Good Guys, Bad Guys

BERLIN/RIYADH | | saudi-arabien

BERLIN/RIYADH (Own report) - In Germany last week, a key figure in the Afghanistan war of the 1980s, made a plea for upgrading the weaponry of Syrian insurgents. Prince Turki al-Faisal, an influential member of the Saudi ruling clan, demanded that the rebel militias be furnished anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. As head of the Saudi intelligence service in the 1980s, Turki al-Faisal was responsible for arming the Afghan militias in their war against the government in Kabul. At the time, he cooperated with Osama bin Laden, who participated in the Afghan insurgency - "a nice guy," as Turki called him. Pertaining to his call for arming Syrian insurgents, the former Saudi intelligence chief said that the arms should not be distributed at random, but rather, as in Afghanistan at the time, strictly controlled. The arms should not be provided to the "bad guys" but only to the "good guys." Turki appeared at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, which was also debating Western aid to the insurgents in Syria.

Arming Rebels

During his visit to Germany last week, Prince Turki al-Faisal, an influential member of the Saudi ruling al Saud clan, insisted on heavily arming the Syrian rebels. The prince, who, already on January 25, had publicly called for providing the insurgents with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, had come to Berlin and Munich for talks. Following two appearances at the German Arab Friendship Society (DAFG) - currently presided by former Bavarian Economics Minister Otto Wiesheu - Turki al-Faisal attended the Munich Security Conference, where he participated for the second time in a "background talk" organized by the network "Munich Young Leaders" - the first time had been in 2010. Over the past few years, he has repeatedly visited the German capital for talks with government officials. In October 2004, for example, he attended a meeting of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and in February 2009 he held talks in the German Interior Ministry on the German Saudi "security cooperation," particularly the cooperation in Afghanistan, according to the ministry's press office.[1]

Arming Insurgents

Turki al-Faisal, who has repeatedly advised German authorities, can be regarded as the key figure in the war, in which the West, for the first time, has used Islamist militia on a large scale for its own interests: the Afghanistan war during the 1980s. In 1977, Turki had been appointed chief of the most important Saudi intelligence service, the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), a post he held until 2001. At that time, the BND was already operating a station in Riyadh (in the 1960s, the BND had provided the GIP extensive organizational aid). In his first years in office, Turki significantly expanded the intelligence service. After 1979, the CIA enhanced its cooperation with the GIP, because Washington did not want to lose more influence at the Persian Gulf after the Shah was overthrown. In July 1980, the GIP and CIA agreed to cooperate in arming the insurgents in Afghanistan. The overall aid to these insurgents - including donations from private Saudi "development aid organizations" - was about half a billion US dollars per year.

A Nice Guy

For the most part, this aid was actually processed through the GIP and even through Turki al Faisal personally, who is said to have been traveling to Pakistan up to five times a month and sometimes proceeding on to Afghanistan, to handle the distribution of the money. Often it was given to mujahidin, who were willing to adapt their religious orientation to that of their Wahhabi sponsors, thereby setting the stage for Islam's most reactionary expression becoming more firmly embedded in Afghanistan. One of Turki's informants on the ground in Afghanistan was Osama Bin Laden, who, at the time, had greatly impressed the GIP chief. "He spoke little and never raised his voice," he was to describe him later, "in short, he was a nice guy."[2] Germans, who had been engaged - at times officially - in Pakistan or Afghanistan in support of the anti-government insurgents, also reported on contacts to Bin Laden. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) Turki al Faisal later indicated that his GIP had sought to distribute the money to militias deemed serious, but at times it was beyond their control.[4] Independent of whether this is actually true or merely an attempt to excuse Saudi support for the most prominent Islamist mujahidin, the statement shows that, in retrospective, forces, from which one would like to dissociate oneself, had also benefitted.

The Good Guys

In an interview, Turki al Faisal not only reconfirmed his demand that the rebels in Syria should now be furnished "anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and anti-artillery weapons." Based on his experience during the Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan in the 1980s, he also, explained how weapons should be delivered. The secret services should find out "who are the good guys and who, the bad guys in the [Syrian, editor's note] opposition." "The weapons should be given to the good guys."[5] In a case of emergency, "if they do land in the wrong hands," it would be technically possible "to electronically render them useless by remote control. Therefore, there is no danger involved." Turki al Faisal, who is still a member of the ruling inner circle in Riyadh, although he holds no government office and therefore is not bound by diplomatic obligations, has confirmed that Saudi Arabia has been delivering weapons to the insurgents since some time. "I am sure that there is support." Berlin's repeatedly consulted prince has not divulged which insurgent forces are being supported by the Saudis.

The New Taliban

Whereas Berlin, also under pressure from Turki al-Faisal, is discussing more aid to the insurgents - the BND has long since been active in the region [6] - Jordan's King Abdullah has described the political development of the Syrian insurgency in unusually explicit terms. According to King Abdullah, the "major problem is that radical al Qaeda forces had established themselves in Syria during the last year" and have been "receiving money and equipment from abroad."[7] Noting that Jordan had also sent troops to Afghanistan, he declared: "the new Taliban we are going to have to deal with will be in Syria." Should the Assad regime be overthrown, it will - even under the best circumstances - take at least three years to "clean them up." Up to now, such warnings have not hampered German support for the Syrian insurgents or the German Saudi cooperation, which includes efforts to overthrow the Assad regime.

[1] see also Old Allies
[2] Der meistgesuchte Mann der Welt; www.zeit.de 02.05.2011
[3] see also Old Allies
[4] Steve Coll: Ghost Wars. The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, London 2004
[5] "Waffen an die guten Jungs liefern"; www.faz.net 30.01.2013
[6] see also Verdeckte Kriegspartei
[7] Saudi prince calls for Syrian rebels to be armed; www.reuters.com 25.01.2013