The Cost of an Afghan 'Victory'
This leads one to take seriously the explanation offered by those defense experts--such as a former Middle East specialist at the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies--who claim inside knowledge of joint Washington-Riyadh strategy devised and implemented after the armed uprising in Mecca in November 1979. In case there's an antiroyalist coup, they say, the United States would need seventy-two hours to marshal its full military might to reverse the coup. For many years the Saudi defense ministry has been purchasing sophisticated weapons systems, chiefly from the United States. But the Pentagon was reportedly alarmed by the account of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the US-led coalition in the Gulf War, that suggested the Saudi military, especially the air force, was incapable of operating the sophisticated weaponry it possessed. Thus the presence of US military officials at key Saudi military facilities is considered indispensable in order to insure swift coordination and secure communications in case of an emergency.
It was against this background that bin Laden and his acolytes articulated the thesis that their country was occupied. Since then the events in the Persian Gulf, centered around relations between Iraq and the United States, have strengthened the views of Islamic militants. In the midst of the deepening Baghdad-Washington crisis of February 1998, which resulted in the build-up of a US armada in the Gulf, they published an assessment that applied to the entire Middle East.
On February 23,1998, under the aegis of the International Islamic Front (IIF), Shaikh bin Laden, Aiman al Zawhiri (of jihad al Islami, Egypt), Abu Yasser Ahmad Taha (of Gamaat al Islamiya, Egypt), Shaikh Mir Hamzah (of Jamiat al Ulema, Pakistan) and Fazl ul Rahman (of Harkat al jihad, Bangladesh) issued a communique laced with the kind of language used earlier against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
"For more than seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples," it stated.
"Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the Crusader-Zionist alliance, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres...Third, if the Americans' aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews' petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there."
Then came the fatwa (religious decree): "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] and the Holy Mosque [in Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim [again]. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, 'And fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,' and 'fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God.'" This was open season on Americans to all those who agreed with the IIF's stance. Following the Washington-London airstrikes against Iraq in mid-December, bin Laden called on Muslims worldwide to "confront, fight and kill" Americans and Britons for "their support for their leaders' decision to attack Iraq." Earlier, spurning the US demands to hand bin Laden over to Washington, the Taliban government had proposed that the evidence against him be passed on to it so that he could be tried in Afghanistan under Islamic law. The United States refused to cooperate. So in late November, the Taliban supreme judge declared bin Laden innocent.
A decade after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the mood among US and Saudi decision makers has turned from quiet satisfaction to perplexed handwringing. In the words of Richard Murphy, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East and South Asia during the two Reagan administrations, "We did spawn a monster in Afghanistan." The "monster" of violent Islamic fundamentalism has now grown tentacles that extend from western China to Algeria to the east coast of America, and its reach is not likely to diminish without a great deal of the United States' money, time and patience, along with the full cooperation of foreign governments.