CIA loves 'em and leaves 'em Allies: The Kurds of Iraq are not the first foreign fighters the United States has coaxed to do its dirty work abroad and then abandoned.

Sun Journal

September 13, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The collapse this month of efforts backed by the United States to topple Saddam Hussein marks the break-up of a marriage of convenience.

The partners were the Central Intelligence Agency and Iraqi opponents of Hussein's regime, including the Kurds. But this was neither the first marriage nor the first break-up of its kind.

Indeed, the list of partners around the world who have been helped, trained and financed by American intelligence agencies only to be abandoned later is long enough to make any foreign rebel or coup plotter wary about the United States as a secret sponsor.

And long enough for U.S. intelligence officials to know that many of the courted partners wouldn't be acceptable allies if a common enemy were not deemed to be worse.

With Hussein's foes -- as with Cuban exiles, Vietnamese and others in the past -- covert U.S. aid did not lead to the wished-for result, and the relationship was exposed.

"The weak point in covert paramilitary action is that a single misfortune that reveals the CIA's connection makes it necessary for the United States either to abandon the cause completely or convert to a policy of overt military intervention," Ray S. Cline, the late deputy director of the CIA, wrote in his book, "The CIA under Reagan, Bush and Casey."

"Because such paramilitary operations are generally kept secret for political reasons, when the CIA cover is blown the usual U.S. response is to withdraw, leaving behind the friendly elements who had entrusted their lives to the U.S. enterprise."

Cline made this point in describing a 1958 CIA effort to help Indonesian dissidents topple their president, Sukarno. The plan called for pilots hired by the CIA to make harassing raids that would persuade the Indonesian military to abandon Sukarno.

But the CIA lost its enthusiasm when an American pilot was shot down, Cline wrote, leading to "an ignominious failure."

Three years later, the CIA made an even larger miscalculation. A brigade of Cuban exiles, trained by the CIA, was overrun by Cuban troops when it attempted to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Many of the exiles were captured and four American pilots died.

The director of central intelligence at the time, Allen Dulles, was forced from office for a bungled operation. But for many Cuban exiles, the fault lay with Washington's failure to follow the brigade into Cuba with a major U.S. military operation.

In Southeast Asian, the CIA in 1961 began a covert operation called Op Plan 34A, which sent hundreds of Vietnamese commandos into what was then North Vietnam. The operation was then turned over to the Pentagon.

Many of the commandos were captured and imprisoned, serving at least 15 years at hard labor. The Pentagon wrote them off as dead, apparently to avoid continue paying their salaries. But last June, the Senate voted the survivors $20 million in back pay.

Among the U.S. allies in Southeast Asia, few have a greater cause for bitterness than the surviving members of a Laotian tribe, the Hmong, whose fighters were nearly wiped out after allying with the CIA during the Vietnam War.

The Hmong became the focus of a secret CIA effort to drive out the North Vietnamese who were using Laotian territory to protect their main supply route. The Hmong force grew under CIA auspices into a major operation.

But North Vietnam soon launched a series of major retaliatory attacks that killed thousands of the tribesmen -- and the survivors were left to fend for themselves when the United States withdrew from the region.

During the Reagan administration, the CIA and staff members of the National Security Council collaborated in training and providing money and arms to the "contra" rebels who sought to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

This effort continued even after Congress tried to block it by cutting off funding, leading to a major scandal -- the Iran-contra affair. This support was eventually halted, leaving the contras without their sponsor.

But perhaps no group can claim to have been betrayed as often as the Kurds.

As part of an agreement with the Shah of Iran in 1972, President Richard M. Nixon agreed to have the CIA provide the Kurds of Iraq with supplies and weapons, but only as a means of containing Iraq.

After Iran and Iraq reached an agreement to end a border dispute in 1975, Iraqi troops attacked the Kurds and killed thousands, without interference from the United States.

In 1991, after the end of the Persian Gulf war, America stood by again as Iraq suppressed a Kurdish uprising. Then, the United States and its allies set up a protected zone in northern Iraq, where the Kurds were supposed to be free from Iraqi attacks.

The Kurds then were cast as key figures in U.S.-sponsored efforts to topple Saddam Hussein. But there has been a built-in tension between those efforts and the U.S. desire to prevent Iraq from being split apart by the creation of an independent Kurdistan.

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