As sensational as that may seem, it’s a reasonable question. Here’s why: When the USSR invaded Afghanistan, the US moved to counter the invasion with Operation Cyclone which was portrayed in the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks. The operation consisted of the US providing weapons, military aid and training to the mujahedeen, a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters based in Pakistan.
But it turns out there was one aspect of “assistance” not covered in Charlie Wilson’s War. I only recently learned about propaganda funded by USAID and created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Afghanistan Studies. According to the UNO website, the Center “organized more than 1,300 educational sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan and reached 130,000 Afghan refugees with K-12 textbooks and basic education services.” What the UNO website fails to mention is that those textbooks included images of dead Soviet soldiers, tanks, missiles, and AK47s. The books taught reading and math. They also included propaganda to turn Afghan children against the USSR and Afghan communist government. They incorporated Islamic verses from the Quran, as well as calls for jihad against the infidels.
For example, the books taught Afghan children the Pashtu language through two fictional characters named Maqbool and Basheer intended to be the Afghan equivalent of our Dick and Jane. An estimated 15 million of the textbooks were published in the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu from the early 1980’s to 1994.
In an article that appeared in the March 23, 2002 Washington Post, Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway wrote “An aid worker in the region reviewed an unrevised 100-page book and counted 43 pages containing violent images or passages.” They quoted Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an Afghan educator saying, “The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students, but the texts are even much worse.”
Following the end of the Soviet occupation, many of the violent images were removed from the books, but much of the jihadist language remained unchanged. And many of the original books are still in use today throughout Afghanistan and western Pakistan. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the anti-Soviet messages can be used as calls to action against Americans and our allies. Indeed, the books are more than likely used in the most extreme madrassas in the region, many of which are funded by Saudis exporting their extremist wahhabi form of Islam.
UNO is unapologetic for its role in the publication of the books. According to a 2007 article by Matthew Hansen from the Lincoln JournalStar.com, “To the center’s longtime director, the textbooks are byproducts of a dark era when Russian bombs killed Afghan schoolchildren and rebel forces fought to save their country. ‘I won’t apologize…for something done in 1988,’ Thomas Gouttierre says. ‘At the time, Afghans were being killed.’”
Of course, many others have been killed since then, including thousands of Americans.