Heritage Blowback

Heritage Blowback: The Unintended Consequences of Carte Blanche Support for Anti-Soviet Holy Warriors in Afghanistan

by Neal M. Hughes, 28 December 2007

The word jihad is an Arabic word for “struggle, warfare,” and other words in English. From this root is derived mujahedeen, or one who does jihad. The term was popularized in the 1980s as the valiant equivalent of Abyssinian warriors meeting Italian machine gun fire and air strafes on horseback with swords and flintlocks. The stated purpose of all the Anti-Soviet fighters was to liberate the lands infested with the Plague of Marx. In the West, and the USA in particular, the various groups – Nicaraguan contras, Cuban Exile Militants, and the mujahedeen – were seen as not so much as a viable fighting force as a continuous burr under the Soviet Union’s saddle. The history of such black ops has not been pretty. Let us consider Victor Jara’s broken hands in the Santiago Stadium and the 30,000 missing youth of Argentina alongside the murdered Archbishop Romero and nuns in El Salvador for the heritage of US funding of such activities in Central and South America.

Heritage? A good word for a paragraph transition here, albeit, this author must admit, a bit forced. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank which was very close to the Republican administrations of the twentieth and current centuries after its foundation by Scaife in the early 1970s. During the rise of the Communist government in Afghanistan, an indigenous movement — so far as any foreign movement can be in that tribal land – found its socialist revolution under attack by truly semi-indigenous agents, i.e., the Code of the Pashtun and conservative Sunni Islam of the Afghani’s preferred flavor. As a consequence, the Communist government “invited” the Soviet Union’s troops to “assist” in the pacification of the various Afghan rebel forces.

Urging the tribal and Islamic fighters ever onwards were a mixture of Cold Warriors, think tanks, and assorted arm chair strategists, the Heritage Foundation included. Indeed, by 1987, The National Review in a short article entitled “1987: Year Eight” cited Joe Phillips of the Heritage Foundation. Buckley, through Phillips, through Scaife, had this to say:

James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation suggests that the U.S. take several steps in addition to providing the current estimated $470 million per year to the resistance: more modern weaponry, radios, mine detectors, medicine, training. Aid to Pakistan, next item on the Soviet menu, should also be boosted.

Phillips urges that Afghanistan be given top priority in U.S. diplomatic and propaganda efforts. Despite some early optimistic predictions that Afghanistan would be “the Soviets’ Vietnam,” we have done almost nothing to make it so. We can’t count on the Soviet media, after all, to play the role our own media played in Vietnam-the central weakness of the analogy. Quiet aid to the resistance isn’t enough. Collateral costs to the Soviets need to be increased. (1)

Indeed, Joe Phillips of the Heritage Foundation – by then receiving additional funding by Joseph Coors, Sr. and the Koch family – had an entire laundry list of proposed steps to make Afghanistan into the USSR’s own Vietnam. Among these were:

Improving organizational abilities: The mujahedeen should be working to provide Afghan civilians with long-term alternatives to Communist rule. Resistance groups should be encouraged to organize and mobilize the people of the areas where they are strongest.

Aid for Pakistan: Islamabad has borne significant security risks on behalf of the Afghan resistance and continues to bear the brunt of the economic burden imposed by three million Afghan refugees. Washington should help reduce these risks and lighten the economic burden. The Administration has proposed a six-year $4 billion program of military and economic aid to Pakistan. The aid should be focused on the Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan, where it would help ease tensions between refugees and Pakistanis. (2)

“Aye, but there’s the rub,” Will Shakestaff had Hal to say upon the contemplation of suicide. There, verily and forsooth, was the rub. Due to the humanitarian crisis encountered in the refugee camps of the North West Frontier and Tribal areas of Pakistan, the slack was picked up by the Taliban and eventually the Arabian largesse of bin Ladin and his al-Qaeda. The “military and economic aid to Pakistan” largely having evidently gone into the mysterious place wherever “military and economic aid” goes, i.e., to the military and some well connected pockets; the obvious void was then filled through Arabian largesse.

There can be no denying that both the Taliban and bin Ladin’s al-Qaeda made a great deal of friends in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Young Arabs of the fundamentalist bent came to Afghanistan to join the mujahedeen and the Taliban, where they were by-and-large rejected: somehow a lack of Pashtun or Farsi is a bit of a detriment to successful cooperation. However, those who did not flock to the ascetic image of the “perfected” Arab holy warrior, Osama bin Ladin initially, soon did when in Afghanistan.

The image of an Afghanistan, the first step of a worldwide quest for the restoration of the Caliphate under al-Qaeda’s tutelage and money, soon evidently led to open discord between the Taliban – then in power in Kabul with all the accoutrements of power (outlawing the shaving of men’s beards, recorded music, and destroying the relics of pre-Islamic Afghanistan such as the Giant Buddhas) – who were at least as interested in not advancing the revolution to the world, at least not just yet, reminiscent of “Communism in One Country,” with al-Qaeda playing the role of Trotsky, albeit not with ice ax to the back of the head, but “safe” from the fear of extradition within the literal Al-Qaeda, bin Ladin’s base camp. The Taliban were free in the meanwhile to battle tribal rivals and to whip women who dared to attend school or not cover their faces adequately in public.

Once upon a time the various factions were the Darlings of the Western World, making most partisans appear to be veritable Playboys in comparison. When a peace was brokered in 1988 the Cold Warriors and Armchair Generals of the various think tanks came to armed penmanship:

“The continued bloodshed in Afghanistan would be a blight on the Reagan administration and a lost opportunity for freedom and self-determination of the Afghan people,” the letter said. “How can you assure that the U.S. will continue to support the Mujahedeen {Afghan resistance fighters} when the U.N. accord prohibits`outside interference?’ “

Resistance leaders have vehemently denounced the accords and pledged to escalate their struggle against the Soviet forces and the Soviet-backed Kabul government.

The delegation included Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation; Cullom Davis, chairman of the Heritage Foundation board of trustees; retired Lieutenant Colonel Daniel O. Graham, chairman of High Frontier; and Peter Flahert . . . .

Also in the group were William W. Pascoe III, a Heritage Third World analyst, Constantine Menges, a former National Security Council expert on Central America, and Dan McMichael, a conservative activist. (3)

Looking back upon the entire debacle of Afghan aid, one analysis finds that the Taliban were, at least in the person of Mullah Omar, tied to the original mujahedeen:

Backfiring of U.S. Policy

“Then emerged the Taliban. They came together in Pakistan in late 1994 as a militia of Pashtun Islamic fundamentalist students. These students had received training in Pakistan’s religious schools attended by refugee men who had formerly fought as the CIA-backed mujahedeen. Indeed, a man who played a significant role in the advent and growth of the Taliban movement was Mullah Mohammed Omar, the current chief of the Taliban and former fighter under a CIA-trained commander. Garnering power and support during a peak of political fractiousness, the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, declaring themselves the legitimate government of Afghanistan.” (4)

We know what happened after the Taliban came to power. We know what happened after bin Ladin and his al-Qaeda were given safe haven in Afghanistan. Indeed, it does even border upon hyperbole to say that the conservative think tanks were the lead cheerleaders for the mujahedeen, merely to thump the nose of the evil empire of the CCCP. Imagine their surprise when they actually won and then did what they seem to do best in Afghanistan, revert to a series of tribal wars, with the Taliban as the newest metatribe coming out on top for a spell, and enabling al-Qaeda. Is it a leap of the imagination to suggest that the Heritage Foundation and other think tanks bear some intellectual responsibility for al-Qaeda’s attacks, or should at least deal with their backwash instead of urging on a new war for such purposes? But such would be the world of honor, and not of pragmatic “deep thought” by soi disant experts as the “scholars” and “fellows” at the various Scaife/Koch/Coors institutes and foundations. With such thought coming from such institutes, one is ready for non-experts with a surplus of common sense than these experts.


1. “1987: Year Eight.” National Review 23 (30 Jan. 1987).
2. ibid.
3. David B. Ottaway, Lou Cannon,” Conservatives Oppose Afghan Accords; Groups’ Delegation Says Reagan Has `Let Down’ Resistance Fighters’”. The Washington Post. 13 Apr. 1988, p. A-30.
4. Reyko Huang, “Lessons from History: U.S. Policy Toward Afghanistan, 1978-2001.” Oct. 5, 2001. URL: http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/afghanistan-history-pr.cfm. Accessed 28 December 2007.


3 Responses to Heritage Blowback

  1. Joe Halvorson says:

    I am researching the motivation behind radical Islam and have found two schools of thought. One is the “they attack us because we (America) are free and prosperous”
    along with the “world caliphate” theory. The other school of thought is that American
    intervention, and support of Isreal are the motivation as stated in bin Laden’s Declaration of War.

    You mention “restoration of the Caliphate” in the above posting and I haven’t found
    any documentation to support this first school of thought. I would appreciate any help or references you could give me in this research.

    Great site. I’ll be reading more articles.

    Many thanks,
    Joe Halvorson

  2. Jay Robinson says:

    Neal, I believe it was William Safire who coined the phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

  3. wickedtrio says:

    Indeed, Jay, it was. I try not to fact check when on a roll. Bad habit, xince I triple check everyone’s citations! Truthfully, I cannot edit myself at all. Well, I obviously can, and often do, but not to the degree to which I insist upon others!

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