By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo courtesy of
Congressman Dana RohrabacherOn Sept. 10, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher had a premonition "that something horrible was going to happen."
Long a student of Afghanistan's affairs, its personalities and, more recently, its brutal Taliban leadership, Rohrabacher made much of an otherwise innocuous foreign event: the assassination of the Taliban's greatest internal enemy, the Afghan warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud.
For most people in this country, the hit on Massoud was nothing, not even a blip. His murder rated just a few lines in a few American dailies: he was meeting with reporters in his field tent in northern Afghanistan when the reporters blew themselves up. But Afghanis have been at war—with Russians, Ottoman Turks, Greeks, English, Mongols and themselves—for so long that the murder of one man hardly registers.
However, it made a deep impression on Rohrabacher, a seven-term Republican congressman from Huntington Beach. "I was so concerned about this [attack on Massoud] that I made an appointment to see the top officials in the White House in the National Security Council," said Rohrabacher during an hourlong speech on the House floor a week later.
Rohrabacher said his appointment was set for the next day—Sept. 11—at 2:30 in the afternoon.
"Unfortunately," he said, "at 8:45 that morning, the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center."
Now Rohrabacher says he believes—no, says he knows—that the Taliban hit on Massoud was aimed at eradicating the man most likely to assist U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks that led to more than 6,000 fatalities.
Maybe Rohrabacher was on to something. Or maybe he was right about the impending attacks for the wrong reason. It doesn't really matter now.
But there is wicked irony in the fact that it is Rohrabacher who believes he can read the actions of Afghanistan's most unstable and dangerous personalities—because it was Rohrabacher who spent much of his young policy-wonk days during the anti-Camelot of the Reagan administration helping to arm many of the very Afghan veterans now accused of carrying out the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.
Rohrabacher considers himself the king of the hill on Afghanistan. "I understand Afghanistan," he told reporters at the Capitol Hill police station during a makeshift Sept. 11 press conference just a few hours after a hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon, located just across the Potomac River. "I'm a bigger expert on Afghanistan than any member of Congress."
While hardly the man who ought to be sitting at the State Department's Central Asia desk, Rohrabacher has indeed shown genuine interest in the region and its troubles. His studies began 20 years ago during the U.S. government's covert war against Soviet troops who invaded Afghanistan in 1979. No U.S. troops were involved in that war. Instead, Reagan officials leveraged native resistance fighters called the mujahideen. A guerrilla force that first attempted to repel the Soviets with 19th-century British weapons and tactics—Enfield rifles and horses—was suddenly equipped with surface-to-air missiles, automatic rifles and, perhaps most important, the best intelligence the U.S. government could offer.
"The American people can be proud that we provided the Afghan people the weapons they needed to win their own freedom and independence," Rohrabacher told House members.
But in his hourlong Sept. 17 speech, Rohrabacher only obliquely mentioned the role he played during the Reagan administration: "During my time at the White House during the 1980s," he said, "I had the opportunity to meet and get to know most of [the mujahideen] leaders."
He's being modest. As a speechwriter and special assistant to the president, Rohrabacher played a key role in getting U.S. support for the Afghan rebels, then at war with the Soviet Union. And Rohrabacher's role was no secret. "We should remember the many Americans who helped the Afghan mujahideen reclaim their country," stated an April 19, 1992, Orange County Register editorial. "One was Dana Rohrabacher, now an Orange County congressman. As a Reagan speechwriter, he became a point man for Afghan policy, actually facilitating the delivery of [Stinger] missiles to the freedom fighters."
In a brief interview with the Weekly, Rohrabacher described his role during those heady days a little differently than the Register. "There was a coalition inside the Reagan administration," said Rohrabacher. "Its goal was to see to it that we were supporting those people opposing communist domination around the world. I was certainly a major player in that."
It was called the Reagan Doctrine. In the eyes of Reagan officials bent on rolling back the Reds everywhere, Afghanistan exemplified the phrase "communist domination." By the time the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the U.S government had lavished $3 billion in arms on the rebels, who, during the bloodiest days of the war, were downing an average of one Russian helicopter gunship per day.
"These weren't American weapons," said Rohrabacher. "By and large, it was done with Russian equipment bought from Egypt or one of the other states that was once allied with Russia but was now friendly to us. About the only American weapons they had were the Stinger missiles."
Rohrabacher also says it was during these years when he first met Commander Massoud, who died on Sept. 15 of wounds he received six days earlier in the attack that so concerned Rohrabacher.