This report focuses on countries involved in the so-called global war against terrorism, and includes most places where the U.S. has made arrangements mainly since 9/11 to combat potentially (or actively) militant Islamist groups wherever they may be. Situations in countries where future major conflicts may erupt are also covered. Partially for space reasons, Latin America is not covered here, despite the extensive overt and covert U.S. activity throughout the continent and reports of terrorist training camps in remote areas of the Amazon.
This is also by no means a comprehensive list of countries directly involved in the U.S. war. Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Yemen, Romania, Bulgaria and Singapore are but a few of the countries not covered here.
I haven’t the time or space in this issue to offer much analysis of what all these conflicts mean in the wider emerging struggle between Islamists and the U.S., though I agree with most experts that the Islamists are uniting and getting stronger just as America’s coalition is fragmenting and getting weaker. They also have much clearer specific goals– and plans to reach them– than the U.S.’ vaguely-defined “war on terror,” which gives them an advantage. However, Al Qaeda’s stated goal of reinstating a single Muslim nation from Central Asia to the Balkans is not likely to ever happen, since the various affiliated groups we call Al Qaeda would be happy to stop fighting after achieving their narrower regional goals, and the Muslim public now largely sympathetic to Bin Laden’s crew would surely draw the line at going back to the Middle Ages.
In this report, please keep in mind that it’s the official positions or actions of governments that are referred to, not those of the actual citizens of the nations involved. In many countries, such as Pakistan, Uzbekistan or the U.S., leaders and governments are not always chosen by the people. Thus, conflict or collaboration between nations doesn’t necessarily imply conflict or collaboration between the citizens of those nations.
Georgia has about 200 troops in Iraq and plans to send 800 more, proving the new leader’s loyalty to the US (who helped him overthrow the previous leader in late 2003.) They might want to hang on to some troops in case Russia attacks them, though. Tensions were extremely high through the summer of 2004 when Russian “peacekeepers” were active during major fighting between Georgian forces and those of its breakaway region of South Ossetia on Russia’s border. South Ossetia is fighting to reunite with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia. Russia supports this aspiration, while the U.S. is adamantly against it. The Americans are also active in Georgia, mainly to help protect a $3.6 billion, World Bank-backed pipeline being built, which is slated to carry up to one million barrels of oil per day through Georgia towards Turkey from Caspian Sea terminals located in Azerbaijan. The U.S. has stated that violence in South Ossetia threatens the pipeline’s future viability. Complicating this assessment are allegations that Russia is providing funds to eco-terrorists to help them sabotage the pipeline.
In the meantime, both the U.S. and Russia insist on keeping permanent military bases in different parts of Georgia. Like Cuba in the 60s, this tiny country may try to play the major powers off each other to further its interests, using the Russian threats to the pipeline to milk more U.S. aid etc., but unlike in the 60s, Russia and the U.S. have a common enemy in Islamist terrorism and are unlikely to fight each other over this. However, if the U.S. desire to control Caspian oil keeps increasing, Russia would have no choice but to intervene in a big way.
In the meantime, the summer battles between Georgia and South Ossetia convinced most South Ossetians that the new Georgian government set up by the Americans is brutal and can’t be negotiated with. Average citizens are stocking up on rocket-propelled grenades and boast of being ready to destroy any Georgian tanks that try to pass through. Georgia at the same time has held huge military exercises right along the South Ossetian border. And Russia, since the Beslan school massacre, has ominously seen fit to remind all its Caucasian provinces and neighbors (including Georgia) that it’s a nuclear power.
Given that separate U.S. and Russian military operations have failed to uproot Chechen and Al Qaeda terror basis in the forbidding no-man’s land of Georgia’s mountainous Pankisi Gorge region, and both North and South Ossetians are expected to exact revenge attacks against Chechens and Ingushetians soon for the Beslan massacre, I predict this region is worth watching over the next few months. I also predict that the U.S. will decide to sit this complicated situation out and worry about their pipeline later.
There is some speculation that Russia will be sending up to 40,000 troops to Iraq in October, to help the U.S. and specifically Bush, who Putin with his policies increasingly resembles. (Their talking points following terrorist attacks are becoming identical: any attack is blamed on shadowy international terrorists that can only be destroyed, not negotiated with, with pre-emptive strikes anywhere in the world if necessary.) The way an Iraq presence by Russia can be sold to the average Russian is if some fairly large terrorist acts in Russia are made out to have originated in Iraq, which Russia would then say it must prevent from becoming an even larger base of operations for international terrorists.
Russia and the U.S. are in similar positions: one-time superpowers somewhat diminished by advancing globalization and a militarily multipolar world, both having much trouble maintaining corporate or outright control over parts of the world they used to manipulate with ease.
Although it housed U.S. troops and airstrips during the Afghan war, Kyrgyzstan is becoming a major Russian ally in the region, recently conducting huge war games in conjunction with Russia, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
The U.S. and its allies (which mainly just helping with security and rebuilding in Kabul) continue to march along the failed path the Russians did in the 80s in this country. They still have relative control of a few major cities, but most of the country is in chaos or still under Taliban or warlord/ drug-lord control. As in Iraq, the insurgency will only get smarter and bolder with time. Given Russia’s continuing concern that Chechen and other rebels could make good use of a chaotic Afghanistan, it would be interesting to see if they end up sending troops to fight alongside the U.S.– which would be supremely ironic, given that Bin Laden got his start when the U.S. helped his kind drive the Russians out of Afghanistan in the 80s.
The U.S. is pointing to upcoming elections in Afghanistan as a sign that the country is progressing towards democracy. However, the elections, which were originally planned to elect a full parliament, have been reduced to simply choosing a president, with parliamentary elections only coming in the spring (if at all.) Predictably, the American-educated Afghan expatriate that the U.S. installed after ousting the Taliban, Hamid Karzai, is the front runner by far, thanks to continued support by the Americans. He’s derisively called the “Mayor of Kabul” in most of Afghanistan, since he barely ever leaves that city, and nearly gets assassinated every time he does.
The most credible and authoritative research I’ve read recently indicates that the Taliban was very unhappy with Al Qaeda before 9/11, fearing their training and other activities were just getting them dragged into a conflict between Arabs (which the Taliban were not) and the US/ Israel axis, which they never really cared about. Memos unearthed in Afghanistan between Bin Laden and his aides and top Taliban leaders indicate Al Qaeda was kissing their ass big-time to avoid getting kicked out of the country. This lends credibility to statements immediately after 9/11 by the Taliban that they were fully willing to hand over Bin Laden to avoid being attacked. (Though they have a very strict tradition of welcoming and sheltering guests in Afghanistan, there must be some escape clause for guests who abuse your hospitality by goading their enemies to come attack them there.) The Taliban was more and more vehement in the days leading up to the Afghan war that they were trying to find Bin Laden and would hand him over to the UN or an international court (but not the U.S.) Obviously the Americans by then wanted a war there, either not trusting the Taliban to be able to shut all Al Qaeda camps down, or wanting to set up a puppet government to allow pipelines through the country or something. But I believe the U.S. actually blew their best chance of getting Bin Laden and his top guys right then– and the Taliban, which had an iron grip over Afghanistan, could have turned into a better ally than Pakistan now is, ferreting out tons of Al Qaeda guys and intelligence in their zeal to rid themselves of these extremely troublesome guests. Instead, the Taliban is probably now fully allied with Al Qaeda and will prevent any semblance of order from returning to Afghanistan for years or decades.
Those who say removing the Taliban was great if only because of the way they treated women ignore that it’s little better for women now that there is chaos in the country. (In fact, they may be worse off: there’s now a sad epidemic of self-immolation– setting one’s self on fire– among the women there.) What’s certain is heroin production has boomed to record levels after being nearly eliminated by the Taliban, and Afghan men are abducting young boys to fuck without fear of the drastic punishment the Taliban delivered to those who continued this sick old Afghan tradition. In short, the fashionable argument that the Afghan war was just and furthered anti-terrorist goals while the Iraq war was unjust and counterproductive is too simplistic: they both were counterproductive, and hardly just from the perspective of the people who live there.
Perhaps the most important ally for the Afghan war, the U.S. has permanent bases here now. The country’s dictator Karimov has used American largesse to help solidify his oppression of all opponents, but they began fighting back in a big way in 2004, with some suggesting they now get help from pro-Taliban and Al Qaeda-type groups. Suicide bombings against police stations and running gun battles in the streets killed dozens in the capital of Tashkent in March. In late July, the U.S. and Israeli embassies were simultaneously suicide-bombed there, during a trial for alleged Al Qaeda members involved in the March attacks. As with attacks elsewhere, these are impressive for occurring in a tight police state where such violence was previously unthinkable, and shows again the depths of resources and sophistication of planning of 9/11-inspired terrorists everywhere.
In late July, a suicide attack on the presumed future prime minister of Pakistan missed its target. Two huge attacks on President Musharraf himself narrowly failed in December, 2003. The mere fact that terrorists came so close to succeeding in this military state shows how close to the edge Pakistan is: many of its richest citizens and highest-ranking military officers shelter and support Al Qaeda and the Taliban (and probably are hiding Bin Laden himself. His top aide, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was living in a mansion in the district where most Pakistani army officers live when he was arrested in 2002.)
Under U.S. pressure to produce “high-value” targets before the American election, Musharraf (derisively called “Busharraf” by many Pakistanis) sent troops into Pakistan’s tribal regions bordering Afghanistan for the first time in the country’s history last spring. For awhile, he claimed to have Bin Laden and then his number 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri surrounded, but ended up just killing some Uzbek terrorists while nearly launching a civil war in Pakistan’s Waziristan region. The Pakistan army retreated after being basically humiliated by the tribes there, who killed hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and captured many of them as hostages.
In the meantime, Pakistan’s disparate terror groups, from Kashmiri separatists to general Islamists, are said to have recently joined forces under the name Brigade 313. They have a huge base of support from the general population in some areas (Pakistan used to be the Taliban’s biggest ally for a reason), and we can expect to see more spectacular attacks and assassinations there in 2005.