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| Guest Commentary: September 18, 2001
Was U.S. Aiding the Taliban?
Editor's Note: A must read; you will be livid over the level of incompetency in our intelligence agencies
The Honorable Dana Rohrabacher
I worked in the White House during the years when Ronald Reagan brought an end to the Cold War, culminating with the dismantling of the communist dictatorship that controlled Russia and its puppet states. Essential to that great victory was President Reagan's support for various people who were fighting to free themselves from communist tyranny.
The bravest and most fierce of these anti-Soviet insurgents were in Afghanistan. The American people can be proud that we provided the Afghan people the weapons they needed to win their own freedom and independence. That Cold War battle was a major factor in breaking the will of the communist bosses in Moscow, thus ending the Cold War, making almost everyone on this planet in these last 10 years, especially in the Western democracies, safer and more prosperous.
This, however, is where we must begin to understand the grotesque crime that has now been committed against us. One of the common errors found in news reports in these last few days has been the suggestion that those holding power in Afghanistan today are the same people who we supported in the war against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan back in the 1980s. This, by and large, is wrong.
Yes, some of those currently in power in Kabul also fought the Russians. But, by and large, we are talking about two different groups, two different sets of people. Those who fought the Soviet occupation were called the Mujahedin. During my time at the White House during the 1980s, I had the opportunity to meet and get to know most of their leaders. The current Taliban leadership does not include any of those wartime leaders.
After I left the White House and was elected to Congress, but before I was sworn into Congress, I knew I had that two months between November and January to do things that I could never do once I was elected to Congress. I chose to hike into Afghanistan as part of a small Mujahedin unit and to engage in a battle against the Russian and communist forces near and around the city of Jalalabad.
After the collapse of the Communist regime in Afghanistan, the Mujahedin factions who fought the Russians, but with no direction from the United States, began bickering and fighting among themselves. This went on for several years. Then, in 1996, a new force appeared, seemingly out of nowhere: the Taliban. These were fresh, well-equipped forces who had, by and large, sat out the war in Pakistan. They had been in Pakistan in what they called schools.
"Taliban," by the way, means student, even though most of these are older men who are totally illiterate. All of the money America provided the Mujahedin during the war had to be sent through; that is, the war against Soviet Union occupation, had to be sent through the equivalent of the Pakistani CIA, which is called the ISI. But apparently, the Pakistanis had siphoned enough off to create a third force, and since the war was over and the other factions had been bled white, they could use this third force to dominate Afghanistan.
Also behind the Taliban is and was Saudi Arabia. During the war against the Russians, the Saudis provided the Afghan resistance with hundreds of millions of dollars. For that we can be grateful. They are one of the few countries that stepped up to the plate during the Cold War to actually confront the Soviet Union aggression. Unfortunately, however, the Saudis were financing anti-Western as well as Anti-Communist Muslims, and one of those who they financed was bin Laden.
I cannot forget also as I marched with that Mujahedin unit to the battle of Jalalabad and, by the way, that battle was a long-time siege that had been taking place around the city, we at one point in that march came across a camp of tents. They were white tents and you could see them in the distance, and I was told at that point I must not speak English for at least another 3 hours, because the people in those tents were Saudi Arabians under a crazy commander named bin Laden, and that bin Laden was so crazy that he wanted to kill Americans as much as he wanted to kill Russians. Thus, I must keep my mouth shut or we would be attacked by those forces, by those forces under bin Laden.
Later, much later, after I had become a Congressman, I met with the head of Saudi intelligence, the man responsible for providing that money to the Afghans during the war, the $200 million or so, or whatever it was that the Saudis provided to the Afghans. His name was General Turkey. I suggested to General Turkey that what we needed to do now that the Russians had left Afghanistan was to bring back to Afghanistan the exiled king of Afghanistan. It was King Zahir Shah who was overthrown in 1972. It was that overthrow of this king who had been a very good person and a good man, it was his overthrow that started the bloody cycle of events which eventually led to the Soviet Union invasion of 1979 and the subsequent war against Soviet Union occupation.
I suggested to bring back the king of Afghanistan because he was a wonderful person and beloved by his people. He was a person who was a moderate in his approach and never killed other people. He, in fact, was truly a moderate and, I might say, pro-western or western oriented, although a devout Muslim. But the Saudis wanted nothing to do with bringing back a moderate good-hearted king from exile. They and their Pakistani allies were in the process of creating a secret third force that I did not know anything about: the Taliban. But during my conversation, it was mentioned that a third force was being created, one that could take over Afghanistan and bring stability, but, of course, one that would do the bidding of their Pakistani and Saudi handlers.
One must wonder why the Saudi Arabians and the Pakistanis are even to this day so involved in Afghanistan. This is an important fact of history that we need to understand. Number one, the type of religious fervor they have and the type of Islam they have in Saudi Arabia is very similar to that in Afghanistan. It is unbending and intolerant and they do not permit any other faith in their country. Also, the Pakistanis, a large number of the Pakistanis, especially those who were the Pastuns up near the border of Afghanistan, they too share the same type of extremist and fanatic branch of Islam, even though that has nothing to do, it is an aberration, with the rest of Islam throughout the world. So that is number one. They have that in common.
But the Pakistanis and the Saudis have two other things in common. As long as chaos was able to reign and continues in Afghanistan, there will never be a pipeline built through Afghanistan that permits the oil from central Asia. This vast quantity of oil that we know exists in central Asia, it cannot be brought to market because a pipeline will never be built through Afghanistan while the Taliban is in power and while chaos reins. What does that mean? That means oil prices have been much higher, maybe $5 a barrel higher, than they would have been had Afghanistan been under a good king and a stable government and a pipeline built that would have brought that oil out into the world market; and there are vast quantities of oil in central Asia waiting, just waiting to come to market.
The other factor is drugs. Unfortunately, there are many corrupt people and there are corrupt people all over the world, but there are many corrupt people in the Pakistani intelligence system, people who have been involved with drugs right up to their eyeballs. And what has Afghanistan produced in these last 10 years? Sixty percent of the world's heroin. Sixty percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan. That huge amount of money, I knew, would bring down the government of Pakistan, the democracy of Pakistan.
Today, instead of a democracy, Pakistan has a military government because of the instability that is created by a Taliban regime of fanatics right next door. But there were people in Pakistan that profited by that regime.
When the Taliban fist arrived on the scene, people believed that they would be a force for stability. So, by and large, they were welcomed by many Afghan people, except in the northern provinces. And let me note that when the Taliban first arrived on the scene, they were carrying pictures of the old exiled king, Zahir Shah, claiming they were going to bring back the king, as I say, a much beloved figure. Well, the people in the northern provinces were not fooled, and the Taliban, they did not want the Taliban to take over their areas; and the Taliban were blocked by local commanders unwilling to permit these unfamiliar troops, as I say, many of whom totally sat out the war against the Russians. They were not going to let them just come in and take over their territory. And all too soon, the people of Afghanistan and the rest of the world were to discover that the Pakistanis and the Saudis had created a monster.
The Taliban were and are medieval in their words, in their world view, and their religious view. They are violent, they are intolerant, they are fanatics that are totally out of sync with Muslims throughout the world, even Muslims in their own country, and they are especially out of sync with Muslims living in the western democracies.
The Taliban are best known for their horrific treatment of women, but they are violators of human rights across the board. They have jailed and threatened to execute Christian aid workers. And let us not forget those Christian aid workers who are in Afghanistan being held under arrest as we speak. In fact, they have jailed and threatened to execute these Christian aid workers, people who came there to help their people, for allegedly, allegedly daring to espouse a belief in Jesus Christ. That is enough to get them executed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have ended all personal freedoms. Freedom of speech and press are not even under consideration. And the Taliban ruled by fear and force and when they were asked, and I challenged them to have an election so the people of Afghanistan could choose their government and if they chose the Taliban, so be it, the Taliban only laughed and stonewalled and refused to even consider permitting the Afghan people to have an election and choose their leaders. ...
The Taliban are as big an enemy of the United States and, yes, as big an enemy to the Afghan people as they are to the people of the United States. The Talibans believe they have a private line to God, and the rest of us, with our religious constrictions are, according to the Taliban, we are not only wrong, but we are evil. That is why they have been willing to give safe haven to the likes of bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist who has been now in Afghanistan for several years. About 5 years he has been in Afghanistan, we have known he has been there, he has been visible. And while he has been there, he has been clearly training terrorists and planning out his attacks. This is nothing new. We have known about that. And oh, yes, bin Laden has an army of several thousand gunmen who he has brought in from various parts of the world, so they are foreigners to the people of Afghanistan, and this group of gunmen have been running around Afghanistan like a pack of mad dogs killing anyone who is an enemy to Taliban power. These foreign religious fanatics have killed thousands of Afghans, so the Taliban and bin Laden are as despised in that country as they are in our country today.
For these last few years, the Taliban, with the support of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have captured control of all but a small portion of Afghanistan. Only the Panjshir Valley territory in northeastern Afghanistan and the Shamali Plains north of Kabul are under the control and have been under the control of a legendary and dashing leader named Commander Massoud and they remain free of Taliban domination.
The day before the attack on the world trade towers and the Pentagon, there was an attempt to kill Commander Massoud. Many of us thought he was dead, he was reported dead, but he struggled for life for another 5 days and just died 2 days ago.
However, the attack on Commander Massoud; and I knew him, I had met him in Afghanistan. By the way, I will just say that I have been in and out of Afghanistan several times in these last few years.
The last time I went in was to see Commander Massoud. The attack on the commander told me something terrible was about to happen, something terrible was about to happen, because Massoud was someone that bin Laden understood that if he did something that would make the United States or someone else very angry at him, that Massoud was someone that would be turned to immediately by our side to ally with.
So before the attack on the World Trade Towers and on the Pentagon, bin Laden and his terrorists attacked Commander Massoud and, unfortunately, succeeded in killing him and eliminating Commander Massoud from the equation today.
I was so concerned about this, understanding that this was telling us that something horrible was going to happen, that I made an appointment to see the top officials in the White House in the National Security Council. My appointment with the National Security Council at the White House was to warn them that this attack on Massoud obviously meant something big was about to happen. My appointment was for 2:30 that afternoon. Unfortunately, at 8:45 that morning, the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center.
But the Taliban domination of Afghanistan was something that we could have ended long ago. Commander Massoud and the Northern Alliance were fighting the Taliban unsupported, with no help from the outside for years.
As a Member of Congress, for years I pleaded with the previous administration, I pleaded with them at the highest levels to provide some kind of help for the Northern Alliance, which was then fighting almost without bullets and weapons against the Taliban. They could have done something, and no one in that administration was willing to do it. So I believe that in many ways the previous administration was responsible for keeping the Taliban in power, even though during this very same time period, this very same time period, bin Laden was openly declaring war in the United States, planning attacks against us and building a terrorist network.
Every time I suggest that the last administration was in some way acquiescing to the Taliban being in power, there are those who just go ballistic because they believe I am being partisan at a moment when national unity is obviously the order of the day.
Let me emphasize that I am not being partisan. As a senior member of the Committee on International Relations, I officially requested State Department documents that would prove or disprove my suspicion that the last administration was secretly supporting the Taliban, and I was stonewalled in that request.
Let me make this clear. I am a senior member of the Committee on International Relations. It is my job to oversee the State Department. Other people have other committees, and they oversee those agencies and departments. As a member of that committee, that is part of my job.
Rep. Benjamin Gilman joined me in a request for these. Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State, promised I would have the documents. I wanted the documents pertaining to the development of our government's policy toward the Taliban. Yet, as an elected official, I had unelected officials, executives at the State Department, refusing to grant me the access to understand what our policy was toward the Taliban. I was instead given meaningless documents.
Members will hear in answer to this charge: "We gave the gentleman from California documents," but these were meaningless documents that had nothing to do with the development of the Taliban strategy. I never saw any of the documents about how we should approach the Taliban.
The State Department made a joke out of Congress' right to oversee America's foreign policy, especially towards Afghanistan. I pleaded with my colleagues to back me up in that demand. I will say that several Democrats did back me up in demanding that the previous administration provide me with that documentation.
But why? Why is it that I was stonewalled? Why is it that they never gave me those documents? I have to believe because those documents would show that the previous administration did consciously acquiesce to having the Taliban in power, probably as some kind of agreement with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that they would be permitted to dominate this country, even though it was clear that a terrorist network was being set up there and that America was the target of that terrorist network. Americans had already been murdered by that time, in Saudi Arabia, with barracks blown up and such.
By the way, in Afghanistan and in that region, it is commonly believed by the people that the United States created the Taliban and that we support the Taliban. There are reasons that they believe that we supported the Taliban.
In 1996, for example, and this is a very poignant example, and I hope people will look at this example very closely, in 1996, the Taliban overextended their forces and thousands of their best fighters were captured in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban regime was vulnerable as never before and never since. It was a tremendous opportunity. The Northern Alliance could easily have dealt a knock-out punch to the Taliban.
At that time, I was in personal contact with the leader of the Northern Alliance, and I recommended to them a quick attack and that they bring back the old king, Zahir Shah, and he is in exile in Rome, and that they bring him back until some form of democratic process could be established. Thus, they would have a figurehead government with the old king for a period of time, and then they could establish a democratic process.
This was a turning point. That was doable. It could have been easily accomplished. The Taliban were vulnerable. Who saved the Taliban? Again, please, I am not being partisan when I say this, who saved the Taliban when they were vulnerable? It is my belief that President Bill Clinton saved the Taliban when they were the most vulnerable.
I beg Members, do not dismiss what I say as being partisan. I would never sink to that level at a time like this, when American lives have been taken.
What happened was at this moment, when the Taliban could have been eliminated, President Clinton dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Inderfurth and Bill Richardson, our United Nations Ambassador, to convince the leader of the Northern Alliance not to go on the offensive. That was when they were the most vulnerable. Our top leaders, our United Nations Ambassador, was dispatched, along with the top leader in the State Department, to go and tell them not to attack the Taliban.
These two high-level American officials were sent by President Clinton to propose a cease-fire and a supposed arms embargo on all sides. Of course, the minute that the cease-fire went into effect, and of course the Northern Alliance agreed to that, because they thought we were being sincere and they could trust the United States, but the minute that cease-fire went into effect, the Saudis and Pakistanis began a massive rearming and resupply effort to rebuild the Taliban forces in an equivalent to the Berlin airlift, and that was easy to spot.
It was easy to see that tons and tons, airplane after airplane was landing at Kabul Airport with military supplies from Saudi Arabia and from Pakistan. I knew about it. Our intelligence services had to know about it. But guess what, the Northern Alliance was kept in the dark until the Taliban were totally restored to their strength. When they were, the Taliban went on the offensive. They drove the Northern Alliance, which had had an arms embargo against them during this time period, which we enforced, and we convinced people not to give them weapons, they drove the Taliban, drove them out of the country.
For years, I begged the previous administration, our government, to support those resisting the Taliban regime, to support the former King Zahir Shah, and to let him head an interim government until a more democratic process could be put in place. This was an alternative we had. Instead, the only response that I got from the previous administration was stonewalling, stonewalling that and stonewalling my request to find out what the government's real policies were.
All the while, bin Laden, had killed American military personnel at that time, had declared war on the United States, and was running around Afghanistan openly, using it as a base of operations, a safe haven for terrorists. This man even tried to organize an attack on the Pope in the Philippines. His terrorists are responsible for the kidnapping there in the southern Philippines, and we have given him a safe haven all these years. We did nothing.
We were, in fact, I believe, acquiescing to Taliban control because I believe it was an understanding, as I say, between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to let them dominate Afghanistan. This understanding was obviously turning into a nightmare. Even if it made sense in the beginning to have such an understanding, we should have seen what was going on, but our leaders lacked the will to change that situation.
Over and over again, I warned that our policy toward the Taliban would come back to hurt us. I was ignored and at times belittled. ...
I have an example of 7 times, and of the many, by the way, not just 7, not just 14, but many, many more times that I stood either on the House floor or in subcommittee warning that if we did not do something about the Taliban, that it would come back and dramatically hurt the United States of America. These warnings that were ignored over and over again, even while the State Department stonewalled my efforts to get the information. ...
September 9, 1999 - IR Committee Hearing: "I would again alert my fellow members of this committee that what is going on in Afghanistan is as important to America's National security as what is going on in Iran, because we have a terrorist base camp."
But why were we not warned then? It was clear something was going on in Afghanistan. Why were we not warned by others of the horrific attack that was about to be launched on us, the American people?
August 11, 1998 - Letter to Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Pakistan: "International Terrorists like Osama bin Laden will become the deans of terrorism schools in Afghanistan. For example, the recent bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa are tied to Osama bin Laden and his thugs."
May 21, 1998 - Letter to Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House: "As you may know, Afghanistan has become the world's largest source of heroin. It is also one of the key terrorist training and staging areas in the world. Further, instability in Afghanistan limits the economic and democratic development of Central Asian states and negatively impacts U.S. Policy toward Iran. In short events in Afghanistan affect the lives of more than 200 million people in the Central and South Asian region."
August 10, 1998 - Letter to Karl Indefurth: "I have been preparing serious alternatives for Afghan policy for the past six years. I have found no willingness on the part of this administration to even try the alternatives that I have suggested. I have come to the conclusion that our goals are different. But for the time being I will give you the benefit of the doubt. The stakes go far beyond Afghanistan. There will be no peace in central Asia, or on the subcontinent between India and Pakistan until the U.S. decides that there will be no peace on this region or elsewhere with a policy that is not based on the fundamental principles of representative government and opposition to tyranny."
June 29, 2001 - IR Committee Hearing: "This regime has permitted terrorists to use Afghanistan as a base of operations from which their country has been used as a springboard for operations that have cost the lives of people throughout the Middle East, as well as targeted Americans. That alone should giveaways a message about the regime and our commitment and what ultimately should have been done."
July 19, 1999 - Floor Debate on the American Embassy Security Act of 1999: "As Rep. Gilman has stated, among the greatest threats to the security of American diplomatic missions and personnel is by Osama bin Laden and his legion of terrorists who train and operate out of Afghanistan. The primary benefactors of bin Laden's terrorists are elements in Pakistan and the extremist Taliban militia, who not only host and protect bin Laden but have imposed a reign of terror on the people of Afghanistan and especially on the women of Afghanistan."
October 30, 2000 - Floor Debate on State Department authorization: "This member and anyone who is in the Committee on International Relations will testify, for years I have been warning what results of this administration's policy towards Afghanistan would be. For years, I predicted over and over again that, unless we did something in Afghanistan to change the situation, that we would end up with Afghanistan as the center of terrorism, a base for terrorism not only in Central Asia but for the world."
November 9, 1999 - House Floor Debate on Afghanistan: "A terrorist trained in Afghanistan helped blow up a building which housed our military people in Saudi Arabia. There was an assassination attempt on the Pope. They found out that the terrorist who was going to assassinate the Pope was trained in Afghanistan. We can not let this go on, because not only is it immoral to let this go on, but practically speaking, if we do, it will come back and hurt us."
There was a headline in the Washington Post on September 14 suggesting that America's intelligence services have been conducting a secret war against bin Laden for several years. If that is true, then we need to fire all of the incompetent leaders of that covert war, because they were responsible for protecting us from this heinous and cowardly gang; and they obviously have dramatically failed.
Instead, there was no warning. Yet, we were told the heads of our intelligence organizations were focused on bin Laden. There is a war being conducted against bin Laden, we were focused on him, and he was able to attack us and slaughter thousands of our people without any warning from these people who were supposedly focused on him?
We spend tens of billions of dollars annually for good intelligence, and we have tens of thousands of people committed to this endeavor. And they totally missed a terrorist operation of this magnitude run by their number one targeted terrorist. This was clearly the worst failure of American intelligence in our history.
I cannot help but remember, in another poignant story, I cannot help but remember a few years ago I was called by a friend who had worked in Afghanistan during the war against the Russians. This man has thousands of friends in Afghanistan because he had been there, and he had helped thousands of Afghans who were his friends and looked at him as a wonderful person. He had kept in touch with them.
He indicated to me that he could pinpoint bin Laden's location. I passed on his phone number to the CIA. After a week, he had yet to be contacted, so I called them again. For another week there was no response. When I gave them this man's credentials, I told them, "This is a man who knows about Afghanistan. He has sources that you do not have." They did not call him for 2 weeks. Another week, no response.
Finally, I contacted Rep. Porter Goss, the chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence here in the Congress. He set up a meeting with me and the bin Laden task force. There they were, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI. Guess what? They, too, left my friend waiting by his phone and did not follow up.
After weeks, finally, a second time when Rep. Goss had to call them on the carpet, my friend was at last contacted. He described the agents who talked to him as being somewhat disinterested. That may have been because by the time they got to him, over a month had passed and perhaps the tip-off was a little stale. Or perhaps, as we are learning in the paper today, or not today but yesterday, when there were reports in the paper, that our intelligence services knew about the location of bin Laden several times but were not permitted to attack him. So there are people in the intelligence services that wanted to go forward and did not end and could not because of decisions made by people higher up, or perhaps in their own agencies, people who were incompetent.
My friends, the slaughter of these thousands of Americans must be avenged, there is no doubt about it; and we must see to it that such a monstrous crime can never happen again. To accomplish this, we must be strong and we must be smart. Now, we do not need our troops, the worst thing we could do is just try to send an army into Afghanistan. If there are two rules of modern warfare it is you do not march on Moscow and you do not invade Afghanistan. That does not mean, however, that we cannot commit military action. I think this calls for military action.
We should already be dispatching special forces teams and rangers to those countries on the northern border of Afghanistan. Those teams and other military units should establish a system of supply and equip those Afghans friendly to the United States so that they can free themselves, with our help, from Taliban rule. We can then join them. Once Taliban rule has been eliminated in Afghanistan, we can join them in hunting down and killing every member of bin Laden's terrorist gang and hanging their bodies from the gate.
But revenge is not an end in itself. We cannot permit ourselves to strike out blindly, to hurt people who have nothing to do with this. Some people have said, oh, let us bomb Kabul. Kabul is filled with people who hate the Taliban. Afghanistan is filled with people who hate the Taliban. We cannot make enemies out of people who will be our allies.
We must be smart and not just strong. Revenge in itself is not the answer, even though revenge is called for. By killing bin Laden and his gang, it is not just revenge; it is an act also of deterrence, of saving lives. We must keep in mind that our motive is to prevent further terrorist attacks slaughtering our own citizens, and especially by making sure we work with other people in the Muslim world and elsewhere who will join us in this effort, and not just the Muslim world and not just others who are on the periphery.
We need to lead this world, as our President, George W. Bush, is doing, to set a new moral standard. We have to keep to that moral standard as we proceed to seek justice and vengeance for the death of our people. That new moral standard has got to be that noncombatants will not be attacked. We will not kill unarmed innocent people in order to achieve a political objective.
Note: The above commentary has been adapted from a speech delivered by Rep. Rohrabacher on the floor of the House, September 17, 2001.
How to contact Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California)
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