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Sunday, November 11, 2001 :

Afghan terror web US helped to create

Sunday, November 11, 2001

By Brian Trench

Unholy Wars Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism

By John K Cooley Pluto, stg£15

Is it really possible that the United States knows as little about the targets of its military campaign in Afghanistan as the conduct of the war suggests?.

It is scarcely credible following a reading of this book, which details the deep involvement over many years of US agencies in fostering those very same movements.

John Cooley builds up a detailed picture of a "terrorist international" with its roots in Afghanistan, but its branches spread wide. In this second edition, updated to mid-2000, Unholy Wars seems almost to anticipate the dreadful events on and since September 11.

Describing the ever-widening ripples from the Afghan war of 1979-89, the author writes of a meeting in February 1998 between the leaders of five Islamist groups from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt, Osama bin Laden among them. They met to form an "Islamic Struggle Front" and to declare it was legitimate to kill any American. Six months later came the attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that claimed 257 lives.

But Cooley does more than name the men and the organisations engaged in this conspiracy, he gives them a context. In an argument that is as compelling as it is complex, he traces the "globalisation of terrorism" to the experience of Muslim holy warriors opposing the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. At every step in constructing the argument, the author reminds us that the anti-Soviet jihad was aided, armed and trained by the Central Intelligence Agency and its allies of Cold War convenience.

From the earliest identification of Osama bin Laden as the probable inspiration of the New York and Washington assaults, media reports have referred to the CIA's historic link with the man who established Al-Qaieda.

These references have rarely been more than a cryptic line or two but here, we get chapter and verse on the budget appropriations and the lobbying by congressmen in Washington, the role of arms dealers from Saudi Arabia, the meetings of secret service agents in Pakistan, the supply of missiles from Egypt and the training of mujahedin in Virginia and North Carolina.

By the mid 1980s, US support for the mujahedin was costing $1 billion a year. The author reminds us frequently of the paradoxes of this policy. The copies of the Koran used in religious training of future holy warriors were printed in Virginia. The camps targeted with cruise missiles following the August 1998 US embassy bombings were camps "planned and designed by the CIA and Pakistan's ISI [secret service] and constructed in the early 1980s with the human and engineering resources of Osama bin Laden and his associates". The ISI trained 20,000 fighters at a "university" north of Peshawar; the "graduates" included some of those who bombed the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.

Cooley does not see the mujahedin as pawns or dupes. They had their own agendas and extraordinarily complex affiliations of tribe, clan, religious sect, Muslim charity, linguistic group and political party.

Layered on to that there were competing interests in the drugs trade and in the routing of oil pipelines.

The dupes, if there were any, were the US strategists who ignored these complications because, for the moment, the enemies of the Soviets and its allies in Kabul were the friends of the United States.

In 300 footnotes and many more references in the main narrative to intelligence reports, government memoranda, interviews and articles, the author reinforces the underpinning of his case. But he is also careful to state where he does not have evidence of direct connections that he suspects may exist.

Interestingly, in view of more recent events, the passages of the book dealing centrally with Osama bin Laden say little about direct US connections -- Osama had his own sources of funds, after all.

This is the work of a dying breed of journalist, the kind who has worked an international 'beat' for decades, and who has learned to make the relevant connections. Cooley covered the Algerian war of independence from 1956 as a freelance journalist. Since then, he has been a correspondent in Lebanon and Moscow and covering the Pentagon. He makes the instant experts on short-term missions for their news organisations sound hollow.

John Cooley has the experience and authority to offer judgement -- and the judgement he offered in wrapping up this second edition over a year ago is one that has acquired a strength he could never have imagined in the past two months.

He warns: "When you decide to go to war against your main enemy, take a good, long look at the people behind you whom you chose as your friends, allies or mercenary fighters."

The United States, having failed to exercise that caution, has fallen into the "fatal trap of substituting the religious faith of Islam for the dying secular faith of communism as a Satanic foe".

The judgement and the warning are based on vast evidence, painstakingly assembled. Cooley argues that US intelligence was aware of the destabilising effects in the region of its involvement in the anti-Soviet war. Among the more immediate effects of that war he identifies are the rise of drugs mafias in Russia, separatist movements in former Soviet states of central Asia, heightened tensions in the Kashmir, the ascendancy of the Taliban and a black market in US-made Stinger missiles.

The Arab and other international recruits to the holy war in Afghanistan have returned to their homelands, or gone elsewhere, as battle-hardened cadres in a global Islamist movement. Cooley finds the fingerprints of the "Afghans" in the 1997 slaughter of tourists in Luxor, Egypt, in the kidnaps and killings in the southern Philippines, in the upheavals by Muslims in the north-western Chinese provinces, in the actions of Hamas in Palestine, in bombings in Baku and in the murders of two Chechen leaders in London. The Algerian civil war, raging since 1992 and responsible for over 100,000 deaths, has been, says Cooley, "aggravated by the Algerian Afghanistan veterans who returned to lead its most radical factions".

Among the broader, and less directly traceable repercussions of the Afghan war is, in Cooley's view, the increased supply around the world of heroin. Central Asian production of heroin in the 1990s, after the Afghan war, was ten times the level of the 1970s.

The trucks that went north with arms from Egypt for the mujahedin returned south to the ports with drugs.
The CIA and Pakistan's ISI were directly associated with growers, processors and dealers. Pakistan has reaped an appalling harvest, with over 200,000 child drug addicts.

Unholy Wars shows signs of hurried re-publication in occasional repetitions, incomplete sentences and rather too frequent typographical errors. But these are small qualifications on an outstanding, sustained study.

Unholy Wars Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism

By John K Cooley Pluto, stg£15

Is it really possible that the United States knows as little about the targets of its military campaign in Afghanistan as the conduct of the war suggests?.

-- Ben (, October 08, 2003

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