Operation Cyclone: US Misadventure That Created Terror Networks On Both Sides Of The Durand Line

Operation Cyclone: US Misadventure That Created Terror Networks On Both Sides Of The Durand Line President Ronald Reagan meeting Mujahideen leaders in White House (Wikimedia Commons)
  • Operation Cyclone was the code name for the CIA programme to arm and finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan to counter Soviet power in the country.

(Part one of this article examines how Operation Cyclone emboldened the 'mujahideen' in Afghanistan to create various terror networks).

During the New Cold war (resurgence of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union), there was a power tussle to assert global ascendency. The battle further intensified when the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan grabbed control in Afghanistan with the help of the Soviet Union.

This clash reached its peak when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion was considered a threat to global security and the oil supplies of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the CIA strongly assumed that the Soviet Union would affect America’s significance in Iran and Pakistan. The CIA figured out that the only way to beat the Soviet Union was to make them bleed in Afghanistan.

This led to the birth of Operation Cyclone.

The programme to arm and finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan. This programme radical Islamic groups chosen by the autocratic Zia-ul-Haq regime in Pakistan.

The U.S. offered two packages to support Pakistan's role in the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The first six-year assistance package up to 1987 amounted to US$3.2 billion. The second six-year assistance package up to 1993 amounted to $4.2 billion. In total, the combined U.S., Saudi, and other aid to the mujahideen was valued at between $12-14 billion. The U.S. also sold 40 F-16 aircraft to Pakistan at a discount outside the package.

According to former CIA operative Robert Gates, the Jimmy Carter administration (U.S. president from 1977-1981) turned to the CIA to counter Soviet belligerence in the third world. (Afghanistan, Cuba etc.). Carter started a programme to fund the radical mujahideen through Pakistan's ISI and secured a guarantee from Saudi Arabia to match U.S. funding for this purpose.

U.S. support for the mujahideen was further enriched under the next U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, at a cost of approximately $3 billion. (Safe to assume that Democrats and the Republicans had an analogous policy with respect to arming the Jihadists). The decision to route U.S. aid through Pakistan led to massive deceit and a civil war kind of situation in Karachi as weapons sent to Karachi were regularly sold on the resident market rather than being dispensed to the Afghan insurgents. Karachi soon became one of the most violent cities in the world with recurring gun violence clashes.

CIA operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan started meeting radical Islamic groups through Pakistani Military generals. It was during this time that the senior officials in the ISI familiarised the CIA to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar was a former mujahideen leader who was later backed by the ISI to become the Prime minister of Afghanistan. Hekmatyar has been criticised for killing other mujahideen and antagonising local citizens, including showering Kabul with American-supplied weapons. After the dismissal of President Mohammad Najibullah (Soviet-backed Afghan president), Hekmatyar was deeply involved in the Afghan Civil War leading to the deaths of around 55,000 civilians in Kabul.

The U.S. government has been criticised for concurring with Pakistan to channel an enormous amount of its funding to Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar was a close confidante of Osama Bin Laden, founder of Al-Qaeda (mastermind of September 9/11 attacks). In fact, many foreign policy commentators have gone a step further; they have claimed that Osama Bin Laden was a product of United States blunders in Operation Cyclone. Others have highlighted that funding the mujahideen may have played a role in causing the September 11 attacks. A number of political commentators have described Al-Qaeda attacks as an unpremeditated outcome of American aid to the mujahideen.

Sir Martin Ewans (former officer of British Diplomatic service who served in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) wrote that approximately 35,000-40,000 radicals might have received military training in Pakistan till the 1990s. Hekmatyar and Sirajuddin Haqqani (both key allies of Osama Bin Laden) received direct cash payments from CIA agents with the help of ISI. This enormous source of funding gave Haqqani a massive influence over the mujahideen. Haqqani and his network played an important role in the creation and evolution of Al Qaeda, allowing bin Laden to train mujahideen volunteers and build a widespread terror network and infrastructure.

In the late 1980s, Pakistani Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, nervous about the growing strength of Islamist terrorism, told President George H.W. Bush that the U.S. was creating a Frankenstein's monster. She also apparently told the same to former British Defence Secretary Michael Portillo.

Osama Bin Laden was initially furthering America's cause in Afghanistan. Other politicians like Prince Bandar Bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia had also stated that Osama Bin Laden once conveyed appreciation for the United States help in Afghanistan. So, how did Osama Bin Laden turn against the U.S.? This reminds me of Hillary Clinton's quote, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. You know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on to whoever has them in the backyard.”

(Part two of the article explains how this mission (Operation Cyclone) also was indirectly responsible for the creation of the Taliban).

Dhairya Roy is Alumnus of Columbia Business School and New York University. He is also the Ex-Project Office Head in the Ministry of Finance, Planning & Forests (Government of Maharashtra) and is currently Vice President and Head of Corporate Affairs for a Fortune 500 Firm.

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