France hints US should do more to aid ill-equipped Afghan rebels
The Soviet Union continues to accuse the United States of subversive activities in Afghanistan, but the evidence from European sources is that the US has done little to help arm the Afghan guerrillas.
Analysts in both London and Paris say the guerrillas still have little in the way of weapons to counter Soviet tanks and helicopters. Their information suggests that what is being done by the Americans to supply arms, even in the way of less sophisticated weapons, is "minimal."
Some French officials have hinted to the Americans, in an apparently quiet and informal way, that they ought to do more for the Afghan rebels if they are really serious about getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan. In their view, the US has a tendency at times to "speak loudly but carry a small stick."
US officials say they have no comment on reports of secret American weapons supplies to any country in the world, including Afghanistan. But a senior American diplomat interviewed by this reporter found it annoying, to say the least, that Europeans should suggest the US do more to help the Afghan rebels when the US, in his view, is already doing much more than the Europeans to deter the Soviets in the Gulf and to make sure Moscow thinks twice before again using raw military power.
In Mid-February, the New York Times quoted White House officials as saying that starting in mid-january, the US had launched an operation to supply light infantry weapons to Afghan insurgent groups. According to the Times, the Central Intelligence Agency was assigned to carry out this "Covert" mission, the first of its kind and magnitude since the Angolan civil war ended in 1976. The weapons were reported to be of Soviet design, some possibly coming from stocks acquired in earlier years by Egypt.
But a number of inusrgent leaders subsequently complained that they were getting little outside help. And there are some indications that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Middle East countries have assisted the insurgents more than the Americans. Iran recently gave considerable symbolic support to the rebels by bringing a group of guerilla leaders into the Islamic foreign ministers conference at Islamabad. The Iranians made the guerrillas part of their delegation. The US has apparently been concerned that if it becomes too deeply involved in aiding the insurgents, the Soviets will retaliate against Pakistan. At this point at least, any American- supplied arms would have to be sent through Pakistan.
American officials have debated this question at some length, and according to one analyst, many have concluded that "the Pakistan pipeline can't stand too much strain."
Some officials appear to agree with Christopher Van Hollen, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, who wrote in the spring issue of the magazine Foreign Policy that providing weapons to the guerrillas might be "the policy least likely to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan."
Mr. Van Hollen, now a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment, argues that the supply of American arms would probably trigger Soviet retaliatory measures such as cross-border "hot pursuit" missions and bombing raids on refugee camps inside Pakistan. He sees a further risk that arming the rebels would encourage the Soviets to promote an insurgency inside Pakistan's troubled province of Baluchistan.
The Soviets justified their invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds that the US and China were supporting the rebels in an attempt to overthrow the government in Kabul. Despite contrary testimony from the scene, the Soviets insist that this alleged support continues. The Official Soviet newspaper Pravda May 25 accused the US of carrying out "unceasing aggresive activities, subversive acts, and other forms of imperialist interference."
European analysts consider this mostly propaganda. But some of them are also convinced the Soviets have given the US a clear warning: Should the US or China supply the Afghan rebels with sophisticated weapons, there would be immediate retaliation against Pakistan.