This summer, I had the pleasure of reading Ghost Wars by Steve Coll. The book was indeed a very interesting read and it focused on the US involvement in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan War. The book captures the way in which the involvement of the CIA in the Afghan War gradually shifted gears.
The main objective of the CIA during the initial stages of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was primarily to ensure that the Soviet exercise would be a costly one. The CIA forged a relationship with Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate to funnel funds and weapons to Afghan fighters (mujahedeen). The CIA’s Afghan program, which started during President Carter’s tenure, was primarily conducted by the ISI for the most part. Both the US and Pakistan recognized the potential threat posed by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. As the US did not want to be directly involved in thwarting the Soviet invasion, the US handed over the operational aspect of the program to the ISI. The ISI was in charge of providing the funds and weapons to the mujahedeen and setting up training camps. Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency also played a very important role in providing funds which were vital for the success of this exercise. During President Nixon’s tenure, however, the focus of the CIA began to change. William Casey took over as director of the CIA and remained personally involved in the Afghan program. He took steps to ensure that the CIA played a more aggressive role in ruining the Soviet attempt to occupy Afghanistan. The funds and weapons channeled to the mujahedeen soon stood at staggering levels. The CIA involvement proved to be successful as the Soviets were never able to gain a strong foothold in Afghanistan. The war proved to be far too costly for them. However, their decision to pull out of Afghanistan caught the US off guard. The US did not have a strategy in hand with regards to their involvement in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. It was widely perceived that the Soviet backed communist government put in place in Kabul would soon be toppled by the mujahedeen. The US remained indecisive over the next course of action in Afghanistan and the ISI took the opportunity to carry out its own agenda in Afghanistan.
Besides, owing to the ISI’s practice of favoring certain Afghan fighters over others resulted in rifts among the Afghans. A power vacuum emerged and Afghanistan now ranked fairly low in the US agenda. The mujahedeen had lost a common enemy that united them together and they disputed over the direction in which Afghanistan would go after the Afghan war. The two main rivals within the mujahedeen were Ahmad Shah Massoud and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The lack of unity and ethnic prejudices prevalent among the Afghan fighters turned Afghanistan into a lawless country in the in 1990s. Amidst all the chaos and disorder, the Taliban emerged as a growing power in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
The book then goes on to explain how the US initially tried to deal with the Taliban and the emergence of bin Laden as a threat to US security. The book definitely puts into perspective the situation in Afghanistan and the history of the US involvement in the region.