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Hollywood Shines Limelight on Covert Military Operation in 'Charlie Wilson's War'

A new Hollywood film offers a unique and compelling perspective on America's covert support for Afghan rebels following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "Charlie Wilson's War" depicts the efforts of a single U.S. Congressman to secure funding for arms and equipment to help defeat the Soviet army and drive it from Afghanistan. As George Dwyer reports, history itself appears to have turned in response to the determined efforts of a peculiarly independent-minded individual. Jim Bertel narrates.

"Charlie Wilson's War" traces the life and times of the famously unorthodox and often irrepressible U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson.

Best known – at first – for his uninhibited attitude towards social conventions, Wilson's legend took on a new luster as a result of his fierce opposition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Noted American actor Tom Hanks, who appears in the title role, says the real Charlie Wilson gave his full support to the project. "He told us point-blank at the beginning, ‘You can say anything you want about me because it is all probably, it is all true. It has all been done. I lived it.’ But what he wanted,” says Hanks, “was the importance of the mission to be captured in the film."

Actress Julia Roberts plays Joanne Herring, a wealthy Texas socialite, determined anti-communist, and Wilson supporter who convinces him to use his position in Congress to advance the cause of the Afghan resistance.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a street-smart CIA agent who helps Wilson acquire military hardware for the desperate Afghans, while legendary Indian film actor Om Puri appears as Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq.

Wilson's prodding helped increase U.S. spending on covert operations in Afghanistan from $5 million to half a billion dollars a year, supplying the equipment needed to mount an effective resistance movement. The Herring character says in the film, "It would be impossible to make this up. You could not contrive this story because it is too incredible to think that, first of all, I think people are very reluctant to believe that we can assist change so powerfully as an individual."

Following the Soviet defeat, Wilson's efforts to secure reconstruction funds for Afghanistan met with little success – but the story of what he was able to accomplish turns out to be both joyful and inspiring.