Texans, lawmakers and “friends of Afghanistan” gathered Wednesday evening on Capitol Hill to honor Cold War-era mavericks Charlie Wilson and Gustav “Gust” Avrakotos, both dead, together with the very much still-alive Joanne Herring.
The reception recognized a newly introduced bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the three, who convinced the U.S. government to arm Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Their exploits were famously portrayed in the 2007 film “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which starred Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts.
“Operation Cyclone” channeled weapons and funds through Pakistan to Afghan Islamic insurgents, at a time when they constituted the main opposition to Soviet communism. U.S.-supplied funds and weapons fell into the hands of various factions in the ensuing Afghan civil war, which ended in the victory of the Taliban. Many have accused the clandestine CIA program of laying the groundwork for the subsequent Taliban regime in the country.
Socialite and diplomat Joanne Herring, now 85, said she was “humbled” to be considered for a Congressional Gold Medal. She spoke at length about her plan to “empower Afghan villages, so that they can get rid of the Taliban on their own,” and affirmed that “our boys don’t need to be there.” Herring, who had close ties to the Pakistani government, helped facilitate passage to the country for Congressman Charlie Wilson and CIA officer Gust Avrakotos.
Houston-area Democratic Reps. Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, accompanied by Houston mayor Annise Parker and her wife, praised Herring as a “force of nature” and an integral part of Houston high society, who never forgot about Afghanistan long after the American project to expel the Soviet Union.
Through the ensuing American war to eradicate the Taliban, Herring said she has remained connected to Afghanistan, “especially the women.”
Despite a recent drawdown of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban remain a serious threat to stability there and in Pakistan. (RELATED: Why Did The Taliban Kill 130 Schoolchildren?)
One of the attendees at Wednesday’s reception explained to TheDCNF that the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and other organizations are trying to “fill the gap that can’t be filled by government.” Private funders, in other words, are willing and able to take risks that government employees might avoid.
As Herring said, in the 1980s “we were breaking every rule, but we had to do it because we knew we had to stop the Soviets in Afghanistan.”
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