(The proposed deployment of 200 Special Operations forces to the
former Soviet Republic of Georgia is about more than pursuing al-Qaeda
terrorists around the globe—it’s also, writes Pacific News Service
contributor Peter Dale Scott, about oil.)
Deployment of U.S. Special Operations forces to the Caucasus state of
Georgia would help enforce a Washington pipeline policy aimed at
neutralizing Russian influence in oil-rich Central Asia.
This is the unreported side of the U.S. proposal, which is also about
pursuing al-Qaeda fighters around the globe. Al-Qaeda veterans have
reportedly linked up with Chechen rebels on the Georgia-Chechen border.
Though Georgia and Chechnya themselves contain limited oil and gas
reserves, their territory is essential to both existing and proposed
pipelines to carry oil and gas out of the Caspian basin west to Turkey
The existing Russian pipeline, from Baku to Novorossiysk on the Black
Sea, passes through Chechnya. U.S. oil companies, which have had
difficulty dealing with the Russians, have proposed two alternative
pipeline routes that pass through Georgia and Armenia. These pipelines
would allow U.S. companies, and not Russian ones, to control oil and
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 into the
Commonwealth of Independent States (which Georgia refused to join),
there followed a decade of Russian meddling in the domestic concerns of
all of the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus. In the case of
Georgia, Russian troops were stationed there as "peacekeepers." Their
excuse was to deal with rebel forces.
In both of the Chechnya wars, the Russians faced an opposition whose
troops and leaders had been trained in Afghanistan. Most of these troops
were trained at camps controlled by the Afghan leader Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar, whose camps were financed for years by the United States and
Saudi Arabia. Hekmatyar fell out of favor with his backers in the 1990s,
but the camps survived and became those of al-Qaeda.
As government backing disappeared, the camps became financed partly
by drug networks through Chechnya and Georgia, networks that some have
linked first to Hekmatyar and later to Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaeda
refuge in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge is a local center for these drug
networks, which have allegedly corrupted local law enforcement
The Russian campaign served to maintain Russian control of all
pipelines bringing oil and gas out of the Caspian basin. It seems clear
that in the current decade the Bush administration is willing to send
troops from Georgia to Uzbek-istan and Kyrgyzstan to neutralize Russian
influence. The United States has already stationed 1,000 troops in
Uzbekistan and 300 close to the Chinese border in Kyrgyzstan, with more
scheduled to arrive.
This apparent military strategy complements the explicit U.S. energy
strategy which, since the mid-1990s has focused on pipelines either
south through Afghanistan or west through the Caucasus to gain access to
Central Asian petroleum without depending on Russian pipelines.
Since the collapse in 1998 of California oil company Unocal’s efforts
to establish a gas pipeline through Afghanistan, the focus of U.S.
government strategy has been on a proposed gas pipeline—a project of the
Pipeline Solutions Group, a U.S.-led consortium of oil companies—to be
built across the Caspian, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Enron, with
U.S. government money, conducted a feasibility study for this pipeline.
The backup of U.S. pipeline politics with military support began under
President Clinton, but received a boost with Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld’s visit to the region last December.
Vice-President Dick Cheney, as former CEO of the oil-services company
Halliburton, is himself a veteran of the U.S. oil presence in Central
Asia and has often spoken in public about the importance of the Caspian
basin. He met last spring with many of the companies whose oil
investments in the Caspian basin are now languishing.
One wonders if Bush’s current military strategy was discussed at
Cheney’s Energy Task Force meetings by the U.S. oil companies, whose
current investments in Central Asia are stymied by the exorbitant rates
charged by Russian pipelines. Supporters of the U.S. presence on
Russia’s borders argue that it will benefit both the region and the
United States by increasing the new nations’ autonomy from Russia and
facilitating the export of their oil and gas.
But there are big risks involved. Georgia, although less corrupt and
oppressive than the dictatorships of Central Asia, has nonetheless been
criticized this year by Human Rights Watch for its "crippling levels of
corruption" and human rights abuses. Nearly all of these states are
unstable and face armed opposition.
The influx of U.S. military aid and corporate investment tends, in
the eyes of observers like Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, to benefit
only those at the top. These elites increase oppression while flaunting
their Mercedes, and thus feed the alienation of the public.
What is the risk of sending a few hundred Special Forces to train the
troops of an unpopular regime? Older Americans will remember that that
is how America became embroiled in Vietnam.
(Peter Dale Scott is an author and former Canadian diplomat. He can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)