September 24, 2023

WASHINGTON (AP) — After the final Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989, defeated by an insurgency outfitted and guided by the U.S., a two-word cable arrived at CIA headquarters: “WE WON.”

It was one of many final moments of the Chilly Conflict, credited with serving to push the Soviet Union to break down two years later. However the U.S. would go away behind a rustic that quickly fell into civil warfare, ultimately changing into al-Qaida’s coaching grounds for the Sept. 11 assaults and the location of a two-decade warfare that resulted in U.S. withdrawal and defeat.

Many years later, one of many architects of the covert technique towards the Soviets has revealed a memoir that calls on President Joe Biden’s administration to do extra to assist Ukraine’s resistance towards Russia. In “By All Means Obtainable,” Michael Vickers additionally opinions what the U.S. can study from its previous missteps and missed warnings in Afghanistan.

Within the 2007 film “Charlie Wilson’s Conflict,” which depicts the top-secret U.S. effort in Nineteen Eighties Afghanistan, Vickers is proven because the CIA’s in-house weapons skilled who shortly is aware of what’s wanted by the American-backed Islamic fighters referred to as mujahedeen. He’s additionally portrayed as a whiz child who can beat a number of opponents in chess with out taking a look at their boards. (In actual life, he writes, he doesn’t play chess, however grew up enjoying soccer and baseball.)

The Biden administration has supplied $40 billion in safety help to Ukraine in addition to intelligence assist. It has withheld some missile techniques and plane sought by Ukraine because it tries to keep away from escalating the battle right into a direct warfare with Russia.

Vickers argues the U.S. can do extra to assist Ukraine win the warfare and ship a robust blow to Moscow.

“The administration hasn’t all the time been clear about what it actually desires in Ukraine,” Vickers mentioned in a current interview. “Saying, ‘We’ll be with them so long as it takes,’ just isn’t the identical factor as ‘We’re going to assist them win.’ We ought to assist them sooner quite than later.”

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Ukraine has begun a long-promised counteroffensive that Western officers consider is making gradual and small developments. Russian forces are thought to regulate roughly 20% of Ukrainian territory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin additionally seems weakened after an aborted mutiny by Wagner Group mercenaries who took the army headquarters in a southern metropolis and approached Moscow earlier than agreeing to a settlement.

The revolt and ensuing turmoil in Moscow “definitely open the chance area for the Biden administration,” Vickers mentioned. “However I feel we’ll must see what occurs.”

The son of an Military Air Corps pilot in World Conflict II, Vickers grew up in California and was the primary in his household to attend faculty. Throughout his last semester, he determined he needed to strive for a job within the CIA by first changing into an Military Inexperienced Beret. He would ultimately be a part of the company in 1983, on the age of 30.

Simply over a 12 months later, Vickers was known as into the workplace of Gust Avrakotos, who led the CIA’s Afghanistan job drive. By then, Soviet troops had been in Afghanistan for 5 years, ostensibly to assist the communist authorities within the civil warfare.

In Avrakotos’ workplace, Vickers writes, was a “model of a Soviet soldier sporting a gasoline masks, holding an AK-47 assault rifle, and outfitted in full fight gear.”

“The model reminded everybody that the Soviet-Afghan Conflict was being fought with few restraints,” he writes.

The CIA introduced collectively a disparate group to arm the Afghans, who used U.S.-supplied machine weapons, mines, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons towards the better-equipped Soviets.

Saudi Arabia helped finance purchases of weapons and ammunition from Egypt and China that have been moved by means of Pakistan and into Afghanistan. In Washington, Rep. Charlie Wilson of Texas helped push by means of tons of of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in secret U.S. financing.

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Vickers says he oversaw the cargo of extra deadly weapons, elevated coaching and intelligence given to the resistance fighters, and ramped up covert affect campaigns. The primary full 12 months he was concerned, 1985, was the “bloodiest 12 months of the warfare,” he writes, with greater than 4,000 Soviet troops killed.

“In lower than a 12 months, I had gone from taking part in operations to directing a secret warfare on an unimaginable scale,” he writes. “Solely in CIA might this occur.”

The warfare’s rising toll led the Soviets to tug again from the warfare, slowly transferring duty to the native communist authorities and finally withdrawing in 1989.

Vickers left the CIA shortly afterward and would go into enterprise and academia. However he rejoined authorities after the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults, when the U.S. would return into Afghanistan, this time with its personal troops, and shortly topple the Taliban.

As a prime Protection Division official below Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Vickers was concerned within the U.S. operation to kill al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, the surge and eventual drawdown of American troops into Afghanistan, and countering the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The early U.S. victories in Afghanistan have been adopted by an insurgency that will drag on for 20 years because the Taliban regained energy. The warfare finally ended within the failure of the U.S.-backed authorities in Kabul and a chaotic and bloody withdrawal in August 2021 that continues to stir anger in Washington.

And there have been echoes of the Nineteen Eighties. One of many leaders within the anti-Soviet resistance was the Pashtun commander Jalaluddin Haqqani. His son Sirajuddin turned the chief of the so-called Haqqani Community, blamed for assaults on U.S. troopers and Afghan civilians, and is now inside minister within the Taliban authorities.

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Vickers argues the U.S. had reached an efficient stalemate in Afghanistan by the top of Obama’s presidency. He criticizes former President Donald Trump for making a take care of the Taliban that he calls a “give up settlement” and Biden for following by means of with the withdrawal.

He stays an influential voice on Russia in Washington, having argued earlier than the invasion final 12 months that the U.S. ought to attempt to deter Moscow by shifting fight plane to Europe and offering anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons prefer it did within the Nineteen Eighties.

Ukraine defied many U.S. predictions that its authorities would shortly fall to Moscow, and what some anticipated can be a guerrilla battle has as a substitute develop into a extra typical warfare with two forces dug in throughout tons of of miles.

Vickers famous there have been some similarities between the 2 conflicts in addition to the frequent opponent in Moscow. Considered one of them, he argued within the current interview, was that the U.S. must assist rebuild Ukraine and set up safety ensures after the warfare ends.

As instructed in “Charlie Wilson’s Conflict,” U.S. assist for Afghanistan fell sharply within the years after the final Soviet basic left, setting in movement inside wars and the rise of the Taliban — one thing Vickers notes right now was “not an excellent sequence of occasions.”

“The Ukrainians have been outstanding in how they’ve coalesced round their nationwide identification and to defend their territory and their politics,” he mentioned. “Nevertheless it’s a disaster proper now. And it’s an existential risk. And so one does have to observe for every kind of issues.”