Osama Bin Laden: How the U.S. helped midwife a terrorist
By Ahmed Rashid
In 1986, CIA chief William Casey had stepped up the war against the Soviet Union by taking three significant, but at that time highly secret, measures. He had persuaded the US Congress to provide the Mujaheddin with American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down Soviet planes and provide US advisers to train the guerrillas. Until then, no US-made weapons or personnel had been used directly in the war effort.
The CIA, Britain's MI6 and the ISI [PakistanŐs Inter-Services Intelligence] also agreed on a provocative plan to launch guerrilla attacks into the Soviet Socialist Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the soft Muslim underbelly of the Soviet state from where Soviet troops in Afghanistan received their supplies. The task was given to the ISI's favourite Mujaheddin leader, Gulbuddin Hikmetyar. In March 1987, small units crossed the Amu Darya river from bases in northern Afghanistan and launched their first rocket attacks against villages in Tajikistan. Casey was delighted with the news, and on his next secret trip to Pakistan he crossed the border into Afghanistan with [the late Pakistani] President Zia [ul-Haq] to review the Mujaheddin groups.
Thirdly, Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI initiative to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan Mujaheddin. The ISI had encouraged this since 1982, and by now all the other players had their reasons for supporting the idea. President Zia aimed to cement Islamic unity, turn Pakistan into the leader of the Muslim world and foster an Islamic opposition in Central Asia. Washington wanted to demonstrate that the entire Muslim world was fighting the Soviet Union alongside the Afghans and their American benefactors. And the Saudis saw an opportunity both to promote Wahabbism [their strict and austere Wahabbi creed] and to get rid of its disgruntled radicals. None of the players reckoned on these volunteers having their own agendas, which would eventually turn their hatred against the Soviets on their own regimes and the Americans......
A young Bin Laden
. . . Among these thousands of foreign recruits was a young Saudi student, Osama Bin Laden, the son of a Yemeni construction magnate, Mohammed Bin Laden, who was a close friend of the late King Faisal and whose company had become fabulously wealthy on the contracts to renovate and expand the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. The ISI had long wanted Prince Turki Bin Faisal, the head of Istakhbarat, the Saudi Intelligence Service, to provide a Royal Prince to lead the Saudi contingent in order to show Muslims the commitment of the Royal Family to the jihad. Only poorer Saudis, students, taxi drivers and Bedouin tribesmen had so far arrived to fight. But no pampered Saudi prince was ready to rough it out in the Afghan mountains. Bin Laden, although not a royal, was close enough to the royals and certainly wealthy enough to lead the Saudi contingent. Bin Laden, Prince Turki and General Gut were to become firm friends and allies in a common cause.
The centre for the Arab-Afghans [Filipino Moros, Uzbeks from Soviet Central Asia, Arabs from Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and Uighurs from Xinjiang in China who had all come to fight with the Mujaheddin] was the offices of the World Muslim League and the Muslim Brotherhood in the northern Pakistan city of Peshawar. The center was run by Abdullah Azam, a Jordanian Palestinian whom Bin Laden had first met at university in Jeddah and revered as his leader. Azam and his two sons were assassinated by a bomb blast in Peshawar in 1989.
During the 1980s, Azam had forged close links with Hikmetyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the Afghan Islamic scholar, whom the Saudis had sent to Peshawar to promote Wahabbism. Saudi funds flowed to Azam and the Makhtab at Khidmat or Services Center, which he created in 1984 to service the new recruits and receive donations from Islamic charities. Donations from Saudi Intelligence, the Saudi Red Crescent, the World Muslim League and private donations from Saudi princes and mosques were channelled through the Makhtab. A decade later, the Makhtab would emerge at the center of a web of radical organizations that helped carry out the World Trade Center bombing and the bombings of US embassies in Africa in 1998.