Against the Soviet Union
Western powers first used modern jihadism on a major scale during the 1980s in Afghanistan. In their quest to defeat the pro-Soviet Afghan government and the Soviet military stationed in Afghanistan, the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany and other NATO member countries banked, not only on the Afghan Mujahidin, but also Arab jihadists, including Osama bin Laden. The then little known Osama bin Laden, and the other jihadists were promoted with Saudi Arabia's financial and logistical support. The head of Saudi foreign intelligence at the time and Bin Laden's contact person, Prince Turki al Faisal bin Abdulaziz al Saud played a major role. Today, he provides his political expertise to the "Advisory Council" of the Munich Security Conference. The Afghan Mujahidin and the growing number of Arab jihadists finally succeeded in forcing the Soviet armed forces into withdrawing from Afghanistan. From the western perspective, jihadism had therefore proven its effectiveness as an instrument in fighting secular, socialist forces.
The al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (August 7, 1998), the US counter attack on al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan (August 20, 1998) and particularly the 9/11 terror attacks and the ensuing war on Afghanistan seemed to have led to an irreparable rift between the West and the jihadists. However, the "war on terror" did not hinder the West from again engaging in punctual cooperation with Arab jihadists - this time, not a struggle against secular socialist forces, but an attempt at weakening Iran. With Iraq's destruction starting in 2003, the US-led war alliance had neutralized Iran's traditional rival, inadvertently opening an opportunity for Iran becoming a Persian Gulf regional hegemonic power. To prevent this, Western powers began an arms buildup of the Gulf dictatorships - particularly Saudi Arabia - to create a counterforce. These dictatorships, in turn, soon began subverting Iran's regional allies - for example Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah.
"High Risk Venture"
This has led to Arab jihadists being called back into action. In 2007, the US journalist Seymour Hersh exposed how the West, together with Saudi Arabia, was moving against Hezbollah in Lebanon. While, on the one hand, for example the German Navy was participating in the UN mission off the Lebanese coast to prevent arms supplies from reaching this Shiite militia, Riyadh, on the other hand, was building up their most resolute enemies, the Salafists and jihadists, whose hatred of Shiite Muslims is as strong as their hatred of secular, socialist forces. In early 2007, government officials from various countries had confirmed to Hersh that the USA and Saudi Arabia were providing Lebanese Salafist and jihadist organizations with the means for fighting Hezbollah. A Lebanese government official told Hersh, "we have a liberal attitude, allowing those al Qaeda groups to maintain a presence here." A former agent from the United States explicitly admitted, "we're financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. It’s a very high-risk venture."
A Salafist Principality
The fact that the West is following this same strategy in the war in Syria has been confirmed in a memo, dating from August 2012, from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and made public last week. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) According to the memo, the creation of a "Salafist principality" in eastern Syria was seen as advantageous - to deprive the "Shiite expansion," emanating from Iran, its "strategic depth" in Syria. The "Islamic State" (IS), in fact, has evolved from that "Salafist principality."
The Bandar Plan
The western powers along with their main regional allies - Turkey and Saudi Arabia - have actively built up the Salafist and jihadist militias, in Syria, with the ex-Saudi Ambassador to the United States (1983 - 2005), Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud playing a decisive role. In his function as General Secretary of the Saudi National Security Council (2005), Bandar bin Sultan supported the Lebanese Salafists, and as head of the Saudi intelligence services, (2012), he was also involved in the Syrian war. The "Bandar Plan," named after him, called for forming and arming insurgent militias in Syria. In fact, this refers to the - primarily Salafist - military units being financed by Saudi Arabia. The plan also calls for the infiltration of Saudi agents into al Qaeda allied groups and using other means to influence those jihadist militias, where infiltration proved unfeasible. Within this framework Saudi Arabia even provided aid to IS, albeit the financing, in this case, was inofficial, furnished by private jihadist supporters, according to an Israeli analysis published in 2014. Only after the IS began expanding in Iraq, in early 2014, and began creating the situation that the DIA had warned of in August 2012, was Bandar bin Sultan relieved of his duties and flown to the USA "for medical treatment." In the summer of 2014, western countries found themselves compelled to militarily intervene against IS, which was gathering strength. This is the IS, the West had paternalistically watched taking its first steps in the struggle against the government of President Assad, their common enemy.
Even this has not put an end to the West's use of jihadists. Most recently, the US-led "anti-IS coalition" stood by watching as IS drove Syrian government troops out of Palmyra, a strategically important city - a welcome support in the war on President Assad's government. According to reports, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have "again been closely collaborating" since March. Of course, in the war on Syria "they do not have their sights on the IS, but rather target Assad" - Riyadh and Ankara's more polite formulation of the standard Salafist and jihadist demand. Western strategists have even begun proposing using jihadists in the struggle against the jihadists of IS, which has become much too powerful. According to a recent website article of the US "Foreign Affairs" journal, the al Qaeda should not be allowed to be further weakened. Al Qaeda must be allowed to continue to exist to keep its supporters from defecting to IS. Therefore the terrorist organization should be kept "afloat and [Aiman az-] Zawahiri alive." Jihadists are only being fought, if they become too powerful - as in the case of IS - or if they begin to attack western targets. Otherwise, their destructive potential is considered a western secret asset in its war on common enemies.