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Context of 'February 2001: US Fails to Back Plan to Overthrow Taliban'

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Graham Fuller.Graham Fuller. [Source: Ohio University]The US tilts ever more sharply towards Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, even though the Reagan administration continues to maintain a posture of overt neutrality in the conflict. The administration has provided covert military aid for both sides in the struggle (see 1981 and October 1983), and has been divided over which regime to support (see January 14, 1984). It is already involved in “Operation Staunch,” a program designed by Secretary of State George Shultz to stem the flow of weapons to Iran. Now, some officials are arguing that it is time to reverse that course. Graham Fuller, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Middle East, writes two controversial secret memos advocating that the administration begin providing support for Iran against Iraq. Fuller is presenting a position long held by national security director Robert McFarlane and two of McFarlane’s aides, Oliver North and Howard Teicher. This pro-Iran group has recently been joined by CIA director William Casey. Both McFarlane and Casey are supportive of Fuller’s memo. Fuller writes in a May 17 memo, “Our tilt to Iraq was timely when Iraq was against the ropes and the Islamic revolution was on a roll. The time may now have to come to tilt back.” Fuller argues that the US should once again authorize Israel to ship US arms to Iran. Ironically, this is the mirror image of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s argument in favor of supporting Iraq: the US must counter one covert policy with another (see Early 1982). The pro-Iranian coalition within the administration gives scant consideration to the hostage-taking of seven Americans by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militant group with strong ties to Iran’s theocratic regime. On May 20, Fuller circulates a second memo, called a “Special National Intelligence Estimate” (SNIE), that is only read by a handful of senior White House officials (Ronald Reagan is one of the recipients; George Bush is not). Fuller’s memo is written almost entirely for Reagan’s benefit, and in its arguments, becomes a basis for renewed arms sales to Iran and the resulting Iran-Contra scandal. Fuller evokes one of Reagan’s favorite themes, the trouncing of the Soviet Union in the global arena: “We know that the USSR views Iran as ‘the prize’ in the Gulf. Moscow will improve relations when and where it can… until it gains major influence in that state. The disturbing possibility is that the USSR is far more likely than the US to be first in finding opportunities to improve its ties to Iran.” Interestingly, in 1991, during Robert Gates’s Senate hearings on becoming the director of the CIA, it is learned that Fuller’s memo contradicts the views of career Soviet analysts at the agency, who believe that the Soviet Union has no real hope of making inroads into the Iranian regime. The USSR is the chief arms supplier for Iraq, Iran’s bitter enemy and current opponent in a long and bloody war. Iran is arming the Afghan mujaheddin, the Islamist resistance fighters viewed as a threat by Saddam Hussein. Several CIA analysts will later testify that they believe Fuller deliberately slanted his memo for political reasons. In 1992, Fuller himself will admit that he was wrong, but will deny any politicization. Regardless, Fuller’s memo becomes a critical document shaping the Reagan policy to arm Iran. It is not clear whether Vice President Bush ever saw the memo, but whether he did or not, beginning in 1985 he takes part in numerous White House meetings where the arming of Iran is discussed. If he has objections to the policy, he never voices them. [Time, 11/17/1986; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein, William Casey, Robert M. Gates, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Robert C. McFarlane, George Herbert Walker Bush, Graham Fuller, Central Intelligence Agency, Howard Teicher, Caspar Weinberger, Hezbollah, George Shultz

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Robert McFarlane resigns as national security adviser. His deputy, Admiral John Poindexter, is appointed to the position. McFarlane will continue working for the administration on an informal basis. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Robert C. McFarlane, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Abdul Haq, a famous Afghan leader of the mujaheddin, convinces Robert McFarlane, National Security Adviser under President Ronald Reagan, that Haq and about 50 fellow commanders could lead a force to start a revolt against the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan. However, Haq wants to do this under the authority of Zahir Shah, the popular former king of Afghanistan, whom the US does not support. The CIA fails to give any support to Haq. Says one CIA official to McFarlane a few months later, “We don’t yet have our marching orders concerning US policy; it may be that we will end up dealing with the Taliban.” Haq goes ahead with his plans without US support, and is killed in October (see October 25, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane, Taliban, Abdul Haq, Zahir Shah, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdul Haq, a famous Afghan leader of the mujaheddin, returns to Peshawar, Pakistan, from the US. Having failed to gain US support, except for that of some private individuals such as former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Haq begins organizing subversive operations in Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2001] He is later killed entering Afghanistan in October 2001, after his position is reportedly betrayed to the Taliban by the ISI.

Entity Tags: Taliban, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Abdul Haq, Robert C. McFarlane

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdul Haq.Abdul Haq. [Source: Abdul Haq Foundation]Abdul Haq, a leader of the Afghan resistance to the Taliban, is killed. According to some reports, he “seemed the ideal candidate to lead an opposition alliance into Afghanistan to oust the ruling Taliban.” [Observer, 10/28/2001] Four days earlier, he had secretly entered Afghanistan with a small force to try to raise rebellion, but was spotted by Taliban forces and surrounded. He calls former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (who had supported him in the past) who then calls the CIA and asks for immediate assistance to rescue Haq. A battle lasting up to twelve hours ensues. (The CIA had previously rejected Haq’s requests for weapons to fight the Taliban, and so his force is grossly underarmed.) [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/29/2001] The CIA refuses to send in a helicopter to rescue him, alleging that the terrain is too rough, even though Haq’s group is next to a hilltop once used as a helicopter landing point. [Observer, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] An unmanned surveillance aircraft eventually attacks some of the Taliban forces fighting Haq, but not until five hours after Haq has been captured. The Taliban executes him. [Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2001] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, and others suggest that Haq’s position was betrayed to the Taliban by the ISI. Haq was already an enemy of the ISI, which may have killed his family. [Village Voice, 10/26/2001; USA Today, 10/31/2001; Knight Ridder, 11/3/2001; Toronto Star, 11/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Vincent Cannistraro, Abdul Haq

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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