January 15, 2016
First, the United States – in cahoots with Pakistan – gave Afghanistan the “freedom fighters” during the jihad against the Soviets, led by the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Osama bin Laden, which eventually morphed into the Taliban movement. Now, yet another made-in-the-USA religious extremist Frankensteinian creation has reared its ugly head in Afghanistan, one that makes Al Qaeda look mild by comparison.
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department officially designated the Afghanistan wing of ISIS, dubbed ISIL-Khorasan (ISIL-K), as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The FTO label calls for a “prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to this organization.” How reassuring this news must be for the people of Afghanistan.
The designation comes in the wake of a suicide attack on the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad on Wednesday that killed seven police officers, which the Islamic State claimed was its handiwork, and less than a month after General Joseph Campbell warned that ISIS supporters were trying to establish a base in the region.
The Afghanistan branch of the ISIS franchise, according to the State Department, was founded on January 10, 2015 and is largely made up of former members of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. However, the group gets its inspiration from ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who represents the output of a causal chain that originated in Washington at the dawn of the Cold War.
The hard-to-swallow reality is that ISIS was partly the byproduct of U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush, as Harvard scholar Garikai Chengu explains: “The 2003 American invasion and occupation of Iraq created the pre-conditions for radical Sunni groups, like ISIS, to take root. America, rather unwisely, destroyed Saddam Hussein’s secular state machinery and replaced it with a predominantly Shiite administration.”
It is important to underline that Al Qaeda and its ilk did not exist in Iraq previous to the Bush administration’s campaign to rid the world of Saddam and his ever elusive WMDs. In 2004, Al Qaeda, exploiting the power vacuum created by the U.S. invasion, reconstituted itself as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The group took advantage of the instability from the uprising in Syria to expand operations while rebranding itself as the Islamic State, a more sadistic version of the parent corporation.
Former Iraqi Baathist regime officers, in fact, began collaborating with AQI underground soon after Saddam was ousted to lay the foundation of the Islamic State, making for bizarre bedfellows given the Baathists’ secular tendencies. Nevertheless, as Reuters reported last month: “Of Islamic State’s 23 portfolios – equivalent to ministries – former Saddam regime officers run three of the most crucial: security, military and finance.”
What is most startling about all of this is the line that runs from the U.S.-funded Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s through Al Qaeda to contemporary ISIS. Actually, the Islamic State monsters we so despise today are the ultimate offspring of American Cold War Manichaeism that had us loving radical extremists – even before Charlie Wilson’s war.
It was during the 1950s that the C.I.A. began covertly recruiting a core of pan-Islamic extremists via NGOs to undermine Soviet and secular influence, thereby retarding the modernization of Afghan society. According to the U.S. State Department’s very own Office of the Historian, the Asia Foundation was “a Central Intelligence Agency proprietary” established in 1954 to “undertake cultural and educational activities on behalf of the United States Government in ways not open to official U.S. agencies.”
It was through this covertly-financed instrument that the C.I.A. was able to groom radical Muslims amongst students at Kabul University. The C.I.A. also helped the Muslim Brotherhood return from banishment to infect Afghan society with a radical version of Islam that began to supplant the traditional, more moderate indigenous form.
Even more bizarre is how conservative Christians in prominent U.S. government positions embraced the extremist forms of Islam during this era, all in the name of defeating the Soviet Union. As Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald wrote about William Casey, Director of the C.I.A. from 1981 to 1987:
“Casey’s passion for the Afghan jihad has sometimes been described as messianic. An ultra-conservative Catholic, Casey saw little difference in the antimodernist beliefs of the Wahabbist House of Saud and the antimodernist, anti-enlightenment views of the newly installed Polish Pope, John Paul II.”
Casey, of course, went on to operate the biggest covert operation in U.S. history as Washington poured in over $3 billion by way of Pakistan’s spy agency to train some of the most brutal religious fanatics on earth. During the 1980s, the United States, in league with the UK, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, oversaw the training of more than 100,000 Islamic militants, including future Al Qaeda fighters, some of whom helped pave the way for ISIS.
Fast forwarding to the present, we see the fruits of nefarious efforts by the U.S. actuated more than sixty years ago continuing to plague Afghanistan. Now, the U.S. disparages ISIS as nothing more than a group of barbaric terrorists, even though Washington considered their forefathers “freedom fighters.” Then again, to paraphrase Noam Chomsky, the case of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan was different because that’s when they were “our” terrorists.