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Context of '(Early-Mid 1986): Salem Bin Laden Asks Pentagon to Supply Missiles to Arab Afghans, Receives No Reply'

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Salem bin Laden tells one of his employees, George Harrington, that his brother Osama, is, according to a later account by Harrington, “the liaison between the US, the Saudi government, and the Afghan rebels.” Salem, head of the bin Laden family, also says that he must visit Osama in Peshawar, a base inside Pakistan for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin, to check on what equipment the Saudi government is funneling to him. The two men fly up together with another employee, Bengt Johansson, and meet Osama that day. Osama also gives his brother and the two employees a tour of some facilities in Peshawar, including refugee camps, a hospital and an orphanage, and Salem films them to publicize his brother’s charitable work. [Coll, 2008, pp. 7-9]

Entity Tags: Salem bin Laden, Osama bin Laden, Bengt Johansson, George Harrington

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden family head Salem bin Laden asks the Pentagon to supply anti-aircraft missiles to Arab volunteers fighting in the Soviet-Afghan War. The request is made on behalf of Salem’s brother Osama, who is establishing a semi-autonomous group of Arab volunteers outside the direct control of local Afghan commanders and will set up a camp just for Arabs later this year (see Late 1986). The Pentagon is asked because the US is already supplying anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to the Afghans. However, it does not reply to Salem, and the reason for the failure to reply is not known. According to a business partner involved in Salem’s efforts to secure the missiles, he makes several attempts to contact the Pentagon, but is unable to locate the right person in the defense bureaucracy. Later research will indicate that there is no formal decision by the Reagan administration not to supply the missiles or other equipment to the Arab volunteers. Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury will later say he was not aware of any such decision, but if such a decision had been taken, he would have been aware of it. [Coll, 2008, pp. 287]

Entity Tags: Michael Pillsbury, Salem bin Laden, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Osama and Salem bin Laden purchase anti-aircraft missiles for Arab volunteers fighting in Afghanistan in a deal concluded at the Dorchester Hotel in London. The transaction results from a request by Osama that Salem help him with two purchases, of the anti-aircraft missiles and of equipment to refill ammunition shells for AK-47 assault rifles.
Middleman - Salem attempted to obtain the missiles from the Pentagon, but was rebuffed (see (Early-Mid 1986)), and brought a German acquaintance named Thomas Dietrich in to help him complete the deal. It is difficult to arrange as, even though the bin Ladens are backed by the Saudi government, they do not have clearance to buy the missiles from Western authorities. Dietrich has contacts at the arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch and also gets an arms salesman to meet Salem and Osama in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, the salesman tells Osama that refilling the ammunition makes no sense and it would be simpler to just purchase it on the international market. For the missiles, Osama, Salem, Dietrich and Dietrich’s contacts meet two or three times at the Dorchester Hotel over a period of six to eight weeks. Dietrich will later learn that his contacts help arrange the purchase of Soviet SA-7 missiles in South America, as well as the ammunition.
Paid in Oil - However, there is a problem with the deal because the bin Ladens want to pay for the weapons not with cash, but with oil, “just a tanker offshore,” according to Dietrich. This causes trouble as “a company like Heckler & Koch, they don’t want oil, they want money.” Dietrich is not aware of the source of funding for the purchases, but author Steve Coll will note, “The best available evidence suggests it probably came at least in part from the Saudi government,” because the bin Ladens are “working in concert with official Saudi policy” and “seem to fit inside a larger pattern.” This is a reference to the Al Yamamah arms deal (see Late 1985). [Coll, 2008, pp. 284-288]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Heckler & Koch, Salem bin Laden, Steve Coll, Thomas Dietrich

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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