Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency program to arm the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, 1979 to 1989. Operation Cyclone is one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken; funding began with $20-30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987.
Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has stated that the U.S. effort to aid the mujahideen was preceded by an effort to draw the Soviets into a costly and presumably distracting Vietnam War-like conflict. In a 1998 interview with the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski recalled: “We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would… That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap… The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, “We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.”
On July 3, 1979, U.S. President Carter signed a presidential finding authorizing funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and installation of a more pro-Soviet president, Babrak Karmal, Carter announced, “The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War”.
The program relied heavily on using the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as an intermediary for funds distribution, passing of weapons, military training and financial support to Afghan resistance groups. Along with funding from similar programs from Britain’s MI6 and SAS, Saudi Arabia, and the People’s Republic of China, the ISI armed and trained over 100,000 insurgents between 1978 and 1992. They encouraged the volunteers from the Arab states to join the Afghan resistance in its struggle against the Soviet troops based in Afghanistan.
The U.S. offered two packages of economic assistance and military sales to support Pakistan’s role in the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The first six-year assistance package (1981-87) amounted to US$3.2 billion, equally divided between economic assistance and military sales. The U.S. also sold 40 F-16 aircraft to Pakistan during 1983-87 at a cost of US$1.2 billion outside the assistance package. The second six-year assistance package (1987-93) amounted to US$4.2 billion. Out of this US$2.28 billion were allocated for economic assistance in the form of grants or loan that carried the interest rate of 2-3 per cent. The rest of the allocation (US$1.74 billion) was in the form of credit for military purchases. Sale of non-U.S. arms to Pakistan for destination to Afghanistan was facilitated by Israel. Somewhere between $3–$20 billion in US funds were funneled into the country to train and equip Afghan resistance groups with weapons, including Stinger man-portable air-defense systems.
The program funding was increased yearly due to lobbying by prominent U.S. politicians and government officials, such as Charles Wilson, Gordon Humphrey, Fred Ikle, and William Casey.
After the USSR invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, some believed the Soviets were attempting to expand their borders southward in order to gain a foothold in the region. The Soviet Union had long lacked a warm water port, and their movement south seemed to position them for further expansion toward Pakistan in the East, and Iran to the West. American politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, ignorant of U.S. involvement, feared the Soviets were positioning themselves for a takeover of Middle Eastern oil. Others believed that the Soviet Union was afraid Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Afghanistan’s Islamization would spread to the millions of Muslims in the USSR.
After the invasion, Carter announced what became known as the Carter Doctrine: that the U.S. would not allow any other outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf. He terminated the Russian Wheat Deal, which was intended to establish trade with USSR and lessen Cold War tensions. The grain exports had been beneficial to people employed in agriculture, and the Carter embargo marked the beginning of hardship for American farmers. He also prohibited Americans from participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and reinstated registration for the draft for young males.
The U.S. shifted its interest from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. American funding of Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezbi Islami party was cut off immediately. The U.S. also reduced its assistance for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
In October 1990, U.S. President George H. W. Bush refused to certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device, triggering the imposition of sanctions against Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment (1985) in the Foreign Assistance Act. This disrupted the second assistance package offered in 1987 and discontinued economic assistance and military sales to Pakistan with the exception of the economic assistance on way to Pakistan. Military sales and training program were abandoned as well and some of the Pakistani military officers under training in the U.S. were asked to return home.
The U.S. government has been criticized for allowing Pakistan to channel a disproportionate amount of its funding to controversial Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who Pakistani officials believed was “their man”. Hekmatyar has been criticized for killing other mujahideen and attacking civilian populations, including shelling Kabul with American-supplied weapons, causing 2,000 casualties. Hekmatyar was said to be friendly with Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda, who was running an operation for assisting “Afghan Arab” volunteers fighting in Afghanistan, called Maktab al-Khadamat. Alarmed by his behavior, Pakistan leader General Zia warned Hekmatyar, “It was Pakistan that made him an Afghan leader and it is Pakistan who can equally destroy him if he continues to misbehave.”
In the late 1980s, Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, concerned about the growing strength of the Islamist movement, told President George H. W. Bush, “You are creating a Frankenstein.”
The U.S. says that all of its funds went to native Afghan rebels and denies that any of its funds were used to supply Osama bin Laden or foreign Arab mujahideen. It is estimated that 35,000 foreign Muslims from 43 Islamic countries participated in the war.