The United States took drastic measures recently when it launched a cruise missile strike against terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Following the attack, President Clinton claimed the United States had struck back at terrorists allegedly responsible for bombing two U.S. embassies in Africa, killing more than 260 people. Clinton added that the strike was necessary to prevent further, imminent attacks by those terrorists on U.S. civilians abroad.
The Clinton administration labeled Osama bin Laden the architect of several assaults against Americans abroad, including the bombings of U.S. military personnel at the Khobar Towers and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, attacks against American soldiers in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope, the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the recent embassy bombings.
A man with such a violent history deserves to be brought to justice, and the United States should work diligently to do so. But current and past U.S. policy in the South Asian region is inherently flawed and fundamentally wrong. In fact, the United States consciously and indirectly funded and supported the very terrorists – bin Laden included – it now seeks to destroy.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, initiated a massive aid program to Afghan freedom fighters known as mujahideen. The United States, through the Central Intelligence Agency, eventually provided more than $6 billion in lethal aid to the Afghans by channeling money through the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA.
However, the ISI is a largely independent government agency that sought to monopolize policy in Afghanistan. Furthermore, despite our enormous investment in the Afghan saga, the U.S. government has remained silent in the face of numerous ISI transgressions.
After years of serving as the conduit for arms and logistical services to the mujahideen, the ISI became extremely powerful. Moreover, because the United States lacked intelligence capacity within Afghanistan, it was unable to closely monitor what mujahideen factions it was providing aid to through the ISI. This was problematic for the United States because the ISI was heavily favoring fundamentalist groups over moderates.
Even worse, the ISI was pursuing a policy of elimination of the moderate mujahideen, hoping a friendly regime in Kabul would serve Pakistan’s interests by providing it with strategic depth against India and access to the vast energy reserves of Central Asia.
While the CIA may initially have been unaware of these activities, it soon recognized its errors. But by this time, the Soviets had withdrawn their troops from Afghanistan and the United States, more or less, abandoned the people of Afghanistan by removing itself from the region to appease the Soviets.
The United States, to our peril, remained disengaged from the region over the next 10 years and consciously watched as U.S. dollars and armaments previously dispensed to defeat the Soviets were transferred to extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The United States stayed out despite the fact that 80 percent of the world’s supply of heroin is produced in Afghanistan. And despite the fact Afghanistan had become a haven for international terrorists like Osama bin Laden.
The United States lacked a policy in the region and simply did not deal with these glaring problems. It unbelievably allowed them to fester and spread to the extent that they have literally exploded in our face. We took no action.
In fact, the terrorist camp at which the United States fired dozens of million-dollar cruise missiles was a facility built during the Soviet-Afghan war with U.S. dollars and perhaps one of the most contested pieces of real estate in Afghanistan.
The camp, located in the mountainous terrain of eastern Afghanistan, was a large mujahideen camp that frequently assaulted a nearby Russian military base. As a result, it was the target of massive Soviet carpet bombings and commando raids, but the camp was never destroyed.
It was built, with the help of the CIA, to NATO engineering specifications able to withstand such attacks, and the Pentagon and Clinton administration were well aware of this. These little-known facts cast a shadow of doubt over not only the claims of the strikes’ success, but also over its motives. This very well may have been a case of “wag the dog,” but most Americans, indeed most of the world, will never know.
The United States, for several reasons, sat back quietly and watched as the problems within Afghanistan compounded, despite the real threats to its national security. The Clinton administration is responsible for this policy, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the American people.
We live in a democracy and it is the responsibility of the citizens of this country to take interest in regions of the world like South Asia to ensure proper U.S. foreign policy and interests are pursued. Otherwise, we shall end up with more terrorists and greater problems far more difficult to deal with.
Isolationism died in December 1941, but with the end of the Cold War and a booming economy, a lack of interest in world affairs has slowly descended upon America.
We cannot sit back and simply assume the government is properly doing its job and forwarding the best interests of the American people. It is the duty of the American people to remain active, educate themselves and take measures to prevent the failures that we, in part, have caused ourselves.
This nation has failed not only with regards to Afghanistan and terrorism, but also by not assuming a proper leadership role in the world today. We are constantly presented with opportunities and challenges and we must utilize our unique position in the world to take advantage of these situations.
It is sad the fixation this nation has with the president’s sex habits appears more important than preventing terrorists from growing out of control or for allowing the collapse of an economy in which thousands of nuclear warheads still exist, capable of killing millions.
-The writer is a senior majoring in international affairs and is chairman of the International Affairs Society.