Bin Laden: Product of the Afghanistan War and a US Alliance in the Mideast

Published September 15th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Osama bin Laden, who Washington suspects masterminded Tuesday's devastating attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is arguably the creation of a CIA-led coalition that grew out of Afghanistan's war with the Russians. 

So contends John Cooley, author and expert on Afghan affairs, who says that while bin Laden may not have had much contact with the Americans during that war, he is the product of the Saudi and the Pakistani regimes, both allies of the US in the anti-Soviet Afghan conflict. 

So if bin Laden is a monster, the logic goes, then he is a monster created by the US and its allies. 

Interviewed in Athens by AFP, Cooley was first asked to explain the organization of bin Laden's terrorist network, known as Al Qaeda. 

He said: "Al Qaeda, meaning 'the base,' is a global organization with great resources, but it is very loosely instituted ... with local autonomy and great flexibility, apparently. 

"Louis Free, who was FBI director a couple of years ago, said in 1998 that the problem with bin Laden is that these local autonomist groups seem to operate sometimes without visible communications links or command links with the center. And it is even questionable whether there is a command centre.  

"Al Qaeda was constituted officially - this was announced only weeks before the embassies were blown up in East Africa in 1998 - in a communique and the people whose names were used to sign it were a cross-section of famous Islamist groups, in Egypt, in Algeria, in Sudan, even in the far East. 

"So, we're dealing with a vast network which has a lot of resources but very loose control in the center." 

Asked how the the current situation had arisen, Cooley replied: "The [former US president Jimmy] Carter administration in 1979 decided - with some dissent I must say, and Cyrus Vance resigned for his position of secretary of state partly because of disagreements over this issue - to recruit, arm and train, and pay, and deploy an army of mercenary volunteers. They were Muslims from all parts of the world, including black American Muslims. 

"And the CIA managed the recruiting process. Recruits were sent to Afghanistan, trained under some CIA officers or Pakistani military intelligence officers who were trained by the CIA in the US. There were many former CIA officers in charge of the programme." 

He went on: "Zia Ul Haq, the Pakistani president at the time, was demanding total control over the allocation of money, of weapons which were coming from various sources. Finally, the US gave in to that. 

"The Saudi role, when bin Laden comes in, was to apply a great deal of money. They matched the Americans, they sponsored one or two of the seven groups whose Islamic ideology was the most extreme." 

Cooley said that when the war ended, bin Laden was still in favour with the Saudi royal family. He went to King Fahd and said: 'The Americans must leave, this American army with women driving and walking around in shorts. Its uniformed personnel in our streets are defying our holy places and insulting Islam.' 

"Of course," Cooley said, "that was out of the question and this was the main cause for bin Laden's break with the Saudi royal family." 

Cooley contends that when the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan, that was what the Americans were most interested in, and did not follow through in any way. 

When the Taliban appeared on the scene, the Americans initially thought that they could perhaps work with them, but soon they began to realize that they were backing a very, very unpopular horse.  

"So, there was no reason for maintaining contacts. American policy began to change after what they saw as the Taliban's excesses," says Cooley -- ATHENS (AFP)

© 2001 Al Bawaba (

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