U.S. President Donald Trump sent the foreign policy establishment into a rage for suggesting the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan because they were concerned about terrorism. The comments, rather predictably, drew immediate rebukes from members of the military-industrial-media complex who were beside themselves that a U.S. president would dare claim the Soviets were motivated by anything other than pure imperialistic aggression.
Trump made his startling observation during a recent cabinet meeting as he tried to draw parallels between the Afghan-Soviet war and the current U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. “The reason Russia [Soviet Union] was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia,” the U.S. president told reporters on January 2. The Wall Street Journal editorial board was apoplectic, accusing Trump of reaching a new low by trying to alter reality with his “cracked history.” Seth Jones from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former senior advisor for U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan, took Trump to task for failing to “get history right.”
In an article published in Lawfare on January 13, Jones correctly stated that the Soviets wanted to check U.S. influence in the region. However, he goes too far in what he explicitly excludes as a factor in the decision. “Soviet archives and other evidence indicate that the Soviet leaders were primarily motivated not by terrorism, but by balance-of-power politics, particularly concerns about growing U.S. influence in Afghanistan,” Jones said. “Terrorism had nothing to do with all this.”
Jones references Politburo meetings in early December of 1979 in which the Soviet leaders raised concerns that Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin – who had come to power in a coup in July – had grown too close to Washington. So the Soviets decided to invade and remove Amin to prevent Kabul from falling into U.S. hands. However, the same notes cited by Jones also reveal that the politburo members felt action was necessary because of CIA attempts to establish a “New Great Ottoman Empire” that would include the southern republics of the U.S.S.R.
The leaders specifically mentioned the work of a CIA operative based in Ankara by the name of Paul Henze, who had worked hand in hand with Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in establishing the Nationalities Working Group, which aimed to use Islamism as a tool to undermine the Soviet Union in Central Asia. Moreover, years later Brzezinski himself admitted that in July of 1979 – six months before the intervention – the Carter administration authorized covert aid to Pakistani-based Islamic extremists for the specific purpose of provoking an invasion into Afghanistan and giving the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam War.”
Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, the first journalists to enter Kabul in 1981 for CBS News with Dan Rather following the expulsion of the Western media the previous year, told Afghan Online Press that the Soviets – due to CIA information or disinformation – were convinced that Amin had struck a bargain with notorious Islamic radical Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to seize Kabul on December 29. “Amin did request Soviet troops on many occasions – which the Soviets vehemently resisted – but which could indicate his complicity in a Brzezinski plot,” the duo said. “Records indicate they were increasingly suspicious of his [Amin’s] motives and fully aware that sending troops would ruin detente, SALT and their relations with the West – which is exactly what Brzezinski wanted.” The journalists also pointed to a piece in Strategic Culture that revealed, citing a formerly top secret document, that the CIA back in the 1950s had embarked on a program to foment jihadism among Uzbek tribes of northern Afghanistan as part of a plan to terrorize the southern U.S.S.R.
They also said Seth Jones himself is well aware of what the U.S. did to lure the Soviets into Afghanistan based on his own book, In the Graveyard of Empires (2010) “The Soviets were right to worry about possible U.S. involvement. In early 1979, the Carter administration began looking at the possibility of covert assistance to Afghanistan,” Jones wrote. “By the spring, Zbigniew Brzezinski had come up with ways to undermine the Soviets in their own backyard.” This is underscored by former CIA Director Robert Gates who, in his book From the Shadows (2011), said Carter turned to the CIA for covert actions aimed at “the Soviet internal scene” as early as March of 1977.
Hence, Jones is correct to say that the Soviets feared the U.S. growing its influence in the region. But what Jones does not explain is that the U.S. growing its influence and the spread of terrorism were – in Soviet eyes – one and the same thing. This is not to suggest that the Soviets had any right to intervene militarily in Afghanistan – even if they thought a CIA agent had taken over the country. The point is that the U.S. establishment has distorted the reasons behind said action.
“The record has already been established and Trump is right,” Gould and Fitzgerald said. “We’ve been challenging the entire establishment’s narrative for 40 years now regarding the pivotal 1979 Soviet invasion. The proof of our position has only gotten stronger over time.”