Date of Award

Spring 2008

Document Type



Political Science & International Relations

First Advisor

Erik Pratt

Second Advisor

Robert Swartout

Third Advisor

Gillian Glaes


On August 7, 1998, the United States Embassies in Tanzania and in Kenya were attacked by Osama bin Laden.1 2 Afterwards, the primary goal of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan was to either capture or kill bin Laden and to subdue Al Qaeda. During this time, the CIA faced many factors that contributed to the eventual failure of the CIA to achieve its goals. These factors, hereafter known as constraints, “checked, restricted, [and] compelled” the CIA “to avoid or perform some action[s].”3 The focus of this thesis is to identify and understand those areas of constraint that existed within the international system of central Asia. Certain states were chosen for various reasons. The U.S., as a major world power, held relationships with all of the aforementioned states and played a role in how those states acted in their relations to Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia was one of only three states to diplomatically recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan (Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates were the other two). Religious reasons, in that both states followed Sunni Islam, also played a role. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is donating (mostly with money) to the poor.4 Since Afghanistan was a third world country, it received aid from Saudi Arabia. Pakistan, too, played an important role. From Pakistan came diplomatic recognition, aid, weapons, and unquestionable support. It also bordered Afghanistan, making the relationship even more important. And like Saudi Arabia, the two states shared a religious connection. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan played a less important role. All three shared borders with Afghanistan, but all were afraid of the Taliban threat to their own countries. The CIA, however, did try to work with these countries, as did the U.S. government in general. The states that will be considered are the United States, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Why not mention China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), or Iran? In the case of China, nothing in my research indicated that it shared anything more than a border with Afghanistan. The UAE recognized the Taliban, and perhaps even had relations with bin Laden. But as with China, little could be found in my research to expand on this. Iran, sharing a border with Afghanistan and being a state of a rival religious tradition (Shia Islam), had such a poor relationship with the U.S. that seeking its help seemed rather pointless, at least concerning the pre-9/11 world. The questions this thesis shall focus on are: How did the relationships between the U.S., the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden affect the CIA in Afghanistan? What role did Pakistan play within the Taliban-U.S. relationship? What was the role of the central Asian states of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, with regard to the U.S. and the Taliban? And finally, what role did Saudi Arabia play? Why are these factors important? External factors are essential to the study of international relations. They provide another perspective that can (when combined with internal and individual levels of analysis) contribute to an overall point of view that is important when conducting diplomacy and covert action. It is therefore necessary to study why states behave the way that they do. This thesis will also serve as a case study that will explain why external factors are important to the decision-making process. It is important to note that this study will not focus on all the factors that resulted in the CIA failure to capture bin Laden. Instead, this thesis will focus solely on the relations between states. Issues such as actionable intelligence, confusion over orders to capture or kill bin Laden, and debates over the Predator drone will only be used as background to issues that will be discussed later in the thesis. A general history covering the Church Committee hearings and the Anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan will provide an additional context surrounding CIA operations. Both histories present a background that offers an understanding of why there were internal disagreements in the CIA - and the U.S. government in general - as well as explain how the setting of central Asia in 1996 emerged.