16. FROM COVERT TO OVERT MILITARY AID IN AFGHANISTAN
A resolution sponsored by Senator Paul Tsongas and Representative Don
Ritter was quietly passed by Congress in the final days of the 1984
session. The resolution, once described by Representative Charles Mathias
Jr. as a "Tonkin Gulf-type resolution," authorizes the United
States to provide overt military aid to the rebels in Afghanistan.
The resolution had to overcome a hesitant administration, a stubborn
State Department, and an actively opposed Central Intelligence Agency.
The bill, which Representative Ritter says sends a clear signal to Moscow
about the seriousness of America's concern, passed with a vote of 97-0
in the Senate and unanimously in the House. Passage of the Tsongas-Ritter
resolution could bring the United States to a new, more involved and
official phase in Afghanistan.
Before passage of this resolution, the U.S. has not been idle in supporting
the Afghan rebels. Since December 1979, the U.S. supplied them with
between $200 and $300 million in covert aid. An official background
briefing for the NEW YORK TIMES in late 1984 put the level of U.S. aid
to the Afghan resistance at $280 million for 1985 alone.
Afghan aid, said one intelligence source, "dwarfs in size and
scope" the CIA's much more controversial aid to the Contras in
Nicaragua (estimated at about $24 million in 1984).
The State Department opposed the resolution because it did not wish
to bring unnecessary public attention to the covert aid already being
The CIA opposition is more revealing. It appears that the war in Afghanistan
causes a major drain on the troubled Soviet economy and offers an easy
target for U.S. propaganda attacks against Russian "imperialism"
in the Third World. In fact, some Afghan rebels accuse the U.S. of wanting
to prolong the conflict so that the Soviets will become bogged down
in a decades-long Vietnam-type war. The U.S. has provided just enough
aid to cause discomfort to the Russians, but not enough to give the
Afghans a chance of winning, those rebels said.
The Tsgonas-Ritter bills warns that it would be "indefensible
to provide the freedom fighters with only enough aid to fight and die
but not enough to advance their cause of freedom."
According to Matthew D. Erulkar, Executive Director of the American
Afghan Education Fund, the lack of controversy over the present covert-aid
program to the Afghan resistance is "because the media have not
bothered to give this underreported war more comprehensive investigation
The United States has been actively involved in the Afghanistan war
since 1979; it is time for our press to put that involvement on the
national agenda for public discussion.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/3/84, "Afghans Deserve Overt Aid," by
Rhea Talley Stewart; HARTFORD ADVOCATE, 8/15/84, "U.S. Aid to Afghan
Rebels," by John Felton; NEW YORK TIMES (Letters), 11/26/84, "C.I.A.
Is Less Than Top-Notch in Afghanistan," by Matthew D. Erulkar.