What We Won

What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979–89

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 189
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  • Book Info
    What We Won
    Book Description:

    In February 1989, the CIA's chief in Islamabad famously cabled headquarters a simple message: "We Won." It was an understated coda to the most successful covert intelligence operation in American history.

    InWhat We Won, CIA and National Security Council veteran Bruce Riedel tells the story of America's secret war in Afghanistan and the defeat of the Soviet 40th Red Army in the war that proved to be the final battle of the cold war. He seeks to answer one simple question-why did this intelligence operation succeed so brilliantly?

    Riedel has the vantage point few others can offer: He was ensconced in the CIA's Operations Center when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979. The invasion took the intelligence community by surprise. But the response, initiated by Jimmy Carter and accelerated by Ronald Reagan, was a masterful intelligence enterprise.

    Many books have been written about intelligence failures-from Pearl Harbor to 9/11. Much less has been written about how and why intelligence operations succeed. The answer is complex. It involves both the weaknesses and mistakes of America's enemies, as well as good judgment and strengths of the United States.

    Riedel introduces and explores the complex personalities pitted in the war-the Afghan communists, the Russians, the Afghan mujahedin, the Saudis, and the Pakistanis. And then there are the Americans-in this war, no Americans fought on the battlefield. The CIA did not send officers into Afghanistan to fight or even to train.

    In 1989, victory for the American side of the cold war seemed complete. Now we can see that a new era was also beginning in the Afghan war in the 1980s, the era of the global jihad. This book examines the lessons we can learn from this intelligence operation for the future and makes some observations on what came next in Afghanistan-and what is likely yet to come.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2585-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    THE WAR IN Afghanistan that took place between 1979 and 1989 was a pivotal event in modern history. The defeat there of the Soviet 40th Red Army proved to be the final battle of the cold war, a struggle between the United States and its allies on one hand and Russia and its allies on the other that lasted from 1945 to 1990. For those four decades, the cold war dominated global politics. It was a conflict between democracy and communism that shaped the history of millions of people across the globe, and the modern U.S. national security state—including...


      (pp. 3-19)

      SHIBIRGHAN, THE CAPITAL of Jowzjan Province, is a remote and barren place, even by Afghan standards. To the north, Jowzjan borders on the Amu Darya River and Turkmenistan, a former part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.¹ Shibirghan is a city of about 150,000 on a flat, dry plain that extends past the river into Central Asia. Most of the city’s population is made up of ethnic Uzbeks, with a minority of Turkmen; the province as a whole is 40 percent Uzbek and 30 percent Turkmen. Natural gas has been exploited in the province since the 1970s, initially by...

      (pp. 20-39)

      THE OPERATIONS CENTER of the Central Intelligence Agency was on the seventh floor of the original headquarters building, just a short walk from the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). In 1979 there was a large round desk in the center of the room with four chairs reserved for three watch officers and a senior duty officer who was in charge of the center. Here the CIA watched the world, monitoring the global press as well as incoming reports from all elements of the intelligence community. Incoming traffic from U.S. intelligence facilities around the world were quickly scanned...

      (pp. 40-55)

      THE AFGHAN MUJAHEDIN defeated the Soviets. The United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and others helped them considerably, but they did almost all the fighting and virtually all the dying themselves. They and the civilian population that backed them paid an awful price—at least 1 million dead and many more wounded—but they got very little of the benefit of their sacrifice. It is the tragedy of modern Afghanistan that the Afghan people helped to bring freedom to so many in other parts of the world but did not get it themselves until many years after their victory against the...

      (pp. 56-73)

      BLACK SEPTEMBER MADE General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq a success. In the fall of 1970, the civil war that erupted in Jordan between King Hussein’s small army and the Palestinian fedayeen movement, led by Yasser Arafat, provided the opportunity for Zia, an unknown Pakistani general, to make his mark and thereby become an up-and-comer in the Pakistani army back home. While Zia was a winner in Jordan, the rest of the Pakistani army, following the 1971 war with India, was on the verge of catastrophic failure at home. The contrast made Zia’s career in Jordan all the more memorable. Zia would...

      (pp. 74-90)

      THE PALACES OF the House of Saud, the ruling family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were built to inspire awe in any visitor. The king’s palace in the capital, Riyadh, is an enormous structure decorated inside in lovely green Italian marble; the palace grounds cover a square mile. The palace complex in Jeddah, the main port on the Red Sea, is on a stretch of land larger than the island of Bahrain. The palace of the crown prince includes a dining area built around a large indoor swimming pool; overhead, the ceiling is painted to look like a star-studded...

  5. PART 2: THE U.S. WAR

      (pp. 93-109)

      JAMES EARL CARTER, the thirty-ninth president of the United States, was the father of the covert program to aid the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was Carter who decided that the United States would respond aggressively to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and instructed the CIA to begin supplying weapons to the mujahedin. He also orchestrated the creation of the secret U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi alliance that funded and armed what he still calls the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan. The major U.S. strategic decisions about the war—to arm and fund the Afghan mujahedin, to use Pakistan as...

      (pp. 110-127)

      DIRECTORS OF THE Central Intelligence Agency travel abroad in great secrecy; only a select few individuals know their itinerary. In the 1980s they flew in unmarked C-141 Starlifter aircraft provided by the U.S. Air Force that were outfitted with the latest in electronic systems to deflect missile attack. On board, a complete communications package allowed them to remain in constant contact with the CIA operations center at headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Unlike presidents and cabinet members, they fly without a media entourage, and no journalists meet them at the airport. Their meetings with foreign leaders and other spymasters were and...

      (pp. 128-140)

      THE AFGHAN WAR went on without the Soviet army. Moscow and Washington provided arms to the communists and mujahedin for another three years, then both lost interest. Afghanistan would descend into a bloody and endless civil war among the various mujahedin factions, with Abdul Rashid Dostum as a key participant. Later a new movement, the Taliban, would emerge and take over most of the country. Endless strategies to win the war would be devised by one side or another, but none succeeded and resulted in a real endgame. Then the 9/11 attacks brought the United States back to Afghanistan and...

      (pp. 141-156)

      THE HEERESGESCHICHTLICHES MUSEUM, a museum of military history in Vienna, contains a remarkable exhibit from one of the most important covert operations in world history, the assassination, on June 28, 1914, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir-apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the museum, the Austrians have carefully preserved the car that the archduke and his wife were riding in when they were shot to death, the uniform that the archduke was wearing, and the pistol used by the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, which had been provided by the Serbian intelligence service. The assassination of Franz...

  6. NOTES
    (pp. 157-176)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 177-189)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 190-190)