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 sent.

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 and coverage."

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.

SOURCES:

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.