‘Final Solution’ Frenzy – Part Two: Russian Atheist Explains Suicide Bombing

‘Final Solution’ Frenzy – Part One: From Afghanistan with Love

‘Final Solution’ Frenzy – Part Two: Russian Atheist Explains Suicide Bombing

2010-04-03 02:07:15

Continued from Part One

Tariq Saeedi

With Sergi Pyatakov and Tamara Orlova in Moscow

Additional reporting by Qasim Jan in Kandahar and GN Brohi in Kharan and Nushki

3 April 2010 (nCa) — Lucky breaks come when you least expect them. A major break presented itself recently, revealing the involvement of the USA and India in the terrorism spate in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We will come to it near the end of this narrative.

When working on this series of investigative reports, we understood early the need to think out of the box.

In an attempt to think out of the box we decided to consult an atheist. It was on his prodding that we went back to the field and found something big.

Vitaly was a professor of gosateism (state atheism) at the now-defunct department of atheism at the Moscow State University (MGU).

An atheist by choice rather than opportunism, Vitaly is as knowledgeable about Islam as any well- educated and well-read Muslim scholar. To bolster his argument, he can quote verses from the Koran and the sayings of The Prophet from memory. The fundamental difference between Vitaly and a Muslim scholar is that Vitaly studied Islam to debunk it. In several interviews, we discussed suicide bombing with him.

Our first report in this series (‘Final Solution’ Frenzy – Part One: From Afghanistan with Love) was the basic raw material from which we expected Vitaly to come up with a plausible explanation as to why some young people would agree to act as suicide bombers.

In that report we mentioned that the Americans were running at least two training camps in Afghanistan, they were most probably preparing the kind of young people who looked like Muslims but acted otherwise, quite possibly some young men who looked like Taliban were being transported in American helicopters to areas near the border with Pakistan, automobiles were being stolen or snatched at gunpoint in Balochistan and some of those vehicles were being used in the acts of terrorism, there were huge numbers of unregistered automobiles in half of the Pakistani province of Balochistan, and there was a wide corridor in Balochistan that was being used by different kinds of people for illegal traveling between Afghanistan and Iran.

Here we present the essence of our conversations with Vitaly in the form of question-and-answer sequence:

Talking to Vitaly

nCaBefore we discuss the process of suicide bombing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, could you please give us some insight into non-personal acts of suicide in general?

Vitaly: Right at the start, I must make it clear that the use of suicide as a tactic or weapon, what you call non-personal act of suicide, is not exclusive to religion – any religion at all. The incidents of the use of suicide as a method of advance or retreat, offence or defence, desperation or exhilaration, are scattered throughout the history of mankind. It is a mindset that can be induced or acquired.

For instance, Jim Jones and 909 of his followers committed mass suicide in November 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana. Except for 9-11, it was the largest number of American casualties in a single event. Jones and his followers described themselves as communists, and in their last will they left assets worth more than US $ 20 million for the Soviet Union. Their mass suicide can be described as an act of desperation and retreat.

The Kamikaze pilots blew themselves – and the enemy – to pieces not for God but for the King and the country.

The Tamil Tigers have their land and their political agenda, not God, in mind when going for a suicide mission.

As far as organized religion is concerned, it is susceptible to manipulation after reaching the inevitable stage of ‘intellectual coma.’

It was the intellectual coma that generated the early waves of crusaders to their sure death.

nCaHow do you define intellectual coma?

Vitaly: Intellectual coma is when an organized religion gets disconnected from spirit. It is the triumph of form over substance. It is when the written and spoken word of scholars divides the adherents instead of uniting them.

For example, when Saladin was knocking at the doors of Jerusalem in 1187, the Christian scholars were debating in earnest whether Jesus Christ was the son of man or God. In 1258, just 71 years later, when the Mongol armies under Helegu were entering Baghdad, the Muslim scholars at the main square were contesting hotly whether crow washalal or haram.

nCaHow does it relate to suicide bombing in Islam?

Vitaly: Suicide as such is probably not permissible in Islam. In one of the early battles of Islam, a companion of The Prophet fought valiantly and got seriously wounded. The onlookers praised his bravery but The Prophet said that he may end up in hell. This made some listeners wonder and they kept an eye on the wounded companion to see as to what he would do next. A few hours later, he committed suicide in his tent.

This incident is universally quoted by the body of Muslim scholars who speak against suicide.

However, it is possible to divide the act of suicide into two categories i.e. the permissible and the forbidden. For instance, a convincing case can be built that commitment of suicide to escape despair, law, shame or pain is forbidden while suicide as a tactic in asymmetrical warfare is permissible.

Regardless of the doctrinal stance one takes on this issue, the persistent occurrence of suicide bombing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan demands different treatment. Looking at the complexity of the situation, one needs to be mindful of external and internal manipulations.

To expand on this point, I would like first to give my personal understanding of Islam.

In the early texts, Islam was referred to as path (deen) – a very wide path – and the preference to walk on the right or left, or in the middle, of that path was defined as mazhab. It is only when public debates on religion became a fashion that Islam came to be referred to as mazhab.

You may rightly ask as to what difference it makes.

The sheer bulk of literature in Islam that appeared after the sacking of Baghdad, veered away from the main path, the deen. It was denial and retreat.

My understanding of Islam is that neither your body nor the soul is answerable because body is perishable and soul is an order (amr) of God. What is answerable is your consciousness. Your consciousness is the product of the lifetime of your commission and omission, negation or acceptance.

However, just read the Islamic literature created during the last seven hundred years. Except for some notable exceptions, the general impression is that everybody is going to hell except for a chosen few. Based on the bulk of literature produced during the intellectual coma, it appears that it is nearly impossible to please the God of Islam.

The Islamic literature of the past few centuries promotes hopelessness instead of hope. The scholars, by and large, don’t offer optimism; they dispense fear. This is one reason why it was easy to convince people of the validity of atheism in Soviet Union.

Looking at the main body of Islamic literature, it seems that paradise is a small island, able to accommodate just a handful.

It also gives the impression that God is an angry old man, taking pleasure in committing people to eternal torture, creating them merely to throw them into the hell. Considering that every author recommends every other author for hell, the Islamic paradise would be one lonely place.

When a common Muslim looks at the presumed demands made on him, he sometimes loses all hope and starts looking for a shortcut to heaven.

This opens door for internal and external manipulation. Suicide can be billed as cheap ticket to paradise. Ka-boom, and you are there already, in the company of eternal virgins along the banks milk and honey rivers.

This is just one of the several reasons why someone would agree to become a suicide bomber. I will come to another, more relevant reason, in a minute.

nCaYou are saying ‘internal and external manipulations.’ Could you please elaborate?

Vitaly: You told me that some young people, Muslim in appearance, were seen entering from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and they did not perform obligatory ablutions before their prayers. This is the sign of induced exclusiveness; this is what I call ‘Zombification.’ This is the other reason I am talking about that could be more relevant to the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

nCaWe are afraid we don’t understand your line of argument.

Vitaly: If you take a group of teenagers, preferably 12 to 17, and the idea is to make them suicide bombers, here is how you would zombify them:

If they are from Muslim families, chances are that they would know at last the basics of their religion. Your first job would be to rewire their acquired knowledge.

The sheer bulk of the extraneous and wrongly focused Islamic literature makes it easy. You can take any young man or woman and convince them easily that they are the only ones going to paradise; give them exclusivity and they will die in name of God, in the manner determined by you.

You would start building their uniqueness by giving permissions not available to ‘ordinary Muslims.’

As you tell me, these young men pray without ablutions. This permission can be created by twisting the provision that in case of non availability of water or in extreme danger, such as in the heat of battle, one can substitute full ablutions with dry ablution. All you have to tell them is that they are in the middle of a war, they are the chosen few, and the usual rules don’t apply to them.

If your finding is correct that the Americans are preparing and sending these people to Pakistan, there has to be more to it than just the practice of praying without ablutions. I will suggest that you go back and try to find more.

Back to spadework

We took his advice and returned to the field to learn more. To begin with, we were not sure of the location of American training camps in Afghanistan. Moreover, for several reasons, we did not want to talk with any of the probable graduates of the American training camps.

Our contacts in Afghanistan and Pakistani province of Balochistan started looking for people who may know something about the lifestyle and mindset of the young people we mentioned in the first report, who were saw praying without ablutions.

In that first report we mentioned that at least one American training camp was located in either Ghowr or Uruzgan province of Afghanistan. The later reconnaissance, carried out after our initial conversation with Vitaly, convinced that the camp was somewhere in Uruzgan, not very far from Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

In fact, the new discoveries we made are enormous in scope.

Acquiring sharp focus

Our findings are immense in nature. There is no denying that fact that our field team worked very hard but we must acknowledge one lucky break that made it all possible.

When Vitaly sent us back to the field, we didn’t know what to do therefore we simply started listening attentively to the local gossip.

There was the talk that an Indian citizen, who was disguised as Afghan mullah, had been caught in Kharan district of Balochistan, probably in the third week of March 2010.

We talked to people in Kharan to confirm whether it was true, and if so, who he was and what was he doing in Kharan, a district that does not touch with Afghanistan.

In those areas rumor mill works better than Twitter. Soon we found that an Indian citizen had definitely been caught in Kharan and he was in the company of two Afghans. They were traveling by public transport to Iran. This confirmed our earlier reports that a corridor exists in the territory of Pakistan that is used by certain elements for traveling between Afghanistan and Iran.

The reason for his being detected and caught is somewhat funny; it is directly related to the male instinct of stealing a glance at the others’ “endowment.”

In most areas of Balochistan the whole of the outdoors is used as an open-air public toilet. It so happened that when that unlucky Indian went to attend the call of nature, someone else also felt the urge to discharge his urine. Just by chance, the other person saw that the Indian was not circumcised. He told it to others and in no time at all about a dozen people gathered and started beating him. In those rough environs people beat first and ask questions later.

The Indian, who was not only bearded and turbaned like a typical Afghan mullah but also spoke Pashtu fluently, broke soon; after being roughed thoroughly he was handed to an FC patrol.

A college student in Nushki who has some friends in FC told us that the Indian was interrogated by FC before being transferred to the authorized agencies. The student told us that the Indian talked candidly to avoid further beating. He told the FC that he was an instructor in a training camp in Afghanistan where the Indians were subcontractors on behalf of Blackwater (now Xe). The camp was training young men to destabilize Pakistan, Iran and China through suicide bombing and other acts of terrorism.

He also told the FC interrogators that vodka smuggled from Tajikistan was mixed with orange juice and given occasionally to some trainees as a sample of what they might expect in paradise.

The other thing of significance that he told was some Indian female sex workers, brought from India as nurses, were on their staff and their services were available to some select students in the camp. He told also that some young Afghan boys, kidnapped by local warlords as sex slaves, were brought occasionally to the camp for servicing the designated suicide bombers. Those ‘nurses’ were also available, in their spare time, to ‘nurse’ some local warlords.

Our sources in Afghanistan confirmed that kidnapping of young boys for sex slavery was almost back to the same level when Taliban first appeared on the scene. In fact, the first rise of Taliban, in 1990s, started with the rescue mission to free a boy who had been kidnapped by a warlord.

Our sources also confirmed that, yes, vodka was being smuggled in large quantities from Tajikistan and it was generally used in the private gatherings of the warlords. Orange or mango juice was popularly used for mixing the cocktail.

So, Vitaly was right.

Resuming conversation with Vitaly

nCaYou were right. There was much more to it than just the practice of praying without ablutions. The American training camp is being run by the Indian subcontractors on behalf of Blackwater, and they provide female and male sex mates and alcohol to some if not all students.

Vitaly: This is the classic Sabbah formula. Remember the 11thcentury cult of Assassins (Hashashin), founded by Hassan bin Sabbah?

His cult, which plagued the mainstream Islam for more than 150 years, was built on exclusivity through sex, drugs, strong loyalty to the leader and distortion of tenets.

Whoever is running the camp in Afghanistan has certainly borrowed heavily from the Sabbah model.

nCaWhat could be the training period in such a camp?

Vitaly: Based on my knowledge of human nature, I can say that the training period would be three to five weeks. In less than three weeks it would be difficult to rewire the brain – to zombify – and in more than five weeks there would be the risk of the student waking up from the trance.

Also, there is comfort in numbers. In this kind of training you cannot prepare would-be suicide bombers in isolation. The company of fellow crazies is a booster. Nonetheless, the size of each group would have to be small, probably five or so.

In the next report, due in about a week or so, it will start becoming clear as to why we have named this series ‘Final Solution’ Frenzy. A Russian and an American expert will interpret and augment our findings, cutting right to the heart of American plans for the region.

To be continued . . .

Kyrgyz protesters, police clash as UN chief visits

Kyrgyz protesters, police clash as UN chief visits

BISHKEK: Dozens of protesters clashed with police outside the parliament building in the Kyrgyz capital on Saturday as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived there to make a speech.

Police pushed the crowd back and swiftly cordoned off the entire area around the parliament building in the centre of the capital, Bishkek. Many of the demonstrators shouted “help us” and waved banners as Ban’s motorcade arrived.

Hekmatyar, the Warlord the CIA and ISI Turn To, When Real Violence Is Needed

BOOMERANG BLOWBACK AS WARLORD DUPES U.S. AGAIN

JULY 16, 2007

Hekmatyar Revives His Radical Party With Pakistani Backing

Article
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: the most devious and dangerous of Afghanistan’s old warlords

He is the arch-fundamentalist warlord who received more US tax dollars and weapons in the 1980’s war against the Soviets than any other Afghan resistance leader – then turned on America and sided with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, becoming one of the West’s most-wanted fugitive terrorists.

Now Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has issued another call for Holy War against the United States – even while he continues to use the same intermediary that channelled the CIA’s cash to him two decades ago, to rebuild his virulently anti-Western militia today.

And who might that be? Rogue elements of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI. Currently the Pakistani armed forces enjoy a whopping $1 billion-per-year subsidy from the Bush administration, a cash inducement, supposedly, to wean the institution from its reliance on Islamist militias to extend their reach into neighbouring conflict zones like Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Some 20% of the Pakistan Army’s operational expenses are met by US taxpayers. Diplomatic sources in the region say that this gift to Islamabad frees up domestic funding for the ISI.

The result? As Hekmatyar crows for jehad against America, he is once again funding a comeback for his militant Hizbe Islami organization in Afghanistan on the back of cash donations from the USA.

Blowback hardly describes this phenomenon. This is déjà vu, double-roundabout stuff – boomerang blowback. And nothing, it appears, is being done by the US or its allies to halt Hekmatyar’s progress.

The fundamentalist wing of the ISI operates within only nominal control of Pakistan’s current government, the embattled military dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf. The ISI’s rogue officers persist in giving Hekmatyar safe haven: according to sources in Islamabad and Kabul, the fugitive warlord regularly stays in agency “guesthouses.”

The ISI is betting that Hekmatyar’s Hizbe Islami (like another belligerent backed by the agency, the Taliban) can be a helpful, perhaps decisive tool in undermining Afghanistan’s weak, corruption-ridden Karzai regime. Since the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, conservative Pakistani politicians, clerics and tribal powerbrokers have sought to prevent the establishment of a stable, successful and nationalist Afghan government – another regional competitor.

Several of Hekmatyar’s associates already hold posts in Karazi’s cabinet, including Attorney General Sabet and Information Minister Khorram. Both men have worked closely with the ISI in past; neither has publicly ruled out siding with the mercurial Hizbe Islami leader again.

From his Pakistani safe havens, Hekmatyar has directed his militia’s revival on both sides of the border. The group recently opened offices in Kabul, Jalalabad and Herat, and has relaunched its stridently anti-Western newspaper, Shahadat.

Hekmatyar has become so emboldened that he loudly denounced the Pakistan Army’s operation, last week, to clear Islamist militants from Islamabad’s Red Mosque. In other words, he’s only too pleased to aim a few shots of blowback at President Musharraf, too.

“Musharraf martyred the students to please Bush,” Hekmatyar claimed in a statement released by his spokesman. “This is an imposed crusade war by Bush and his allies, but gone are the days they have dreamt of. Muslims now will unitedly stand for their rights.”

Hekmatyar. The Red Mosque siege. The Taliban revival and al Qaeda’s restoration of its pre-9/11 capabilities. All courtesy the lawlessness of Pakistan – and the contemptible incompetence of the Bush administration’s “war” on terrorism.

Little wonder the President’s Homeland Security chief has a “gut feeling” that further terrorist attacks are imminent. They most certainly are – if beneficiaries of diverted US aid like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have their way.

Appeasement Policy Blind to Warlord’s Chronic Violence

Appeasement Policy Blind to Warlord’s Chronic Violence

By Arthur Kent, Skyreporter.com
March 31, 2010 — The Karzai regime’s talks with Pakistani-backed warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar will quicken the pace of rearmament in Afghanistan, due to the civilian population’s expectations of widespread civil war.

According to Abdullah Abdullah, who ran strongly against Karzai in last year’s discredited presidential election, rearmament is already happening in most regions of the country.

“Among the people of Afghanistan as a whole, Hekmatyar’s face is one of misery and suffering and bad news,” Abdullah tells Skyreporter.

“The Afghans know that historically, since the days of Daoud (Afghanistan’s pre-Communist leader in the 1970’s) Hekmatyar was the leader who created the worst circumstances of violence we have suffered. He created the atmosphere that others have exploited ever since.”

Abdullah continues: “Hekmatyar’s men in some parts of the north have mobilized themselves once again. The people who live in those places will not wait for someone from Kabul to decide what to do. They know they’ll have to defend themselves, and they will do so.”

Equally discouraging for Afghans, according to Abdullah, is the attitude of appeasement shown by the United States and it’s NATO allies.

Despite Hekmatyar’s status as a known ally of al Qaeda and one of Washington’s “specially designated terrorists”, complete with a price on his head, the Obama administration seems resigned to the black prince of the Afghan wars regaining a share of power in Kabul, along with his more powerful Taliban counterparts.

“I will be in contact with the Americans about this situation,” says a concerned Dr. Abdullah, “because on the surface, at least, they’re not doing anything to stop it.”

Abdullah leads the Coalition For Hope and Change, including some 50 members of the Afghan parliament. His MPs were among those who today voted down President Karzai’s outrageous decree to stack Afghanistan’s electoral watchdog in his own favor.

Abdullah says his parliamentary block will try to stem advances into Karzai’s ruling circle by Hekmatyar and members of his Hizbe Islami party.

“Mr. Karzai has already made a lot of space in the system for Hizbe Islami,” he says. The regime includes several former Hizbe figures and senior aides to Hekmatyar, notably Farook Wardak, Hamid Karzai’s key political fixer and education minister.

“This sends the wrong message to the people as a whole,” Abdullah says. “It sends a message that the best way to achieve your goals is to resort to violence.

“After all Hekmatyar has done he is trying to present himself as a political leader. That’s another sign of how the political process has degraded under the current government of Afghanistan. This is something the Afghan people will never accept.”

As well as Hekmatyar’s chronic use of mass destruction to achieve his goals, he’s also viewed as indistinguishable from the shadowy, interventionist leaders of Pakistan’s military establishment.

“It is impossible to look at Hekmatyar and not see the Pakistanis,” Abdullah says. “He wouldn’t have taken these steps without Pakistan’s approval.”

Indeed Pakistan is the crucible upon which Hekmatyar’s on-again, off-again links with the United States were forged, mainly through the C.I.A.

During the 1980’s resistance to Soviet occupation forces, the arch-fundamentalist was given more U.S. tax dollars and weapons than any other Afghan resistance leader. He was one of Charlie Wilson’s darlings (though his name was whitewashed from the disappointing motion picture version of George Crile’s book, Charlie Wilson’s War, produced by Tom Hanks).

The Reagan-era U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Oakley, kept a picture of Hekmatyar on his wall. “There’s our guy,” the ambassador would boast to visitors.

The facts on the ground told a different story. Gulbuddin’s efforts against the Soviets paled in comparison to those of true frontline commanders like Ahmed Shah Massoud. In Pakistan, Hekmatyar’s gunmen terrorized the Afghan refugee community, murdering dozens of moderates and critics of his pseudo-Islamic zealotry.

Gulbuddin gladly took the C.I.A.’s money and guns even while stoking anti-Western sentiments and conniving for absolute power after the collapse of the Afghan Communist regime in 1992.

His subsequent migrations in and out of allegiance with the Taliban were as predictable as is his enthusiasm for the perpetrators of 9/11.

That he has risen again with the help of Pakistan, still a recipient of U.S. tax dollars, even while he calls for Holy War against American troops and citizens, bears out the description we coined in these web pages three years ago (see “Boomerang Blowback As Warlord Dupes U.S. Again,” posted July 16th, 2007 on Page 25 of Recent Stories).

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is the personification of blowback, but blowback of an incessant, repeating, déjà vu variety, unique even in Afghanistan.

It is boomerang blowback, retracing its wicked arc over Kabul and threatening to reach far beyond Afghan skies.

This time around, it is a much larger, far-reaching terrorist infrastructure that Hekmatyar has helped construct. As a result, it won’t only be Afghan civilians who are condemned to repeat the unlearned histories of 9/11.

Coming soon to Skyreporter: how Hekmatyar’s role in the murders of three journalists make him a marked man for war crimes prosecution.

Our terrorists

Our terrorists

Voltaire Network

by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed*

The myth that Islamic fundamentalist militants are the enemies of Israel and Western governments no longer needs debunking. In his latest work, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed provides a concise summary of the deep politics of the ’War on Terror’ spanning several decades and continents. Articulated around an intricate network of chilling complicity between Western intelligence agencies and Islamist extremism, the shadowy ’War on Terror’ is designed to disrupt and destabilize regions of geostrategic value for penetration and control by Western powers.

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US and Pakistani intelligence bigwigs get chummy at a mujahidin training camp in 1987. Note then-Director of the ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence) Major Gen. Hamid Gul (front left) and then-Director of the CIA William Webster (second left). Photo: www.rawa.org

Once upon a time, the CIA trained, financed and supported Osama bin Laden and his mujahidin networks in Afghanistan to repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After the end of the Cold War, bin Laden turned against the West and we no longer had any use for him. His persistent terrorist attacks against us for more than a decade, culminating in 9/11, provoked our own response, in the form of the ‘War on Terror’. This is the official narrative. And it’s false. Not only did Western intelligence services continue to foster Islamist extremist and terrorist groups connected to al-Qaeda after the Cold War; they continued to do so even after 9/11.

The CIA’s jihad

The story begins in the summer of 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion, when the CIA had already begun financing elements of an emerging Islamist mujahidin force inside Afghanistan. The idea, according to former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA Director Robert Gates, was to increase the probability of a Soviet invasion, and entrap ‘the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire’. [1]

Osama bin Laden arrived in the country later that year, sent by then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal, where he set up the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) which helped finance, recruit and train mujahidin fighters. [2] Bin Laden, the MAK, and the Afghan mujahidin in total received about half a billion dollars a year from the CIA, and roughly the same from the Saudis, funnelled through Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). [3]

By around 1988, as Jane’s Defence Weekly reports, ‘with US knowledge, Bin Laden created al-Qaeda (The Base): a conglomerate of quasi-independent Islamic terrorist cells spread across at least 26 countries’. [4] US and Western intelligence agencies facilitated this process, seeing rightwing Islamist movements as a counterweight to Communist, leftwing and nationalist political trends. They supported the Saudis and other Gulf states, as well as Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan among others, in proliferating Islamist extremist institutions in far-flung countries such as Algeria, Yemen, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Funding for these activities was intertwined with the establishment of organized criminal financial centres in Malaysia, Madagascar, South Africa, Nigeria, Latin America, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Turkestan, and elsewhere. [5]

Islamism and the CIA’s destabilization doctrine

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in particular in 1991 when the Saudis accepted the stationing of 300,000 US troops in the country due to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Osama bin Laden reportedly turned against his former masters in Riyadh and Washington. Since then, bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network became our enemy, targeting Western citizens and interests throughout the 1990s, culminating in the most devastating strike of all in the form of the 9/11 atrocities in the US.

Unfortunately, this is where the official story begins to break down. Because after 1991, Islamists affiliated to bin Laden and al-Qaeda continued to receive selective support from Western intelligence services. The policy was alluded to by Graham Fuller, former Deputy Director of the CIA’s National Council on Intelligence, when he stated: ‘The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvellously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.’ [6]

Afghanistan, Big Oil and the Taliban

Throughout the 1990s, the selective US intelligence sponsorship of Islamist extremist networks was linked not simply to destabilizing potential Russian and Chinese influence, but further to securing US-led Western control over strategic energy reserves. When bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan in June 1996, the State Department warned that the move ‘could prove more dangerous to US interests’, granting him ‘the capability to support individuals and groups who have the motive and wherewithal to attack US interests almost worldwide’. [7] He had been offered protection by Pakistan in May on condition that he align his mujahidin forces with the Taliban. The new al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance was reportedly blessed by the Saudis. [8]

Yet as the respected Pakistani correspondent Ahmed Rashid reported, US intelligence supported the Taliban as a vehicle of regional influence at least between 1994 and 1998. This policy continued up to the year 2000, despite growing cautions. Thus, when the Taliban conquered Kabul in 1996, a State Department spokesperson explained that the US found ‘nothing objectionable’ in the event. One year later, a US diplomat commented: ‘The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis… There will be Aramco (consortium of oil companies controlling Saudi oil), pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.’ [9]

Continued US sponsorship of the al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus in Afghanistan was confirmed as late as 2000 in Congressional hearings. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on South Asia, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher – former White House Special Assistant to President Reagan and now Senior Member of the House International Relations Committee – declared that ‘this administration has a covert policy that has empowered the Taliban and enabled this brutal movement to hold on to power’. The assumption is that ‘the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan and permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan’. [10] US companies involved in the project included UNOCAL and ENRON. As early as May 1996, UNOCAL had officially announced plans to build a pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through western Afghanistan.

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This planned pipeline would carry $3-5 trillion in oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea basin via Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where ships docked in Arabian Sea ports.

US officials held several meetings with the Taliban from 2000 to summer 2001, in an effort to get the Taliban to agree to a joint federal government with their local enemies, the Northern Alliance, promising financial aid and international legitimacy if the deal was struck. By then, US policymakers had belatedly concluded that the Taliban would never bring the stability needed for the pipeline project. According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Niaz Naik, who was present at the meetings, US officials threatened the Taliban with military action if they failed to comply with the federalization plan. Even the date of threatened military action, October 2001, was proposed. Needless to say, the Taliban rejected the plan. [11] So months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a war on Afghanistan was already on the table. Jean-Charles Brisard, a former French intelligence officer, thus speculates that 9/11 may have been a pre-emptive attack by al-Qaeda to head off the declared US military invasion of Afghanistan. [12]

There is still keen interest in the pipeline. ‘Since the US-led offensive that ousted the Taliban from power,’ reported Forbesin 2005, ‘the project has been revived and drawn strong US support’ as it would allow the Central Asian republics to export energy to Western markets ‘without relying on Russian routes’. Then-US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Ann Jacobsen noted that: ‘We are seriously looking at the project, and it is quite possible that American companies will join it.’ [13] The problem remains that the southern section of the proposed pipeline runs through territory still de facto controlled by Taliban forces.

Mega Oil and mujahidin from the Balkans to the Caucasus

Unfortunately, we now know that US flirtations with the al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus in Afghanistan throughout the 1990s were only one moment in a much wider covert US geostrategy to secure control over strategic energy resources across the Eurasian continent, by co-opting Islamist networks affiliated with bin Laden.

In 1991, the first Bush Administration wanted an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan, across the Caucasus, to Turkey. That year, three US Air Force officers, Richard Secord (a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs), Heinie Aderholt and Ed Dearborn, landed in Baku, and set up a front company, ‘MEGA Oil’. They were veterans of previous CIA covert operations in Laos and later with Lt. Col. Oliver North’s Contra scandal. In Azerbaijan, they setup an airline to secretly fly hundreds of al-Qaeda mujahidin from Afghanistan into Azerbaijan. By 1993, MEGA Oil had recruited and armed 2,000 mujahidin, converting Baku into a base for regional jihadi operations. [14]

The covert operation contributed to the military coup that toppled elected president Abulfaz Elchibey that year, and installed US puppet Heidar Aliyev. A secret Turkish intelligence report leaked to the Sunday Times confirmed that ‘two petrol giants, BP and Amoco, British and American respectively, which together form the AIOC (Azerbaijan International Oil Consortium), are behind the coup d’état. [15]

From 1992 to 1995, the Pentagon flew thousands of al-Qaeda mujahidin from Central Asia into Europe, to fight alongside Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. The mujahidin were ‘accompanied by US Special Forces equipped with high-tech communications equipment,’ according to intelligence sources. Bin Laden’s mercenaries were used as shock troops by the Pentagon ‘to coordinate and support Bosnian Muslim offensives’. [16] The pattern continued in Kosovo, where ethnic violence broke out between Albanians and Serbs. In 1998, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization financed by bin Laden and the heroin trade. Bin Laden had sent a senior lieutenant, Muhammed al-Zawahiri (brother of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri), to lead an élite KLA unit during the Kosovo conflict. He had direct radio contact with NATO leadership. Indeed, British SAS and American Delta Force instructors were training KLA fighters as early as 1996. The CIA supplied military assistance up to and during the 1999 bombing campaign, including military training manuals and field advice, under the cover of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) ceasefire monitors. [17]

After the Kosovo War, when the KLA switched operations to Macedonia under the banner of the National Liberation Army (NLA), its links with al-Qaeda were as strong as ever according to US, Macedonian, Albanian and Yugoslav intelligence sources. Yet by 2001, Canadian military correspondent Scott Taylor reported after a visit to Tetovo that ‘there is no denying the massive amount of material and expertise supplied by NATO to the guerrillas’. [18]

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Proposed trans-Balkan line , from Burgas to the port of Durres in Albania.

So why the Balkans? Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, then-commander of NATO troops in the region, summed it up in 1999: ‘We will certainly stay here for a long time in order to guarantee the safety of the energy corridors which cross Macedonia.’ The General was talking about the Trans-Balkan pipeline passing through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, planned to be a primary route to the West for Central Asian oil and gas. [19]

Around the same time, US intelligence stepped up sponsorship of al-Qaeda mujahidin in Chechnya. Chechnya is traditionally a predominantly Sufi society, yet the increasing encroachment of US-sponsored mujahidin operatives linked to Osama bin Laden transformed the character of the Chechen resistance movement, empowering al-Qaeda’s hardline Islamist ideology. US intelligence ties had been established in the early 1990s in Baku under Dick Secord’s operation, where mujahidin activities had quickly extended into Dagestan and Chechnya, turning Baku into a shipping point for Afghan heroin to the Chechen mafia. [20]

From the mid-1990s, bin Laden funded Chechen guerrilla leaders Shamil Basayev and Omar ibn al-Khattab to the tune of several millions of dollars per month, sidelining the moderate Chechen majority. [21] US intelligence remained deeply involved until the end of the decade. According to Yossef Bodanksy, then-Director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Washington was actively involved in ‘yet another anti-Russian jihad, ‘seeking to support and empower the most virulent anti-Western Islamist forces’. US Government officials participated in ‘a formal meeting in Azerbaijan’ in December 1999 ‘in which specific programmes for the training and equipping of mujahidin from the Caucasus, Central/South Asia and the Arab world were discussed and agreed upon’, culminating in ‘Washington’s tacit encouragement of both Muslim allies (mainly Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) and US “private security companies”… to assist the Chechens and their Islamist allies to surge in the spring of 2000 and sustain the ensuing jihad for a long time.’ The US saw the sponsorship of ‘Islamist jihad in the Caucasus’ as a way to ‘deprive Russia of a viable pipeline route through spiralling violence and terrorism’. [22]

Algeria – state terrorism in disguise

Parallel covert operations were deployed in the same period in Algeria, where the army cancelled national democratic elections in 1992 that would have brought the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) to power in a landslide victory. Tens of thousands of FIS voters were rounded up into detention camps in the Sahara, while the FIS and other Islamist political parties were banned. Not long after the coup, hundreds of civilians were being mysteriously massacred by an unknown terrorist group, identified by the Algerian junta as a radical offshoot of the FIS calling itself the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). The GIA was formed largely of Algerian veterans of bin Laden’s mujahidin forces in Afghanistan who had returned in the late 1980s. [23] To date, the total death toll from the massacres by the GIA is an estimated 150,000 civilians. [24]

Yet in the late 1990s, evidence began to emerge from dissident Algerian Government and intelligence sources that the GIA atrocities were in fact perpetrated by the state. ‘Yussuf-Joseph’, a career secret agent in Algeria’s sécurité militaire for 14 years, defected to Britain in 1997 and told theGuardian that civilian massacres in Algeria, blamed on the GIA, were ‘the work of secret police and army death squads… not Islamic extremists’. GIA terrorism was ‘orchestrated’ by ‘Mohammed Mediane, head of the Algerian secret service’, and ‘General Smain Lamari’, head of ‘the counter intelligence agency’. According to Joseph: ‘The GIA is a pure product of Smain’s secret service. I used to read all the secret telexes. I know that the GIA has been infiltrated and manipulated by the Government. The GIA has been completely turned by the Government… In 1992 Smain created a special group, L’Escadron de la Mort (the Squadron of Death)… The death squads organize the massacres… The FIS aren’t doing the massacres.’

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In 1995, three terror bombings in the French public transportation system, allegedly carried out by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), killed a total of eight and injured more than 100 people.

Joseph also confirmed that Algerian intelligence agents organized ‘at least’ two of the bombs in Paris in summer 1995. ‘The operation was run by Colonel Souames Mahmoud, alias Habib, head of the secret service at the Algerian embassy in Paris.’ Joseph’s testimony has been corroborated by numerous defectors from the Algerian secret services. [25]

Western intelligence agencies are implicated. Secret British Foreign Office documents revealed in a terrorist trial in 2000 showed that ‘British intelligence believed the Algerian Government was involved in atrocities, contradicting the view the Government was claiming in public’. The documents referred to the ‘manipulation of the GIA being used as a cover to carry out their own operations’, and that ‘there was no evidence to link 1995 Paris bombings to Algerian militants’. [26]

Algeria has the fifth largest reserves of natural gas in the world, and is the second largest gas exporter, with 130 trillion proven natural gas reserves. It ranks fourteenth for oil reserves, with official estimates at 9.2 billion barrels. Approximately 90 per cent of Algeria’s crude oil exports go to Western Europe, including Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. Algeria’s major trading partners are Italy, France, the United States, Germany, and Spain.

Currently, the militant Algerian splinter group, the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb – formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) – plays a predominant role in regional terrorist violence. Yet in a series of extensive analyses for the Review of African Political Economy, social anthropologist Dr Jeremy Keenan – Director of Sahara Studies at the University of East Anglia – documents ‘an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that the alleged spread of terrorist activities across much of the Sahelian Sahara, has indeed been an elaborate deception on the part of US and Algerian military intelligence services’. He discusses evidence that an al-Qaeda hostage-taking of European tourists in early 2003 ‘was initiated and orchestrated by elements within the Algerian military establishment’, an operation ‘condoned by the US’, and that al-Qaeda leader Ammar Saifi (also known as Abderazzak El Para, or ‘the Maghreb’s bin Laden’) ‘was “turned” by the Algerian security forces in January 2003’. [27]

Energy hegemony is a key priority. Reported al-Qaeda activity in North Africa has focused on oil-rich nations, particularly the Niger Delta, Nigeria, and Chad. Thus, in July 2003, Keenan reports, under US auspices Algeria, Chad, Niger and Nigeria ‘signed a co-operation agreement on counter-terrorism that effectively joined the two oil-rich sides of the Sahara together in a complex of security arrangements whose architecture is American’. This has now evolved into the $500 million Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative, in which Algeria plays a pivotal role in US plans for future regional military deployment. The region-wide security arrangement coincides with the inauguration of a $6 billion World Bank project, the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. [28]

Islamist extremism and the Israeli connection

Curiously, Israel has played a key role in some of these policies, starting with the involvement of Congressman Charlie Wilson, who used his position in the House Select Committee on Intelligence, gained with the support of then Senator Dick Cheney, to ramp up billions of dollars’ worth of support for both Israel and the Afghan mujahidin. [29] Gust Avracotos, the CIA’s Station Chief in Islamabad, commented that Wilson brought ‘the Israelis into the CIA’s Muslim jihad’, opening opportunities for Mossad penetration of the ISI and al-Qaeda and securing Israeli arms contracts and intelligence ties with Pakistan. [30]

Closer to home, Israel played a very similar game in its ambiguous relationship to Hamas. US Government and intelligence sources confirm that Israel provided direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas in the late 1970s as a counterbalance to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). [31] According to the Israeli military affairs experts Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, at the time of the first Intifadah, Fatah ‘suspected the Israelis of a plot first to let Hamas gather strength and then to unleash it against the PLO, turning the uprising into a civil war… many Israeli staff officers believed that the rise of fundamentalism in Gaza could be exploited to weaken the power of the PLO’. [32]

Israeli support for Hamas reportedly continued even after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, during the period of some of the worst suicide bombings. [33] Even the late Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yassir Arafat said in 2001 that Hamas ‘continued to benefit from permits and authorizations, while we have been limited, even [for permits] to build a tomato factory… Some collaborationists of Israel are involved in these [terrorist] attacks’. [34]]

Indeed, there are indications that the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Abu Hanoud in November 2001 was a ploy to provoke more terror bombings. Three months earlier, the Israeli Insider reported Ariel Sharon’s plan for an all-out attack on the PA to permanently destroy its infrastructure, noting that the plan would only ‘be launched immediately following the next high-casualty suicide bombing’ – which was later provoked by Israel’s extrajudicial killing of Hanoud. As Israeli military security analyst Alex Fishman noted: ‘Whoever gave a green light to this act of liquidation knew full well that he was thereby shattering in one blow the gentleman’s agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Under that agreement, Hamas was to avoid in the near future suicide bombings inside the Green Line (pre-1967 border), having come to the understanding that it would be better not to play into Israel’s hands by mass attacks on its population centres. This understanding was, however, shattered by the assassination the day before yesterday – and whoever decided upon the liquidation of Abu knew in advance that that would be the price. The subject had been extensively discussed both by the military and the political echelon, before it was decided to carry out the liquidation.’ [35]

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PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat; 1929 – 2004.

Elements of the Israeli far-right, including senior cabinet officials, recognized that the plan to destroy the PA would facilitate the rise of Hamas. In an Israeli Cabinet meeting in December 2001, for instance, one minister declared: ‘Between Hamas and Arafat, I prefer Hamas.’ He added that Arafat is a ‘terrorist in a diplomat’s suit, while Hamas can be hit unmercifully… there won’t be any international protests’. [36]

Ties with terror

Islamist terrorism cannot be understood without acknowledging the extent to which its networks are being used by Western military intelligence services, both to control strategic energy resources and to counter their geopolitical rivals. Even now, nearly a decade after 9/11, covert sponsorship of al-Qaeda networks continues. In recent dispatches for the New Yorker, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cites US Government and intelligence officials’ confirmation that the CIA and the Pentagon have funnelled millions of dollars via Saudi Arabia to al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni extremist groups, across the Middle East and Central Asia. The policy, which Hersh says began in 2003, has spilled over into regions like Iraq and Lebanon, fuelling Sunni-Shi’a sectarian conflict. [37] The programme is part of a drive to counter Iranian Shi’a influence in the region. In early 2008, a US Presidential Finding to Congress corroborated Hersh’s reporting, affirming CIA funding worth $400 million to diverse anti-Shi’a extremist and terrorist groups. This was not contested by any Democratic members of the House. [38] Now, President Obama has retained Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, as his own. Yet Gates was the architect of the covert strategy against Iran. To date, Obama has given no indication that this strategy will change. The history outlined here throws into doubt our entire understanding of the ‘war on terror’. How can we fight a war against an enemy that our own governments are covertly financing for short-sighted geopolitical interests?

If the ‘war on terror’ is to end, it won’t be won by fighting the next futile oil war. It will be won at home by holding the secretive structures of government to account and prosecuting officials for aiding and abetting terrorism – whether knowingly or by criminal negligence. Ultimately only this will rein in the ‘security’ agencies that foster the ‘enemy’ we are supposed to be fighting.

 Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
One of the world’s foremost authorities in terrorism and conflict analysisis. He is Executive Director of theInstitute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) in London, and an Associate Tutor in the School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex, Brighton. He is the bestselling author of The War on Freedom: How & Why America was Attacked: September 11, 2001, 2002, one of the first books to critique the official narrative of 9/11 which won him the Naples Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award, in 2003.
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[1Le Nouvel Observateur (15-21 January 1998) p. 76; Robert Gates, From the Shadows – The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997) pp. 143-149

[2] Craig Unger, House of Bush, House of Saud – The Secret Relationship between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties(London: Scribner, 2004) p. 100.

[3] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (Yale: Yale University Press, 2000) p. 91

[4] Rahul Bedi, ‘Why? An attempt to explain the unexplainable,’Jane’s Defence Weekly (14 September 2001)

[5] Richard Labevière, Dollars For Terror: The United States and Islam (New York: Algora, 2000)

[6] Cited in ibid.

[7] Judicial Watch Press Release, ‘Clinton State Department Documents Outlined bin Laden Threat to the United States in Summer 1996’ (17 August 2005)

[8] Gerald Posner, Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11(New York: Ballantine, 2003) pp. 105-6.

[9] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000) pp. 166, 179; op.cit.

[10] Dana Rohrabacher, ‘US Policy Toward Afghanistan,’ Statement before Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on South Asia (Washington DC: US Senate, 14 April 1999). Also see Rohrabacher, Statement before Hearing of the House International Relations Committee on ‘Global Terrorism And South Asia,’ (Washington DC: US House of Representatives, 12 July 2000).

[11] George Arney, ‘US ‘planned attack on Taleban’BBC News (18 September 2001)

[12] Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, Forbidden Truth: US-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden(New York: Nation, 2002); George Arney, ‘US ‘planned attack on Taleban’,’ BBC News (18 September 2001); op.cit.

[13] ‘US Companies Eye Trans-Afghan Pipeline’, Forbes (19 January 2005)

[14] Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 911 – Wealth Empire and the Future of America (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007) pp. 163-165.

[15] ‘BP Linked to the Overthrow of Azerbaijan Government,’ Drillbits and Trailings (17 April 2000, vol. 5, no. 6)

[16] Cees Wiebes (2003) Intelligence and the War in Bosnia 1992-1995: The role of the intelligence and security services (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, Rutgers State University, 2003); ‘US Commits Forces, Weapons to Bosnia,’ Defense and Foreign Affairs: Strategic Policy (31 October 1994)

[17] Sources in Nafeez Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism (New York: Interlink, 2005)

[18] Scott Taylor, ‘Macedonia’s Civil War: ‘Made in the USA’’(Randolph Bourne Institute, 20 August 2001)

[19] Michel Collon, Monopoly – L’Otan à la Conquête du monde(Brussels: EPO, 2000) p. 96.

[20] Scott, op. cit., pp. 163-165.

[21Mark Erikson, ‘Bin Laden’s terror wave 2’Asia Times (29 October 2002)

[22] Yossef Bodanksy, ‘The Great Game for Oil’, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy(June/July 2000)

[23] Colin Robinson, ‘Armed Islamic Group a.k.a. Groupement Islamique Armé’ (Washington DC: Center for Defense Information, 5 February 2003)

[24The Guardian (8 April 2004)

[25] Ahmed, 2005, pp. 65-77; Ahmed, 2001

[26] Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Terrorist case collapses after three years’, The Guardian (21 March 2000)

[27] Jeremy Keenan, ‘Terror in the Sahara: the Implications of US Imperialism for North & West Africa,’ Review of African Political Economy (September 2004, 31 (101): 475–486); ‘Political Destablisation and ‘Blowback’ in the Sahel’, Review of African Political Economy (December 2004, 31(102): 691–703).

[28] Keenan (2005) ‘Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline: World Bank and ExxonMobil in Last Chance Saloon,’ Review of African Political Economy (2005, Vol. 32, No. 104/5) pp. 395-405; Keenan, (2006) ‘The making of terrorists: Anthropology and the alternative truth of America’s ‘War on Terror’ in the Sahara’, Focaal – European Journal of Anthropology (2006, No. 48) pp. 144-51.

[29] George Crile, Charlie Wilson’s War (London: Atlantic Books, 2003).

[30Ibid. p. 391.

[31] Richard Sale, ‘Analysis: Hamas History Tied to Israel,’ United Press International (18 June 2002)

[32] Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, The Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising – Israel’s Third Front (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)

[33] George Szamuely, ‘Israel’s Hamas’, New York Press (April 2002, Vol. 15, No. 17)

[34L’Espresso (19 December 2001) [Rome

[35] Yediot Ahranot (25 November 2001)

[36Ha’aretz (4 December 2001)

[37] Seymour M. Hersh, ‘The Redirection’New Yorker (5 March 2007)

[38] Alexander Cockburn, ‘Exclusive: Secret Bush ‘Finding’ Widens Covert War on Iran’, Counterpunch (2 May 2008)

U.S.-Afghan tensions threaten to undermine war against Taliban

U.S.-Afghan tensions threaten to undermine war against Taliban

BY DION NISSENBAUM, WARREN P. STROBEL AND NANCY A. YOUSSEF

MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

KABUL – As Afghan President Hamid Karzai was poised to begin his second term after a fraud-scarred re-election campaign last fall, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led an American delegation to Kabul where she hailed Karzai for opening “a window of opportunity” for a new cooperative era at a critical time.

That window appears to be closing quickly.

Relations between Karzai and the Obama administration soured dramatically this week, and the tensions threaten to interfere with the U.S.-led effort to take key Afghan cities back from the Taliban, hand them over to the Afghan government and begin withdrawing American troops by July 2011.

Karzai “decided to break with us in a major way. All this is not easily patched (up),” said one official, who insisted on anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the record.

Some American officials worry that tensions are reaching a new milestone just as U.S. is becoming more deeply engaged in Afghanistan, both diplomatically and militarily. There currently are 87,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and that number will increase to more than 100,000 by July when the surge of additional forces is complete.

Tensions also are growing despite a parade of U.S. officials who’ve visited Kabul this year, including Clinton; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones, the national security adviser; as well as President Barack Obama.

Indeed, on the same day that Gates visited Kabul, Karzai hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

After a cool meeting with Obama last weekend in Kabul, Karzai delivered a broadside on Thursday that questioned America’s motives in Afghanistan. Karzai went so far as to suggest that the U.S. risks being viewed as an invader that wants a “puppet government” in Kabul.

The White House fired back on Friday.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has asked Karzai to explain his critique. “Obviously, some of the comments of President Karzai are troubling,” Gibbs said. “They’re cause for real and genuine concern.”

Karzai’s suggestion that U.S. troops could come to be seen as “invaders” could taint public opinion in Afghanistan and surrounding countries, the official said, noting that it’s a label that until now had been used primarily by the Taliban and other insurgents.

In an effort to smooth over the dispute, Karzai called Clinton on Friday “to clarify his statements,” the State Department said. “President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” said Clinton spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Does Karzai enjoy the support of the administration? “Depends on who you ask,” a senior defense official told McClatchy Newspapers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Relations between the Obama administration and Karzai have always been strained. Even before he was elected president, Obama made little effort to conceal his view that Karzai was a disappointing leader.

Confidence in Karzai plummeted last summer when he oversaw a widely discredited, fraud-tainted presidential vote. International pressure eventually forced a resentful Karzai to accept a runoff.

On Friday, Karzai’s challenger in that race, Abdullah Abdullah, suggested that the Afghan president had become unhinged in his recent speech.

“It was extraordinary,” said Abdullah, who dropped out of the runoff after failing to persuade Karzai to overhaul the electoral process for the second round of voting.

Karzai, who apparently sees himself as the besieged father of the Afghan state, had come to expect warmer treatment during the Bush administration, when he had regular access to the White House and was routinely praised by senior U.S. officials.

“He’s been going sideways … for a while,” the U.S. official said, “trying to distance himself from the United States.”

Despite serious misgivings among some of his closest advisers on Afghanistan, Obama cautiously embraced Karzai after his new term began in November and decided to send 30,000 more American troops to help the Afghan president beat back surging Taliban resistance.

The Obama administration made it clear that Karzai had to complement the U.S. military commitment with a quick crackdown on corruption and an effort to regain the confidence of suspicious Afghans.

Western officials in Kabul have consistently voiced frustrations that Karzai hasn’t been moving fast enough since he was sworn in.

While a U.S.-led military coalition quickly routed Taliban fighters in Marjah, a district in southern Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province, the Afghan government has been slow to fill the political void. Privately, Pentagon officials complain that there still isn’t enough local governance after U.S. Marines, partnered with Afghan forces, secured Marjah.

Now the U.S. is counting on Karzai to take decisive political steps as coalition forces prepare for a campaign to push out Taliban leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the heart of the radical Islamist movement.

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has stressed that Karzai has approved plans for Afghan troops to build a ring around Kandahar and root the Taliban out from there.

In Kabul, there are growing concerns that Karzai’s unfolding showdown with Afghan lawmakers could jeopardize parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall.

While lawmakers were on recess in February, Karzai issued a decree that gave him the power to appoint all five members of the independent election body that investigated fraud in last year’s presidential election.

Though Karzai eventually acceded to international pressure and gave the United Nations the right to name two members, Afghan lawmakers balked.

On Wednesday, Afghanistan’s lower house voted to strip Karzai of that power. While the move must be backed by the upper house, Karzai already has blasted lawmakers for challenging his power.

Karzai’s frustrations may have been compounded by reports that American officials were quietly prodding Afghan lawmakers to act.

“I think there was some strong lobbying from the U.S. Embassy that upset him,” said one Western official in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the volatile political climate.

On Friday, opposition leader Abdullah was joined by a handful of the Afghan lawmakers who challenged Karzai.

“If the window isn’t already closed, it’s closing,” said engineer Mohammed Asam, an Afghan lawmaker who voted to strip Karzai of his new electoral powers. “I am afraid we are losing our opportunity.”

(Nissenbaum reported from Kabul; Strobel and Youssef reported from Washington. McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Margaret Talev contributed to this report from Washington.)

Teenage widow blamed for Moscow blast

Teenage widow blamed for Moscow blast

April 3, 2010
17-year-old girlPistol pose … the 17-year-old widow with her husband. Photo: AFP

MOSCOW: Russia has identified a 17-year-old widow of a Caucasus militant as one of the Moscow suicide bombers, reports said yesterday, as the country remained on high alert after the attacks.

Citing sources close to the investigation, the Kommersant daily named one of the two female suicide bombers who blew themselves up on the Moscow metro on Monday as Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, 17, from Dagestan in the North Caucasus. The newspaper published a photograph of the baby-faced teenager in an Islamic headscarf with her late husband, Umalat Magomedov. Both were posing casually with pistols.

The Interfax news agency also reported that the teenager had been identified as a bomber.

The reports came as Russia remained tense after the Moscow bombings, the deadliest militant bombing in the capital for six years, and another double suicide strike on Wednesday that killed 12 in a town in Dagestan close to Chechnya.

On Thursday, during a surprise visit to Dagestan, President Dmitry Medvedev urged tough anti-terrorist measures.

Kommersant said Abdurakhmanova’s husband was a Dagestani Islamist rebel who had been killed in a ”special operation” last year.

Russian investigators believe she was responsible for the first of the double suicide blasts on the metro on Monday which together killed 39 people, Kommersant reported. Yesterday 85 victims remained in hospital.

Investigators have not officially identified the second bomber, but one report said she was a Chechen woman named as Markha Ustarkhova, the widow of another Caucasus militant,Kommersant reported.

Agence France-Presse