In this section we’ll give you a peak at some intriguing original documents that helped form the foundation of our understanding. You can also view the Bibliography here.
The Invisible behind the headlines
The Team B Revelation
It was at the time of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 when we were working on the film version of our Afghanistan experience under contract to Oliver Stone, that we began to piece together the mythic implications of the story. During the research for the screenplay many of the documents preceding the Afghan crisis were declassified. One such document, the Report of Team B, contained language and religious allusions that were surprising for a government publication. Completely overruling any chance for the peaceful cooperation promised by SALT, Team B claimed the Soviets were engaging in a Nazi-like build-up of forces and were preparing for a third world war as if it were inevitable. But it was in the Team B’s charge that the Soviet Union’s world view was “Manichean” that we found reason to wonder. Manicheanism, once one of the major Gnostic religions which spread from the third to the seventh century from the region of Afghanistan to the east and west. Originating with the prophet Mani in the late 3rd century, the dualist Manichean philosophy divided the world between the two main forces of good and evil, with good equated with heavenly light and evil equated with the dark and material world. In 382 A.D. Roman Emperor Theodosius I declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion in the empire, deeming Manicheanism a heresy and declaring that Manicheans be put to death. From then on, Manicheanism came to be used as a veiled metaphor for the enemy of any officially approved truth, defined in stark pseudo-religious terms of good versus evil. But what was such a quasi-religious metaphor doing in the Team B Report?
Over the next decade we trailed a labyrinth of clues and ultimately found Team B’s Manichean references mirror-imaging Washington’s own strange policy, a policy which at first had labeled Soviets as the evil and fiercely-religious, Muslim holy warriors as the good, now reversed after 9/11 to cast America as the good and Muslims as the evil. It is an analogy whose likeness grows more visible as America’s involvement deepens.
Intriguing Cables from De-classified Documents
Buried in the declassified U.S. government cables between the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the State Department in Washington lie clues to the divisive Washington infighting over the course and direction of American policy in Afghanistan vis a vis the Soviet Union. A series of cables and news stories in the New York Times following the death of American Ambassador Adolph Dubs reveals the struggle between official Washington and the U.S. embassy in Kabul over the extent and nature of Soviet involvement. Engaged in a complex diplomacy with Afghan foreign minister Hafizullah Amin in an attempt to bring him closer to the U.S. side, Dubs was caught between Washington’s pro-détente status quo and national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s desire to paint the Afghans as Soviet pawns. Each revelation casts the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the American response to it in a different light.
Revealing that far from being an act of unilateral aggression against Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion was preceded by a number of provocations which the American public was never informed of. One such revelation comes from William G. Bowdler, Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department in a message to under secretary of State Warren Christopher following the 1978 Marxist coup in Afghanistan. Stated in cable (collection # 00276), May 5, 1978, Bowdler reveals that the Shah had been building a military force to intervene in Afghanistan, presumably to circumvent further Soviet influence. A source of debate amongst Afghan scholars for a generation, Bowdler’s revelation throws a new light on the Shah’s influence in Afghanistan at a critical moment amid fears at the time that his meddling in Afghan politics would provoke a counter- reaction by Moscow.
Cable (collection # 00413) reveals that the kidnappers of American ambassador Adolph Dubs in February 1979 requested the release of one “Behruddin Bahis, identified in the February 15, Pak press, (quoting radio Kabul), as a person the terrorists wanted released is not a religious leader but a Khalqi Marxist who is not presently in Afghanistan.”
Cable (collection # 00465) reveals that the kidnappers of American ambassador Adolph Dubs in February 1979 may not have been affiliated with Khalq at all but with a known pro-Chinese Maoist terrorist organization known as Setam-i Milli of which Behruddin (Badruddin) Bahis was a known member. Cable (collection # 00431) reveals the sensitive nature of their identity with Deputy Secretary of State cabling Kabul that “Future traffic regarding the identity and the motives of the terrorists involved in the kidnapping… should be EXDIS (exclusive distribution). Despite press briefings in which the Setam-i Milli was discussed and the apparent U.S. government knowledge that the ambassador had not been kidnapped by members of the Islamic resistence movement, the major American media mostly ran with an anti-Soviet cover story, branding the kidnappers as radical Islamists protesting the pro-Soviet Afghan government’s anti-Muslim agenda.
A series of cables display the White House anti-détente faction, represented by Warren Christopher and Zbigniew Brzezinski, using the Dubs’ assassination to strike at détente by holding the Soviet Union responsible. Cable (collection # 00448) reveals a mystified Kabul embassy requesting a copy of an important State Department briefing paper on the Dubs’ assassination cited in a front page NYTimes article alleging Soviet involvement in Dubs’ death. Yet Cable (collection # 00452) reveals a terse reply by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance that “Department has not issued any briefing paper on the kidnapping and killing of ambassador Dubs and does not know the Times source for the article described.”
Cable (collection # 00453) cites the text of the NYTimes article, with top U.S. officials implicating Moscow in both the Dubs killing and a brief assault on the U.S. embassy in Tehran. “The United States accused the Soviet Union today of efforts to help foment anti-American actions in Iran and of having played a decisive role in the shootout that led to the killing of the American envoy after his abduction in Afghanistan yesterday. So strong was the anger being vented in the highest government levels that officials said relations with Moscow could be severely strained. They said this could hurt the climate for concluding the new arms-limitation treaty.”
Cable (collection # 00462) cites another NYTimes report from Kabul questioning Washington’s response. “US Embassy officials here said yesterday that they felt Soviet Officials, who had been advising the Afghan police before the shootout with guerillas in which ambassador Dubs died had agreed with American advice to use delaying tactics in dealing with the terrorists. The comments at the embassy conflicted with earlier reports from Washington, where officials held the Soviet advisors here accountable for the decision by the Afghan police to storm the hotel… officials at the embassy appeared to be puzzled that the reaction to their cables had been so vehement. The embassy officials said that nothing in their reports had been sufficiently conclusive to cause such a response.”
If anything, the U.S. embassy’s pique over the death of their ambassador came not from the Soviet behavior but from what appeared to be the lack of any official Afghan government condolences over the incident. A series of cables express bewilderment on the part of U.S. officials at the lack of any expression of sympathy from the heads of the Afghan state a day after the assassination.
Cable (00387) hints at the problem, noting that the Afghan embassy protocol officer in Washington claimed that condolence cables had been sent out 24 hours before. Further cables reveal that the Afghans had sent condolences on the day of the assassination, February 14, at 329 GMT, but a cable from Warren Christopher (00410) on February 15, inexplicably corrects the correction, insisting that the date remain the 15th. “Time shown REFTEL for receipt of message should read 15 February at 0451 GMT, not 14 February at 329 GMT.”
Unable to reach Hafizullah Amin during the crisis and given what appeared to be false assurances by other high officials, the apparent failure of the Afghan leaders to express sympathy or accept responsibility, angered the U.S. embassy official in charge, J. Bruce Amstutz. This would set the tone (bad) for future U.S./Afghan dealings while giving national security advisor Brzezinski license to demonize both the Soviets and the Afghan Communists. But most of what at first appeared to be an insult was quickly recognized as either incompetence (condolences had been sent to Washington immediately following the death of the ambassador by both Afghan president Taraki and Foreign minister Amin, but had gone through commercial channels) or misunderstood diplomatic procedure. (The plane carrying the official delegation from Washington was greeted by mid-level Afghan diplomats, not high officials.) At first inclined to see this as a slight, the embassy soon realized that the Afghan delegation had reflected the correct protocol, given the limited diplomatic status Afghanistan enjoyed vis a vis the United States.
Still, despite these realizations, the U.S. tone remained hostile and unyielding toward the Taraki/Amin regime and would continue so right up to the Soviet invasion at which time the Carter administration would mourn the regime while praising their efforts to remain independent and stand up to Soviet pressure.