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Profile: Barnett Rubin

Barnett Rubin was a participant or observer in the following events:

Sheikh Abdullah Azzam giving a speech in the US in February 1988.Sheikh Abdullah Azzam giving a speech in the US in February 1988. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam frequently travels all over the world with the apparent support of the CIA. Slate will later write, “Azzam trotted the globe during the 1980s to promote the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. By the time of his death in 1989, he had recruited between 16,000 and 20,000 mujaheddin from 20 countries to Afghanistan, visited 50 American cities to advance his cause, and dispatched acolytes to spread the gospel in 26 US states, not to mention across the Middle East and Europe.” Slate calls him “the Lenin of international jihad,” noting that he “didn’t invent his movement’s ideas, but he furthered them and put them into practice around the world.” (Suellentrop 4/16/2002) At the time, the US is supporting the Afghans fighting the Soviets and it will later be alleged that the CIA supported Azzam as part of this effort. Barnett Rubin, a Columbia University professor and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, will claim in 1995 that sources told him Azzam was “enlisted” by the CIA to help unite the fractious Afghan rebel groups. Rubin claims Azzam was considered a prime asset because of his “close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi intelligence, and the Muslim World League.” But Azzam made no secret of his desire for a no compromise jihad to conquer the entire world. In 1988 in New Jersey, he says, “Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society” and he wants “to ignite the spark that may one day burn Western interests all over the world.” He is frequently accompanied on his US lecture tours by El-Sayyid Nosair and Clement Rodney Hampton-El, both of whom will later be convicted of al-Qaeda-linked attacks in the US. (Friedman 3/17/1995) CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) Executive Director Nihad Awad is a leader in the IAP (Islamic Association for Palestine) at this time. ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) affiliates, such as IAP and the MAYA (Muslim Arab Youth Association), host Azzam and arrange his visits to Islamic centers throughout the US. (Braude 2/27/2007)

Abdullah Azzam in Afghanistan.Abdullah Azzam in Afghanistan. [Source: Al Jazeera]The Boston Globe will later say that throughout the 1980s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, “was a spiritual leader of the CIA-backed mujaheddin.” (Sennott 6/21/1995) The Atlantic Monthly will later report that in the late 1980s in Peshawar, Pakistan, Abdul-Rahman “became involved with the US and Pakistani intelligence officials who were orchestrating the [Afghan] war. The sixty or so CIA and Special Forces officers based there considered him a ‘valuable asset,’ according to one of them, and overlooked his anti-Western message and incitement to holy war because they wanted him to help unify the mujaheddin groups.” He is unable to unify the groups, but he helps coordinate some of their activities. He tends to favor the two most radically anti-Western factions led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. He also has close links to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. (Weaver 5/1996) According to Barnett Rubin, a Columbia University professor and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Azzam was also working with the CIA to help recruit for and unite the mujaheddin groups (see 1985-1989), and when he is assassinated in 1989, the CIA relies even more heavily on Abdul-Rahman. Rubin claims the CIA pays to send him back to Peshawar “to preach to the Afghans about the necessity of unity to overthrow the Kabul regime.” As a reward for his help, the CIA gives him a visa to the US, even though he is on a terrorism watch list (see July 1990). (Friedman 3/17/1995) One source who worked with the CIA supply operation at this time will later say that Abdul-Rahman’s ties to Hekmatyar, the CIA’s most favored Afghan warlord, “put Sheikh Omar in the [CIA’s] good books. And believe me, later on when the Sheikh wanted to come to the States, he cashed in those chips.” (Lance 2006, pp. 20)

Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan. Data comes from the Defense Department and www.icasualties.org.Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan. Data comes from the Defense Department and www.icasualties.org. [Source: New York Times] (click image to enlarge)It is reported that June 2008 was the deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan since the US invaded that country in late 2001. There were 28 US combat deaths there that month, which nearly equals the 29 US combat deaths in Iraq in the same month. A total of 46 soldiers in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed in June, the highest monthly total of the war. There have been 533 US combat deaths since the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom, began in late 2001 (but this number includes deaths in the region outside of Afghanistan). Top US commanders say that the number of violent incidents has risen nearly 40 percent during the first half of 2008 compared with the previous year. US officials and Afghanistan experts say the increasing soldier death toll is a sign of the Taliban’s resurgence. For instance, Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says: “What it points to is that the opposition is becoming more effective. It is having a presence in more areas, being better organized, better financed and having a sustainable strategy. In all, their strategic situation has improved.” (White 7/2/2008) The same day as the new peaks of soldier deaths in Afghanistan is front-page news in most US newspapers, President Bush announces that the number of US troops in Afghanistan will be increased by the end of 2008. However, he gives no details on exactly when or by how many. (Feller 7/2/2008)

Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
bullet Troop increases;
bullet Negotiating with the Taliban; and
bullet Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. (Mazzetti and Schmitt 10/30/2008)


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