Democracy and Political Rights

Operation Cyclone: The Time the CIA Armed Jihadists

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By Sabik Jawad [Guest Writer]

This article was originally published on The Young Revolution, and reprinted on the Youth Internationalist Association with the permission of the author.


At one point or another, most of us have heard and shrugged off conspiracy theories about how the US government is responsible for the Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Well, how about I tell you that these theories may have a teeny-tiny bit of truth in them?

There is no actual evidence that Uncle Sam directly created and supported terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and if there is, let’s face it, I’d probably be black-bagged by government agents (of the US, not ours, ours wouldn’t even think of doing it in their wildest dreams *cough cough*) before my article about it is published. But there is enough evidence to prove that the CIA ran programs to fund and arm a number of resistance movements to help their own interests. The largest one of these programs was Operation Cyclone.

After the Saur Revolution in Afghanistan in 1978, the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was formed, with Nur Muhammad Taraki as president, and Afghanistan became another Soviet satellite. Taraki introduced reforms, mainly for secular education and the redistribution of land. These reforms were accompanied by acts of political oppression (including mass executions of conservative religious leaders in the opposition) which triggered a revolt by rebels, who called themselves the “Mujahideen” (people committing jihad). As the situation was worsening, a power struggle was taking place between Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, in which Amin emerged victorious. In December 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan due to Amin’s failure in containing the rebellion, and staged a coup, putting Soviet loyalist Babrak Kamal into power. This officially started the Soviet-Afghan version of the Vietnam War, between the Afghan Mujahideen (who now controlled a large part of the country’s territory) and the coalition between the Soviet Union and the government of Afghanistan.

The Soviet invasion started a new phase of the Cold War and US President Carter was determined to respond vigorously to the intervention by the Soviets. Sanctions were imposed on the USSR; renewed aid was promised to US ally, and neighbor of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were boycotted by the US and its allies.

Washington had also realized that it had every strategic interest in keeping the Soviets stuck in Afghanistan, and from spreading across the region. This prompted President Carter to initiate Operation Cyclone to fund and arm the Mujahideen through the Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (whose officials had been lobbying to the US and its allies for years to support the Mujahideen insurgency). The funding started with $20-30 million a year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year by 1987, as Carter’s successor Reagan had decided to expand the program. In total, more than $20 billion were funneled to Afghanistan under Operation Cyclone. Also, at the beginning of the program, the Carter Administration had convinced the Saudi government to match its funding dollar for dollar, resulting in more than $40 billion in funds given to the Mujahideen.

But, Pakistan got to choose who received the aid, as the Mujahideen usually got the US assistance from ISI, and it chose groups that were favored by then President Muhammad Zia-ul-Huq over less extreme, less violent resistance groups that were also fighting the Soviet-Afghan coalition. One of the beneficiaries of the aid was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, often dubbed as “the Butcher of Kabul”, mainly because he shelled Kabul with American-supplied weapons (causing 2,000 casualties) and because of his civil war with other Afghan warlords for sole power in Kabul (causing 50,000 civilian casualties in Kabul alone). He was known to have been directly contacted by the US government, as he met with former US Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalizad, and was also invited to meet with President Reagan. He had also met former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as he had also gained the support of MI6.



Another notable beneficiary of Operation Cyclone who was also directly contacted by the CIA was Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose network has had allegedly carried out 14 attacks since 2008. He was considered a “unilateral” asset by the CIA, well, at least until he joined the Taliban and started fighting against the American occupation. Two well-known Arab jihadists are known to have started their careers in the Haqqani network. One of them was Abdullah Azim, also known as “the Father of Global Jihad”. The other one was a guy named Osama bin Laden.

Yep, the CIA sponsored the guy who helped and protected the man behind the 9/11 attacks and who found al-Qaeda, the greatest terrorist organization in the world if you don’t count ISIS (which is basically al-Qaeda’s brainchild). And like I said before, no direct link, unless you consider the underground camp the CIA “allegedly” helped bin Laden build at Khost, Afghanistan to train Mujahideen soldiers. And the funding he may have directly received under Operation Cyclone, but, according to experts (most of whom are former CIA officers) there was no reason for him to receive as the US government only assisted ethnic Afghans and Laden was an Afghan Arab.

Yeah, that’s what happened.

About the Author


The writer is Editor of The Young Republic and an O Level student from CIDER International School, Chittagong.

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