Flamboyant playboy Texan Congressman, Charlie Wilson, who died earlier today was perhaps the last of gentlemen-adventurers. Like to many an adventurer before him, the challenge came in the form of a beautiful woman: thrice-married socialite and philanthropist Joanne Herring who, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, smuggled herself into that country to film the invasion.
Charlie Wilson, who she was dating at the time, was an influential member of the defence appropriations committee. The duo, along with some CIA help, launched a scheme to back the anti-Soviet militia, the mujahideen. Using Israeli and Swiss arms, and US and Saudi money, they managed to arm the mujahideen; with Wilson’s help, the United States’ funding of the Afghan resistance increased from the $30 million in 1984 to $630 million in 1987, with each fund matched by the Saudis. In 1986, Wilson prevailed over the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department resistance to send 1000 shoulder-fired surface-to-air Stinger missiles and 250 launchers to Afghanistan. Wilson quipped, “Whenever a plane goes down, I always fear it is one of our missiles. Most of all I wanted to bloody the Red Army. I think the bloodying thereof had a great deal to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
The last Russian soldier left Afghanistan in February 1989. Wilson had won. The U.S. quickly lost its interest from Afghanistan. Funding of Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezbi Islami party was cut off immediately. Disenchanted and armed, they would first support Saddam Hussein’s Kuwait invasion and would became the original Taliban. Wilson himself retired from the Congress displeased at how the United States treated his former allies. Seeing his weapons ending up in the hands of the Taliban regime, which took power in Afghanistan and harbored Osama bin Laden, Wilson reflected, “I feel guilty about it. I really do. Those things happen. How are you going to defeat the Red Army without a gun? You can’t blame the Marines for teaching Lee Harvey Oswald how to shoot.”