Case #1546.0

Politics of a Covert Action: The U.S., the Mujahideen, and the Stinger Missile

Publication Date: November 09, 1999
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This case tells the inside story of one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the US intelligence services. Its focus: whether to break the time-honored rules of CIA covert actions in order to supply Afghan rebels (fighting in the 1980s to oust invading Soviet forces) with US-made, state-of-the-art Stinger missiles. The case offers an unusual glimpse into the policymaking process for intelligence decisions, especially covert actions--secret activities meant to advance US foreign policy objectives without revealing the hand of the US government. It describes a pitched internal debate among the Defense Department, CIA's Operations Directorate, CIA leadership, the Department of State, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff over the advisability of providing the Stinger anti-aircraft weapon to Afghan mujahideen. Advocates said the Stinger could help win the war. Opponents argued it made the US role transparent, which could escalate the conflict to superpower level; might increase the risk of retaliation against staging-area Pakistan; and created a threat that terrorists would get possession of the weapon.

Learning Objective:
This powerfully-written case uses unprecedented access to key players to tell the story of how the Stinger won deployment approval, a decision which some argue helped hasten the fall of the Soviet Union. Well-suited for discussion of both foreign policy in the Cold War era and the dynamics of behind-the-scenes advocacy and internal decision-making.

Other Details

Case Author:
Kirsten Lundberg
Faculty Lead:
Ernest May and Philip Zelikow
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source: