Never ending Flow: The Afghan Pipeline By Steve Galster 
General Zia and US President Ronald Reagan [Two Brothers]
Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan General Zia [1977-1988]
While revelations of Reagan's covert war in Nicaragua continue to dazzle the American public, a far bigger and more complex covert program has gone relatively unnoticed in Afghanistan. After nearly nine years of covert involvement, the U.S. has poured over $2 billion into the Afghan war, far more than the total amount that has gone to Nicaragua, Angola, and Kampuchea combined. In fact, the estimated amount of money "lost" in the Afghan pipeline by the CIA's own estimates easily exceeds the total amount of U.S. support that has gone to the contras.
Congressmen who strongly opposed contra aid have not only supported Reagan's covert war in Afghanistan but have teamed up with Reagan Doctrine advocates to expand the administration's program. Whereas the war in Nicaragua is now the "bad" war, Afghanistan has from the start been viewed as the "good" war, and as the rebels call it, a "holy" war or jihad. Thus, with their broad base of support and their strategically placed war below the Soviet border, the Afghan rebels have earned the forefront position in President Reagan's global strategy of "rollback" and billions of dollars in CIA support.
Officially, the Reagan administration's policy toward Afghanistan is to "seek the earliest possible negotiated political settlement there to effect the withdrawal of Soviet forces."
This policy, which is a continuation of that set up under Jimmy Carter, is ostensibly pursued along two tracks: covert aid and negotiations. Carter believed that a "modest" amount of secret military aid would enhance the prospects for a negotiated settlement.
The Reagan administration, on the other hand, has reasoned that the more aid the U.S. can provide to the rebels the better the chances are of bringing the Soviets to the negotiating table. Even with a Soviet withdrawal assured today, the administration has vowed to pursue this strategy "peace through strength" by continuing its support of the rebels. However, a closer look at the administration's seven year secret war in Afghanistan reveals that it has been little interested in peace there. In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that U.S. policy has been to sabotage attempts at a negotiated settlement until the Soviets have been, in the view of some, had been "sufficiently bled."
The Policy and the Pipeline
Former US CIA Chief William Casey
Former US CIA Chief William Casey with US President Ronald Reagan
In March 1981 CIA Director Casey proposed to President Reagan that the CIA upgrade and expand the Afghan covert aid pipeline.
US President Jimmy Carter
Under Carter, the CIA had coordinated the Afghan weapons supply line with Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia provided the funds, Egypt and China provided the weapons, and Pakistan served as the conduit and sanctuary. Initially the U.S. and Saudi Arabia provided about $30 million each to purchase Soviet-style weapons manufactured in Egypt and China.
Retired American military officers contracted out by the CIA along with Chinese and Pakistani officials, were on hand to the rebels. But the secrecy of foreign involvement was the important element of the program. "The Afghan struggle (was) an ‘Islamic' struggle," President Carter told his aides, "and U.S. assistance should not disturb that impression.
Much has changed in the CIA's Afghan war under Reagan. Most of the same countries are still involved, and the cultivation of the war's image as a fight between Islam and communism remains crucial to maintaining the rebels' broad support. But with the rapidly expanding political and financial support for the program, the U.S. Afghan policy and its covert aid pipeline have been significantly altered.
After Casey's proposal to expand the Afghan program in March 1981, the U.S. looked directly to Saudi Arabia for more assistance. With the promise that Reagan would get Congress to approve the sale of AWACS to them, the Saudis immediately doled out $15 million to the resistance, mainly through private bank accounts in Oman and Pakistan.
In October, when the U.S. delivered the first five AWACS to Saudi Arabia, King Fahd agreed to increase assistance to both the Afghan rebels and the Nicaraguan contras.
The role of Pakistan, which worried about its vulnerable position vis a vis the Soviets, was also enhanced. To allay President Zia's concerns and to ensure further Pakistani cooperation, the Reagan administration secretly offered to station U.S. troops in Pakistan.
However, Zia stated that he preferred weapons to troops.The next month, in September, the U.S. agreed to a six year, $3.2 billion program of U.S. economic and military assistance.It was also agreed that Pakistan would continue its coordinating role in weapons supply. This agreement, which is still in effect today, went as follows: once in Pakistan, whether at the port of Karachi or the Peshawar airport, the weapons would be handed over to the National Logistics Cell (NLC) of the Pakistani Interservice Intelligence Directorate (ISID), the equivalent of the CIA and FBI combined. CIA station officers in Karachi and Peshawar would examine the receipts for the weapons but would not even check the crates to see if they were accurate.
The NLC officials would then drive the weapons to either Quetta in the West or Peshawar in the East. Once there, the ISID, under CIA supervision, would distribute the arms to the seven rebel groups recognized by the Pakistani government. These groups would then drive the weapons to either their arms depots along the border or to the local arms bazaar where they could make a healthy profit selling their new AK 47s and RPG 7s to drug dealers and local tribesmen.
In this early period the CIA looked largely to Egypt and China for supplies. Both countries handed over weapons from their own stocks while CIA supervised factories outside Cairo turned out Soviet style arms to add to the flow. Hughes Aircraft Company was contracted out to upgrade some of Egypt's weapons, particularly the SAM 7 anti aircraft guns. The Egyptian arms stock was replenished with new American weapons and China earned much needed hard currency, in addition to fulfilling one of its own foreign policy goals of containing the Soviets. A fair amount of the rebels' weapons were also captured from and sometimes even sold by Afghan government troops.
Still, getting outside weapons to the rebels in Pakistan remained an important task. Eventually China made some use of the newly opened Karokaram highway and continued to load CIA run planes and ships destined for Peshawar and Karachi.
Egyptian weapons continued to be flown directly to Pakistan but were sometimes landed in Oman, from where they were shipped to Karachi to avoid being traced. The Reagan administration was quite impressed with the rebels' surprising show of force during this first year. Members of the 208 Committee (the restricted inter agency committee that handled covert operations) suddenly saw tremendous prospects in Afghanistan for gaining a global strategic edge on the Soviets. This elite group included Vincent Cannistraro, an ex CIA official who served as White House head of covert operations; Morton Abramowitz, State Department head of intelligence; Bert Dunn, Chief of the CIA's Near East and South Asia Division; Oliver North, and alternating members from the Defense Department including Elie Krakowski, head of Regional Defense, and Richard Armitage.
Colonel Oliver North
These and other administration officials thought that by tying down and "bleeding" the Soviets in Afghanistan the U.S. could divert Soviet attention away from other Third World hot spots like Nicaragua and Angola, making room for the U.S. to maneuver. If the Afghan rebels could keep up their fight for several years (if not decades), the Soviets would eventually incur serious financial, military, and political problems. Little danger was seen in the Soviets expanding their war out of frustration into Iran or Pakistan because of Iran's intransigence and Pakistan's beefed up military, not to mention its mutual defense pact with the U.S.
It began to appear, as one Congressman put it, that "the U.S. [had] a real chance to make Afghanistan the Soviets' Vietnam."
Sabotaging a Settlement
The only thing standing in the way of creating a morass for the Soviets in Afghanistan was the near term prospect for peace. Although some U.S. officials have, since the beginning of the war, wanted to negotiate a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the evidence suggests that they were not very influential. Following the first formal U.N. sponsored peace talks in the summer of 1982, U.N. mediator Diego Cordovez announced that the negotiating parties, Pakistan and the Afghan government, had made important concessions and that he planned to present a broad outline of an agreement that fall.
However, just before Cordovez was to unveil his peace plan, President Reagan ordered the CIA to increase the quantity and quality of weapons to the rebels. The "bleeders" had been at work. Several months later, in December, Yuri Andropov told President Zia at Leonid Brezhnev's funeral that the Soviet Union would leave Afghanistan "quickly" if Pakistan ceased its support of the resistance.
Subsequently the White House ordered the CIA to immediately provide the rebels with increased amounts of bazookas, mortars, grenade launchers, mines, recoilless rifles, and shoulder fired anti-aircraft guns.
It appears that this trend of sabotaging peace negotiations as long as the resistance was willing and able to fight became the unofficial Afghan policy in the White House. Proof of this policy manifested itself in 1983 when an end to the Soviet occupation seemed as certain as it does today. In late April of that year, the negotiating parties gathered in Geneva to map out another plan for a Soviet withdrawal. To enhance the prospects for a settlement, the Soviets secretly told the Pakistani government in late March that they would begin to withdraw by September if the Pakistanis ceased their support for the resistance.
The Pakistanis took the Soviet pledge seriously and several weeks later issued a directive to the rebels to move their headquarters from Peshawar and to disperse their groups.
The resistance alliance, which has been dominated by the radical fundamentalist factions, was furious. The withdrawal of Soviet troops was only one of their goals; the militant fundamentalists also intended to purge the country of everything that smacked of communism, including anyone who had served the government in any way. For them the war was far from over. These groups had even stated their intention to carry their jihad into the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile U.N. officials Diego Cordovez and Javier Perez de Cuellar shuttled to the Soviet Union and China where they received guarantees for a possible settlement.
By late April, the Pakistani and Afghan governments had "virtually settled" the simultaneous withdrawal of outside support which would begin in September.
But one week later, the White House for the first time leaked to the press the fact that it was covertly aiding the resistance and would continue to do so until the political aims of the resistance alliance were met. Needless to say the talks came to a screeching halt.
Embarrassed, but still hopeful about salvaging a settlement that June, Pakistani Foreign Minister Yaqub Khan scurried to Washington in May to enlist the Reagan administration's cooperation. Khan told Vice President Bush and Secretary of State Shultz that the Soviets wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan but with minimal humiliation.
Bush and Shultz apparently convinced Khan that the U.S. was not interested in facilitating a graceful Soviet withdrawal. The following next month the U.N. sponsored talks broke down immediately when Khan wanted to re open discussion on clauses concerning non interference.Two weeks later Shultz visited Pakistan to reassure both the resistance and the Pakistani government that the U.S. would not abandon them "in their fight against Soviet aggression.
Congress and the Jihad
With Pakistan now cemented into the "bleeders" camp, the U.S. was well positioned to turn up the heat on the Soviets. Starting in 1984 and continuing to the present, the administration has received continual boosts to pursue this strategy from Congress. Congressman Charles Wilson, (Dem. Calif) a high ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Committee who claims "we owe the Soviets one for Vietnam," visited President Zia in late 1983 to see what the U.S. could do to strengthen the rebels.
In the spring of 1984 he and his colleagues summoned Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McMahon to explain why the CIA wasn't doing more for the rebels. McMahon, who was neither interested in providing the rebels with sophisticated weaponry nor in expanding the already large paramilitary operation below the Soviet border, claimed that the rebels were being adequately supplied.
The Congressmen, realizing that they had allies in the State Department (Abramowitz), the White House (Cannistraro) and the Defense Department (Krakowski and Armitage), and that CIA Director Casey was supportive of their cause, proceeded to draft legislation that would force high level bureaucrats like McMahon to cooperate in expanding the Afghan program.
In the Fall of 1984 Congress passed a resolution calling for "effective" aid for the Afghan rebels and immediately doubled the administration's request for aid. To handle the growing amount of funds, the CIA established a joint bank account with the Saudis in Switzerland. The Saudis promised to match the U.S. funds dollar for dollar and both governments began by pledging $250 million each.
The CIA began to upgrade the quality of weapons for the rebels. In January 1985 it purchased 40 Oerlikon anti aircraft guns from the Swiss firm Oerlikon Buhrle at a cost of $50 million. Also, many of the Chinese weapons destined for the rebels were being upgraded. Some were sent to Egypt while many were flown to a CIA weapons plant somewhere in the midwestern United States. In addition, a New Jersey company was contracted to make explosives for the rebels.
As the CIA upgraded the covert pipeline, the Soviets again began to hint that they wanted out of Afghanistan. In March 1985, new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told Pakistani President Zia at Konstantine Chernenko's funeral that the war could end as soon as Pakistan ceased its support of the rebels.
But in keeping with U.S. policy, President Reagan several weeks later signed National Security Decision Directive 166 cafling for efforts to drive Soviet forces from Afghanistan "by all means available. One of the "bleeders," Morton Abramowitz, succeeded in inserting language into the directive calling for an expansion of the program every year.
Thus, with $250 million in newly appropriated funds, the CIA's mission was clearer than ever. The only problem was finding the weapons to spend all the new money on. Neither the Chinese nor the Egyptians could fill the increasing requests. So to quickly expend a large portion of the new money and to satisfy the constant demand for better anti aircraft guns, the CIA in late 1985 purchased 300 British made Blowpipe missiles from Short Brothers Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Since the United Kingdom has had no official policy to militarily support the rebels, the weapons were sold to a third country who then handed them over to the CIA for a profit.
But the rebels were still in need of more AK 47 rifles and SAM 7s, among other types of unsophisticated weaponry. The problem was finding another supplier. Someone suggested Poland, and judging by documents from the Iran/contra hearings it was probably the ever present John Singlaub. Through the GeoMilitech Corporation, Singlaub and his associate Barbara Studley had arranged to get Polish weapons to the contras. And Studley had proposed a plan to DCI Casey in December 1985 for GeoMilitech to facilitate the supply of weapons to the rebels.
By early 1986 weapons were being purchased in Poland and quietly shipped out of the northwest port of Stettin. To handle the increasing flow of weapons into Pakistan, the Pakistani government built a new network of roads from Peshawar and Quetta to the small border towns that act as arms depots.
To transfer the weapons from these towns over the border into Pakistan, the Afghans initially had to rent mules and trucks. In order to cover the rebels' transportation expenses the CIA counterfeited and provided to the rebels millions of dollars worth of Afghan currency.