Nation, February 15, 1999

Alfred McCoy, "Drug fallout: the CIA's Forty Year Complicity in the Narcotics Trade," The Progressive; 1 August 1997

Revolutionary Communist Party,USA, "The Horrors That Come From This Horrible System," Sept. 14, 2001, posted on

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)