The CIA didn’t fund al Qaeda during the Soviet Afghan war

It’s worth mentioning here that there is simply no evidence for the common myth that bin Laden and his Afghan Arabs were supported by the CIA financially. Nor is there any evidence that CIA officials at any level met with bin Laden or anyone in his circle. Yet the notion that bin Laden was a creation of the CIA is widespread. For instance, the American film-maker Michael Moore has written, “WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA!” The real problem is not that the CIA helped bin Laden during the 1980s, but that the U.S. government had no idea about his possible significance until 1993, when he first started to appear in internal U.S. intelligence analyses describing him as a financier of Islamic extremist groups.

The notion that the CIA aided the rise of the Afghan Arabs is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the agency supported the Afghan war effort. First, it was overseen by a tiny group of CIA officers in Pakistan. Vincent Cannistraro, who helped coordinate CIA support to the Afghans during the mid-1980s, explained there were only six CIA officials in Pakistan at any given time, and they were simply “administrators.” Secondly, CIA officers in Pakistan seldom left the embassy in Islamabad, and rarely even met with the leaders of the Afghan resistance, let alone Arab militants. That’s because the CIA officers provided American funding to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which, in turn, decided which among the Afghan mujahadeen groups would receive this funding.

Bridadier Mohammad Yousaf, who ran the ISI’s Afghan operations, explained that it was “a cardinal rule of Pakistan’s policy that no Americans ever became involved with the distribution of funds or arms once they arrived in the country. No Americans ever trained or had direct contact with the mujahadeen, and no American official ever went inside Afghanistan.” Mark Sageman, a CIA officer who worked on the Afghan “account” in Pakistan during the mid-1980s, recalls “we were totally banned” from going into Afghanistan, for fear it would hand the Soviets a great propaganda victory if a CIA officer was captured there.[“] The CIA’s Milt Bearden says the agency “never recruited, trained or otherwise used Arab volunteers. The Afghans were more than happy to do their own fighting—we saw no reason not to satisfy them on this point.” No independent evidence of the CIA supporting al-Qaeda has emerged in the four decades since the end of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

In short, the CIA had very limited dealings with the Afghans, let alone the Afghan Arabs. There was simply no point for the CIA and the Afghan Arabs to be in contact with each other, since the agency worked through Pakistan’s military intelligence agency during the Afghan War, while the Afghan Arabs had their own sources of funding. The CIA did not need the Afghan Arabs and the Afghan Arabs did not need the CIA.

Bergen, Peter. The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden. Simon & Schuster, 2021. p. 42-3

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