Osama bin Laden: Our Man in Afghanistan


Early this week, the Taliban repeated a proposal that was made by its representatives to the Voice last spring. Najib-Allah, the Taliban counsel in Peshawar, Pakistan, told the Voice that if evidence could be provided that multinational terrorist Osama bin Laden backed the attacks on America, leaders in Afghanistan would “turn him over to an outside tribunal.”

On Tuesday, Taliban clerics ruled out giving up Bin Laden without evidence of his crimes—the exact same position the supreme leader, Mullah Omar, had taken from the beginning. Whatever happens, the Taliban can’t last long. Diplomats in Pakistan are saying the U.S. has given Pakistani intelligence about a week to persuade their pals in the Taliban to turn over Bin Laden.

By now almost everyone knows that Bin Laden is in part a creation of the CIA’s covert holy war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. But what people often don’t get is that Bin Laden would not exist without the support of the Saudi royal family, the most disgusting conglomeration of slave owners, a group given to dispatching their enemies with stones in the public square. We don’t talk about that because these people are our most important ally and source of oil in the Middle East. Nor would Bin Laden exist without nurturing by our entirely unreliable ally, Pakistan, a snake pit of fundamentalists out to kill us.

Bin Laden has long had ties to the Saudi royals. His father made his money rebuilding Mecca and was close to the late Saudi king Faisal. Bin Laden’s involvement with Afghanistan seems to have been something of a coincidence. According to Ahmed Rashid a Pakistani journalist who wrote Taliban, the Pakistani intelligence service wanted to recruit a young buck, or somebody from the Saudi royal family, to fight against the Soviets just to show the rest of the Muslim world that Saudi Arabia was behind the war. The best the Pakistani intelligence service could come up with was the young Bin Laden, a tall, reserved, scholarly-looking man. For the Saudi royal family, under criticism from much of the Muslim world for allowing Americans to base troops in Saudi Arabia, connections to the holy war in Afghanistan provided a much needed counterbalance.

Bin Laden first went to Peshawar, Pakistan, on the Afghan frontier in 1980. Over the next couple of years he shuttled back and forth to Saudi Arabia, collecting donations for the Afghan cause. In 1982, he brought his heavy construction machinery to

Peshawar and started building roads and other projects to help the mujaheddin. He helped build a big underground arms dump at Khost. It was partially financed by the CIA. And he set up a training camp in Khost for Arabs from other countries who were being recruited to fight as something of a foreign legion alongside the Afghans.

The Gulf War turned Bin Laden away from working with America to calling for wide attacks against it. When Iraq attacked Kuwait in 1990, he pushed the Saudi royal family to set up a popular defense and recruit the Afghan veterans to fight. Rashid writes, “Instead King Fahd invited in the Americans. This came as an enormous shock to Bin Laden. As the 540,000 American troops began to arrive, Bin Laden openly criticised the Royal Family, lobbying the Saudi ulema to issue fatwas, religious rulings, against non-Muslims being based in the country.” He called the interior minister a traitor to Islam. An infuriated King Fahd declared Bin Laden to be persona non grata and revoked his citizenship. Bin Laden then went to Sudan to help support the Islamic revolution there, but under American pressure, was booted out. He went back to Afghanistan in 1997 and the shelter of the Taliban.

By now the U.S. was onto Bin Laden. The CIA, which once had benefited from his assistance, set up a special file on him and his ties to Arab extremists. A State Department report in 1996 said he was financing camps in Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Soon, the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania splashed his name across the headlines of the world.

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