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CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR

A Detailed History
In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, an event much expected by the CIA. As Steve Coll wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Ghost War”: "The CIA had been watching Soviet troop deployments in and around Afghanistan since the summer, and while its analysts were divided in assessing Soviet political intentions, the CIA reported steadily and accurately about Soviet military moves. By mid-December, ominous, large-scale Soviet deployments toward the Soviet-Afghan border had been detected by U.S. intelligence. CIA director [Stansfield] Turner sent President Carter and his senior advisers a classified ‘Alert' memo on December 19, warning that the Soviets had ‘crossed a significant threshold in their growing military involvement in Afghanistan and were sending more forces south.' Three days later, deputy CIA director Bobby Inman called [National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski and Defense Secretary Harold Brown to report that the CIA had no doubt that the Soviet Union intended to undertake a major military invasion of Afghanistan within 72 hours.”

As Crile illustrated in "Charlie Wilson's War,” this invasion changed President Jimmy Carter's philosophy toward the USSR. "It radicalized him,” the journalist observed. "It made him suddenly believe that the Soviets might truly be evil, and the only way to deal with them was with force.”

Crile continued in his book: "‘I don't know if fear is the right word to describe our reaction,' recalls Carter's vice-president, Walter Mondale. ‘But what unnerved everyone was the suspicion that [Soviet president] Brezhnev's inner circle might not be rational. They must have known the invasion would poison everything dealing with the West—from SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] to the deployment of weapons in Western Europe.'”

Overt force was not a first option for the administration. This was the Cold War after all, and the two superpowers each sat upon an enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons, ominous enough to easily conjure up World War III. Too, after the wrenching turmoil of Vietnam, America was weary of entering into another conflict in which there was no certain end date.

Carter would, however, set certain wheels in motion. He authorized a boycott of the Summer 1980 Olympic Games scheduled for Moscow, instigated an embargo on grain sales to the Soviets, fast-tracked a 1977 directive known as the Rapid Deployment Force and introduced The Carter Doctrine. Crile elaborated, "The Carter Doctrine [committed] America to war in the event of any threat to the strategic oil fields of the Middle East. His most radical departure, however, came when he signed a series of secret legal documents, known as the Presidential Findings, authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency to go into action against the Red Army.”

Thus began the agency's covert operation to arm Afghan rebels for self-defense. The nascent scheme was modest and, as Crile suggested, tied to "the CIA's time-honored practice never to introduce into a conflict weapons that could be traced back to the United States. And so the spy agency's first shipment to scattered Afghan rebels—enough small arms and ammunition to equip a thousand men—consisted of weapons made by the Soviets themselves that had been stockpiled by the CIA for just such a moment.”

Unfortunately for the Mujahideen, this was not an impressive cache—mostly rifles from WWI with a limited supply of ammunition with which to load the purloined weaponry. The Afghan freedom fighters proved to be some of their own best assets. Led by chieftains and mullahs, these warriors called for jihad against the tens of thousands of Soviets who began pouring in the country. However, even with the CIA's limited help, they were no match for the Soviet military machine. Crile pointed out in his book, "The Afghan people would suf

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