The last king of Afghanistan, Part 1


Afghanistan had been ruled by a king for the better part of the last century and had been relatively stable. But when I had dinner at the home of the founder of Israeli intelligence, the Mossad, on September 23, 1980, that was not the case.

When the Russians invaded Afghanistan, Harrell and I were having dinner discussing the subject in light of the radical Islamist group that was fighting the Russians called the Taliban. The Taliban name is derived from a group of students. They are followers of Sunni Islam. Most of them were trained in theology at madrassas, Islamic seminaries funded mostly by Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia.

As Harrell handed me a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies. I asked him about Islamic jihadists. “Do you think terrorism will come to America? If so, where and why?” Sitting next to me was the senior advisor of the prime minister of Israel, Dr. Reuben Hecht.

He said, “I fear terrorism will come to you in America. America has the power but not the will to fight the terrorists. The terrorists have the will but not the power to fight. But all that can change with time. Oil buys more than flies. You kill a fly and rejoice. They kill one and 100 come to the funeral. The first terrorist attack will be New York City and your tallest building.”

When he said that the World Trade Tower had not been built.

I asked him another lighter question. “Who do you think is going to be the next president?” At the time Jimmy Carter was ahead of Ronald Reagan in the polls.

“The Iranians will have something to say about that. When Ronald Reagan puts his hand on the Bible, hostages will be released.” I was stunned at hearing these words, as was Reuben Hecht. But my phone rang the very second that Ronald Reagan put his hand on the Bible.

As the news flashed that the hostages were released, I heard Reuben Hecht shouting on the phone, “Harrell’s a prophet! Harrell’s a prophet!” Little did I know that Harrell knew that Jimmy Carter was trying to buy back the hostages to overcome the humiliation he faced which could cost him the election. There was a bidding war going on through the Algerians, negotiated by Cyrus Vance. It had gone on for several months, offering the Iranians $1 billion, $1.5 billion, $2 billion, $2.5 billion, all the way to $6 billion.

But in the early morning hours of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, $7.9 billion was transferred from the Federal Reserve to the Bank of England to buy back the hostages. Harrell knew that the Iranians were going to use the humiliation of the hostages to the last moment to keep Jimmy Carter from being reelected and humiliate him.

Watching Afghan allies in a state of total panic, trying desperately to flee the country, brings back the memories of the U.S. hostage humiliation. As a veteran, it also brings back the memories of what transpired in Saigon. That humiliation sparked a social revolution in American streets that the nation still hasn’t recovered from.

Afghanistan was a relatively stable and quiet country for most of the last century but all that changed. During the end of his first year in office President Jimmy Carter spent New Year’s Eve in Tehran. On the evening of 1977, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi threw a party for Carter on the Persian New Year and Carter told him you’re going to get freedom of the press, freedom of religion, release political prisoners, and allowed Khomeini to come back into Iran. If you don’t, you won’t get replacement parts for your planes or helicopters.

When Carter left, Shah Mohammed leaned toward Empress Farah Pahlavi and said, “If I do what he asks, the Russians will invade Afghanistan, Khomemeni will birth an Islamic Revolution, and who knows what horror will come upon the earth.” Carter wasn’t asking; he was telling. And not only did he fulfill his threat, but he also authorized a covert operation to overthrow the Shah. Farah told me the story at her home over tea.

President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing also told me that, in January 1979, the U.S., represented by Jimmy Carter, Germany, represented by Helmut Schmidt, and the United Kingdom, represented by James Callaghan, met to discuss the Iran crisis. Giscard d’Estaing hosted the meeting in Guadeloupe. He said that Carter told the groups that “he was going to get Ruhollah Khomeini back into Iran and get the Shah out. It would be great for human rights since Khomeini is a cleric.”

D’Estaing told Carter “You are a bastard. You have betrayed an ally. Khomeini is a terrorist.”  

The plan worked. The Shah was overthrown on January 16, 1979. The Russians invaded Afghanistan on February 1, 1979. In March, Jimmy Carter approved Operation Cyclone to provide money and weapons to the mujahedeen through Pakistani intelligence. The mujahedeen have another name that is easier to remember: the Taliban. These were students recruited through madrassas to fight the Russians. They were trained by the United States and armed by the United States. The U.S. spent billions to do it. Working with the Sunni countries and the Pakistani ISI, the U.S. succeeded.

A tired mule climbed up a narrow goat trail on an Afghan mountain. It was carrying two simple sacks on either side, from which antiaircraft missile heads protruded. His rider, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, carried an outdated walkie-talkie and waited for instructions.

Suddenly the man tensed up, pulled a missile out of one of the sacks, aimed, and fired the missile at a Russian helicopter. The helicopter blew up in midair and the crew was all killed. The shooter mumbled something into his walkie-talkie and continued on his way.

This video, made some 30 years ago when Afghanistan was battling the Soviet occupation, excited viewers in the Pentagon, the CIA, and the White House. The Afghan mujahideen displayed determination, capability, skill, and courage. Moreover, while American regulations required a team of three people to operate a mobile antiaircraft gun, in Afghanistan all you needed was one shepherd to take down a Russian aircraft.

Thousands of such American missiles made their way through Pakistan to Afghanistan, where they were transferred to the recruits of Osama bin Laden, who was cooperating with the Americans to defeat the “infidels.” Al-Qaida was at the time a nascent organization that recruited people to fight in Afghanistan from around the world, including the United States. The White House, which by order of Congress could not intervene directly in the Afghan war, cultivated this indirect channel that in the end led to the Soviet defeat.

The Soviets were defeated. Their bodies were being sent back to the former Soviet Union in great numbers. They were called Black Tulips because they didn’t even acknowledge their deaths. 

But the moment the Russians were defeated, the U.S. abandoned Afghanistan and all of its allies, making it possible for the Taliban to gain control of Afghanistan, turning it into rubble and imposing Sharia law, destroying the foundations of culture, stripping women of their rights, and embracing al-Qaeda. Every Afghan soldier in 2020 knew the story well.

The U.S. spent over $2 trillion in Afghanistan. It was a 20-year war. The collapse of Afghanistan was totally predictable. The U.S. set August 31 as the date of the completion of its withdrawal. The U.S. rolled out the red carpet years ago, sending signals to the Taliban that Afghanistan was there for the taking. The White House, for its part, has said that the Afghan army was trained and equipped but lacked the will to fight. They have what they needed, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

Everyone with their eyes opened could see that the Taliban was funded through Sunni countries assisted by Russia, Iran, and even China. Of course, Pakistan would pull all the strings.