Tuesday, December 30, 2014

...who needs enemies?

[excerpt, the book Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile] ------------------------ Wilson's mind raced as he listened to Hart describe the mujahideen's indomitable fighting spirit.  Hart explained that even as the two men spoke, this CIA-backed holy war was growing. 

The more Afghans the Russians killed, the more enlisted in the jihad. 

In the beginning, he said, they had acted as if they were still in the nineteenth century -- sniping with Enfields, even mounting the kind of ambushes that T.E. Lawrence would have organized with his Arab units.


Hordes of Afghans would mass and run screaming at Soviet caravans, which were led by tanks and armored personnel carriers and bristling with heavy machine guns, rockets, and tactical air support.  Thousands upon thousands of Afghans died, but the mujahideen, fueled by their religious convictions and their legendary warriors' tradition, refused to accept defeat. 

Now, almost three years later, their forces were growing both in numbers and in ability.  What had once been a nuisance for the Soviets was becoming a bleeding wound.

The CIA man explained [to Congressman Charlie Wilson] that he had watched the Afghan warriors pouring over the border, heading for Peshawar. 

Some came from valleys where foreigners had never gone, where the language they spoke might be known to no one else in the world.

Usually there had been no telephones or radios, not even postal delivery, but somehow they had all gotten word that Peshawar was the mecca of the jihad, the place to go for weapons. 

They came, not knowing what Afghans elsewhere were doing -- all moving in the same direction,

mystically organizing themselves into small bands

that somehow, when it was all added up, turned into a strangely coherent guerrilla force.  The mujahideen were moving on foot and on horseback across Afghanistan.

They were bringing their families to Pakistan.  The heads of the clans were arriving with their sons and nephews, their cousins and brothers, all looking for guns....

Hart had no illusions about these people, most of whom were Pashtun tribesmen. 

He knew how stubborn they were, how primitive and impossible to reason with. 

How foreign the concept of unity was to them. 

How brutal they could be with their prisoners if they took prisoners.  To Hart, ever the Cold War strategist, there was a simple equation:  as long as the mujahideen were prepared to pay almost any price to kill Russians, it was a heaven-sent opportunity for America to help them against the common foe.

Charlie Wilson had paid careful attention to what Howard Hart said, and at the outset he had been impressed.  "I felt better about Howard after listening to him," Wilson recalled years later.  "I could see then that he had an enthusiasm for the fight. 

But it was a different fight than I had in mind.  His idea was to be a burr under the saddle, an extreme nuisance, and he seemed very enthusiastic about this.  But he never envisioned killing the beast."

{So you tell me what you need to shoot down the helicopters.
-- What do you mean?
-- Tell me what you need....You tell me what you need, and I will go about gettin' it for you.
-- Congressman, I appreciate your generosity, but a sudden influx of money and modern weaponry would draw attention.
-- Draw attention?  This is the Cold War.  Everybody knows about it!

The fact was, in Howard Hart, Charlie Wilson was confronting a CIA mind-set that had long before grown accustomed to fighting lost causes.  There had been two Agency successes, always cited in the books -- the government overthrows in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in '54 -- but those were thunderbolt wonders pulled off with smoke and mirrors, golpes as they call them in Latin America.

The other interventions had invariably been grim affairs, designed to

hold the line against Communism

by launching spoiling actions all over the globe.  Any officer who permitted his emotions to run loose in this cruel arena, where

the "containment" game

was being played, could have had his heart broken every year:  all those sad campaigns to overthrow Sukarno; the colossal failure of the Cuban operations;

{"It has been said, victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan..."
-- JFK after the Bay of Pigs

the long and hopeless war in Indochina.  It had almost become the trademark of the CIA's Operations Division to:  fight and lose and finally be exposed and then mocked and vilified in the press, in Congress, and even at home by their children.

In late 1982, the suggestion that the CIA inflame the Afghans by giving them enough weapons to seek a victory over the Red Army would have sounded preposterous to Hart. 

No expert anywhere believed the mujahideen had a chance against the limitless reserves of men, armor, and air power of the country that had been willing to sacrifice over 10 million lives to destroy Hitler.

So when Wilson announced to Hart that money was no object and that he would personally see to it that Congress appropriated whatever amount Hart wanted for the mujahideen, the station chief was suddenly alarmed. 

"God protect us from our friends,"

he thought. -------------- [end excerpt]


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