The 'blowback' from Afghanistan 'Monster': CIA-trained and armed alumni of the Afghan war have helped spawn a new generation of militant Islamists and terrorists. "We have created a monster," said one expert in Egypt.

Sun Journal

August 06, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan -- A fierce wind blew down from the barren Khwaja Amran mountains, whipping up a stinging sandstorm, so Maulvi Abdul Samad and his band of fighters, some only in their teens, took shelter in a crumbling house.

They sat on the floor of pounded earth, cradled their assault rifles in their arms and shared slabs of unleavened bread. The fighters listened with silent respect as Samad, their fork-bearded elder, spoke of what more than 15 years of warfare had taught him.

"How can you conceive that a country that was almost nothing smashed the world's greatest power, the Soviet Union, into pieces?" asked the former commander of "mujahedeen" (Muslim holy warriors) in a district of Afghanistan's Kandahar province. "Yes, people did give us dollars and Stinger missiles. But who can use them? Only God.

"The Soviet Union, which was a superpower, is now gone," he went on, the awe evident in his voice. "It is the Afghan nation and land that is now the superpower."

The superpower -- or, as some say, the monster that has turned against those who thought they could master it.

It has been more than seven years since the pullout of the last of the 110,000 Soviet troops from Afghanistan and four years since the collapse of the Kremlin-backed puppet regime of President Najibullah in Kabul. Yet the consequences and side effects of the Afghan war and its aftermath are still making themselves felt.

Thousands of young men from throughout the Islamic world who flocked to Afghanistan and underwent military training or participated in combat here have sown a whirlwind of terror that has buffeted Asia, Europe, Africa and North America.

Fought in Bosnia, Algeria

In countries as diverse as Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and France, alumni of the Afghan war also have helped spawn a new generation of militant Islamists and terrorists.

"We have created a monster," summarized Nabil Osman, director of the state Information Service in Egypt, one of the largest suppliers of Arab volunteers to the Muslim holy war waged in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

Their involvement in Afghanistan has boomeranged even against the old Cold War adversaries who used one of this continent's poorest lands as an arena for battle. The Kremlin poured in tanks and troops; the United States in the 1980s spent billions of dollars to equip and train anti-Communist insurgents.

When, for example, terrorists on June 25 used a mammoth truck bomb to demolish an eight-story barracks at the King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American airmen and wounding more than 250 others, suspicion immediately fell on Islamic radicals trained in Afghanistan.

"Recently we have seen growth in 'transnational' groups comprised of fanatical Islamic extremists, many of whom fought in Afghanistan and now drift to other countries with the aim of establishing anti-Western, fundamentalist regimes by destabilizing traditional governments and attacking U.S. and Western targets," Gen. J. H. Binford Peay, head of the U.S. Central Command, last month told hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee looking into the Dhahran bombing.

Repercussions of the Afghan conflict had reached the United States even earlier. A van crammed with explosives was driven into the parking garage under the World Trade Center in New York on Feb. 26, 1993. It exploded, killing six people, injuring 1,000 and causing a half-billion dollars in damage.

The "hands-on ringleader," U.S. investigators found, was a Brooklyn taxi driver from Egypt, Mahmud Abouhalima, who fought in the Afghan war against the Soviets. The alleged mastermind of the bombing, Kuwaiti-born Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, also has numerous Afghan connections.

Soviets leave

On Feb. 15, 1989, the day Soviet Lt. Gen. Boris V. Gromov crossed the bridge over the Amu Darya on Afghanistan's northern frontier to become the last Russian soldier to leave this country, jubilant officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., exchanged champagne toasts. One of the greatest victories in the Cold War, it seemed, had been won. The humiliating #F American defeat by the Communists in Vietnam was avenged.

In retrospect, it is now clear that the war in Afghanistan and its aftermath were seminal events in the development of Islamic radicalism, perhaps the most important social and political trend of the late 20th century.

In the jargon of the CIA, which orchestrated the covert campaign of assistance to the Afghan mujahedeen, spending roughly a half-billion dollars a year, what happened is known as "blowback."

"This is an insane instance of the chickens coming home to roost," said one U.S. diplomat in neighboring Pakistan.

"You can't plug billions of dollars into an anti-Communist jihad [holy war], accept participation from all over the world and ignore the consequences. But we did. Our objectives weren't peace and grooviness in Afghanistan. Our objective was killing Commies and getting the Russians out."

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