Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the Afghan mujahideen in Afghanistan.
The bases of Operation Cyclone
Operation Cyclone was a covert operation undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the Cold War. The operation was launched in 1979 with the aim of providing military and financial assistance to the Afghan mujahideen, who were fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
The primary objective of Operation Cyclone was to help Afghan fighters bleed out the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. The CIA provided arms, ammunition, and other supplies to the mujahideen, and also trained and equipped them for guerrilla warfare. The operation was conducted in collaboration with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which provided logistical and other support to the mujahideen.
The operation lasted for over a decade and was one of the largest covert operations in the history of the CIA. The CIA estimated that it spent over $2 billion on the operation, while other estimates put the figure closer to $20 billion. The operation was also controversial, as it has been suggested that some of the weapons and funding provided to the mujahideen ultimately ended up in the hands of Islamist extremists who later formed groups such as Al-Qaeda.
Operation Cyclone is considered to have been successful in achieving its primary objective of drawing the Soviet Union into a costly and ultimately unwinnable conflict in Afghanistan. The operation is also seen as having contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was already under considerable economic and political strain. However, it has also been criticized for indirectly contributing to the rise of Islamist extremism and terrorism in the region.
During Operation Cyclone, the United States supplied various weapons and military equipment to the Afghan mujahideen to fight against the Soviet Union. Some of the weapons supplied during the operation included:
Stinger missiles: These were shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) capable of taking down Soviet helicopters and low-flying aircraft. Very powerful weapon for light infantry which was a game changer of Soviet-Afghan war.
AK assault rifles: The AK is a widely used automatic rifle that was popular among the Afghan mujahideen. Interestingly, a lot of AK rifles used in Afghanistan were actually Soviet made and purchased from across the world.
Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs): These were anti-tank weapons used to destroy Soviet armored vehicles. According to most photos, mujaheddins mainly used Chinese made Type 69 RPG-7.
Mortars: These were tube-like weapons used to launch shells at enemy positions. Given the aiming complexity of indirect dire, mortars were not that popular among Afghan fighters.
High caliber machine guns: Again, by the looks of it, majority of these weapons were Chinese in nature. A lot of Chinese copies of the 12.7 DShK.
Land mines: These were explosive devices planted by the mujahideen to disrupt Soviet supply lines and movements. Interestingly, a lot of the mines came from Italy. We will have a separate article on that.
In addition to these weapons, the United States also provided training and logistical support to the mujahideen. The CIA set up training camps in Pakistan and provided military advisors to train the Afghan fighters in guerrilla warfare tactics. The United States also provided financial aid to the mujahideen to purchase additional weapons and supplies.
Success in short term, disaster in a long run
Operation Cyclone, a covert operation by the CIA to support Afghan mujahideen against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, is considered to have been successful in achieving its primary objective of drawing the Soviet Union into a costly and ultimately unwinnable conflict in Afghanistan.
It is believed to have contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was already under considerable economic and political strain. However, the operation has also been criticized for indirectly contributing to the rise of Islamist extremism and terrorism in the region, as some of the weapons and funding provided to the mujahideen later ended up in the hands of groups such as Al-Qaeda.