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One Billion Dollars Allowed Afghan Rebels to Defeat the SovietsPolitical Commentary by Tim King Salem-News.com
Republished in memory of Congressman Charlie Wilson, R.I.P.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Charlie Wilson's War is a movie about the Texas Congressman who, along with a diverse band of allies, funneled a billion dollars into the hands of the Afghanistan Mujahadeen in the 1980's, allowing them to defeat at the time, the world's other top super power: the Soviet Union.
Charlie Wilson helped pave the way after going to Pakistan and experiencing the Afghan refugee camps where once proud people starved and fought each other for the sparse amounts of food humanitarian aid groups were able to deliver.
How could a band of rag tag, poverty stricken Afghans defeat one of the most advanced military systems the world has ever known for a billion dollars? Don't we fund the war in Iraq by the hundreds of billions? Yet the Afghans did it for one billion?
The Soviets were basically a death machine for Afghans once they arrived in 1979 and set up shop, though they worked hand in hand with the Afghan Army which was completely Communist and the Afghan government, which by this time the Soviets controlled.
I spent time with one Afghanistan National Army group that had an officer who had been a member of the Communist Afghan Army, one who had been a Mujahadeen fighter, and one who had fought with the Taliban. Today they fight together in the ANA, it can be hard for a person from the United States to get their mind around, still the system there seems to work in many respects.
During the 1980's the Soviets occupied bases all over Afghanistan just like our forces today, and they had Afghan interpreters everywhere they went just like we do today.
In fact, the Russians built or occupied almost all of the bases we use there today, including Camp Phoenix at Kabul where I spent several weeks over the winter of 2006/2007 as an embedded reporter covering the Oregon National Guard's 41st Brigade Combat Team.
Outside of another Kabul base that was Soviet for ten years, is the Kabul Military Training Center. Here the reminder of the Soviet invasion are everywhere, as hundreds of half destroyed Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers are lined up outside the base and just littered all over hillsides.
There are other types of vehicles, but the tanks make up the bulk of it. Some are blown up, some have graffiti sprayed on them, and some were actually being used by the Taliban by the late 1990's.
The abandoned and rusting military hardware is also littered along roadsides when you travel through Afghanistan right where they were blown up and disabled during the war. Kids playh on them. The number of these rotting relics of war and death show the strength of the Russian force that came to Afghanistan by storm to make sure the Communist system of government was not overthrown by Islamic rebels who resented the government interference in not allowing them to practice their faith.
The thing that got Charlie Wilson was the destruction wrought on the poorly armed and mostly defenseless Afghan people, by Soviet air power. The aircraft were used extensively throughout the country to strike people in all kinds of scenarios.
At Bagram Air Field, there is a row of Russian MiG-21 jet fighters that I walked a few miles one day to photograph. They were sitting in an arrested state like ghosts, surrounded by a minefield.
When Charlie Wilson finally stepped in, the Communism had changed from women's rights and suppression of the Muslim faith, to out and out war on anyone the Soviets perceived as being their enemies. In the early years of the war beginning in 1979, the Afghan rebels were provided only weapons that were useless in shooting down the attacking Soviet aircraft. Charlie Wilson's dream was to give the rebels tools to knock expensive Soviet attacking aircraft out of the air. Soon the helicopters and fighters began to fall almost every day, and it turned out that Charlie Wilson was right on the money in the end.
One person the movie depicts through real news footage is Dan Rather from CBS News. He spent time with troops during the Vietnam War, he visited conflicts in Central and South America in the 1980's, and he went "undercover" so to speak, with the Afghan Mujahadeen rebels under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Massoud; the "Lion of Panjshir" who liberated Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion, no small feat.
Rather's work there typified a period in time when television news had guts and Dan Rather was the head of the pack in that war, reporting covertly, speaking to the camera in full Afghan garb about the Mujahadeen's progress in fighting the Russians.
When the Russian Hind helicopters attacked the people of Afghanistan, they did it to supress what amounted to a revolt against Communism. Afghanistan had been a peaceful country under Communism for the most part, The longest period of stability Afghanistan had was between 1933 and 1973, when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah.
The history of this political party is both is fascinating and horrible. Communists were eventually voted in and once in power, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan implemented a liberal and socialist agenda. It permitted freedom of religion on the record, but replaced religious and traditional laws with secular and Marxist ones.
It gave women the largest number of rights and the closest thing to equality they ever knew. Sadly, this is exactly what led to the Soviet invasion and the Mujahadeen uprising; women's rights and the abolishment of forced religion, or even the freedom to have it, at least as people had always been able to.
Men were obliged to cut their beards, and women couldn't wear a burqa under the new Communist laws. Mosques were placed off limits. The political group carried out ambitious land reforms, and the forgave all of the farmers' debts countrywide.
The Communist government of Afghanistan made a number of decrees on women’s rights, banning forced marriages, giving state recognition of women’s right to vote, and introducing women to political life.
It was the Communist government that befriended the Soviet Union and received substantial military funding for weapons, tanks, jets and helicopters and all of the things that go along with an invading military force. The Soviet angle is that they were simply invited by the Afghanistan government to defeat a rebel uprising against their own Communist government.
Ghosts of a Communist Past
When you look at the Afghan National Army today marching in formation, they still step like Soviets when they place their feet to the ground. It is like the ghost of the invasion still haunts the country, even in military drill.
But that is just formality. Another element I learned about in Afghanistan, is the lingering Soviet military tactical mentality that officers are left with. Their books teach them to do it in a way that Soviets mastered, and that is very different from the way our military goes about it.
In essence, Soviet officers of high rank typically kept their forward fighting officers mostly in the dark in terms of information, and the fighting men always relied on instructions on how to proceed.
The same mentality was true for the Soviet aviation program, which involved always using forward air controllers to tell fighter pilots what their targets were and where they were. In other words, a Soviet pilot was not trained to fly and fight on their own, but Western military pilots could fly with or without a forward air controller, making them much more capable in air combat.
The country had been totally at the mercy of the advanced Soviet forces for years, until Charlie Wilson heard Dan Rather talking about it on the CBS Nightly News.
The increasing delivery of weapons from Israel, smuggled through Pakistan to the Afghan rebels, all funded with the money Charlie Wilson worked so hard for, allowed an unimaginable victory for Afghanistan.
And he couldn't have done it without Charlie Wilson.
The lesson is clear; it doesn't take hundreds of billions to win a war. Ruthless, the Soviets killed over a million and half of Afghanistan's people before they were through, and that dwarfs any numbers relevant to the war in Iraq. There have not been a million casualties or even close to it even when you consider all the innocent people.
So what is it? Clearly it is a lack of waste. Maybe it was because the Afghans had a defined goal. Either way, they accomplished something far larger than we have set out to do and once they began dropping Soviet aircraft with missiles and rocket launchers provided with U.S. money, the beginning of the end was well underway.
This is a mind boggler, and I hope people watch Charlie Wilson's War and remember what even a reckless, drunken, skirt chasing Democratic Texas Congressman can accomplish when people get on the same page and fight evil and just have a good heart.
The Soviets as I learned in Afghanistan, use rape as a tool of war. Throughout Afghanistan today there are kids and young adults clearly of Russian descent. The Russians believe "planting their seed" is one way to take a country over and it makes our soldiers today look like saints.
When I think back at all the blown up and wrecked Soviet military equipment laying all over this rugged country, I will always think of this movie and consider how hard people worked together, uniting countries like Israel and Pakistan, in order to defeat the Communists. The alliances at the time were unheard of and once again today, they are again.
Charlie Wilson and the CIA and a certain wealthy Republican lady out of Texas played by Julia Roberts in the movie, worked tirelessly to fund the efforts of the Mujahadeen and it worked.
Movies about the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
The movie Rambo 3 is based around the Soviet slaughter of the Afghan people who resisted them and the need for U.S. intervention. The new Rambo movie highlights the problem in Burma today, also known as Myanmar, where political oppression is operating at extreme levels, thus keeping a Hollywood focus on world problems overlooked by American policy.
Another movie, The Beast, which is also sometimes titled The Beast of War, is the story of a Soviet tank crew that attacks a small Afghan village, then becomes lost in the Kandahar Valley and restlessly pursued by a small band of Afghan rebels who eventually overtake the tank, or "beast" as it is analogized by a crazy prophet in the movie to the story of David and Goliath.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
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