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Context of '1985-1987: US Helps Afghan Allies Launch Attacks into Soviet Union'

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A young Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.A young Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [Source: Public domain]Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar emerges as the most powerful of ISI’s mujaheddin clients, just as Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-TX) and CIA Director William Casey, along with Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, are pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new and more lethal supplies into ISI warehouses” (see 1983). Hekmatyar is among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan Islamic warlords. (Coll 2004, pp. 119) Casey is said to particularly like Hekmatyar because they share a goal of extending the fighting beyond Afghanistan into the Soviet Union itself. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 268) Hekmatyar receives about half of all the CIA’s covert weapons directed at Afghanistan despite being a known major drug trafficker (see 1982-1991). He develops close ties with bin Laden by 1984 while continuing to receive large amounts of assistance from the CIA and ISI (see 1984).

Following a March 1985 directive signed by President Reagan that sharply escalates US covert action in Afghanistan, the Pakistani ISI begins training Afghans to launch strikes directly into Soviet territory. Apparently the idea originated with CIA Director William Casey who first proposed harassing Soviet territory in 1984 (see October 1984). According to Graham Fuller, a senior US intelligence official, most top US officials consider such military raids “an incredible escalation” and fear a large-scale Soviet response if they are carried out. The Reagan administration decides not to give Pakistan detailed satellite photographs of military targets inside the Soviet Union. (Coll 7/19/1992) Mohammad Yousaf, a high-ranking ISI officer, will later claim that the training actually began in 1984. “During this period we were specifically to train and dispatch hundreds of mujaheddin up to 25 kilometers deep inside the Soviet Union. They were probably the most secret and sensitive operations of the war.” He notes that, “By 1985, it became obvious that the United States had got cold feet. Somebody at the top in the American administration was getting frightened.” But, he claims, “the CIA, and others, gave us every encouragement unofficially to take the war into the Soviet Union.” (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 286-287) Casey will approve of such attacks and the first attack inside the Soviet Union will take place in 1985 (see 1985-1987).

William Casey (left, with glasses) and General Akhtar Abdur Rahman (center) touring Afghan training camps in the 1980s.William Casey (left, with glasses) and General Akhtar Abdur Rahman (center) touring Afghan training camps in the 1980s. [Source: Associated Press]CIA Director William Casey makes a secret visit to Pakistan to plan a strategy to defeat Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Casey is flown to secret training camps near the Afghan border where he watches trainees fire weapons and make bombs. According to the Washington Post: “During the visit, Casey startled his Pakistani hosts by proposing that they take the Afghan war into enemy territory—into the Soviet Union itself. Casey wanted to ship subversive propaganda through Afghanistan to the Soviet Union’s predominantly Muslim southern republics.” The Pakistanis agree to the plan and soon the CIA begins sending subversive literature and thousands of Korans to Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan. Mohammad Yousaf, a Pakistani general who attends the meeting, will later say that Casey said, “We can do a lot of damage to the Soviet Union.” (Coll 7/19/1992) This will eventually evolve into CIA and ISI sponsored Afghan attacks inside the Soviet Union (see 1984-March 1985 and 1985-1987).

In 1985, the CIA, MI6 (Britain’s intelligence agency), and the Pakistani ISI agree to launch guerrilla attacks from Afghanistan into then Soviet-controlled Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, attacking military installations, factories, and storage depots within Soviet territory. Some Afghans have been trained for this purpose since 1984 (see 1984-March 1985). The task is given to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord closely linked to the ISI. According to an account in the Washington Post, in March 1987, small units cross from bases in northern Afghanistan into Tajikistan and launched their first rocket attacks against villages there. (Coll 7/19/1992; Rashid 9/23/2001) However, Mohammad Yousaf, a high-ranking ISI officer at the time, will later write a well regarded book about the Soviet-Afghan war and will give a different account. He will claim the attacks in the Soviet Union actually begin in 1985 and are much more numerous. He says, “These cross-border strikes were at their peak in 1986. Scores of attacks were made across the Amu (River)… Sometimes Soviet citizens joined in these operations, or came back into Afghanistan to join the mujaheddin… That we were hitting a sore spot was confirmed by the ferocity of the Soviets’ reaction. Virtually every incursion provoked massive aerial bombing and gunship attacks on all villages south of the river in the vicinity of our strike.” (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 286) By all accounts, these secret attacks are strongly backed by CIA Director William Casey and come to an end when he dies later in 1987. (Coll 7/19/1992; Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 285-286)

Ronald Reagan with Afghan mujaheddin leaders.Ronald Reagan with Afghan mujaheddin leaders. [Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library] (click image to enlarge)President Reagan issues a secret National Security Decision Directive to sharply escalate US covert action in Afghanistan. No longer content to simply help harass Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the directive leads to sharp increase in military and other aid to the mujaheddin to completely defeat the Soviets. The CIA begins supplying mujaheddin rebels with “extensive satellite reconnaissance data of Soviet targets on the Afghan battlefield, plans for military operations based on the satellite intelligence, intercepts of Soviet communications, secret communications networks for the rebels, delayed timing devices for tons of C-4 plastic explosives for urban sabotage and sophisticated guerrilla attacks, long-range sniper rifles, a targeting device for mortars that was linked to a US Navy satellite, wire-guided anti-tank missiles, and other equipment.” CIA Director William Casey also sees the directive as an opportunity to launch attacks inside the Soviet Union itself (see 1984-March 1985 and 1985-1987). (Coll 7/19/1992)


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