INTERVIEWER: I mean could you talk us through the reasons behind the Brzezinski visit to Pakistan and what the US was hoping to get from the Pakistanis at that time?
FRANK ANDERSON: I have to tell you I can't
INTERVIEWER: You don't know much about the Zia offer? I was wondering what sort of debates there might be within the CIA and the US administration about dealing with fundamentalists like Hekmatie?
FRANK ANDERSON: There was an enormous, I don't know if you could call it debate, but it was probably the most persistent conversation that went on let me put that in some context. There were two issues on which the United States government sort of put itself in two camps, on Afghanistan and one was how we would deal with Pakistanis, you gotta remember that it wasn't that far away from much of the United States government being very unhappy with Secretary Kissinger's tilt to Pakistan during the Iran, Indian Pakistani war. That was a great debate, never resolved, add to that the fact that the Afghans factions, parties, groups whatever you wanted to call them included a very small number of westernized folk. People educated in the United States and Britain, who either at or shortly after the invasion found themselves residing in places like London, Paris, and Washington, who were articulate and were frankly the kinds of people we would like, those with whom we would be comfortable spending time. They tended to do very well as one of my colleagues Mil Bearden says, "While others were storming hills in Afghanistan they were doing very well on Capitol Hill in Washington." . But there were a couple of fundamental realities. One was a geographic reality and the other was just simply an arithmetic, arithmetical or demographic reality, and that was, that of the 300,000, 350,000 or so persons engaged in that war in Afghanistan you could never get to more than 5% who were actually part of the parties that were in that moderate westernized camp. The vast majority of them were in parties that you would have to call fundamentalist. We worked very hard to ensure that there was no favoritism towards fundamentalist parties. We struggled with an understanding that a post war Afghanistan would not probably be very friendly to the United States. But you can't get around the fundamental reality that it wasn't just a slight majority, it wasn't just a slight political advantage, all but a tiny, tiny faction of the Afghan fighters are part of groups and have ideas that we would call fundamentalist.
INTERVIEWER: But I mean did anyone express the sorts of worries, the fears about backing the fundamentalist, hard line fundamentalist?
FRANK ANDERSON: It was the most consistently on-going conversation throughout the war, but we, it's not an issue. It was not an issue of whether we were backing the fundamentalist, the question was most I think reasonably raised, with "all right, what are we doing? What are we gonna bring about here? What kind of a nation will emerge once the soviets leave?" frankly we were wrong about one thing and that was how long it would take before a nation emerged, its been 8 years now since, more than 8 years since the Soviets left and I can't think of anybody who would seriously contend that a nation has yet emerged. But we who were running the program I would recall once testifying to a congressional oversight committee and saying that this is not going to be a government who will vote on our side and most issues in the United Nations inevitably, geographic and economic forces will pull them back into the orbit of whatever is north of them rather than out, some way to Western Europe and that we were not likely to have someone who was close in the camp with American friends. There was a question raised from one Senator about well will they not be grateful and at the time I made the comment that "in the Afghan dictionary you are gonna find gratitude after gimme and gotcha.". But there is a more serious aspect of why they were unlikely to be grateful and that comes from the fundamental reality of how they viewed the war, at least all of the Mujaheddin leaders with whom I spoke. They regarded this as a situation in which we shared their strategic interests. We both had an objective to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. We provided the means for them to do so, but they did it. It wasn't there words in fact it came from another war, but it's a not bad image "The war fought with their blood and our gold." . We had the same objective and for us that was a pretty good deal.
INTERVIEWER: I wondered what sorts of differing views there were in the Reagan administration about US policy in Afghanistan I mean looking back is that rather odd that the US should be giving military aid to fundamentalist factions rather than more moderate groups and I think you have probably answered that haven't you.
FRANK ANDERSON: Well let me go back again to it though because it really is a key issue. did we give aid to fundamentalist groups; did we give aid to moderate groups? What we did was give aid to the fighters and we gave it, I think we were quite successful in structuring our program so that the support went to those who were actually engaged in fighting, and in fact it was packaged for commanders for specific operations, and the affect of that was that it was distributed on really close to a per capita ratio. There were a couple of exceptions. The most disadvantaged group in terms of not getting their share if you wanna look at it in a per Capita share were all the parties associated with "Robani", and that had no political basis, it was simply geographic. "Robani's" parties were the non-Christian groups who were spread farther and farther away from the Pakistan - Afghan border. Farther, farther away from the sources of aid that were coming from the west and these were the fighters who tended to get along without us before we were involved and they got along without us throughout the war. It wasn't because we made a choice, or they made a choice it was just that we were too far away from one another. There was a dispute I guess if you wanna call it that.... never raised to a serious one between the American managers of this program over the years and some of the Pakistanisover Akmen Shah Masoud, who was not a popular figure in Islamabad. Certainly wasn't in the era when president Zia was alive. Shortly after president Zia's death, Pakistanis in fact changed very quickly and established their own support lines to Masoud in Napanchu. Prior to that we were limited by a lack of Pakistani corruption or a lack of Pakistani co-operation to providing money to Masoud. It was simply because money is easy to get to him. Arms and ammunition are heavy and tough to get to him. Otherwise the only people who were disproportionately provided more than their share were the moderate parties, they got lots more in their per capita share.
INTERVIEWER: But was it in fact really that Pakistan had a sort of agenda of their own and they really wanted to back the hard liners and that in a way they ended up favoring certain groups.
FRANK ANDERSON: It wasn't and in a way this is one of the great, it was one of the things that was repeated over and over again, never by people who had any knowledge about how and what was being distributed, but nevertheless these were the people who spoke English, these were the people who talked to the journalists, these were the people who hung around with diplomats who were not involved in the program and this charge was repeated over and over and over again, throughout the war and fundamentally was not true. The Pakistanis were not enamoured with the hard liners. There is no question that they had a closer relationship with "Hekmatie" than with others and that goes back to their support for "Hekmatie" before the invasion, when he was on the side, he was the earliest actor in the anti-Communist resistance, so they had a better established relationship with him. Left to their own devices they probably would have provided him with a little more than his proportionate share, we were very careful and I can tell you with absolute confidence that Hekmatie's share of the fighters was always somewhere around 20% I don't ever recall his share of the goodies ever going above 22 or 23%, never seen it get below about 16 or 17, it sometimes did, there were periods when for some reason or another it was time to punish him for a disagreement, and those times, sometimes his share over a monthly or quarterly period would go down to 15 or 16% but it almost always and certainly looked at over the years was right at it per capita share of the fighters.
INTERVIEWER: But I mean talking to Mujaheddin ourselves it appears to us that in a way Pakistan was not necessarily interested in relationships before, but they were really interested in the future of Afghanistan, they were interested in worries about India and that really they saw the future as you know they had a vested interest in making sure that certain characters come out on top. And certain Mujaheddin had said that they found their supplies cut off by Pakistan it was completely unfair and that in fact all they did was help divide more a group that was already fractionalized.
FRANK ANDERSON: I'll bet you didn't hear that from Gorbadin. I never met a Mujaheddin commander who said that he didn't get less than he needed. I offer you the fact that they are still fighting 8 years after the war, and years and years after anyone has been putting anything in there, as evidence that they all had more than they needed. You won't have any trouble at all finding commanders who say that somebody else got more than them. The simple truth is that that is not true, the Pakistanis would cut people off and we would sometimes cut people off for a brief period of time. The Pakistanis certainly had an agenda and they certainly favored people whom they thought would assist them after the war in structuring a geo political situation in which India would be disfavored. They were no more likely to be friendly to a commander who would turn out to be pro Indian than we would be likely be friendly to a commander who turned out to be pro-Soviet. The east west conflict was the core of our strategy and our thinking and you know any question that the Indian Pakistani conflict is the core of their strategy. On the other hand, I frankly don't recall meeting anybody that I could call a pro-Indian Mujaheddin commander.
INTERVIEWER:: Okay, I just wondered perhaps if you could talk, I mean I know you have given me the phrase which we were desperate to get you to say, which was gimme and gotcha, but it is in the context of another questions so if you could try to forget you said that, I mean I just wondered if you could try and I mean obviously we're out of the section where we're talking about the Mujaheddin and what they're like as a fighting force or not, what they failed to do as a fighting force and I just wondered if perhaps you could talk us through your impression of what your, of your dealings with the Mujaheddin, what you thought of them and their cause and their efficiency as a fighting force and incorporate a bit of all of those.
FRANK ANDERSON: Okay, the things that made the Mujaheddin, the Afghans both easy and difficult to deal with, were rooted in their culture. even the most soldierly of the Pakistanis with whom we dealt were unstinting in their positive estimates of this instinctive skill in the Afghans in things related to warfare. I've never seen people anywhere who could be so quickly trained to use weapons of any kind. They're natural warriors, that made them easy to deal with. They're natural warriors that makes them difficult to deal with. They are constantly in dispute, one with another and with us. The thing that made them impossible to conquer made them difficult to train and control. With their approach to life and to that war was "give us money and guns, and we will fight." They were remarkably disinterested in our attempts to train them. They were willing to accept instruction in the manipulation of new weapons systems. They were quite willing and quickly learned to use intelligence that came from sources that we could provide, sources that were obviously beyond them. But very much disinterested in even basic instruction on tactics. We found them, because they are as tough as they are, reluctant to accept training in issues such as field medicine, they were too busy fighting to worry very much about people who were about to be murdered. So they, they're tough to deal with, but easy to deal with. Politically they were fighting the war for their reasons. We knew that once this war was over they were not going to be inclined to support our policies in the region because we'd helped them and in one congressional hearing I was asked about what we could expect in terms of gratitude from the Mujaheddin I made the comment that "gratitude in the Afghan's dictionary is gonna be found somewhere after gimme and gotcha." the Afghans were not ungracious, it was not at all that they ever acted or spoke with us that indicated that they didn't welcome and respect our assistance. On the other hand there was a constant undercurrent of understanding that while we were providing the means to wage this war, they were waging it and that it is entirely true that this is a war that was fought with our gold but with their blood, and I never felt at that time and there is nothing that has happened since that has indicated to me that they ever believed that that wasn't a good deal.
INTERVIEWER: I just wondered how significant do you think that certain pressure groups, led by people like Charlie Wilson and Gordon Humphries was in changing US policy towards Afghanistan. I mean do you not think they were really responsible for escalating the conflict and hardening attitudes against a human settlement.
FRANK ANDERSON: : it's absolutely true that they were extremely significant players in the evolution of American policy. Charlie Wilson individually and particularly, led the process that brought victory to those people inside the executive branch who in the mid-80s they were sort of, from, from the invasion, until probably 193, no one believed we could win this. Well not no-one, but the overwhelming and firm concept that had captured the minds of, certainly the executive branch, no the entire United Statgovernment, was that a super power had taken over a small third world nation and that was an irreversible fact. But what we could do was raise the cost of, raise the pain level, raise the embarrassment of for the Soviet Union and expose their atrocities, while this was done and use that elsewhere in the struggle, but it wasn't until really between about 83 - 85 that the forces in Washington who asked the question, well maybe we can win this opposed that the potential began to hold sway. And there isn't any question that congressional pressure led again by Charlie Wilson was crucial to that. There's there was always a campaign in the executive branch inside the CIA. Bill Casey was certainly ahead of the rest of his agency in wanting to explore the idea that we should try to win this, , but if it weren't for those congressional pressures, if it weren't particularly for Wilson who had a key strength and that was Wilson was a member of the defense sub committee and the house appropriations committee, and he had no defense installation or interests in his district, and as he said that gave him trading stock, and he was willing to use that trading stock on issues that mattered to him in Afghanistan in those years became the issue that mattered and that enabled him to more than any single individual in I think the American government to contribute to turning that, not turning it around to at least pushing the United States to a program that said, lets try to really do this, lets not put in $100 million a year worth of weapons, lets put in a billion dollars a year worth of weapons. A second issue that came up with this, was a long debate on whether or not to issue stinger missiles to the Mujaheddin,, this violated all the rules of how one would conduct a program like this. A stinger missile is essentially a signature that says the United States is helping, a stinger missile is taking a weapons system that we wanted to keep out of the hands of people whom we wouldn't control and turning them over to people over whom we absolutely had, over whom we had no control. and those two things were decisions in which that congressional pressure Charlie Wilson over it all, Charlie Wilson and to a lesser but nevertheless significant extent, Senator Humphrey on the Stinger issue,
INTERVIEWER: I mean I just wondered, there is a lovely set of quotes here for you,
FRANK ANDERSON: the thinking inside there, it wasn't just the agency, but the national security community about how to approach the war in Afghanistan did involve, from the beginning until about 1985 from one in which we were saddened and angered, but nevertheless believed that a superpower had conquered a yet another third world nation, and that was an irreversible fact. And what we could nevertheless do, was provide support to whatever resistance was inside Afghanistan until the Soviet occupation and while we had no hope that they could expel the Soviets we believed that we could increase the costs, we could make it more embarrassing for the Soviets and difficult for them to be there and that increased cost and that embarrassment and difficulty could be exploited elsewhere in what was then the great East-West conflict. There were a number of problems with that. Outside there was a small, it then became a much larger portion of the American body politic, that wanted to push for a major victory, that didn't believe that it was irreversible. Inside the agency there was actually a not inconsequential concern for the morality of fighting this losing war to the last Afghan, and over time these various if you wanna call them intellectual currents did coalesce when they were pulled together by those within the agency and within the executive branch and certainly William Casey was, was an early advocate of the idea that maybe we can push for Victory. In the congress Charlie Wilson was unquestionably the leader of what became the Afghan support group in Congress and these folk coalesced right in late 1984, 1985 into bringing about a change in our policy that said "lets really try this." Let's change our mind about whether or not this should be something that's abut $100 million dollars a year, and see what would happen if we made it a billion dollars a year, lets change our mind about we won't allow an American weapons system to go in because that is against the rules of how you run covert actions. You don't put in something that is in effect a signature, that you're there and helping. And that meant that two things happened at the same time. The amount of weaponry that was going in went up about ten times, between 1985 and 1986. That's a significant increase. But more than that by early to mid 1986, the Soviets were on a roll. They were able through the use of helicopter gun ships to stop the majority of things going in. I don't know if it was 55% or 95% but there is no question that most of what we were able to put across the border into Afghanistan was stopped, by helicopter gun ships. That was having a profound effect on the effectiveness and the morale of the resistance, and it was having an opposite effect on the effectiveness and morale of the Soviets. They were feeling pretty good about it. But then they got hit with a double blow. The policy changed around 1984/1985, the amount of resources which we put into the program went up, and lets use the figure of 10 times in order of magnitude. And the introduction of the Stinger missiles in one swoop drove back the helicopter gun ships, so that instead of a factor of one being reduced by more than half, you had a factor of ten not being reduced at all of resources that were reducing the Mujaheddin. And that had a dramatic on their morale and their efficiency and had a corresponding dramatic negative effect on the Soviet morale and efficiency.