The Role of the CIA
`Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.’
Winston S. Churchill, broadcast addressed to President Roosevelt, 1941.
IT was always during darkness that the aircraft arrived. Usually at around 9.00 pm or just before dawn General Akhtar and I, along with the local CIA staff, would be waiting at Chaklala Air Base for the huge black C-141 Starlifter to taxi up to a secluded part of the terminal. No US Embassy personnel were ever present, either at the planes’ arrival or departure. In order to distract attention it was normal practice on these occasions for the Ambassador to arrange a diplomatic dinner at the Embassy. Although the control tower guided the aircraft in, no Air Force personnel were involved with its reception on the ground. None of the passengers would be subjected to any form of immigration or customs formalities; even the baggage would be handled entirely by the Americans.
The aircraft had flown non-stop from Washington, some 10,000 miles, with KC10 tanker aircraft based in Europe or the Middle East intercepting it for mid-air refuelling. The crew were always in civilian clothes, as were all the passengers. Apart from the US markings on the outside there was no way of identifying the plane. Inside, the enormous transporter had been transformed into a flying hotel and communications centre. Up front, the VIP area was luxuriously appointed with couches, easy chairs, beds and washing facilities — super first class. The rear portion contained the ultra-sophisticated communications that allowed the occupants to speak securely to Washington, or anywhere else in the world. The aircraft was protected by the latest electronic jamming devices and radar to counter incoming missiles. When on the ground, a US crew member was always on board on a 24-hour basis. While in Pakistan the ISI would provide an armed outer perimeter guard, but our personnel could not enter the aircraft.
As the plane came to a stop the waiting cars would creep forward in single file, while outside the base an ISI security vehicle would patrol the route the cortege was about to take to the US Ambassador’s residence in Islamabad. The vehicles were lined up — ISI escort, US security car, VIP car, US
security car, ISI escort, and then the others. The man descending the steps was tall, very old, and was nicknamed ‘Cyclone’ in recognition of his propensity for anti-communist outbursts, or the ‘Wanderer’ from the frequency of his flights to CIA stations around the world. He headed the intelligence organization of the most powerful nation on earth. William Casey was President Reagan’s principal adviser on intelligence matters, Director of Central Intelligence reporting to the National Security Committee (NSC), Chairman of the US Intelligence Board, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was arriving on one of his annual two-day visits to Pakistan for discussions with General Akhtar and myself on the situation in Afghanistan. Occasionally either his wife or daughter accompanied him. Sometimes his deputy would come, but always he would bring the head of the Afghanistan and Far East desk at CIA headquarters. This man, who is still serving so I will call him Mr A, had been in the US Special Forces and I found him to be one of the very few senior CIA officials whose military knowledge was sound, and to whom we in ISI could relate.
For the next 48 hours security for our guest was a major headache. His two-man advance party would arrive several days beforehand to discuss the arrangements, check the route and test their communications. Mr Casey’s visits were the only time I saw CIA officials ‘flapping’ or badly agitated. Keeping his stay under wraps was far from simple and involved many men, much forethought and meticulous planning. We even went to the extent of referring to our visitor as `Mr Black’ in conversation or in writing.
The following morning the CIA and ISI would confront each other across the conference table at the main ISI headquarters in Islamabad. Casey would be flanked by the US Ambassador on one side and Mr A on the other, with the rest of his team, including the local CIA chief and various analysts, on either side. Opposite were General Akhtar, myself, a staff officer and analysts from ISI. I would watch Casey closely. At times he appeared to be dozing while the analysts droned on, but once a topic of importance was mentioned he came alert at once. He had a quick brain, with a bold and ruthless approach to the war against the Soviets. He hated communism. In fact, like many CIA officers, he regarded Afghanistan as the place where America could be avenged for its defeat in Vietnam. The Soviets must pay a high price in blood for their support of the North Vietnamese was his oft-repeated view. ‘Those bastards must pay,’ summed up his philosophy on the war, and he appeared none too squeamish about the methods to be used. Probably his years making millions as a New York businessman had added that callous, combative streak to his character.
Whatever his personal motivations, the result for us was always positive. He would often turn on his staff, who were perhaps disputing some request of ours, with the words; ‘No, the General (Akhtar] knows what he wants’. For myself I found his visits stimulating, and developed an admiration for
his industry, dedication and unwavering determination to defeat communism.
He had little patience with politicians. He headed an agency with the fastest growing budget among all the executive branches of the US government. In 1987 the CIA received funds totalling $30 billion, a 200 per cent increase over 1980. With Reagan backing clandestine operations in Nicaragua and Angola as well as Afghanistan, Casey was on the crest of a wave. He was contemptuous of Congress’s right to know what was happening in covert operations. He fought ferociously with the Senate Intelligence Committee, withholding information if he possibly could, and reporting only sporadically. His ridicule of rules and regulations worked to our advantage. Once, when one of his staff tried to explain that the delay in our obtaining sniper rifles was due to some obscure edict classifying them as terrorist sabotage weapons, Casey yelled, ‘To hell with politicians, we’re fighting a war.’ It was good to have him on our side.
Casey had a flair for innovation, for bright ideas, for the James Bond unorthodox approach. As an ex-OSS man from World War 2, he seemed at times merely to have substituted the Soviets for the Nazis. His detractors called this his ‘night parachute drop syndrome’, but he had, along with Mr A, the rare ability within the CIA hierarchy of being able to discuss military matters sensibly. He understood strategy and the practical problems of fighting a guerrilla campaign.
Casey always flew out of Islamabad as he had arrived, at night. Invariably he was on his way to Saudi Arabia to meet his opposite number, Prince Turkie, for discussions on that government’s financial contribution to the Jehad for the coming year. Although the security burden was lifted, I was normally sorry to see him go. He was a powerful and practical ally in the American camp, who understood both the abilities and shortcomings of the Mujahideen. He was prepared to listen to, and frequently accept, our arguments or reasoning on operational matters. He did us the courtesy of respecting our professional judgement as soldiers with an intimate knowledge of what could, or could not, be done in Afghanistan. If only some of his subordinates had done the same, countless millions of dollars and not a few lives might have been saved.
My first meeting with Casey was in early 1984 and I was to meet him again on several occasions during the coming months. As I quickly appreciated, the chances of success in Afghanistan were dependent on the quality and quantity of the arms we received. In this regard we were beholden to the CIA, and through it to our financial backers, the US and Saudi governments. My experiences with the CIA were spread over the four years I was with ISI, but I have gathered together the highlights in this chapter, as I believe this to be the best way for the reader to judge the real significance of its activities.
The foremost function of the CIA was to spend money. It was always galling to the Americans, and I can understand their point of view, that although they paid the piper they could not call the tune. The CIA supported the Mujahideen by spending the American taxpayers’ money, billions of dollars of it over the years, on buying arms, ammunition and equipment. It was their secret arms procurement branch that was kept busy. It was, however, a cardinal rule of Pakistan’s policy that no Americans ever become involved with the distribution of funds or arms once they arrived in the country. No Americans ever trained, or had direct contact with, the Mujahideen, and no American official ever went inside Afghanistan. To my knowledge this last was only broken once for Congressman Charles Wilson (R. Texas), as related previously, against the explicit orders of President Zia. To admit Americans directly into the system of supply and training would not only have led to chaos but would have proved the communist propaganda correct. All along, the Soviets, and their Afghan agents in KHAD, endeavoured to subvert the Mujahideen supporters and families by claiming they were not fighting a Jehad, but merely doing the dirty work of, and dying for, the US. Their assertion that the Afghans had no real quarrel with each other but were pawns in a superpower conflict would have been impossible to refute if Americans became overtly involved inside Pakistan. A high proportion of the CIA aid was in the form of cash. For every dollar supplied by the US, another was added by the Saudi Arabian government. The combined funds, running into several hundred million dollars a year, were transferred by the CIA to special accounts in Pakistan under the control of ISI. This money was quite separate from, and additional to, that used for arms purchases. Nevertheless it was critical to the war effort. As was to be continually brought home to me, without money nothing moves – particularly in Pakistan (see p.82).
I was not personally involved with the distribution of all these funds. This was the responsibility of General Akhtar and his Director of Administration. Nonetheless, I was well aware that lack of money was a never-ending anxiety, with the usual monthly allocation for recurrent expenditure seldom lasting more than two weeks. When one considers that there was a month-in, month-out requirement to meet the needs of tens of thousands of Mujahideen it is not surprising that the logistic requirements soaked up cash as a sponge does water. Take vehicles as an example. CIA money was used to purchase hundreds of trucks for ferrying arms and ammunition up to the border. Often the Parties used vehicles for taking supplies into Afghanistan, so they too needed their own transport. Every vehicle needed fuel and maintenance, so for this alone the bill was huge. Add to this the purchase, or hire, of thousands of mules, horses and camels, plus their fodder; add again the need for building materials, tools and equipment, for the construction of warehouses, bases, training facilities, then add
[Begin Graphic – Chart of The Money Flow]
Shows how the money that originated from the USA, Saudi Arabia and Individual Arabs got funneled to the Parties.
[End Graphic – Chart of The Money Flow]
tentage, clothing, winter equipment, rations and medical expenses, and the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. As an example, in 1987 some 30-35 million rupees ($1.5 million) were required monthly for the movement of stores inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.
All this was money spent in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but the bulk of the CIA/Saudi Arabian funds was spent outside these countries, buying arms and ammunition. The system worked like this. In advance of the US annual budget allocations the CIA would give us a suggested list of types and quantities of arms that they considered we needed. I would examine this, but as I was never told either the amount of money available or the cost of the various weapons, it was impossible to alter the lists other than by guessing whether the changes were within, or over, the allocation. If we overshot we had to review our needs again. More time wasted.
A never-ending source of friction between ourselves and the CIA arose over their apparent total ignorance of military logistics. At times even basic common sense seemed lacking. Invariably we wasted days, if not weeks, going through their lists pointing out errors and inconsistencies. They seldom related our ammunition needs to the weapons. For example, it was agreed that as a rule twenty rockets would be provided for every RPG-7 launcher purchased. In 1985 we were to receive 10,000 RPGs along with 200,000 rockets, but our CIA friends in Washington failed to take into account all the RPGs we had already received since 1980 (less an annual wastage rate of 15 per cent). It had not occurred to them that we needed ammunition for them as well. Similarly with anti-aircraft ammunition, the CIA lists were often woefully inadequate as no account was taken of the very high rate of fire of these weapons. So much time and effort could have been saved had the CIA given us a ceiling on funds, some idea of costs, and left us to prepare our annual requirements taking into account existing stocks, operational needs and wastage. Alas, that was not to happen.
Having agreed what was wanted, it was up to the CIA to provide it. They had to purchase all the items and get them by ship to Karachi or, for a small proportion, by air to Islamabad. Until 1985 it was a firm policy that only communist block weapons could be bought. This was part of pretending that the West, and America in particular, were not backing the Mujahideen with material assistance. So the CIA buyers with their shopping lists were limited as to sources. During 1983 approximately 10,000 tons were received, rising to 65,000 tons in 1987. The type of weapons purchased ranged from small arms through to anti-tank and anti-aircraft (AA) rocket launchers and guns.
The great bulk came from China, Egypt, and later on from Israel. I had no idea that Israel was a source until quite recently, as, had it been known, there would have been considerable trouble with the Arab nations. It would not have been acceptable to wage a Jehad with weapons bought from Israel.
These were weapons that had been captured in large quantities during Israel’s invasion of the Lebanon and which they were delighted to sell. That the Americans spent funds in Israel is not surprising, but they were careful to conceal the source from us.
The CIA would arrange and pay for shipment to Karachi, notifying us of arrival dates. Once the vessel docked the ISI took over storage and distribution. It has often been stated in the world press that China supplied arms overland via the Karakoram highway, the old Silk Route. This is not so. Not one bullet came that way, although that was the route used to bring us hundreds of mules. On occasion arms would be flown to Islamabad in Chinese, American, Saudi or PAF planes. For some reason Saudi aircraft never kept to their schedules and caused endless problems for our planes going to pick up cargo in Saudi Arabia, so we were forced to stop all such flights and rely on the USAF. Not that Saudi Arabia actually supplied weapons, but it was at times used as a trans-shipment point. I believe that the Americans later switched to Cairo, which was used by some aircraft when carrying Egyptian arms.
During my years with the ISI I met a large number of CIA officials, from the director down to his personal security guards. I discerned three types of CIA officer. The largesi group were those who joined the Agency fairly young and had made it their career, gaining balanced experience between field and headquarters posts. The second category included those recruited in their thirties or forties from outside the service for their particular expertise. They were the technical experts and analysts. To me these people’s opinions and recommendations seemed always to carry great weight with the decision makers. They appeared to be able to reach higher grades more quickly than the field operators. In most cases these officers had a strictly limited military background, yet they often played a key role in military matters. The third group was drawn from the Armed Forces, normally at the major level. Some were on attachment to the CIA, while others belonged permanently. They were usually the weapons experts, or trainers, and I noticed a deep-rooted professional jealousy between them and the others. There was, at Islamabad certainly, a mutual lack of trust and confidence within the CIA. I believe that much of the problem stemmed from the fact that these former military officers could see only too well the error of their seniors’ military decisions, but their advice was seldom sought and, if given, ignored. I remember asking one of these officers why the ‘civilians’ were for ever trying to dictate to us how to run the war in Afghanistan. He replied, `General, in the United States, CIA is getting all the credit for anything good happening in Afghanistan and you [Pakistan] are getting all the discredit for anything going wrong.’
Two examples of CIA incompetence, or possibly corruption, will serve to illustrate the avoidable waste of millions of dollars and the serious [This sentence is continued on page 93, after 8 pages of photographs.]
[Begin 8 pages of photographs]
1. General Akhtar: “a cold, reserved personality, almost inscrutable, always secre¬tive”. (p.22)
2. The author (right) with Gul Badin Hekmatyar, “the best-known and the most controversial Fundamentalist Leader”. (p.40)
3. The author briefing Mujahideen Commanders on forthcoming joint operations.
4. “Strategically the terrain favoured the guerrillas … the high rocky mountains providing refuge and cover from the air.” (p.63)
5. “I arranged Congressman Charles Wilson’s visit into Afghanistan in 1987.” (p62). Here he poses in a BMP in Zhawar.
6. The author (centre) visiting the administrative tunnels at the Mujahideen forward base at Zhawar, just inside Afghanistan.
7. “The artery, the main line of communication that kept Kabul functioning was the Salang Highway.” (p.67). Looking South from the Salang Tunnel.
8. “It was the scene of one of the most successful Mujahideen ambushes of the war.” (p.67)
9. A daylight rocket attack on Kabul, using 122mm rockets on improvised bases.
10. The rockets heading for Kabul.
11. A Mujahid examines a partially exploded bomb. Note the ruined building in the background.
12. A Mujahid with a Chinese-made 7.62 RPK light machine gun. Note the Afghan pony used for transport.
13. The Stinger “fired an infra-red, heat-seeking missile, capable of engaging low-altitude, high-speed jets”. (p.175). Mujahid with Stinger in Afghanistan.
14. Ali Khel village under rocket attack in 1985. (see Map 9, p.111)
15. The results of a successful Mujahideen ambush in the Panjsher Valley, 1987.
[End 8 pages of photographs]
implications of these failings on the battlefield. Both concern the deliberate purchase of old, outdated arms on the basis that these were good enough for the Mujahideen. The sellers were delighted to get rid of these otherwise worthless weapons at a profit. The CIA spent the US taxpayers’ money to provide third-rate, and in one instance totally unserviceable weapons, for use against a modern superpower.
Until 1984 the bulk of all arms and ammunition was purchased from China, and they proved to be an excellent supplier, completely reliable, discreet and, at a later stage, even providing weapons as aid as well as for sale. But in 1985 the CIA started buying large quantities from Egypt. I shall never forget the first shipment. When the boxes were opened the weapons were revealed as used, rusty and in many cases quite unserviceable. They dated back to the days when the Soviets had equipped the Egyptian Army. Rifles were rusted together, barrels were solid with dirt and corrosion, some boxes were empty, while in others the contents were deficient. Rarely was ammunition properly packed; rounds that were supposed to be boxed or belted came in heaps of loose rounds. I did not have the manpower to check every crate before it was forwarded to the Mujahideen, so the extent of the problem did not become apparent until I got reports from inside Afghanistan. To my horror, no less than 30,000 82mm mortar bombs were found unusable on the battlefield as the cartridges had swollen in the damp and would not fit the bombs. The Egyptians had cobbled together arms that had been lying exposed to the atmosphere for years in order to make a substantial amount of money. Nobody in the CIA had done a spot check before shipment; either that or they had been a party to the deal. I had photographs taken and sent to the US, while I protested vehemently to the CIA. At first they seemed disinterested, but eventually an official came out to see for himself. Thereafter Egyptian purchases were marginally better, but the Mujahideen never trusted their supplies in the future.
The next incident, or rather incidents as one concerns .303 rifles and the other .303 ammunition, involved both India and Pakistan. In the middle of 1984 an enormous shipment of 100,000 .303 rifles arrived at Karachi. When we protested that we had not requested this amount, and that we had no storage space, the CIA advised that they represented the 1985 supply in advance, as well as those for the current year. When pressed as to storage space we were told in confidence that they had been bought at a rock-bottom price from India. When I queried how and why the Indians sold weapons that they knew would be used against their friends the Soviets, the CIA officer replied ‘The Indians are mean bastards, not trustworthy at all. For money they would even sell their mothers’.
With the ammunition, a Pakistani arms merchant pulled a
once-in-a-lifetime deal with the buyer. He persuaded the CIA to purchase 30 million rounds of .303 through his overseas office, without revealing the true source of the ammunition. At about 50 cents a round the dealer was a happy man. Unknown to the CIA, the ammunition came from old stocks of the Pakistan Army which no longer used this weapon. A ship was duly loaded, sailed out from Karachi for a few days, turned around, and we were notified by the CIA that our ammunition had arrived. When some crates were opened at Rawalpindi every round was found to have POF (Pakistan Ordnance Factory) stamped on it. There was no way this could be fired in Afghanistan without giving irrefutable proof that Pakistan was arming the guerrillas. Every round had to go back to the POF so it could be defaced, a task that took three years and cost a lot more money. Again the losers were the US taxpayer and the Mujahideen.
It% was the same story with Turkey. In 1984 the Turkish authorities made an offer to supply weapons, so General Akhtar instructed me to visit Turkey to finalize the arrangements. Once in Ankara, the Turks seemed hesitant when I asked to see the arms they were sending. Anyhow, I insisted, and to my dismay found them all to be weapons withdrawn from the Turkish Army 30 years before. Their date of manufacture was 1940-1942. I was at a loss for words, as I did not want to offend my hosts who were pressing for agreement to shipping dates. I went to our Ambassador to explain that these weapons were not worth the shipment and distribution costs, which we would have to pay. He was most upset. As far as he was concerned there was no question of causing a diplomatic row by refusing this ‘generous’ offer. On my return I urged General Akhtar against acceptance, and he spoke either to the President or Foreign Minister, but to no avail. In the end 60,000 rifles, 8,000 light machine guns, 10,000 pistols and over 100 million rounds of ammunition duly arrived. Most were badly corroded or faulty and could not be given to the Mujahideen.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of my dealings with the CIA was the way in which the Mujahideen were so often fobbed off with unsuitable weapons. There were, I believe, three reasons for this. Firstly, the attitude among some Americans that the Mujahideen did not deserve, and would not be able to use, modern arms. This was later proved totally wrong with the Stinger, but for a long time this feeling that they were second-rate soldiers so they could make do with second-rate weapons existed. Secondly, there was fmancial greed. A number of countries, and many people, saw the guerrilla resistance as a splendid opportunity to sell off arms that nobody else wanted, weapons that were obsolete or obsolescent, even ones that were dangerous to fire. I have strong suspicions that at least one weapon system was forced on us because a US congressman had a lot to gain if the sale went ahead. Finally, so many CIA officials connected with the arms procurement programme in the US were not soldiers, never had been soldiers
and had no idea what it was like fighting inside Afghanistan. They did not begin to comprehend the Mujahideen’s needs.
Again and again we in the ISI fought hard against accepting weapons we knew were unsuited to our guerrilla war. In only one case were we successful. The so-called military experts of the CIA seemed to feel we should be grateful for every gun. If we queried its value on the battlefield we were labelled obstructionists. No doubt politicians were having their say, and undoubtedly people were getting rich along the line, but at the end of the day I was responsible for getting the best arms and equipment I could to the Mujahideen. They paid for mistakes with their lives.
In mid-1984 the CIA came up with an offer of the Swiss-designed 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns. General Akhtar and I requested further details of their characteristics, which the CIA had somehow forgotten to include. After much discussion within ISI we said it was not suitable for Afghanistan. We explained that the weapon weighed 1,200 pounds and was therefore far too heavy. It would require some twenty mules to transport a section of three guns; it would impede the Mujahideen’s mobility and was more suited to positional defense of strong points. There was no way mules could use the steep mountain trails, making its deployment so restricted as to make the weapon more of a liability than an asset. We also pointed out that the long, heavy, cumbersome barrel could not be loaded lengthwise along a horse’s or mule’s back. It had to be positioned across the animal, making it impossible to go through narrow defiles, where it snagged on every bush. Then we pointed out that this weapon had a high rate of fire, needed to be deployed in threes, and the Mujahideen’s lack of fire control would mean excessive ammunition expenditure. With bullets costing $50 each, and a rate of fire of 1000 rounds a minute, I thought this would be a telling point for cost-conscious Americans. Finally, it was explained that the Oerlikon crews would need lengthy special training.
Our objections were overruled. I was told that ten guns had already been purchased. General Akhtar told the CIA that that was their problem; the weapons should remain in the US. Reluctantly, he was then informed that it was now a political issue, that a congressman who was a vocal supporter of the Mujahideen had insisted on the Oerlikon purchase, so to cancel it now would cause too much embarrassment all round. We eventually received between forty and fifty guns which had to be deployed in threes in a triangular pattern near border bases in a static role. It was popular with some Commanders as a prestige weapon, but was not particularly effective in action.
Next it was the Egyptian mortar. This weapon had marginally longer range that our plentiful supply of 82mm mortars, but it fell far short of that of our rocket launchers (RLs). It was of no value to us. We had a good mortar, we had RLs, and the last thing we needed was the added complication of a
different calibre weapon with different ammunition, different training and more logistic problems. As usual our protests fell on deaf ears, although I succeeded in preventing its induction until after I left ISI.
Perhaps the best example of politics and money overruling military judgement was with the British Blowpipe surface-to-air missile (SAM). The CIA was well aware that our overriding requirement was for an effective, manportable, anti-aircraft weapon. In mid-1985 they offered us Blowpipe. Once again we objected on practical grounds. Although the Blowpipe is able to destroy attacking aircraft head on as it does not need to seek a hot exhaust pipe as a heat source, the firer stands up to engage the target. This might be acceptable on the battlefield for a few brief moments, if the system is what the military call a `fire-and-forget’ weapon. This means you aim, fire and take cover while the missile homes in on its target. With the Blowpipe the firer must remain standing to aim, fire, and then guide the missile optically on to the target using a thumb control. We knew it had been a disappointment to the British in the Falklands war, and that it was obsolescent, as it was being replaced by the Javelin, with a much improved guidance system. A British artillery officer explained that a major problem was that it had not been designed to take on targets moving across the firer’s front, only those approaching head-on, or disappearing tail-on. Nor is it manpackable over any distance, due to its awkward shape and excessive weight. Another significant disadvantage was the lengthy training time needed. We did not want to put so much effort into training on a weapon that was being phased out by an army that had found it ineffective on the battlefield. On top of this, Blowpipe operators required refresher training every six months on the simulator — utterly impossible for the Mujahideen.
I believe the CIA must have done a deal with the British to buy this system as they insisted on their team coming to Pakistan later in the year to demonstrate the Blowpipe. It was a disaster. Even without the stress, excitement and fear of battle, the CIA experts obtained miserable results at gently descending parachute flares. Still they insisted we must accept it. They eventually got their way by bypassing General Akhtar and going to President Zia personally. He took the political view that acceptance of the Blowpipe would involve the UK directly as a supporter of the Jehad, and thus the Mujahideen cause would gain internationally, so we were compelled to accept several thousand of these missiles. Once again the Mujahideen were the losers while others, many miles from the fighting, made millions.
This fiasco dragged on for months. We found that with the first batch of Blowpipes half of them would not accept the command signal, so the missile would go astray immediately after firing. The CIA were called in to watch. Then a British expert was flown out. He agreed that something was indeed very wrong, so all the missiles and launchers were flown back to the UK. Eventually, after modifications, we began receiving our Blowpipes, but still
there was too high a proportion of firing failures. The first four were captured by the Soviets when the Mujahideen firing party were compelled to withdraw in a hurry. They were later shown on Soviet television screens. During the rest of my time with ISI I do not recall a single confirmed kill by a Blowpipe in Afghanistan.
Our solitary success in stopping the induction of a weapon system that we felt valueless occurred in late 1986. This involved the Red Arrow, a Chinese anti-tank, wire-guided missile. Once again the CIA were insistent that it would be effective, although they deliberately delayed sending us detailed characteristics of the weapon, urging us to take it on their assurances. After this deadlock had continued for some time, the information on Red Arrow arrived. We rejected it immediately. The wire guidance system, whereby the firer steers the missile on to the target by sending signals down a thin wire attached to the missile, had not worked well with the Pakistan Army in its wars with India. Obstacles between the firer and target, such as bushes, trees or rocks, tended to prohibit its use, but above all the training was long and, like the Blowpipe, frequent refresher training was necessary. By this time the Chinese had joined the CIA to get their weapon accepted. Tremendous pressure built up from Washington for us not to reject this missile. We conceded that a Chinese team could come and train Pakistani instructors and that, depending on the results, a final decision would be made after the course. The training lasted for eight weeks and was unique in that the Chinese brought an attractive young woman as their weapon-training interpreter. Despite her charm and efforts the results, watched by the CIA, were poor. Red Arrow was not bought.
These are all examples of senior CIA officers, with no knowledge of battlefield conditions, let alone conditions pertaining in Afghanistan, succumbing to political and financial pressures. As one put it to me, `General, people sitting in America have no idea how the war is being fought by the Mujahideen.’ The CIA staff showed little understanding of military logistics or battlefield time and space problems. Every two years their civilian logistics man would change over so there was a period when the newcomer was completely cold and inexperienced with regard to Afghanistan. They never seemed to grasp that April, when the snows melted, was always a critical time for us, as we needed to rush supplies forward in bulk. Invariably the CIA failed to meet our needs. Their system was such that they never knew what their allocation of funds would be in advance, and neither could they hold back a reserve to meet the Spring demands. I am sure these bureaucratic snarl-ups would not have been accepted had it been US troops in the firing line.
Bright ideas were forthcoming about other things as well as weapon systems. One concerned sabotage. A CIA expert flew in to advise me on fuel contamination. He was of the opinion that Mujahideen sympathizers
working at workshops or airports should be given this containment to mix with the fuel in vehicle or aircraft tanks. I explained that this would not kill many people or destroy equipment, and that the Mujahideen would never regard this as a way of fighting a Jehad. They demanded immediate results, preferably visible and noisy ones. Their idea of fighting involved much shooting, the inflicting of casualties, the opportunity to show off their courage and the possibility of war booty. It was hard enough for me to get them to blow up a pipeline covertly, let alone get them to pour a liquid into a fuel tank. It was not their way. If a person could put a contaminent in an aircraft’s fuel tank he could just as easily destroy the plane with a magnetic charge. To the suggestion that it could be put into fuel storage facilities, my response was to ask how the saboteur was to manhandle the drums of containment needed. There was no practical answer. Neither this suggestion, nor his second one of putting another chemical in vehicle batteries, were relevant or practical for the type of war being fought in Afghanistan.
Neither was the suggestion that supplies be parachuted direct to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. This was a serious proposal to speed up the system and bypass Pakistan. No consideration had been given as to whose aircraft were to be used; if American, then the President was directly involving the US in operations against the Soviets. Had the proposers considered how many flights would be needed to dump 20-30 thousand tons at a time? Were they prepared for combat losses, or for up to 50 per cent falling into Soviet hands? What about overflying permission from Pakistan? It was a nonsensical idea, but it refused to go away for about six months.
The headlines in the Washington Post of 8 May, 1987, typify the half-truths that so frequently became accepted as fact. ‘AFGHAN REBEL AID ENRICHES GENERALS — The Central Intelligence Agency has spent $3 billion on arms for Afghan rebels — half of it put up by the US taxpayers. Yet not a single American decides who gets the weapons.’
Regarding the allegations of corruption, I can only speak with authority on my own office and staff. I am certain that there were no deals struck, no arms sold, and that allocations were strictly in accordance with operational priorities, the agreed percentage allocation to each Party, and combat effectiveness. General Akhtar was utterly ruthless on this. Although corruption is a way of life in Pakistan, the military is perhaps the only organization in which it is minimal; but I cannot speak with certainty on what happened once supplies left ISI control.
If the sum spent was $3 billion then half would have been Saudi Arabian government money. Many additional millions were contributed by Arab organizations and rich individuals, mostly from Saudi Arabia. These funds were channelled directly to the Party of the donor’s choice, usually a Fundamentalist one. The allocation policy is discussed further in the relevant chapter, so I would merely emphasize here that the ISI distributed in
accordance with strict criteria of military effectiveness and the overall campaign strategy. The Washington Post was correct in stating that no American decided who got the weapons, and was close to the mark when the writer concluded ‘that the opportunities for diversion and corruption are far greater before the arms get to Karachi than after’.
Relations between the CIA and ourselves were always strained There was never really a feeling of mutual trust. I, and my staff, resented their never-ending probing to interfere in the allocation of weapons, accusations of corruption and pressing to take over both the training of the Mujahideen and to advise on operations. They were anxious to set up their own operations office alongside mine at Rawalpindi. This they were never permitted to do; in fact I resorted to trying to avoid contact with the local CIA staff as much as possible. I never ever visited the US Embassy, and only went to the CIA safe house three times during my four years.
One of these visits illustrated some CIA officials’ infuriating inability to grasp the basic elements of how the guerrilla war was being fought. In early 1984 General Akhtar’s staff officer rang me at midnight to say that the CIA wanted me urgently at their safe house, on a matter that could not be discussed on the telephone. I said I would be there in half an hour (I never spoke personally to the CIA on the telephone). My driver was late coming so I decided to drive myself, but could not find the safe house in the dark, so it was over an hour before I finally arrived. The message was that the Soviets had spotted a Mujahideen supply convoy in the Helmund Province of western Afghanistan and had laid an ambush for it. What was I going to do? I was flabbergasted. Helmund was over 1000 kilometres from Rawalpindi; as the CIA were well aware, I had absolutely no means of communicating with Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan by radio because they didn’t have any, nor had I the faintest idea which group was about to be attacked. I did not wait to hear the CIA officer’s suggestions.
I could not, however, prevent the ceaseless stream of CIA-sponsored visitors from Washington who arrived with commendable regularity every two weeks. They appeared to have a never-ending supply of officials, experts, technicians and analysts, who all felt they could help win the war. Some did make valuable contributions — but not all. I remember one man who spoke at length on the benefits of the use of electrical power by the Mujahideen in their bases in Afghanistan. He felt it was valuable for the radios. He showed no knowledge of the environment, no comprehension of the lack of repair facilities for generators, shortages of fuel, the effects of winter on operations, or the total absence of trained technicians in the field.
The CIA had two officers on post in 1983 but these increased to five by the time I left. These were the permanent and acknowledged staff, which excluded the visitors, and the countless paid agents operating within the Mujahideen, the Parties, the Military Committee, and even, I suspect, within
ISI staff. Like any intelligence organization they were invariably devious in the way they went about things. It amused me that after we had refused to accept a particular weapon, within a week or so a Party, or a member of their Military Committee, would suddenly start pressing for its induction and extolling its virtues, although the CIA never met them face to face.
Part of the problem was that the CIA were under great pressure from Washington, from Congress, and ultimately from the American public whose money they were spending. Like their Director, they resented political constraint, tending to blame politicians when things went wrong. In this vein a senior CIA official alleged to me that President Carter had been briefed with the aid of aerial photographs on the Soviet’s impending invasion of Afghanistan. Tut the bastard refused to accept the evidence because he did not want to react – if he had you would never have had this problem.’ One thing I was never in doubt about was their single-minded determination to make the Soviets suffer in Afghanistan. ‘We must make the bastards burn,’ was a favourite CIA catchphrase.
Another interesting activity of the CIA, and indeed of the Western intelligence organizations from the UK, France, West Germany and elsewhere, was their scramble to buy captured Soviet weapons or equipment. In 1985 the new AK74 rifle was being used by Soviet troops. It is smaller and lighter than the old AK47 and fires a 5.45mm bullet, which tends to tumble inside a body, thus giving extensive internal injuries and a large exit wound. The first one captured was sold to the CIA for $5,000. Then the rush started. Weapons, armour plating, avionics equipment (particularly from M1-24 gunships), cipher machines, tank tracks, even binoculars, all had a commercial value soon appreciated by the Mujahideen. Embassy staff cars used to go up to the tribal areas near the border on buying trips, until General Akhtar protested to the embassies that this must stop and that they should channel their requests through ISI.
From 1984 onwards the CIA had been trying, through their agents, to get an Afghan pilot to defect with an M1-24 Hind helicopter gunship. They had made contacts in Kabul and time after time I would be told at short notice that the helicopter was arriving, so would I identify a suitable landing place, warn the PAF to receive it, not shoot it down, and ensure it was not destroyed on the ground by Soviet aircraft once it had landed. Needless to say, the plane never came and I gave up alerting the Air Force for these disruptive false alarms. The problem was that the CIA expected the pilot to conform exactly to some prearanged date and time schedule for his escape. They found it hard to understand that such a plan must be simple and allow the defector complete freedom to chose the time and place. The opportunity, when it came, would be fleeting and had to be seized at once without telling the CIA in advance. In the end it was our plan that gave the CIA not one, but two, M1-24s.
I merely explained to the Party Leaders that we needed to acquire such a helicopter. They simply let it be known in Kabul that a defector would be welcome. One afternoon in mid-1985 I received a call telling me that two M1-24s had landed at Miram Shah, just inside Pakistan. Apparently, on arrival, the startled border security force officer had explained to them that they had made a mistake and landed in Pakistan; if they so wished he would turn his back while they took off again. They stayed; although one co-pilot had no idea that his captain was defecting when they took off from Kabul. Within hours we started receiving congratulatory messages; every embassy wanted to examine the helicopters. For two weeks they were kept securely at an air base before experts from the UK, West Germany, France and China were permitted to examine and photograph them. After a few weeks they were transported to the US, as, eventually, were four of the six crew members. There were other defections by Afghan pilots. The first was an MI-8 helicopter pilot early in the war. This was followed by a light aircraft. During the flight the pilot had told the co-pilot that he was heading for Pakistan to defect. The co-pilot objected violently, so the captain pulled out his pistol and shot him dead in the cockpit. The CIA also got their hands on a SU22 fighter aircraft through the defection of an ace Afghan pilot, Captain Nabi, who for some time fought as a Mujahideen commander until petty bickering with his Party led to his opting to go to the US.
The richest military contribution of the CIA to the Afghan war was in the field of satellite intelligence through photographs. Nothing above ground was hidden from the all-seeing satellite. The pictures, taken from such enormous height, showed up tanks, vehicles, bridges, culverts and damage caused by bombing or rocket attacks with a clarity that amazed me. It made both the planning of operations and the briefing of the Mujahideen Commanders a comparatively simple business. It enabled me to select priority targets for rocket attacks, choose alternative firing points and consider the various routes to and from the target. I was able to ask the CIA for photographs of a particular area and within a short time they would be brought to my office for study. The CIA would then transfer all the details on to a map which we could retain. A typical example of such a map upon which an operation was planned is that of Sherkhan on the Amu River on page 1%. With every photograph or map we would be supplied with a list of possible targets, a description of each, together with recommended approaches, enemy dispositions, likely reactions to attack and possible counter-attacks. This information, in conjunction with the local knowledge of the Mujahideen, considerably enhanced our ability to conduct effective operations.
I was always fascinated by the Americans’ technical ability. In the communications field this was truly astounding. I was told, for example, that in the US their computers would record the conversation of a Soviet
pilot in his aircraft on flights around Moscow. Seemingly all pilots have certain recognizable ways of speaking, either of accent, pauses, words used or expressions. It is their signature. The Americans would give each pilot a code number, so if pilot X was later picked up speaking in Kabul, intelligence would know that either the individual had been posted or his squadron had moved. It was a simple matter to establish which. In such a way an updated Soviet Air Force order of battle in or near Afghanistan was maintained.
We also used their technical expertise when assessing how best to destroy a particular target, be it a bridge, a dam, a fuel dump or a pipeline. The CIA would supply the photographs and a demolition expert would give us advice on the type of explosive, the amount required, the best method of detonation and the precise location at which to place the charges, together with the likely extent of the damage. Again, invaluable information for planning.
The CIA also contributed substantially with the installation of wireless interception equipment. I was not involved directly with this type of aid, although I know it was generous and gave me a reliable, up-to-the-minute source of both Soviet and Afghan intercepted radio messages. This was high-grade tactical information on the movement of units, and sometimes their intentions. Often the messages would be tense and dramatic, as when we heard operators under attack yelling their orders, or frantically calling for help. It was listening in to some of these exchanges that confirmed the high level of mistrust that existed between the Soviets and Afghans. Once the Mujahideen had acquired Stingers we would hear Afghan pilots objecting to being sent on risky missions, while the Soviet helicopters remained at base. In one instance a Soviet headquarters was threatening to court-martial a junior officer who was insisting he must withdraw from his post. It was also radio interception that gave us feedback on the success or otherwise of some of our Mujahideen attacks in terms of damage caused or casualties inflicted.
In the summer of 1985 I visited the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia, not far from Washington, after repeated invitations to do so. I was keen to go, feeling I would learn a lot from the experience. Unfortunately, I gained little professionally from the trip. In reality it turned out to be more of a holiday break, but one from which I returned with my personal regard for the CIA greatly diminished.
I understand the need for the CIA to surround their activities and facilities with a sophisticated security system. Nevertheless, I was at first surprised at the lengths to which they went, and then hurt and affronted by their applying petty rules to somebody who was an American ally and himself a senior officer in a friendly intelligence organization. My surprise came when I was taken to the CIA headquarters and was ushered into the director’s own special lift. On my entering, the lift operator smiled at me and his face
seemed familiar. On the way down the same man asked if I did not recognize him, as he was a member of Mr Casey’s personal security team. It surprised me that even the director’s lift had a personal security guard manning it at all times, even, as was the case then, when he was out of station.
I was hurt on my visit to the CIA’s sabotage school a short distance from Washington. We flew there, although I think this was designed to convince me that its location was a long way from the capital. I am certain the aircraft circled round a lot more than it need have done to use up time, while the curtains of all the windows were tightly drawn. I was not to be allowed to catch a glimpse of where we were going. On the ground it was the same. Our car was completely closed, making it impossible to see out. I might just as well have been blindfolded from the outset. I regarded this as insulting. It was explained that my hosts had to abide by the regulations, but I was not suspect, and whenever the CIA visited my training camps in Pakistan they were never subjected to this kind of treatment. They came in broad daylight in open vehicles, with no attempts at concealment of the route or the camp’s location.
It was during this visit also that my suspicions that the CIA gave undue weight to the opinions of desk-bound analysts were verified. Firstly, I was ushered into a conference room to be briefed on Afghanistan. I had never been briefed by a woman military analyst before, so my attention was immediately captured. The poor woman was nervous and shaky, reading from her notes — a sure way of alienating her audience, but a practice many Americans seem to adopt. It is a sign that the speaker has not mastered the subject. And so it proved on this occasion. When she had finished I asked what she meant when she had stated that the Mujahideen had suffered heavy casualties in a particular battle. What percentage did she consider heavy —10 per cent, 20 per cent, or 50 per cent? She was immediately flummoxed. She was similarly confused when I pressed her for the numbers who actually fought in the battle. Her male companions attempted to come to her rescue. Later, I was told she had been working on Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion and had obtained a Master’s Degree in war studies before joining the CIA. Of course she had no practical experience of war, and never would have. Without this experience, or first-hand knowledge of conditions on a battlefield, even the best analyst is apt to draw the wrong conclusions from his facts and figures.
The next example involved a man considered to be an expert on Soviet tactics. After listening for a while to his discourse on what seemed to me to relate to how the Red Army would advance across the north European plain, I queried the relevance of what he had said to the terrain in Afghanistan. This seemed to upset him because he didn’t speak again.
To sum up: the CIA’s tasks in Afghanistan were to purchase arms and equipment and arrange their transportation to Pakistan; provide funds for
the purchase of vehicles and transportation inside Pakistan and Afghanistan; train Pakistani instructors on new weapons or equipment; provide satellite photographs and maps for our operational planning; provide radio equipment and training, and advise on technical matters when so requested. The entire planning of the war, all types of training of the Mujahideen and the allocation and distribution of arms and supplies were the sole responsibility of the ISI, and my office in particular.
I stress that the CIA’s strength was in their access to sophisticated technology. If it was possible to solve a problem by technical means they would get the answer, but if military decisions had to be made on the basis of experience, military knowledge, or even applied military common sense, then, in my view, few CIA officers could come up with workable solutions.
A lot of money was wasted, and probably still is, on the war in Afghanistan. Some of it was undoubtedly due to corruption or mistakes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but I believe a larger proportion has disappeared into the pockets of unscrupulous governments, arms dealers, politicians and CIA agents, who through incompetence or dishonesty bought or sold millions of dollars worth of worthless or inappropriate arms and ammunition.
Let me finish on a positive note. Notwithstanding all I have said, on balance the CIA’s contributions have played a vital role in the conduct of the Afghan Jehad. Without the backing of the US and Saudi Arabia the Soviets would still be entrenched in that country. Without the intelligence provided by the CIA many battles would have been lost, and without the CIA’s training of our Pakistani instructors the Mujahideen would have been fearfully ill-equipped to face, and ultimately defeat, a superpower.
What happened once the weapons arrived in Pakistan was our responsibility.