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"I knew Massoud," he said. "I visited him once personally. He was a very dramatic leader, a very fine leader."
Massoud may have been a great guy, but the majority of U.S. military-aid recipients were unsavory, even unstable characters. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which coordinated the efforts on the ground in Afghanistan, was never very choosy about who got arms.
Roughly half the weapons the CIA supplied went to fundamentalist Afghan leader Gulbeddin Hekmatyar—"one of the most stridently anti-Western of the resistance leaders," according to Mary Ann Weaver's May 1996 article in The Atlantic Monthly. Another arms customer was the blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, later convicted of involvement in the 1993 botched bombing of the World Trade Center.
That fact bothers Rohrabacher considerably, and he tries to brush it off. "Bin Laden's people were funded by the Saudis themselves," he told the Weekly.
But he's wrong. During the Afghan war, the Saudis were, as they are today, doing America's bidding on the world stage. The CIA—at the behest of a White House, Congress and American media completely united in helping the Afghan rebels—was calling the shots. It is a fact Rohrabacher himself has acknowledged in the recent past.
"I witnessed this in the White House when U.S. officials in charge of the military aid program to the mujahideen permitted a large percentage of our assistance to be channeled to the most anti-Western, nondemocratic elements of the mujahideen," said Rohrabacher in an April 14, 1999, official statement on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.
Rohrabacher saw firsthand evidence to support his claim. In November 1988, having just been elected to Congress, Rohrabacher took off on his first trip to Afghanistan. The anti-Soviet war was still raging as Rohrabacher set off on a five-day hike with an armed mujahideen patrol from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan.
"We at one point in that march came across a camp of tents," Rohrabacher said of his visit to Jalalabad, then under siege by the Afghan rebels. "I was told at that point I must not speak English for at least another three hours because the people in those tents were Saudi Arabians under a crazy commander named bin Laden and that bin Laden was so crazy that he wanted to kill Americans as much as he wanted to kill Russians."
Even then, as Rohrabacher moved through that Jalalabad camp, bin Laden's force of "Afghan Arabs" was receiving the U.S. aid Rohrabacher helped make possible.
U.S. aid and assistance come back to haunt Americans so often that the intelligence community has a name for it: blowback. And no U.S. policy epitomizes blowback better than the American-led covert war in Afghanistan.
Clearly, the CIA was playing with forces it couldn't control, much less understand. Bin Laden, who allegedly had ties to Saudi intelligence—which, of course, had contacts in the U.S. intelligence community—recruited fundamentalist Muslim fighters from all over the world: China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and a bunch of other places. Upon arrival, they had free access to weapons, military training and radical Islamic teachings.
The result, according to political scientist Samuel Huntington, was "a legacy of expert and experienced fighters, training camps and logistical facilities, elaborate trans-Islam networks of personal and organizational relationships, a substantial amount of military equipment including 300 to 500 unaccounted-for Stinger missiles, and, most important, a heady sense of power and self-confidence over what had been achieved and a driving desire to move on to other victories."
It's doubtful the Stingers still work—the war ended, after all, 12 years ago. But bin Laden's Afghan Arabs have been linked to terrorist actions all over the world since the end of the war, including the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as well as the 2000 attack against the destroyer USS Cole, then docked in Yemen.
And Rohrabacher has been watching them throughout. He has spent the past four years denouncing the Taliban—which took over Afghanistan in 1996—as "the most anti-Western, anti-female, anti-human-rights regime in the world." He has frequently accused Afghanistan of being "the world's largest source of heroin" and of allowing terrorists to use the nation "as a base of operations." Rohrabacher railed against the Clinton administration on Afghanistan, accusing them of coddling the Taliban. When then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright denied this and refused to release diplomatic documents the congressman claimed would expose the administration's secret policy of "keeping the Taliban in power," Rohrabacher alleged a cover-up. In June 2000, he joined Gloria Steinem, Catherine Deneuve and Christopher Hitchens in signing the "Statement of Support for the Declaration of the Essential Rights of Afghan Women."
And, of course, he's got a solution to our Afghan terrorist mess today. Near the end of his long Sept. 17 speech on the House floor, Rohrabacher rejected calls to invade the nation that has given Western invaders trouble since Alexander of Macedon.
"Now, we do not need our troops; the worst thing we could do is just try to send an army into Afghanistan," he said. "If there are two rules of modern warfare, it is you do not march on Moscow and you do not invade Afghanistan."