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US Congressman Who Backed Afghan Fighters Against the Soviets Dies

A former U.S. lawmaker who played a key role in the ouster of Soviet forces from Afghanistan has died.

Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson helped funnel millions of dollars to fund Afghan fighters during the 1980s.

He was known around Washington as "Good Time Charlie" for his love of drinks and women, and his life story became a Hollywood movie starring famed actor Tom Hanks.

The 2007 film "Charlie Wilson's War" introduced a new generation to the exploits of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and his role in shaping the future of Afghanistan.

Wilson was a member of the Appropriations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, and used his position to help buy Afghan fighters weapons, including Stinger missiles, that inflicted heavy damage on Soviet gunships.

In 2008, Wilson talked to VOA about why he decided to take action. Wilson said he was looking down on a refugee camp from a hillside: "I got involved in Afghanistan because I went there and I saw what the Soviets were doing," Wilson said. "And I saw the refugee camps."

M.J. Gohel, an expert on South Asia and executive director of the London-based Asia Pacific Foundation, says Wilson's efforts changed the region and the world. "Wilson has to be given the credit for delivering a major defeat to the Soviet Union at a time when the Soviet Union was a threat to the free world," Gohel said.

Gohel says what no one could have predicted at the time was how Wilson's support for Afghanistan's mujahedeen would encourage Muslims from around the world to rally to their cause or what would come as a result. "This led to a threat, a new kind of threat, to the West and of course the events that eventually ended with 9-11 [the terror attacks of September 11, 2001] and the other acts of terrorism we have seen since then," Gohel stated.

Wilson said that one of his regrets was that he was not able to get more funding for schools, hospitals and roads in Afghanistan once the Soviets finally left. Still, he remained optimistic. "I would just tell the Afghan people that I still love them," he said. "And that I hope that somehow we find a way to achieve a military tranquility."

Wilson died Wednesday from a heart attack in his home state of Texas. He was 76.