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Context of 'April 1988: Soviet Union Announces It Will Withdraw All Troops from Afghanistan'

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Pakistani officials decide to try to sell the nuclear weapons technology and expertise they have acquired in the last decade to other countries. The decision is taken because the Pakistanis’ nuclear weapons project is extremely expensive and they realize that the US money and goodwill that is keeping it alive is finite. Former Pakistani foreign minister Agha Shahi will say: “[Pakistani President Muhammad] Zia [ul-Haq] began to see the truth in something I had long argued. We were now deep inside the US pocket. Pakistan needed to win independence so as not to suffer when the inevitable happened and the US dropped us. Pakistan needed to broker new alliances and develop a revenue stream that was dependable and outside the scope of the US-run Afghan war.” Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will write: “KRL [Khan Research Laboratories] was Pakistan’s money pit, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain, but it was also potentially a cash cow, [A. Q.] Khan’s advances in the field of uranium enrichment being unique and extremely valuable. Out of the handful of countries that had mastered enrichment technology, including China, France, Pakistan, the US, and the Soviet Union, only China and Pakistan were free to share it, having refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).… This technology was worth millions if Pakistan was able to sell it.” Therefore Zia and senior cabinet members begin a series of “highly secretive meetings to explore trading KRL’s skills and assets.” The urgency of this project increases further after the Soviet Union decides to end the Afghan war in 1986 (see November 1986-November 1987). (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 132-133)

Congressman Stephen Solarz.Congressman Stephen Solarz. [Source: AP]The “Solarz Amendment” to the Foreign Assistance Act is passed by the US Congress and becomes law. The amendment, championed by Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), cuts off all military and economic aid to purportedly non-nuclear nations that illegally export or attempt to export nuclear-related materials from the US. (Hersh 3/29/1993) There are subsequently several examples of Pakistan exporting nuclear weapons technology from the US, but they are not punished until the end of the Soviet-Afghan War (see August 1985-October 1990).

Edvard Shevardnadze.Edvard Shevardnadze. [Source: US Defense Department]The Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party decides that the Soviet-Afghan War should end “within one year or two.” This follows on from a tentative and secret agreement within the Politburo the previous year to eventually withdraw from Afghanistan. The withdrawal will be formalized in an agreement signed in Geneva in April 1988 (see April 1988) and the last troops with leave Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989). Soviet Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze will inform US Secretary of State George Shultz of the decision the year after it is taken and the CIA will learn of it by November 1987. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 132-3, 486)

Following an incident where a Pakistani procurement agent was arrested in the US trying to buy components for a nuclear weapon (see Before July 1987), there is a serious row about it between a CIA manager and a CIA analyst at a Congressional hearing. The hearing is called by Stephen Solarz (D-NY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, to vet intelligence concerning Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. CIA manager General David Einsel says it is “not cut and dried” that the arrested Pakistani, Arshad Pervez, and his handler, Inam ul-Haq, are agents of the Pakistani government. Richard Barlow, a CIA analyst there to help Einsel, is surprised by the false answer, as it is a criminal offense to lie to Congress. He realizes, “Einsel’s testimony was highly evasive, and deliberately so.” He will also later comment: “These congressmen had no idea what was really going on in Pakistan and what had been coming across my desk about its WMD program. They did not know that Pakistan already had a bomb and was shopping for more with US help. All of it had been hushed up.” When Barlow is asked the same question, he says it is “clear” Pervez is working for Pakistan, at which point Einsel screams, “Barlow doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Solarz then asks whether there are any more cases involving the Pakistan government. Einsel says there are not, but Barlow replies, “Yes, there have been scores of other cases.” Barlow is then hustled out of the room and returns to CIA headquarters. A senior government official not cleared to attend the briefing comes in and tries to repair the damage, saying that Barlow was referring to intelligence reports, but “not all intelligence reports are accurate.” The official will later indicate that he is not proud of what he does, saying, “I didn’t know what I was getting into.” (Hersh 3/29/1993; Levy and Scott-Clark 10/13/2007) Barlow will subsequently be forced out of the CIA because of this hearing (see August 1987-1988).

Although the US is already aware that the Soviet Union intends to withdraw from Afghanistan (see November 1986-November 1987) and a formal agreement on the Soviet withdrawal will be signed in four months (see April 1988), the US Congress approves aid of $480 million for Pakistan, despite its nuclear weapons program. Legislation has been passed that automatically cuts off aid to countries with illicit nuclear weapons programs (see August 1985 and August 1985), but this legislation is not invoked. Despite apparently knowing of the Pakistani program, Congress decides that supporting the war in Afghanistan is more important (see July 1987 or Shortly After and Late 1980s). Some lawmakers and officials will later say that at this time “everybody in Congress” knows that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program (see Late 1980s), and anti-proliferation Senator John Glenn (D-OH) will later say the threat of nuclear proliferation “is a far greater danger to the world than being afraid to cut off the flow of aid to Afghanistan,” adding, “It’s the short-term versus the long-term.” (Hersh 3/29/1993)

US ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley.US ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley. [Source: Terry Mitchell / Public domain]According to some accounts, by this time it is common knowledge in certain Washington circles that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Despite this, the US government and Congress continues to pretend that Pakistan does not have such weapons, so that aid to Pakistan and the anti-Soviet mujaheddin based there can continue (see 1987-1989). A former top-level Reagan Administration official will later question the integrity of members of Congress who outwardly pretended to be tough on nuclear proliferators, but did not really want the aid to be cut off: “All this morality horse****. We were caught in a dilemma, and I didn’t know how to solve it: there was no way to stop the Pakistanis.… All this talk about breaking the law—it’s just a morality play. Of course everybody in Congress knew. The Administration was carrying out a popularly based policy in Afghanistan. If we’d cut off the aid to Pakistan, would we have been able to withstand the political heat from Congress?”
Former Ambassador: Congress 'Acquiesced' to Pakistani Program - According to the New Yorker, “many former members of the Reagan and Bush Administrations,” such as former ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley, will say that the essential facts about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program were known fully at this time to Congress, whose members “acquiesced” to the program, because of the Soviet-Afghan War and the popularity of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the US. Journalist Seymour Hersh will later comment, “Oakley’s point seemed to be that passive approval by Congress of bad policy somehow justified bad policy.”
Glenn: Nonproliferation Initiatives Thwarted - Senator John Glenn (D-OH) will say that most lawmakers did not want to know anyway: “I always thought in terms of the bigger picture—the nonproliferation treaty… We made a commitment that we’d cut off aid to transgressors, and we had to keep faith with those Third World people who signed with us. I didn’t think I had any option but to press for enforcement of the law against Pakistan.” He adds: “The Administration would always come to me and say how important it is to keep the arms flowing through to Afghanistan. I’d take my case on nonproliferation to the floor and lose the vote.”
Solarz: Balancing Concerns between Pakistan, Afghan War - Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), one of the strongest opponents of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program during the Soviet-Afghan War, will admit that he and others who cared about non-proliferation constantly tried to balance that concern with a desire to support the anti-Soviet effort, which was based in Pakistan. “There were legitimate concerns that the Afghan war might spill over to Pakistan, and I felt we needed to give the President flexibility,” Solarz will say. “I didn’t want us to be in a worst-case scenario in case the Soviets moved across the border. I thought I was being responsible at the time.” Referring to allegations made by former State Department, CIA, and Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow that the administration was well-aware of the program and constantly lied to Congress (see July 1987 or Shortly After), he adds, “If what Barlow says is true, this would have been a major scandal of Iran-Contra proportions, and the officials involved would have had to resign. We’re not dealing with minor matters. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is one of the major foreign-policy issues of the nation—not to mention the law of the land.” (Hersh 3/29/1993)

In an agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland, the Soviet Union pledges to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. They will end up withdrawing the last of their soldiers on that exact date (see February 15, 1989). At the time, the Soviets have slightly over 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. (Keller 2/16/1989)

A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan.A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan. [Source: National Geographic]Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in accordance with an agreement signed the previous year (see April 1988). However, Afghan communists retain control of Kabul, the capital, until April 1992. (Coll 7/19/1992) It is estimated that more than a million Afghans (eight per cent of the country’s population) were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed by an unprecedented number of land mines. Almost half of the survivors of the war are refugees. (Wright 9/9/2002) Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the counterterrorism “tsar” by 9/11, will later say that the huge amount of US aid provided to Afghanistan drops off drastically as soon as the Soviets withdraw, abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. The new powers in Afghanistan are tribal chiefs, the Pakistani ISI, and the Arab war veterans coalescing into al-Qaeda. (Clarke 2004, pp. 52-53)

Although the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989), the CIA continues to support the mujaheddin because the Soviet-allied Communist government stays in power in Kabul. Apparently, the CIA and the Saudi government continue to fund the mujaheddin at least until December 1990, although it could be longer because the Communist government remains in power in Kabul until 1992. The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, reportedly has been working with the CIA in the 1980s to help unite the mujaheddin factions fighting each other (see Late 1980s). The Village Voice will later report that according to a “very high-ranking Egyptian official,” Abdul-Rahman continues to work with the CIA after moving to Brooklyn in July 1990 (see July 1990). He “work[s] closely with the CIA, helping to channel a steady flow of money, men, and guns to mujaheddin bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But despite working with the CIA, Abdul-Rahman still considers the US the “Great Satan” and does not try to hide this. In one radio broadcast, he says that “Americans are descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communism, and colonialism.” Matti Steinberg, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism, says that Abdul-Rahman’s “long-term goal is to weaken US society and to show Arab rulers that the US is not an invulnerable superpower.” The Egyptian official will later complain, “We begged America not to coddle the sheikh.” (Friedman 3/30/1993)

President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker decide that the US will cut off foreign aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program. Pakistan was a major recipient of foreign aid during the Soviet Afghan war, when the US channeled support to the mujaheddin through it, but Soviet forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in February (see February 15, 1989). It is decided that aid will be provided for 1989, but not for 1990 (see October 1990). (Hersh 3/29/1993)

Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden’s mentor Sheikh Abdullah Azzam is killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan. The killing is never solved. Azzam has no shortage of enemies. Suspects include the Mossad, CIA, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ISI, and bin Laden. The reason bin Laden is suspected is because he and Azzam were increasingly at odds over what approach to take since the Soviet Union had been driven from Afghanistan earlier in the year (see February 15, 1989). (Suellentrop 4/16/2002; Coll 2004, pp. 204) In 1998, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh will be arrested and later convicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings. He reportedly will tell US interrogators that bin Laden “personally ordered the killing of Azzam because he suspected his former mentor had ties with the CIA.” However, it is not known if Odeh was just passing on a rumor. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 32) Regardless, in the wake of Azzam’s death, bin Laden takes control of Azzam’s recruiting and support network, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, and merges it with al-Qaeda, which was formed the year before (see August 11-20, 1988). (Suellentrop 4/16/2002; Coll 2004, pp. 204)

“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch.“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch. [Source: Public domain]The Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, is al-Qaeda’s main foothold in the US and most of the 1993 WTC bombers are closely tied to it. It had been formed in the 1980s to send militants to fight in Afghanistan and also help veteran fighters settle in the US (see 1986-1993). But the Afghanistan war against the Soviets ended in early 1989 and the winning factions soon began fighting amongst themselves (see February 15, 1989). But a new cause is on the horizon as Yugoslavia starts falling apart. By 1991, the center’s parent organization in Pakistan, Maktab al-Khidamat(MAK)/Al-Kifah begins setting up al-Qaeda charity fronts in the Bosnia region (see 1991). The main regional MAK/Al-Kifah branch in Zagreb, Croatia, is also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center like the Brooklyn branch and has very close ties with that branch (see Early 1990s). In 1992, war breaks out in Bosnia (see April 6, 1992) and the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn shifts its focus fully to the Bosnia cause. For instance, the Boston branch publishes “A Call for Jihad in Bosnia.” It claims that more than 100,000 Bosnians had been killed and that thousands of Muslim girls had been kidnapped and kept in Yugoslav army camps for sex. It urges readers who wish “to provide the emerging jihad movement in Bosnia with more than food and shelter” to send their donations to Al-Kifah. And just as Al-Kifah led the effort to send US-based militants to fight in Afghanistan, it appears to do the same for Bosnia. Vanity Fair will later claim, “Dozens and perhaps hundreds of US residents are reported to have joined appeals to fight the Serbs in Bosnia.” (Scroggins 3/2005) The head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zagreb branch, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, apparently is also one of the leaders of the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia around this time (see 1990 and 1991). The CIA had ties to Al-Kifah during the Afghan war (see Late 1980s and After) and there is some circumstantial evidence of US government ties to it during the Bosnia war. In 1992, Ali Mohamed, a double agent and ex-US Special Forces officer with close ties to Al-Kifah, leads a group of US militants who are all ex-US soldiers to train and fight in Bosnia (see December 1992). Abu Ubaidah Yahya, an ex-US marine and security chief at the Brooklyn branch, will lead a second group of US militants to fight in Bosnia (see Spring 1993).


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