AFGANISTAN – THE BEAR TRAP
Author: Mohammad Yousaf , Mark Adkin Genre: History Language: EN Year: 1992Pages: 72 Publisher: L. Cooper ISBN: 0850522676 Upload Date: 10 Jun 11 Downloads: 15 Format: FB2 (950 Kb) EPUB MOBI
This highly controversial book reveals, for the first time, one of the greatest military, political and financial secrets of recent times. It is nothing less than the true, if fantastic, account of how Pakistan and the USA covertly controlled the largest guerrilla war of this century, dealing to the Soviet Russian presence in Afghanistan a military defeat that has come to be called ‘Russia’s Vietnam’. From 1983 to 1987 Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf was the head of the Afghan Bureau of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI – akin to the CIA), and as such was effectively the Mujahideen’s commander-in-chief; he is, in fact, as the book demonstrates, the only general since the Second World War to have directed troops in action within the Soviet Union’s own borders. He controlled the flow of thousands of tons of arms across Pakistan and into its occupied neighbour, arms bought with CIA and Saudi Arabian funds from the USA, Britain, China, Egypt and Turkey, among others. He organised and directed the training of the Mujahideen in secret camps within his own country, and covertly sent Pakistan Army teams inside Afghanistan to assist the guerrillas in their campaign of ambushes, assassinations, raids and rocket attacks, a campaign that forced the Soviets to realise that they could never win. He saw that the Mujahideen were fed, cared for, and supplied with every necessity; he organised recruiting from among the thousands of refugees; he negotiated with the leaders of various guerrilla groups (a task requiring the skills, patience, and strength of character of several saints); and he co-ordinated the ultra-secret Mujahideen raids deep inside what was then still the USSR. There are many in authority in the USA and Pakistan who would still prefer that Brigadier Yousaf’s revelations were not made public...
At the start of this book, which tells the story of my part in the Afghan Jehad, I want to acknowledge the debt I, and indeed Pakistan and the Mujahideen owe to the ‘Silent Soldier', General Akhtar Abdur Rahman. I served under him for four years at the height of the war, but he carried the enormous responsibility for the struggle against what was then the Soviet superpower, for over eight years. I call him the ‘Silent Soldier' because of his great humility and modesty. Few people, apart from his family knew him as well as I did until he was assassinated, along with President Zia-ul-Haq, in the plane crash in August 1988. At one blow the Jehad lost its two most powerful leaders.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 President Zia sent for General Akhtar, who had recently taken over as Director of ISI. At that time nobody in authority in Pakistan, and certainly no overseas government (including the US), thought the Soviet military might could be confronted. Afghanistan was written-off as lost. The only person within the military to advocate supporting the Jehad by Pakistan, and the only person to come up with a plausible plan for doing so, was General Akhtar. He convinced the president that no only was it vital to Pakistan's interests to fight the aggressors, but that there was every chance of defeating them. Some years later Zia was to say to him, you have wrought a miracle, I can give you nothing worthy of your achievements. Only God can reward you.
My job during my time at ISI was to command the Afghan Bureau which was charged with the day to day running of the Afghan war. General Akhtar was my superior, charged with devising, controlling and supervising the strategy to bring about victory in the field. Put in its simplest form he was the strategist, while I was the tactician. At the outset he was almost alone in thinking that the Soviet Union with all its modern aircraft and armour could be brought down by a few thousand poorly trained and armed Mujahideen. It certainly seemed an impossibility at the beginning. I recall being very skeptical myself when I first joined ISI on General Akhtar's orders.
As events were to show he was right. Under his leadership, under this order, under his strategy, the communist menace was not only confronted, but turned back-forced to retreat. Little wonder that the chief architect of this humiliation was on the top of the KGB's hit list with a huge price on his head. Nevertheless, during the time that I knew him he never wavered or showed concern at the danger or, but continued to press on with the Jehad.
I would venture to highlight two main areas in which General Akhtar's influence was critical. The first was strategically. The whole concept of how to fight the war was his. He understood how even a guerrilla army can defeat a superpower in the battlefield if it applied the strategy of death by a thousand cuts. Gradually, over the years, as the Mujahideen became better armed and trained this strategy of avoiding direct confrontation, of concentration on soft targets, on communications, and on supply lines and depots, brought about a full, scale Soviet withdrawal. Only after the removal of General Akhtar from ISI (and from the command of Mujahideen) did we deviate from these methods, such as when we attacked Jalalabad head on, and suffered a serious setback.
At the centre of General Akhtar's strategy lay the city of Kabul. Not that he wanted to take the capital by storm-far from it. But he recognized its political, economic, social, and military significance. His cry was ‘Kabul must burn'. It had to be cut off, its supply lines served, and it had to be under continuous pressure year in year out. He knew that if a stranglehold on the city could be applied it would fall without assault. His great wish was that he be able, after the war, to visit Kabul to offer prayers of thanksgiving for victory. Sadly it was not to happen.
The second area of crucial influence was in the political/diplomatic field, I do not mean international politics or diplomacy, but rather internal affairs. General Akhtar seemed to me to be the only person able to bring about a degree of unity among the fractious Mujahideen political parties. Without that degree of cooperation nothing of importance could be achieved on the battle field. He was able to unite, sometimes only temporarily I admit, leaders who were lifelong enemies. He was able to convince men who would not normally sit in the same room with each other to fight, together for the common goal of the Jehad.
An important part of his success was in his ability to resist the ever growing pressure by the US to run the war. Through the CIA the US sought to control the clandestine supply pipeline, arms distribution, and the training of the Mujahideen. That they were not able to do so was entirely due to General Akhtar's efforts. It was a major contribution to a avoiding operational chaos.
Unfortunately, General Akhtar was removed from the ISI by a promotion he did not seek just as the Mujahideen were on the brink of success. His tragic death a year later prevented him from witnessing the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan-the ultimate proof that he had won. I believe that Pakistan and Afghanistan owe a debt of gratitude to him. I certainly count it a great privilege to have served under the only general in Pakistan's short history to have masterminded a victory in a major war and earn a name for his military genius. I salute him.
BRIGADIER (RETD.) MOHAMMAD YOUSAF, S.Bt.
A note on sources
IntroductionThe information for this book came almost entirely from personal experience and observations during my time at ISI, and more recently when I returned to Peshawar. I know the Mujahideen, some of their Commanders and all their Leaders well, We worked and planned together for four years and I have discussed the situation today with many of them. This book, therefore, has not been written with extensive us of works of reference, or from the stories of journalist. I disagree with much that has been written about the war in Afghanistan. Sometimes the facts are wrong, more often the interpretation is wrong. This does not mean that all books on the war are valueless, far from it, but merely that I found very few to be reliable aids when compiling my manuscript. Those that were included Mark Urban's War in Afghanistan, Macmillan Press, 1988; David C. Isby's War in a Distant Country, Arms and Armour Press, 1986; and Robert D. Kaplan's Soldiers of God, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1990. Of these I found the first-mentioned to be particularly authentic and accurate.
DEATH by thousand cuts-this is the time-honoured tactic of the guerrilla army against a large conventional force. In Afghanistan it was the only way to bring the Soviet bear to its knees; the only way to defeat a superpower on the battlefield with ill-trained, ill-disciplined and ill-equipped tribesmen, whose only asset was an unconquerable fighting spirit welded to a warrior tradition. Ambushes, assassinations, attack on supply convoys, bridges, pipelines, and airfields, with the avoidance of set piece battle; these are history's proven techniques for the guerrilla. For four years, from 1983-87, it was my task to plan and coordinate these activities.
I was an infantry brigadier in the Pakistan Army when I was suddenly summoned to take over the Afghan Bureau of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). I went reluctantly, and with foreboding. The ISI has, like most covert intelligent organizations and intimidating reputation both inside and outside the Services. It is considered to be the most effective intelligence agency in the third world. It is also vast, with hundreds of officers, both military and civil, and thousands of staff. Its head the Director General-who was the then Lieutenant-General Akhtar Abdul Rehman Khan, was the most powerful man in the armed forces, with daily direct access to President Zia.
When I received the news of my posting over the telephone I was a brigade commander on a divisional exercise at Quetta. I could not believe it, and asked the staff officer to recheck as I had never had intelligence training, never held an intelligence appointment, and so felt sure there had been an error. To my dismay three had not. I was to report to Islamabad within 72 hours. It was unbelievable. For a while I thought it was the end of my professional career. Such a posting is generally not welcomed by senior officers as, invariably, you make more enemies than friends. Overnight you become a different person in the eyes of your peers. Even superiors outside the ISI regard you with deep suspicion, as part of the ISI's function is to keep careful watch on the generals to ensure reliability to the regime. Certainly in those days of martial law under Zia, apprehension, even fear, of what the ISI could do was very real.
The next day General Akhtar telephoned me and I took the opportunity to protest that I had neither the experience nor the aptitude for a job within the ISI. His curt response was that neither had he when he first took over as Director General. He did, however, assure me that the job he had in mind would be to my liking. And so it was.
As it turned out I was not directly involved in intelligence gathering. My duties, month after month, year after year, involved operations; operations against the second most powerful superpower in the world-the USSR. It was the most momentous challenge of my life. The responsibility was frightening. As Director of the Afghan Bureau of the ISI I was tasked not only with training and arming the Mujahideen (Soldiers of God), but planning their operations inside Afghanistan. When I looked at the enemy order of battle on the map in my operation room I counted no fewer than one 4 star, five 3 star, and some fifteen 2 star Soviet generals, not to mention at least twenty-five Afghans, all of whom outranked me.
Throughout my time in the ISI I was concerned with formulating and implementing a military strategy to defeat the Soviets. My aim was to make Afghanistan their Vietnam. Operations were of course also directed against the communist Afghan Army, but I emphasize that my main enemy was the USSR. It was the invader. Without its massive presence the conflict would have been over long before I took up my post in October, 1983. My duties were military. Although I was keenly aware of the effect of politics on the outcome of the fighting I was seldom, if ever, directly involved in political decision-making. Nevertheless, as time went on, the whims and prejudices of politicians, including those within the Mujahideen, often made the actual fighting of the war a nightmare of frustrations and disappointments. Had it not been for General Akhtar, my only superior during most of my time in the ISI, shielding me from the political intrigues I would surely have resigned within months.
Despite this the reader will need to understand that there are seven recognized Mujahideen political parties, headquartered in exile, in Pakistan, each with a leader. Of these, four can be broadly classified as Islamic Fundamentalists, while three are Islamic Moderates. They are referred to in the text as the ‘Parties' or the ‘Party Leader'. These Leaders are not to be confused with the Mujahideen commanders in the field. They all belong to one of the Parties, but are termed Commanders.
My time, until late in 1987 when I retired from the Army, was spent in trying to organize and administer rival Mujahideen groups so that they might present some sort of unity on the battlefield. I had to attempt to coordinate one of the largest guerrilla campaigns in modern times, with a staff of sixty officers and 300 senior NCOs and men from the Pakistan Army. To the Mujahideen I could issue no order-an advantage taken for granted by my Soviet and Afghan opponents. I had to achieve operational results by cajoling and convincing, not commanding. Somehow I must continue to improve and develop on what had been achieved by my predecessor so that eventually the tactics of a thousand cuts would produce such a haemorrhaging of men and money that the burden would be unbearable.
I was compelled to operate under an elaborate smokescreen of secrecy. Most senior generals of the Pakistan Army had no idea of my duties. Even my family was unaware of the real nature of my task. This need for absolute anonymity stemmed from the official denial of the government that Pakistan was aiding the Mujahideen. No one in authority would admit that weapons, ammunition and equipment were being channelled through Pakistan, by Pakistanis, to the guerrillas. Even more taboo was the fact that the ISI was training the Mujahideen, planning their combat operations, and often accompanying them inside Afghanistan as advisers. Of course the arms supply was an open secret; everybody knew it was happening, but although the involvement of Pakistan in the field was guessed at, it was never, ever, publicly admitted. Throughout the war the diplomats kept playing their game of pretence with Pakistani ambassadors in Moscow and Kabul, and a Soviet one in Islamabad.
Because the role of Pakistan was so sensitive, because I had no wish to embarrass my country, or jeopardize its security, and would do nothing that might prejudice operations against the Soviets, the writing of this book was delayed. When I retired in August, 1987, the Geneva Accord had yet to be signed, no Soviet withdrawal had started, but the Mujahideen were gaining the upper hand. There was little doubt that the USSR had enough. Mujahideen military victory was in sight. Although I spent the early months of my retirement recording the highlights of my time with the ISI, it was not my intention to write a book. Indeed, I was most strongly advised against such a course. Now, in late 1991, there is no danger of compromising either state secrets or the prosecution of the Jehad. The once covert activities of the Mujahideen, ISI, or Pakistan, are no longer secret, but common knowledge in my country, if not outside. With the retreat of the Soviets what I have exposed of the struggle against them is no longer of operational importance. Today all training activities by Pakistan have ceased, the training camps have been abandoned, ISI personnel do not enter inside Afghanistan, and Mujahideen no longer raid across the Amu River into the Soviet Union.
Even the system of distribution of arms has changed, while the quantity has been substantially reduced. The Military Committee of Afghan leader with which I worked on planning operation, has been disbanded, and a new system of control by the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) substituted. So I am persuaded that this book may serve a useful purpose for posterity and for historians, if only to highlight lessons for political and military leaders.
There is much to be learned, or rather re-learned, about the conduct of guerrilla warfare from the Afghanistan experience. If some of these can be assimilated and applied in the future then writing this book will have been worthwhile.
After three years, things have changed for the worse with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. In February, 1989, when the last Soviet soldier crossed back into the USSR everybody expected a Mujahideen victory within weeks. In Kabul resistance was on the point of collapse, its citizens faced starvation, the Afghan Army was supposedly about to surrender, and foreign diplomats were packing their bags. A second Saigon was about to happen. All Afghan watchers predicted a Mujahideen triumph, they only differed as to whether it would come in weeks or months. It never came at all. To a soldier, who had been so intimately involved, it was a devastating disappointment. Somehow a Mujahideen defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory. This book is an attempt to explain why.
Nevertheless, I have not written a history of the Afghan war. My objective has been to set the record straight with regard to how things happened, and why they happened. I seek to explain the workings of a guerrilla army, how it operated, its failings as well as its merits, to record the reasons, as I see them why a triumph for the Mujahideen was denied them in the months following the Soviet withdrawal.
Some, perhaps most, of the things I describe have never been made public before-hence the sub-title of the book-although I have been careful that nothing I say can damage current or future operations inside Afghanistan. For the first time the true extent of the assistance given by Pakistan to the Mujahideen in training, logistics and on operations is made known. During my four years some 80,000 Mujahideen were trained; hundreds of thousands of arms and ammunition were distributed, several billion dollars were spent on this immense logistic exercise and ISI teams regularly entered Afghanistan alongside the Mujahideen. Certainly some of the motives and actions of the US to which I allude as being distinct possibilities will be denied-perhaps correctly. Where I feel that all is not it seems, where doubt exists as to the cause of events, such as the air crash that killed President Zia, I attempt to set out the known evidence honestly, and then draw conclusion. These conclusion are entirely personal, but ones which I cannot wipe from my mind. Probably, I shall for ever remain uncertain.
Many books have been written on the war, some describe the cut and thrust of battle on both sides, year by year, while others, more numerous, are merely accounts of journalist's journeys with the Mujahideen. Invariably these books flatter a particular Mujahideen Party of Commander, depending on who was the author's host. It is extremely difficult for the media to know what is happening in Afghanistan. First, it is so remote. There are no comfortable hotels, the fighting is taking place hundreds of miles away from Peshawar, in Pakistan, where most journalists congregate. There is no way of dashing out after breakfast, watching or filming a shootout in the streets, then getting a story to New York or London that evening. Secondly and arising from the first, there is the physical stamina required to go inside Afghanistan. The gruelling effort of marching for several weeks in those unforgiving mountains without proper food or shelter deters all but the most hardy. Add to this the sickness and the danger and it is not surprising that Mujahideen Commanders assess prospective companions with caution. Only a few get taken in. Then, at the end of it all, they may see no action. Their supreme efforts in keeping up for day after day are often poorly rewarded in teams of a readable story.
For a few all this was quite unacceptable, so they persuade a Commander to set up a mock battle, sometimes with Mujahideen in Afghan uniforms, buildings wired for demolition in advance, all in true Hollywood style. The Mujahideen enthusiastically rushed around firing all type of weapons, there was much smoke, much noise, much enjoyment and much filming. Of course the journalists had to pay, give the Commander publicity and prestige, but the films sold well in the US or elsewhere. It was n altogether more civilized way to wage war, and for parties to make money. Even when writing a genuine article, it usually became a channel to promote the views and aspiration of the Commander who took them in. He is their here, his views are expounded, while the reader gets an overly extravagant picture of a personality, his performance and his importance.
To avoid falling into this trap I have seldom mentioned Mujahideen Commanders by name when describing a particular operation. I have chosen examples that I believe to be typical of the fighting, some of which were failures, but I have not praised one Commander while disparaging another on the basis of the old Army dictum, ‘No names, no pack drill'. Similarly, I have not named people who are still serving, or who operated under the veil of secrecy, where this could damage their reputation or endanger their lives. Apart from this the names used are the real ones.
Despite the above safeguards there will be some who oppose this book's publication, if only for the sake of perversity. My immediate superior at the time of my retirement, while showing an interest in the idea, insisted that I should get any draft approved by the Army. This would have been the kiss of death to my efforts. The Pakistan military would have chopped it to pieces in their efforts to eliminate criticisms. So when, after two years, I decided to put my handwritten notes into a more presentable form I could seek no official help.
My first problem was that nobody in the family could type. I bought a typewriter and persuaded my eldest daughter that she should learn on my manuscript. I give her credit for eighty pages of laborious two-finger effort before she gave up on disgust. Next, I had to resort to letter-writers in Karachi, pretending that it was some sort of official paper rather than a book. I could not just hand it over and await its completion. This would have been to court disaster, as what I was doing would be public gossip within days. To use just one writer was out of the question so I visited five or six. To each I would give 15-20 pages to work on, while I stood around the shop, sometimes peering over his shoulder sometimes showing away other curious customers, and generally becoming thoroughly bored and frustrated. At the end of the day I would collect up all the pages and take them to the next man the following day. To type and correct over 400 pages at this rate takes time, especially when I often had to wait up to a week before I could find a writer available. After a while I ran out of letter-writers, and had to start again with the first one. A dreadful experience.
Still I was far from finished. If publication in Pakistan was going to involve endless bickering and bureaucratic delays, with no guarantee of a book at the end of it all, then the answer seemed to lie in the USA, my ally in the war. As a former ISI officer, whose inclination to write about his experiences was known to some, I resorted to sending the manuscript to a friend in New York, who introduced me to Mark Adkin. This book is the outcome of the ensuing partnership.
I have endeavored to convey the ‘flavour' of this guerrilla war by describing my experiences, or those of others known to me, during my tenure with the ISI. It was, while the Soviets occupied the country, a campaign in which a late twentieth century army fought against an early nineteenth century one. The Afghans who annihilated the British during their winter retreat from Kabul in 1842 were virtually identical to those indestructible fighters who killed over 13,000 Soviet soldiers and wounded some 35,000 and sent its army scurrying home after nine years of bitter fighting. The people have not changed much over the centuries; even Alexander's Macedonian pikemen who marched up the Panjsher valley 2300 years ago would easily recognize the jagged, barren, rocky skyline today. Time does not change much in Afghanistan.
To my knowledge the mystery of why the Mujahideen never marched into Kabul within weeks of the Soviets withdrawal has never been fully explained. It has usually been put down to internal feuding. I believe this is only part of the answer. To me the evidence, albeit circumstantial, points to a covert decision by their main backer-the US-that the Mujahideen should no be allowed an outright military victory. I believe they could have had their triumph despite their quarrels if it had been in the US interests. Unfortunately it was not. Both superpowers are much more conformable with the present stalemate.
Nothing in this book is official history, but I have made every effort to get my facts correct. Any errors are mine, as are the opinion and comments. I wish to concede, without any reservations, that I could have achieved nothing during my time with ISI without the devoted, unstinting and unending labours of my officers and staff. They worked day and nights, without any public recognition, for the success of the Jehad. I owe them a lot. I hope that this book will, in a small way, be seen by them as an acknowledgement of their contribution.
Finally, I salute the Mujahideen who, for all their faults, have once again proved an unbeatable opponent. No matter how many political reasons may have been espoused for the Soviet's retreat from Afghanistan, they would never have gone without the efforts of these Soldiers of God.
"Zia's death must have been an act of God."
Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of Destiny, 1988.
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