The United States did not “create” Osama bin Laden or al Qaida. The United States supported the Afghans fighting for their country’s freedom in the 1980s — as did other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Egypt, and the UK — but the United States did not support the “Afghan Arabs,” the Arabs and other Muslims who came to fight in Afghanistan for broader goals. CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen notes that the “Afghan Arabs functioned independently and had their own sources of funding”:
While the charges that the CIA was responsible for the rise of the Afghan Arabs might make good copy, they don’t make good history. The truth is more complicated, tinged with varying shades of gray. The United States wanted to be able to deny that the CIA was funding the Afghan war, so its support was funneled through Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). ISI in turn made the decisions about which Afghan factions to arm and train, tending to favor the most Islamist and pro-Pakistan. The Afghan Arabs generally fought alongside those factions, which is how the charge arose that they were creatures of the CIA.
Former CIA official Milt Bearden, who ran the Agency’s Afghan operation in the late 1980s, says: “The CIA did not recruit Arabs,” as there was no need to do so. There were hundreds of thousands of Afghans all too willing to fight, and the Arabs who did come for jihad were “very disruptive . . . the Afghans thought they were a pain in the ass.” I have heard similar sentiments from Afghans who appreciated the money that flowed from the Gulf but did not appreciate the Arabs’ holier-than-thou attempts to convert them to their ultra-purist version of Islam. [Freelance cameraman] Peter Jouvenal recalls: “There was no love lost between the Afghans and the Arabs. One Afghan told me, ‘Whenever we had a problem with one of them we just shot them. They thought they were kings.’”
… There was simply no point in the CIA and the Afghan Arabs being in contact with each other. … the Afghan Arabs functioned independently and had their own sources of funding. The CIA did not need the Afghan Arabs, and the Afghan Arabs did not need the CIA. So the notion that the Agency funded and trained the Afghan Arabs is, at best, misleading. The “Let’s blame everything bad that happens on the CIA” school of thought vastly overestimates the Agency’s powers, both for good and ill. [Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: The Free Press, 2001), pp. 64-66.]
Al Qaida’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has confirmed that the “Afghan Arabs” did not receive any U.S. funding during the war in Afghanistan. In the book that was described as his “last will,” Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner, which was serialized in December 2001 in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Zawahiri says the Afghan Arabs were funded with money from Arab sources, which amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars:
“While the United States backed Pakistan and the mujahidin factions with money and equipment, the young Arab mujahidin’s relationship with the United States was totally different.
“… The financing of the activities of the Arab mujahidin in Afghanistan came from aid sent to Afghanistan by popular organizations. It was substantial aid.
“The Arab mujahidin did not confine themselves to financing their own jihad but also carried Muslim donations to the Afghan mujahidin themselves. Usama Bin Ladin has apprised me of the size of the popular Arab support for the Afghan mujahidin that amounted, according to his sources, to $200 million in the form of military aid alone in 10 years. Imagine how much aid was sent by popular Arab organizations in the non-military fields such as medicine and health, education and vocational training, food, and social assistance ….
“Through the unofficial popular support, the Arab mujahidin established training centers and centers for the call to the faith. They formed fronts that trained and equipped thousands of Arab mujahidin and provided them with living expenses, housing, travel and organization.” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2001, Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), GMP20011202000401)
Abdullah Anas, an Algerian who was one of the foremost Afghan Arab organizers and the son-in-law of Abdullah Azzam, has also confirmed that the CIA had no relationship with the Afghan Arabs. Speaking on the French television program Zone Interdit on September 12, 2004, Anas stated:
If you say there was a relationship in the sense that the CIA used to meet with Arabs, discuss with them, prepare plans with them, and to fight with them – it never happened.
Milt Bearden served as the CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989, where he was in charge of running the covert action program for Afghanistan. In his memoirs, The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB, Bearden says the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Egypt, and the UK were “major players” in the effort to aid the Afghans. (pp. 217-218) Bearden writes:
[President Jimmy] Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, had in 1980 secured an agreement from the Saudi king to match American contributions to the Afghan effort dollar for dollar, and [Reagan administration CIA director] Bill Casey kept that agreement going over the years.” (The Main Enemy, p. 219)
From 1983 to 1987, Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf was in charge of the Afghan Bureau of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which ran Pakistan’s covert program to aid the Afghan mujahidin. In his book, The Bear Trap: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, Brigadier Yousaf confirms the matching U.S.-Saudi arrangement, stating,
For every dollar supplied by the US, another was added by the Saudi Arabian government. The combined funds, running into several hundred million dollars a year, were transferred by the CIA to special accounts in Pakistan under the control of the ISI. (The Bear Trap, p. 81)
Bearden makes it clear that the CIA covert action program did not fund any Arabs or other Muslims to come to the jihad:
Contrary to what people have come to imagine, the CIA never recruited, trained, or otherwise used Arab volunteers. The Afghans were more than happy to do their own fighting – we saw no reason not to satisfy them on this point.” (The Main Enemy, p. 243)
Marc Sageman worked closely with the Afghan mujahideen as one of Milt Bearden’s case officers, from 1987 to 1989. In his book, Understanding Terror Networks, he writes:
No U.S. official ever came in contact with the foreign volunteers. They simply traveled in different circles and never crossed U.S. radar screens. They had their own sources of money and their own contacts with the Pakistanis, official Saudis, and other Muslim supporters, and they made their own deals with the various Afghan resistance leaders. Their presence in Afghanistan was very small and they did not participate in any significant fighting. (Understanding Terror Networks, pp. 57-58.)
The Central Intelligence Agency has issued a statement categorically denying that it ever had any relationship with Osama bin Laden. It stated, in response to the hypothetical question “Has the CIA ever provided funding, training, or other support to Usama Bin Laden?”:
No. Numerous comments in the media recently have reiterated a widely circulated but incorrect notion that the CIA once had a relationship with Usama Bin Laden. For the record, you should know that the CIA never employed, paid, or maintained any relationship whatsoever with Bin Laden (emphasis in original).
• U.S. covert aid went to the Afghans, not to the “Afghan Arabs”
• The “Afghan Arabs” were funded by Arab sources, not by the United States
• The United States never had “any relationship whatsoever” with Osama bin Laden
• The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Arab backing for the “Afghan Arabs,” and bin Laden’s own decisions “created” Osama bin Laden and al Qaida, not the United States.