By Matija Šerić
After the terrible war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended at the end of 1995 with the desired outcome for the USA, an outcome that will make Bosnia and Herzegovina an unfinished country and a permanent crisis hotspot, the Americans, as the only superpower, could focus stronger attention on other crisis hotspots.
The most important crisis area of all for the United States in the second half of the 1990s was the Russian Muslim republic of Chechnya, along with the former Soviet Union territories bordering Russia, Turkey, and Iran. It was in these areas that the Americans, with the help of their CIA secret service, tried to influence the political-economic processes that were intended to weaken the Russian Federation with the aim of preventing Moscow from regaining the geopolitical power and influence it had during the USSR.
Economic value of the Caspian Basin
During the Clinton administration in the 1990s, geophysical testing by Halliburton and other major American and British oil companies determined the existence of vast deposits of crude oil and natural gas in the Caspian Basin between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Iran. While the USSR existed, almost all of these areas were under the control of the Kremlin, but since 1991, many of them have come under the sovereignty of the newly formed states.
The dispersion of valuable energy resources over a wide area near Russian territory gave the USA an opportunity to turn its neighbors against Russia. Western oil companies such as British Petroleum and Amoco sought to assume primacy in Russia’s energy isolation policy. Estimates by Western geophysicists stated that the oil reserves of the Caspian Basin amount to about 200 billion barrels, which was the amount of oil reserves almost equal to Saudi Arabia. The US Department of Energy has estimated the natural gas reserves of the Caspian Basin equal to those of North America. The market value of oil and gas reserves amounted to trillions of dollars, so it is understandable that American policymakers turned their gaze towards Eurasia.
US energy strategy in the Caucasus
The US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1995 to lobby the Clinton administration for US engagement in the Caspian region, including the Caucasus. That chamber included powerful people like the executive director of the Halliburton company, Dick Cheney, who, as vice president in George W. Bush’s administration, will direct the US towards interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The chamber was headed by former Secretary of State and Texas political broker James Baker III. And there were also Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. What was that all about?
The only pipeline that transported oil from Baku to the west passed through the capital of Chechnya, Grozny. It had a capacity of 100,000 barrels per day, was 146 km long and dates back to the Soviet era. It transported Azeri oil through Dagestan and Chechnya to the Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. That oil pipeline was the main obstacle to the alternative route of the American and British oil companies, which, of course, wanted to avoid transport through Russia.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the Caucasus and the Chechen war there intrigued American leaders. In 1998, President Bill Clinton tasked Richard Morningstar and Matt Bryza with developing a US energy strategy in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. The US government’s idea was to build pipelines independent of Russia from the Caspian Lake through the southern part of the Caucasus region to Europe. Bryza and Morningstar played a crucial role in the construction of the Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan pipeline (a project of the American-Azerbaijan Chamber) that will transport oil from Baku, Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey and the Mediterranean. Both were closely associated with Dick Cheney and Richard Perle (a former government official and supporter of the use of Mujahideen in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan).
Cooperation between the CIA and bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda
Historically, Chechnya was home to moderate Sufi Muslims who believed that religion was a private matter and not a political category. However, with the support of the CIA, there was a radicalization of Chechen and other Muslims in the nearby area. CIA agents began operating in the early 1990s in Azerbaijan and then spread to Dagestan and Chechnya. The CIA helped transfer radical Islamic fundamentalists (Mujahideen from Afghanistan) who were under the control and command of Osama bin Laden to Chechnya. These moves expanded Al-Qaeda’s political base in former Soviet territories.
Bin Laden installed his jihadist partner Ibn al-Khattab as commander (emir) of the Mujahideen in Chechnya. He fought side by side with Chechen Islamist rebel leader Shamil Basayev. Ibn al-Khattab was born in Saudi Arabia and fought alongside the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980s. According to some information, he was involved in the arrival of Islamic fundamentalists in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, while he personally participated in the civil war in Tajikistan. Also, al-Khattab participated in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina together with other Mujahideen, although little is known about this.
In all these endeavors, Islamic fundamentalists either had the direct support of the CIA or the CIA tolerated their activities for higher purposes. The government of Saudi Arabia, in agreement with America, gave large financial aid to al-Khattab’s Chechen war against Russia, that is, to his organization, the International Islamic Brigade. In the Caucasus Mountains, the International Islamic Brigade numbered around 1,500 jihadists recruited in Chechnya, Dagestan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim areas. Since the mid-1990s, bin Laden has financed radical Chechen rebel leaders like Basayev and al-Khattab with a grandiose sum of around several million dollars a month, which has made it impossible for moderate Chechen rebels to influence.
Engagement of the Saudis
Official and unofficial structures of Saudi state publicly supported the war in Chechnya and declared the resistance of part of the Chechens to the Russian government a legitimate act and a holy war, a jihad. Private Saudi donors sent money to al-Khattab and his Chechen comrades. Jihadists wounded in war clashes were sent to Saudi hospitals for treatment. Former FBI agent, Ali Soufan, said: “The United States was on the Muslim side in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. And in addition, the Muslim forces supplied weapons, money, equipment and all necessary means.”
The CIA used its planes to transport Afghan and other Mujahideen to the Caucasus, from where they were transferred illegally across the Georgian border to Chechnya. Another base for training and equipping Chechen terrorists was located in Turkey, which was also a member of the NATO alliance. During these times, the Saudi intelligence service and the CIA worked closely with bin Laden and other Islamist terrorists.
Oil pipeline BTC (Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan)
Back in 1991, during the negotiations between the American oil company Chevron and the government of Kazakhstan, the leaders of Central Asia were approached by leading representatives of the American and British oil companies. The then US President George H.W. Bush actively supported the plans of the American oilmen regarding exploitation, control of oil sources in the Caspian region and the construction of a pipeline that will transport Caspian oil and gas to the West, bypassing Russia. In the same year, Heinie Aderholt, Richard Secord and Ed Dearborn (veterans of American secret operations in Laos and Nicaragua) arrived in the Azeri capital, Baku, under the guise of the oil company MEGA Oil. Bush gave his support to the idea of a pipeline project that would transport oil from Azerbaijan through the Caucasus to Turkey. The pipeline would be under the informal but real control of the US.
MEGA Oil planes transported jihadists to the Caucasus to instill terror, violence and chaos along the Russian oil pipeline line in Chechnya and Dagestan and put Azerbaijan and Azeri oil under American jurisdiction by building the BTC: Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan pipeline. The BTC pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey was finally completed in 2006. MEGA officials conducted military training for islamic radicals in Azerbaijan. It is assumed that they gave members of the Azeri government “brown bags of cash” and established an air link modeled after Air America, which quickly and efficiently collected hundreds of jihadists in Afghanistan and secretly transported them to the Caucasus.
The role of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
The Afghan or Taliban politician and war leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was still collaborating with Osama bin Laden at the time and mobilized Afghan mercenaries to fight against the Russian state in Chechnya and the Armenian rebels in Azerbaijan. Hekmatyar used his new connections and positions to, with the full knowledge of the US, ship Afghan heroin to neighboring and Western drug markets. Drugs were smuggled through Baku to Chechnya, Russia and North America. Baku has turned into a transportation hub for Afghan heroin for the Chechen mafia.
The active role of the USA in the anti-Russian jihad
U.S. intelligence services remained deeply involved in the Chechen conflict until Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. According to then-director of the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Yossef Bodansky, the U.S. was actively involved in “another anti-Turkish jihad, with the intention of supporting and strengthening the most poisonous anti-Western Islamist forces”.
Bodansky revealed that in December 1999, US government officials participated in an official meeting in Azerbaijan where special programs were discussed for training and equipping Mujahideen from the Caucasus, South and Central Asia, etc. In addition, they agreed to help private American security companies and Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to Chechen fighters and foreign Islamists. It was planned to incite riots and new long-term conflicts in the spring of 2000. Bodansky revealed that official Washington believed that the jihad in the Caucasus was preventing Russia from using the oil route because of the violence.
The fiercest conflicts in Chechnya ended in the spring of 2000 after powerful operations by the Russian army. The Russians achieved a costly military victory. The exact numbers of dead and missing in the Chechen wars, which were largely fueled by the CIA, are not yet known, but estimates range from 25,000 to 50,000 dead or missing, mostly civilians. The Russians lost over 14,000 soldiers in the First Chechen War, and about 7,000 soldiers in the Second Chechen War. Jihad in Chechnya did not succeed, but the Baku – Tbilisi – Ceyhan oil pipeline project, which bypasses Russia and sends oil to Europe, succeeded.