Permissible Arms

Charlie Wilson’s Weapons

Posted in afghanistan, american media, united states, us congress by Karaka on 16 May 2010

I finished reading Charlie Wilson’s War this weekend. I had eschewed it in part because the film came out while I was in graduate school, and it looked so cavalier about the region and foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan that it really turned me off; I never tracked down the book because I foolishly assumed it was as overblown and pompous as I thought the film to be.

Never let it be said I don’t admit when I was wrong. George Crile’s book is a novel-shaped thriller of non-fiction, and even talking into account the times the storytelling takes precedence over an unopinionated clarity of fact, it was deeply engaging and very, very funny at times.

I watched the film in conjunction with the book, and was surprised to find they did a reasonable adaptation of the events as they’re described in the book. Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos was spot-on, and the strange relationship of these Americans to the mujahideen they are supplying is palpable (as is the vague understanding implicit in the film, and more explicit in the book, that some of the people provided with ordnance and arms will make the US an enemy in ten short years).

It’s a rollicking read, and better than any thriller I’ve read, to be sure. (Except perhaps for William Gibson, who has the distinction of dipping into hard sci-fi and cyberpunk with his thrillers.) But there’s one nagging question I have, having finished: what happened to the $5bn worth of arms and ammunition?

Crile describes the DShK, the Stinger, the Oerlikon, thousands and thousands of AK-47s, Spanish mortars, SA-7s, Blowpipes, even old .303 Enfields. (Not to mention whatever was abandoned by the Soviet Army when they finally retreated.) Now, for three years after the Afghan-Soviet war ended, the US and Soviets both were still supplying Afghans with weaponry, and while it seems safe to assume that a far portions of those weapons were utilized to the point of destruction during the subsequent civil war, I can’t help but wonder what was left when the US returned in 2001.

Is there an unclassified accounting or estimation of what armaments the Taliban held in 2001 prior to their ousting? I’d be very curious to know roughly how many of those were weapons purchased by the CIA. For that matter, is there an estimation of what the Taliban hold now? Inquiring minds, and all that.

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