Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
Most of us recall that Osama bin Laden is a creation of the CIA. He was employed as a key player in the Afghan war against Soviet occupation. Under his CIA contract, and backed by Saudi finances and Pakistani military intelligence, he built the multi-million dollar CIA-financed underground Tora Bora tunnel complex “to serve as a major arms storage depot, training facility and medical center for the Mujaheddin, deep under the mountains close to the Pakistan border."1
“Delighted by his impeccable Saudi credentials,” records former ABC News reporter John Cooley, “the CIA gave Usama free rein in Afghanistan, as did Pakistan’s intelligence generals."2 Bin Laden was so enthusiastic that he soon began to pay “with his own company and funds, for recruitment, transportation and training of the Arab volunteers who flocked, first to Peshawar, and to Afghanistan.… By 1985 bin Laden had collected enough millions from his family and company wealth.… to organize al-Qaida."2
According to the conventional wisdom, US ties with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda ended with the victory of the Afghan war against the Soviets. In the post-Cold War period there was no reason to continue funding the ‘mujahideen’. But this convenient narrative falls apart upon closer inspection. Swiss TV journalist Richard Labeviere, in his book Dollars for Terror based on several years of archival research and interviews with US and European intelligence sources, quotes a CIA analyst on the long-term objectives of US ties with Muslim terror networks. Hinting at a policy involving the ongoing use of al-Qaeda to secure regional US strategic interests, continuing throughout the 1990s, the CIA official stated:
In other words, the CIA had envisaged that it would maintain ties with the “Islamists” of Afghanistan that were used to repel the Soviet occupation. US intelligence had planned to continue to use Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The CIA had always seen vast potential to use the terrorist network established by bin Laden during the Cold War in an international framework in the post-Cold War era against Russian and Chinese power, i.e. in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia.4
The US government was well aware that the Taliban had been harbouring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda since June 1996, as revealed by official documents. Bin Laden was expelled by Sudan to Afghanistan in early 1996 at US insistence. He had publicly declared war against the US in August 1996. He had lauded that year’s bombings in Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen as “praiseworthy terrorism”, promising future attacks against US targets in November 1996, and confessing complicity in attacks on US military personnel in Somalia in 1993 and Yemen in 1992. There was already a mass of evidence linking him to the 1995 bombing of a US military barracks in Riyadh; the 1993 World Trade Center attacks; and a 1994 assassination plot against President Clinton in the Philippines.5 But none of this stopped the US from flirting with Enemy No. 1.
When the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, signaling the faction’s domination of Afghanistan, respected French observer Oliver Roy noted that: “When the Taleban took power in Afghanistan (1996), it was largely orchestrated by the Pakistani secret service [ISI] and the oil company Unocal, with its Saudi ally Delta.” At this time, Pakistan’s support for the Taliban was approved by public and private Saudi authorities, the CIA, and the American oil company UNOCAL.6
Why the continued interest in Afghanistan? This has been aptly explained by Elie Krakowski, former Special Assistant to the US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy (1982-88), a man who “knows more about Afghanistan than just about any man on American soil,” according to Tony Snow of Fox News. Afghanistan “is the crossroads between what Halford MacKinder called the world’s Heartland and the Indian sub continent”, writes Krakowski.
When the Taliban consolidated its rule in 1996, US State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies explained that the US found “nothing objectionable” in the event. US approval was further revealed by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East and South East, Senator Hank Brown, who announced: “The good part of what has happened is that one of the factions at last seems capable of developing a new government in Afghanistan."8 US support of the Taliban did not end there, but continued throughout most of the 1990s. Professor William O. Beeman, an anthropologist who is Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University specializing in Islamic Central Asia, points out:
“The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis,” commented one US diplomat in 1997, highlighting the US vision for a ‘free Afghanistan’. “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."10
Thus, in December 1997, Taliban representatives were invited as guests to the Texas headquarters of UNOCAL, to negotiate their support of the pipeline. Meanwhile, UNOCAL had already begun training Afghans in the skills required for pipeline construction, with US government approval: “A senior delegation from the Taleban movement in Afghanistan is in the United States for talks with an international energy company that wants to construct a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan.
UNOCAL was not alone in its dealings with the Taliban. The notorious US energy corporation ENRON, which had close ties to the US government, was also deeply involved. Enron performed the preliminary feasibility study on the gas pipeline, which was paid for with a $750,000 grant from the US Agency for Trade and Development.12
Furthermore, US intelligence sources and former ENRON officials have confirmed that Enron “gave the Taliban millions of dollars”, apparently with the US government’s blessings, “in a no-holds-barred bid to strike a deal for an energy pipeline in Afghanistan-while the Taliban were already sheltering Osama bin Laden.” Atul Davda, who worked as a senior director for ENRON’s International Division until the company’s collapse, stated that: “Enron had intimate contact with Taliban officials. Building the pipeline was one of the corporation’s prime objectives.” One CIA insider commented that: “Enron was wooing the Taliban and was willing to make the Taliban a partner in the operation of a pipeline through Afghanistan. Enron proposed to pay the Taliban large sums of money in a ‘tax’ on every cubic foot of gas and oil shipped through the pipeline.”
More than $400 million was paid by Enron for the feasibility study on the pipeline “a large portion” of which “was payoffs to the Taliban,” according to the CIA source. An FBI official similarly confirmed that: “When Clinton was bombing Bin Laden camps in Afghanistan in 1998, Enron was making payoffs to Taliban and Bin Laden operatives to keep the pipeline project alive. And there’s no way that anyone could NOT have known of the Taliban and Bin Laden connection at that time, especially Enron."13
A number of reports and studies demonstrate that US governments have continued to sponsor al-Qaeda in a new theatre of war, designed to destabilize US rivals in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. As the London Spectator noted:
This policy had nothing to do with aiding Bosnians - it was more concerned with exacerbating the conflict in order to generate a justification to expand regional US military hegemony. Much of the details of the alliance have been authoritatively documented in the official Dutch inquiry into the 1995 Srebrenica. Professor Richard Aldrich of the University of Nottingham described the Dutch inquiry’s most salient findings, based on five years of unrestricted access to Dutch intelligence files and interviews with key officials:
US officials were well-aware of the implications of their post-Cold War alliance with al-Qaeda in the Balkans. They knew that one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants was commanding a league of operatives in Bosnia, which during the 1990s had thus become a “staging area and safe haven” for al-Qa’eda. Nevertheless, a conscious decision was made to continue allowing the growth and activities of al-Qaeda mujahideen forces in Europe throughout the 1990s.16
Extensive military intelligence training and assistance was provided to the KLA - now fighting with US backing in Macedonia under the banner of the NLA - during the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s by both American and British forces. This training continued despite the fact documented in a 1999 Congressional report by the US Senate Republican Party Committee that the KLA is closely involved with:
Indeed, the KLA and NLA have been funded by bin Laden to the tune of millions of dollars, and al-Qaeda fighters have joined their ranks as well as trained them, to the point that experts describe the KLA/NLA as al-Qaeda’s arm in the Balkans. None of this has prevented the US from providing military intelligence assistance to the latter.18
The British government is no stranger to the secret alliance with al-Qaeda. Apart from being integrally involved in the previous Balkans operations, as revealed by former British intelligence agent David Shayler who worked at MI5’s Counterterrorism desk: “British secret service agents paid up to £100,000 to al Qaeda terrorists for an assassination attempt on Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffy in 1996.” As a result of his revelations, he has been under trial in the UK for the disclosing classified intelligence information.19
If the British and American governments have harboured, financed and provided military assistance to al-Qaeda to pursue covert operations in line with strategic interests, then in reality the ‘War on Terror’ is a myth. Clearly, the US and UK governments have continued to provide covert support the Osama bin Laden’s international terror network throughout the post-Cold War period. During this time, numerous terrorist attacks against Western targets orchestrated by bin Laden have occurred. It is not only bin Laden who is responsible for anti-Western terrorism - the West is also culpable. Terror, it seems, is a tool of the powerful designed to support secret illegal operations, inculcate fear into mass consciousness, manipulate public opinion, and engineer domestic support for a foreign policy of imperialism.