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Profile: Michael Pillsbury

Michael Pillsbury was a participant or observer in the following events:

Assistant Undersecretary of Defence Michael Pillsbury flies to the Afghan frontier to review training facilities used by two Afghan warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Although Pillsbury is not involved in the day-to-day running of the Soviet-Afghan War, he chairs an interagency White House group that sets US policy on its support for anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan. During the meetings, Pillsbury asks the two rebel commanders, both noted for their close relationship with Arab volunteers fighting in the war, about how effective the Arabs are and whether the US should allocate resources to them directly. However, both commanders reply that they do not want aid or supplies to be diverted to the Arabs, they want everything they can get for themselves. (Coll 2008, pp. 286-287) Despite this, CIA Director William Casey comes to an agreement with the Pakistani ISI to boost Arab participation in the war (see 1985-1986), and a group of Arabs led by Osama bin Laden will establish a camp independent of the Afghan leaders later in the year (see Late 1986).

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)


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